Anubis, God of Embalming and Guide and Friend of the Deadby Caroline Seawright
October 8, 2001
Updated: December 19, 2012
Anubis (Inpew, Yinepu, Anpu) was an ancient Egyptian god of the underworld who guided and protected the spirits of the dead. He was known as the 'Lord of the Hallowed Land' - the necropolis - and Khentamentiu, 'Foremost of the Westerners' - the Land of the Dead was thought to be to the west, where the Egyptians buried their dead. (Khentamentiu was the name of a previous canine deity who was superseded by Anubis.) The worship of Anubis was an ancient one - it was probably even older than the worship of Osiris. In the pyramid texts of Unas, his role was already very clear - he was associated with the Eye of Horus and he was already thought to be the guide of the dead in the afterlife, showing them the way to Osiris. In these text, according to E. A. Wallis Budge, it says that "Unas standeth with the Spirits, get thee onwards, Anubis, into Amenti, onwards, onwards to Osiris."
He was generally depicted as a black jackal-headed man, or as a black jackal. The Egyptians would have noticed the jackals prowling around the graveyards, and so the link between the animal and the dead was formed in their minds. (It has been noticed by Flinders Petrie that the best guides to Egyptian tombs are the jackal-trails.) Anubis was painted black to further link him with the deceased - a body that has been embalmed became a pitch black colour. Black was also the colour of fertility, and thus linked to death and rebirth in the afterlife. Anubis was also seen as the deity of embalming, as well as a god of the dead. To the Egyptians, Anubis was the protector of embalming and guardian of both the mummy and the necropolis.
Anubis was often identified by the word sab, 'jackal' rather than 'dog' (iwiw). Though to the Egyptians there was not a great deal of difference between the two canines, so there is some confusion over which animal Anubis actually was. The animal is sometimes referred to as the 'Anubis animal' as it is unknown which exact species of canine that Anubis actually was based on.
When the Osiris worship came to power, Osiris took over many of Anubis' jobs as caretaker and protector of the dead. As this happened, Anubis became 'He Who is Before the Divine Booth', the god of embalming who presided over the funerary rituals. The funerary stm priests would wear a mask of the jackal god during the mummification process, symbolically becoming the god for the rituals.
The preliminary stages of mummification involved the opening - the violation - of the body, an action that only Anubis himself would have been allowed to perform. The priest who took on this role was called the 'Overseer of the Mysteries' (hery seshta). It was thought that he would be magically become the funerary god himself and so be able to legitimately cut open the corpse for the mummification process.
He is sometimes called the son of Nephthys and Set or of Nephthys and Osiris. In the second version of his origins, it was believed that his aunt Isis raised him, rather than his mother Nephthys, as Set might murder his wife's illegitimate son. Thus he grew up as a friend and follower of Osiris.
He was thought to have a daughter known as () Qebehet (Qebehout, Kebehut, Kebhut, Kebechet, Kabechet, Kebecht), who was depicted as a snake or ostrich carrying water. She was the goddess of freshness and purification through water who washed the entrails of the deceased and brought the sacred water to Anubis for his tasks. She was thought to give water to the spirits of the dead while they waited for the mummification process to be complete. She was probably related to mummification where she would fortify the body against corruption, so it would stay fresh for reanimation by the deceased's ka.
The goddess Qebehet first appears in the Fifth Dynasty and is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts of Pepi I: "Qebehet, the daughter of Anubis, goes forth to meet Pepi, with four nemset vases. She refreshes the breast of the Great God on the day of his watch, and she refreshes the breast of Pepi with life. She washes Pepi, she censes Pepi."
-- Pat Remler (2010), Egyptian Mythology, A to Z, p. 103
At temples throughout Egypt, some of the priests had a special job as part of the daily ritual - that of purifying the temple deity. Using incense to purify the air, the deity was lifted out of his or her shrine, was washed, anointed with oils, dressed in white, green, red and blue cloths and fed. Qebehet washing of Pepi seems to relate to the priestly ritual of serving the gods. Because of her connection with water and purification, she is sometimes linked with the goddess Iabet.
The goddess Anput (Anupet, Input, Inpewt, Yineput) - inpwt - was the goddess of the 17th Nome of Upper Egypt, who was depicted as a woman wearing the jackal standard of her nome or a woman with the head of a jackal. She was believed to have been the wife of Anubis, and possibly the mother of Qebehet. Anubis was originally the god of the 17th Nome of Upper Egypt. The symbol for this nome was, as per Anput's headdress, a jackal on top of a standard.
In the Ptolemaic temples, Anput takes the form of a jackal or similar canid and is shown carrying sharp knives. It would appear that she has a role in the protection of the dead Osiris, and therefore of deceased humans too.
-- Terence DuQuesne (2007), Anubis, Upwawet, and Other Deities: Personal Worship and Official Religion in Ancient Egypt, p. 20
It was believed that Anubis was the one who invented the process of mummification. Anubis helped Isis bring her husband back to life again after Set had killed him. He embalmed the body of the god, swathed it in the linen cloths that had been woven by the twin goddesses, Isis and Nephthys, making sure that the body would never decay or rot.
The wakening of the dead was also thought to be a function of Anubis. He would appear by the mummy, and awaken the soul. The mummy was removed from the sarcophagus when it arrived at the door of the tomb and was placed upright against the wall by a priest wearing the mask of Anubis, thought to have become the god himself. The 'Opening of the Mouth' ceremony was then performed. It consisted of a number of rituals that would turn the mummy (or a statue of the dead) into an inhabitable vessel for the deceased's ka. The ceremonies involved purification, censing and anointing of the mummy along with incantations. The mummy was touched by ritual objects on various body parts to restore the senses - the spirit would then be able to see, hear, speak and eat as a living being. Some of the tools for this ritual have been found in predynastic Amratian graves, so it is probable that at least some of the rituals involved in the 'Opening of the Mouth' had evolved from this early time.
After the the deceased had been placed into the tomb and sealed up, it was thought that Anubis would lead the deceased to the afterlife, along with another god, Wepwawet (Upuaut). The two are very similar, though Wepwawet was also another ancient jackal or wolf god, appearing on the Narmer palette. He was not just a god of the dead, but he was a warrior god who opened the way to victory for the pharaoh. The 'Opener of the Ways' helped Anubis to guide the dead to the Halls of Ma'ati. It was here that Anubis, as 'He Who Counts the Hearts', watched over of the weighing of the heart and the judging of the deceased. Here it was his duty to see that the beam of the scales was in its proper place, and that the weighing was done correctly. He would then pass judgement on the deceased and Thoth would record the pronouncement. Anubis would protect the innocent from the jaws of Ammut, but would give the guilty to her to meet the final death.
He also guided the souls of the dead through the underworld, being assisted in this duty by Wapwawet, another jackal-headed eity, whose name signifies 'Opener of the Ways.' These gods have sometimes been confounded with one another, but in certain texts they are separately alluded to. The name of the latter deity is significant of his probably early function. Anubis, thinks Dr. Budge, was the opener of the roads of the north, and Wapwawet of those of the south. "In fact," he says, "Anubis was the personification of the summer solstice, and Wapwawet of the winter solstice."
-- Lewis Spence (2008), Myths & Legends of Ancient Egypt, p. 105
A strange fetish, known as the imiut fetish, was linked to Anubis. It was a headless stuffed skin (usually of a great feline), tied by its tail to a pole which was planted in a pot. Known as the 'Son of the hesat-Cow' (the cow that produced the Mnevis bull was linked to the cow goddess Hesat), another title of Anubis, they is evidence of this fetish as early as the 1st Dynasty. They were linked to the funerary cult, depicted in the Chapel of Anubis at Hatshepsut's mortuary temple and actual golden fetishes being left in the tomb of Tutankhamen. These emblems of Anubis were placed at the western ends of the corridors, one on each side of the outermost shrine at Tutankhamen's tomb. The pots were made of calcite and the poles represented the water lily (lotus) stem and bud while the tip of the skin's tail had a papyrus flower attached and the pole and fetish itself were gilded. Other fetishes have been found made of real animal skin that have been wrapped in bandages. In early times there was a god, Imiut, who was known as 'He Who is in His Wrappings' who became a form of Anubis. The fetish was probably linked with mummy wrappings though it also appears to have been related to the royal jubilee festival.
Anubis the Dweller in the Mummy Chamber, Governor of the Divine House ... saith:- Homage to thee, thou happy one, lord! Thou seest the Wedjat (Eye of Horus or Ra). Ptah-Sokar hath bound thee up. Anubis hath exalted thee. Shu hath raised thee up, O Beautiful Face, thou governor of eternity. Thou hast thine eye, O scribe Nebseni, lord of fealty, and it is beautiful. Thy right eye is like the Sektet Boat, thy left eye is like the Atet Boat. Thine eyebrows are fair to see in the presence of the Company of the Gods. Thy brow is under the protection of Anubis, and thy head and face, O beautiful one, are before the holy Hawk. Thy fingers have been stablished by thy scribe's craft in the presence of the Lord of Khemenu (El Ashmunein), Thoth, who hath bestowed upon thee the knowledge of the speech of the holy books. Thy beard is beautiful in the sight of Ptah-Sokar, and thou, O scribe Nebseni, thou lord of fealty, art beautiful before the Great Company of the Gods. The Great God looketh upon thee, and he leadeth thee along the path of happiness. Sepulchral meals are bestowed upon thee, and he overthroweth for thee thine enemies, setting them under thy feet in the presence of the Great Company of the Gods who dwell in the House of the Great Aged One which is in Anu.
-- E. A. Wallis Budge (1913), The papyrus of Ani: a reproduction in facsimile, Volume 2, pp. 629-631
To the east of Saqqara there was a place known as Anubeion, one of Anubis' cult centres. The burials of mummified dogs and jackals took place there. Although he was worshiped all over Egypt, he had other cult centres at Abt, the 12th Nome of Upper Egypt, Zawty (Asyut) and the city of Hardai (Cynopolis) in the 17th Nome of Upper Egypt where a vast number of dog mummies were buried at dog cemeteries.
As protector of the necropolis, Anubis was known as 'He Who is Upon the Mountain'. The Egyptians believed that the god would keep watch over the tombs and graves from a high vantage point in the desert, ready to rush down to protect the deceased from desecration. Images of Anubis as a seated jackal above nine prisoners were stamped on many of the seals to tombs in the Valley of the Kings. They symbolise Anubis' protection against thieves and evil doers who entered the necropolis. He protected not only the souls of the dead, but their eternal resting place, too.
Further Information about Anubis
- Anubis - Wikipedia
- Anubis - Encyclopedia Mythica
- Anubis - Tour Egypt
- Anubis - André Dollinger
- Gods and goddesses in Ancient Egypt - Digital Egypt
Video of Anubis
A video filled with images of Anubis (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:
© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present
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