Anubis is the canid Egyptian God of the dead. He protected the pieces of Osiris’ body while Isis collected them, so that He could eventually be resurrected. He oversees mummification and so is associated with immortality. His center of worship was in uten-ha/Sa-ka/, which the Greeks simply called Cynopolis, “Dog City”. His worship alongside Isis in Rome was maintained at least up until the second century.
His name in the native Egyptian is most often transliterated as Ienpw (phonetically “Yinepu”), but is also Anpu, Anupu, Anbu, Wip, Inepu, Imeut, Inpu, and Inpw. An alternative Greek spelling is Anoubis.
Even the meaning of his name is unknown — speculations range from “Royal Child” to having derived from the world for “to putrefy”. Both certainly fit the deity, who was at various points in time of Egyptian history known as the lord of the dead before Osiris and, later, became popularly known as the son of Osiris.
Among His other titles are Chief of the Necropolis, Counter of Hearts, Who Is in the Mummy Wrappings, Prince of the Court of Justice, Prince of the Divine Court, Undertaker, Weigher of Righteousness, Jackal Ruler, He Who is in the Place of Embalming, Lord of the Sacred Land and Khenti-Amentiu (Foremost of Westerners), a title He shares with Osiris. His title Jackal Ruler of the Bows is because in earlier myths He is said to have defeated the Nine Bows, which is just a name for the collective enemies of Egypt. His title of He Who Is upon His Mountain refers to His importance as the protector of the tombs of the dead. So important was this protection that the tombs of the Pharaohs were sealed with an image of Anubis.
In the Old Kingdom, Anubis was the most important God of the dead. By the Middle Kingdom that honor was taken by Osiris, but Anubis was important enough that He was incorporated into Osiris’ mythos as the later God’s son by His sister Nephthys.
Anubis’s parentage is a mystery — in one tradition he is the son of Nebt-het (Nephthys) and Ra. In yet another, from the Coffin Text period, the cow goddess Hesat is his mother and, from the same source, Bastet is even accounted as his mother (most likely a pun on the ointment jars that comprise her hieroglyphs — the same jars that were used during the embalming process Anubis was lord of). The Pyramid Texts even supply Anubis with a daughter in the form of the goddess Qeb-hwt (“Cooling Water”) — a celestial serpent or ostrich Who purifies and quenches the monarch.
Hesat was later identified with Hathor, or Isis, so that is an interesting connection. The Jumilhac Papyrus frequently names Anubis as the son of Osiris and of Isis, but He is also identified with Horus a lot in this text. By the most common story, Nephthys, the sister of Isis and Osiris and wife of Their brother Set, is Anubis’ mother. Nephthys longed for a child, but Her husband Set was God of the barren wasteland of the desert, and so was incapable of having children. Nephthys fell in love with Osiris, and when Osiris was drunk She tricked Him into believing She was Isis and slept with Him. The result of the union was Anubis, but by the time He was born She regretted Her decision. Fearful of Her husband’s anger, abandoned the baby in the desert. For the first few years of His life, He was raised by wild dogs, which is where He gets His feral power. Eventually He was discovered by Isis. Even though Isis knew He was the son of Her husband by Her sister, She raised Him as Her own. Anubis is often shown by Isis’s side, in full-jackal form. Because He was abandoned by His mother, He is the protector of orphans, the homeless, the poor, travelers, and all lost souls or people who are downtrodden.
Anubis’ wife is said to named Anput, but there is not much information about Her. That is because She is really Anubis’ female aspect. Her same is simply the feminine of Anubis. They have a daughter named Kebechet, whose name means “cooling water”. She is basically the deification of embalming fluid. I’ve found some references of Bast as the sister, mother, or wife of Anubis. An equal amount of modern sources claim this is false and that it is a modern invention. ancientegyptonline.co.uk says that He was thought of being married to Bast because of His connection to the perfumes and ungents that were used in embalming, and Bast is the Lady of the Perfume Jar. This may not be an ancient idea, this does not completely invalidate it. While it is important to be aware of the sources of such perceptions, modern gnosis or religious experiences are just as valid as ancient ones. And I personally believe that the Gods themselves can grow and change as time goes on, if They see fit. But there was never one truth in ancient times either. In any case, I am including a quote regarding this theory from Per Yinepu, a virtual Temple to Anubis:
The entire history of Kemet is littered with dual-aspecting, syncretism, pairings and triads, the idea that Yinepu is the Husband of Bast is not one for which I could find any precedent in the theology of the ancients. If anything, it appears to be a modern invention transposed from the affinity people of today’s world have with their common pets: the domesticated dog and cat. However, it may be through a late Hellenic invention that we find Yinepu identified as the Brother of Bast.
Much later in Egyptian history there may have been an identification of Yinepu with Heru, who was identified with Apollo by the Hellenes during a time in ancient history when Hellenic culture began to influence Kemetic. Furthermore, Bast being identified with Artemis, it would follow, then, for the Hellenes that Bast and Heru were Divine Twins, so it may have been this association that Yinepu became a sibling of Bast
Anubis is always pictured as a deep black color (gray jackal or wolf-headed pictures are of Wepwawet). This is symbolic of His job as a funerary Deity, but in Egypt black was also a color of rebirth, associated with the black silt deposited every year by the Nile. The reason Anubis is pictured as a jackal is from an observation the ancient Egyptians made, namely that wild dogs, coyotes, and jackals haunted the edges of the desert, particularly around the necropolises and places of the dead. M. Isidora Forrest tells us more about the Egyptian’s relationship to a different kind of canine:
It is well known that ancient Egyptian loved their pet cats. But the Egyptians also kept dogs and loved them equally. In fact, dogs were part of Egyptian life since prehistoric times. Egyptian cave paintings show human beings hunting with their dogs. Unlike the ancient Egyptian custom for most other animals, Egyptians gave their dogs name, just as we do. Sometimes they called them by human names; sometimes they were named for their chief characteristic. Inscribed on dog collars, several names of dogs have come down to us. We know of dogs named Grabber, Ebony, Best Friend, and Cooking Pot (perhaps he had a belly as large as a cooking pot!). In tomb paintings, dogs are represented with their owners and continued as their loyal companions in the Otherworld.
Anubis was said to have invented not only embalming, but the very idea of funerals themselves. The chief priest who performed a embalming even wore an Anubis costume! When he did so, He ritually became Anubis Himself and was called the Overseer of the Mysteries. Especially while in His embalming aspect, He was strongly associated with the imiut fetish, an ancient symbol that we know virtually nothing about. Imiut may have been an early God absorbed by Anubis. The imiut fetish was a skin of a panther or cow hung on a pole and planted in a pot. Sometimes it had a papyrus or lotus blossom attached to the tail.
Although the fetish was often made with a real animal skin wrapped in bandages, stylized versions were also popular. A set of beautiful golden Imiut fetishes were discovered in Tutankhamun´s tomb and the fetish makes a few appearances in Hatshepsut´s mortuary temple.
The fetish was sometimes known as the “Son of the hesat-Cow”, referring to the cow that gave birth to the Mnevis bull which was associated with the cow goddess Hesat (one of the goddesses named as the mother of Anubis). It was clearly an ancient symbol, already in widespread use by the First Dynasty.
Its purpose and meaning of the object have not been confirmed, but it is thought that the fetish was linked to the bandages used in mummification and it was apparently important in the celebrations of the “heb sed” (royal jubilee) festival.
Anubis is a liminal God, Who lives on the edge between night and day, between this world and the next. He is a psychopomp, a God Who guides the souls of the dead to the Hall of Judgment, where before Osiris He weighs the heart of the dead soul on the Scales of Ma’at. The heart is weighted against the feather of Ma’at, the Goddess of justice, universal harmony, and right order. If the heart was heavy with guilt and sins, than it was thrown to the monster Ammit to be devoured. If, however, the heart was found to be as light as Ma’at’s feather, then the soul of the deceased was allowed to pass into the afterlife. 42 Gods watched the ceremony, and Thoth recorded the outcome. But the weighing itself was done by Anubis, Counter of Hearts. Veronica Ions, author of Egyptian Mythology, elaborates on Anubis’ position as God of death:
It seems that at first Anubis was the god of death for the pharaoh alone. It is thought that in early times the pharaoh may have been ritually put to death by viper poisoning at the end of twenty-eight years’ reign. When the end came Anubis (or a priest representing him) would appear to the pharaoh with a viper. Though this practice ended, Anubis remained the announcer of death, … it is interesting in this connection that Osiris was murdered after twenty-eight years on the throne.
As he could foresee a mortal’s destiny, Anubis was associated with magic and divination. He was depicted at the bottom of divination bowls, so that the seer saw Anubis first, leading the other gods who could come to reveal the secrets of the future.
Anubis’ star is Sirius, the Dog Star. The Egyptians called the star Sopdet. It is twice as big as our sun and twenty times brighter. M. Isidora Forrest gives us some more scientific information about this star, which was also related to Anubis’ foster mother Isis:
It is a binary star system and has a companion, Sirius B, a white dwarf that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Sirius B is a dying star, a collapsing in on itself. As Sirius A and Sirius B dance in orbit around each other, B’s heavier mass pulls on A and cause the pair to move in a spiraling, wobbling path through the sky. Sirius is the lead star n the constellation Canis Majoris (the Big Dog), and so it is also called the Dog Star. ….
Our name Sirius is a Latin version of the star’s Greek epithet seirios, which means scorching. Sirius was the seirios aster, the scorching atar, so called because it first becomes visible in the heat of late summer. The Greek name for that star is Sothis, a Hellenized version of the Egyptian name, Sopdet.
Sopdet was important to the Egyptians because, in ancient times, the heliacal, dawn rising of the star marked the beginning of the Egyptian New Year, a time of great joy. Sopdet can be seen in the northern hemisphere for most of the year, but it seems to disappear for about seventy days, from late May to just after midsummer. During this time, the star is in conjunction with the Sun’s greater apparent light blocks our view of the star.
The heliacal rising occurs when the star comes out of solar conjuction (my comment: symbolically leaving the Underworld) and can be seen on the horizon just before sunrise. Over the millenia, the date of the star’s rising has shifted. In 3000 BCE at Memphis in Egypt, Sopdet would have risen on or near the summer solstice. Today, it rises in late July. When the star rises in your area depends on your latitude. The further north you are, the later the star appears to rise.
Anubis, at a basic level, is a guide. He guides us to the afterlife, and when we have lost our way. He cares for all lost souls. Anubis is a Messenger, carrying messages from the living to their deceased loved ones on the other side, and back again. His title of Opener of the Way can be interpreted in many different ways. It originally referred to Anubis opening the way into the afterlife to take the deceased soul to the Hall of Judgment. But why can it not work the other way around? It can be interpreted as Anubis opening the veil, just a little, to assist the living diviner or medium to see the future or speak with the dead. It has certainly been my experience that He stands between me and the spirit world, working as the bridge between this world and the next. I really feel like I am not responsible for whatever comes through when I doing readings. I actually feel quite uncomfortable when I get compliments on my “ability”. I feel all the credit goes to Anubis. He just tells me what to do or say. On the occasions when I have gotten something wrong, it was because my head told me something different than my gut, and instead of listening to Anubis I over-thought it. Anubis has never spoken to me in words, unlike with Athena. In only happens on rare occasions, but I have heard Athena’s voice in a literal sense in a few instances. Anubis communicates differently. I’ve seen Him once or twice, for a split second in the corner of my eye, or in full jackal form following me to my car at night. But He never speaks to me. He stands guard silently and stoically. He might growl, or whine, but usually communication with Him is felt in the body, at least with me. He has taught me a new way of communicating and thinking of the world. He speaks in instinct, in gut feelings, the hair raising on the back of your neck, the tight feeling in your chest, that sudden flash of insight.
Charles Freeman, The Legacy of Ancient Egypt, Facts on File, Inc. 1997. p.91
M. Isidora Forrest. Offering to Isis: Knowing the Goddess Through Her Sacred Symbols. Llewellyn. 2005. Page 131.
Veronica Ions. Egyptian Mythology.
M. Isidora Forrest. Offering to Isis: Knowing the Goddess Through Her Sacred Symbols. Llewellyn. 2005. Page 284.