Wepwawet (Upuaut, Wep-wawet, Wep-waut, Wepuat, Ophois in Greek), Who I have written about briefly before on this blog, is an ancient canid-formed Deity from the Old Kingdom of Egypt. It seems He may have been worshipped as early as the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Abydos, located in Upper Egypt, is His most sacred city, which the Greeks called Lycopolis, “Wolf City” or “City of Wolves”. There is much argument regarding whether He represents a wolf or a jackal. He is depicted very similarly to Anubis, but is gray-colored instead of black, or sometimes with a white head. Greek sources say that Wepwawet’s animal is a wolf, but there is no exact comment on this in pre-Greek Kemetic sources.
Wepwawet was originally a son of Nuit and/or Ra. Eventually, as Osiris’s worship became more and more popular and rose in prominence all over Egypt, in Abydos Wepwawet was incorporated into the Isis and Osiris myth cycle and became Their child. In some cases He is identified with Horus, in others He is implied to be another of Their children (and therefore a half-brother to Anubis, Who is the son of Osiris and Nephthys). In some cases He is described as the son of Anubis. And in Asyut, another of His important cult centers, a local variation of Hathor is considered to be both his mother and consort.
For what generally is considered to be lauding purposes of the pharaohs, a later mythos briefly was circulated claiming that Wepwawet was born at the sanctuary of Wadjet, the sacred site for the oldest goddess of Lower Egypt that is located in the heart of Lower Egypt. Consequently, Wepwawet, who had hitherto been the standard of Upper Egypt alone, formed an integral part of royal rituals, symbolizing the unification of Egypt.
Like Anubis, Wepwawet is also called Opener of the Way. In fact, that is the literal translation of His name. But Wepwawet is more of a War God, thought of as a scout Who clears the way for the army. He usually is dressed as a soldier and carrying weapons such as a mace and a bow, unlike Anubis. Anubis has never, to my knowledge, been shown carrying weapons. Wepwawet is a God of the hunt as well, and was in particular thought to accompany the Pharaoh on his royal hunts to protect and aid him. In this aspect Wepwawet was called “the One with the Sharp Arrows Who is More Powerful Than the Gods.” In Memphis, Wepwawet is called “Opener of the Body”, making a connection to the process of childbirth as well. In certain pyramid texts in later times, Wepwawet is given the title “Ra who has gone up from the horizon,” probably meant to be seen as the “opener” of the sky. In Pyramid Text utterance 301 the rising sun is called upon as Wepwawet. One of His many epithets is “He Who Rises” or “He Who Shines/Glitters”. If Anubis is a dark God of the Night, than Wepwawet can be seen as His solar brother. The more I think about it, the more They seem to be like opposite reflections of each other, two sides of same coin.
According to some, it was Wepwawet Who devised the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, not Anubis. This was the ritual performed over the body of the deceased, in which the mouth was opened so that in the afterlife the person could breathe, speak, and be in full possession of their mind. Egyptians believe that to survive in the afterlige, the soul needed to eat and drink, so this ritual was vital.
Wepwawet is also shown carrying the standard that led the army, the shedshed. He leads the way for religious processions as well. For example, A “Procession of Wepwawet” kicked off the mysteries of Osiris as the God of the Dead. The shedshed includes an emblem Wepwawet standing in canine form, a depiction of ureases, relating Wepwawet to royalty and the pharaoh, but also to Goddess Wadjet. The most noticeable part of the shedshed is also the most mysterious as to meaning; a strange curled object that is usually thought to be related to the king’s placenta, relating Him again to childbirth, and which is described rather unhelpfully as a “protuberance”.
“The earliest appearances of the shedshed though are particularly enigmatic however, they depict a large white swollen spiral kind of shape. The language used to describe it in the Pyramid Texts suggests it may be some type of cushion offer up the suggestion that it may be the royal placenta, citing its proximity and similar shape to the so-called “Khons-symbol” which most likely really does represent a placenta. The placenta itself is an interesting thing, being the ‘body’ of a kind of spiritual twin of the King. Without this twin, the King would be a shadow of himself in both life and death, so keeping the placenta safe would have been very important. However, the placenta is usually represented in brown. The shedshed is usually white. And the two shapes aren’t actually identical either.
What I personally believe the original shedshed is depicting is the uterus of a pregnant cow. When I stumbled across a drawing by Leonardo DaVinci entitled ‘The Uterus of a Gravid Cow,’ I immediately recognized the distinctive fat spiral. Further searching revealed similarly shaped diagrams of bovine innards, all very reminiscent of the shedshed. And whatsmore, that particular bit of material seems to be quite ‘white’ in colouration. Admittedly, I am quite happily NOT an expert on these things. However it isn’t just that the shape and colour match up nicely, but the idea of it being specifically (and perhaps unmistakably) a cow’s womb actually makes a lot of sense as well. The King is reborn in the sky, inside the Celestial Cow. This falls in line with Terence DuQuesne’s suggestions that the shedshed is symbolically representatve of birth and regeneration, perhaps being a region of the sky. Add onto this the fact that Wepwawet, as Opener of the Way, has firmly attested associations with the womb, particularly the womb of the sky, and birth/rebirth, it all seems to fit … This is only my theory however, one which I am sure I will research further, along with the other variant appearances and meanings.”
Wepwawet is sometimes shown piloting the sunboat of Ra as it travels through the Duat, the Underworld, at night, helping to protect the solar God on His journey until morning. This seems to imply that He absorbed Seth’s aspects, specifically the positive ones where Seth protects Ra from the serpent Apophis each night. This is further supported by an epithet given to Wepwawet on a certain stela which means “disrupter”, or literally “loud of voice”, which is usually not a good thing Egyptian literature. He is also shown spearing a crocodile there. This is believed to suggest that His loud barking chases away Apophis and other evil spirits.
Wepwawet is obviously syncretized with Anubis. But some of His other syncreticizations can seem surprising at first. Wepwawet-Heru (Horus), and Wepwawet-Ra are among the most important. He is also connected to Shu, the God of Air, and father of Nut (Sky) and Geb (Earth), by His epithet “He who has separated the sky from the earth”. He is also called “He Whose Soul is Great in Heliopolis”, which is probably another connection to Shu, since Shu is one of the important Gods of the Ennead worshipped in Heliopolis.