Anubis is the preeminent God of cemeteries and embalming, and hence the preeminent agent of resurrection. Anubis is depicted in the form of a black canine of uncertain species with a collar and sash around his neck, or as a man with the head of such a canine. The canine in question is generally thought of as a jackal, but could be a jackal/dog hybrid or desert hound of some kind. Greeks regarded Anubis as a dog, and thus his cult center acquired the Greek name of Cynopolis, ‘Dog City’, which is to be compared with the name given by Greeks to the cult center of the God Wepwawet, namely Lycopolis, ‘Wolf City’. There is also a demotic spell (PDM xiv. 422) which refers to Anubis as “son of a wolf and a dog”. When in fully zoomorphic form, Anubis is most commonly depicted on his belly atop a chest representing the place of embalming or of interment. Anubis is also closely associated with the imy-wt totem (sometimes referred to, by analogy with the Hellenic cult of Dionysus, as a nebris), a headless animal skin (possibly bovine or panther) hanging from a pole which may be the forerunner of the ‘white crown’ of Upper Egypt. The imy-wt or nebris was sometimes thought of as a skin into which the disarticulated limbs of Osiris were placed by Anubis and came together again in a kind of rebirth, the cow being a typical maternal symbol in Egyptian thought.

Anubis is initially independent in his responsibility for the care of the corpse and the transition of the deceased to a new life in the other world, only gradually being incorporated in the Osirian mythos. In the Coffin Texts, for example, Anubis is said to have been “caused to descend from the sky to put Osiris in order, because he [Osiris] was so highly regarded by Re and the Gods,” (spell 908). The Greek author Plutarch (45-120 CE) integrates Anubis into the Osirian mythos as the son of Osiris and Nephthys (On Isis and Osiris 356 F). Plutarch’s narrative is well-known, but reflects no consensus in authentically Egyptian texts, in which Nephthys is only once attested as mother of Anubis, and then by Re, not by Osiris. The ‘Book of Caverns’ (section four) refers to Anubis and Horus alike as sons of Osiris, and the Jumilhac Papyrus frequently characterizes Anubis as the son of Osiris and of Isis, but this may be because he is frequently identified with Horus in this text. Few, if any, of the familial relationships between Gods in Egyptian religion are stable and invariant; instead, they follow from the functions accorded to a deity in a given context. Anubis assumes the role of ‘son of Osiris’, therefore, insofar as he takes on the role of the son, namely responsibility for the proper embalming and entombment of the deceased, and insofar as he protects the vulnerable Osiris from his enemies with genuine filial devotion. Anubis is at times affirmed to be the son of Re, and has for mother sometimes Hesat or Bast, the former because of her connection with the nebris, the latter perhaps because of her association with certain unguents utilized in the embalming process. [In regard to Hesat, note also that Anubis is ‘chief of the sacrificial bulls in Thebes’ in the Jumilhac Papyrus (VII), and ‘the good oxherd’ in the Demotic Magical Papyri].

Anubis plays a dominant role in the resurrection in the earliest Egyptian afterlife literature, the Pyramid Texts. It is at the voice of Anubis in utterance 437 that the king comes forth, and it is Anubis, along with the present king, who grants the deceased king abundant sustenance of diverse kinds (utterance 667; see later spell 185D of the Book of the Dead). Anubis greets the king at his death (utterance 512, 603, 675) and in general seems adequate to everything pertaining to the corporeality of the deceased and the transition to the afterlife, not just through the operations he performs upon the deceased, but also through the deceased king’s identification with him. Thus the king has “gone down [into the tomb] as a jackal of Upper Egypt, as Anubis who is on his belly,” (utterance 412; cf. utterance 677, “your shape is hidden like that of Anubis on his belly”), and is said to “arise as Anubis who is on the min.w shrine,” (utterance 437). [See also utterance 556, “Anubis of the min.w raises him,” i.e. Osiris the King, and utterance 419, “Isis has grasped your hand and she inducts you into the min.w.” The min.w (sometimes translated as ‘baldachin’ or ceremonial canopy) is perhaps a forerunner of the shrine upon which Anubis is depicted crouching in fully canine form from the New Kingdom period on, representing the secure resting place of the body as a pivot, so to speak, for the process of resurrection; cf. utterance 311: “I know the Hall of the Baldachin … from which you (Re) go forth when you go aboard the Night-bark.”]. The king’s feet and arms are those of a jackal in utterance 556, and he stands and sits as Anubis in utterance 581. The king “spiritualizes” (sakh) himself “as Thoth and as Anubis, magistrate of the Tribunal,” in utterance 610. The king is said to cut out the hearts of the followers of Seth “in this your name of Anubis claimer of hearts” (utterance 535). The reference to the heart – for which see also utterance 217, where the king, in identification with Anubis, “claims hearts, he has power over hearts” – anticipates the role Anubis will later play in the famous ‘Weighing of the Heart’, on which see below. The most important identification with Anubis comes, however, in relation to the face and head of the deceased. In utterance 213 of the Pyramid Texts, the body of the deceased king is identified wholly with Atum with the exception of his face, which is said to be that of Anubis, and the king is repeatedly said to have the face of a jackal in this text (utterances 355, 468, 677, 721; the face of the deceased is that of Anubis in spell 181 of the Book of the Dead as well). Masks of Anubis were apparently worn at certain times during the embalming process and during the burial rites, but the association of Anubis with the face seems to be but one aspect of his overall function of maintaining the integrity of the deceased’s persona, another aspect of which is symbolized by the concern to keep the head united with the body. Utterance 355, for instance, which says to the king that “your face is that of a jackal,” affirms further on that “your head is knit to your bones for you, and your bones are knit to your head for you.” In the later afterlife literature known collectively as the Book of the Dead, Anubis features prominently in spell 151, “Spell for a Secret Head”, in which he delivers a speech divinizing each part of the deceased’s head. In a demotic spell for sending a dream in order to persuade someone to do something, the operator asks of Anubis to retrieve for Osiris his head. Akin to this seems to be the association between Anubis and the neck or throat. Thus in utterance 217 of the Pyramid Texts Thoth says that the king comes “adorned with Anubis on the neck,” while in spell 172 of the Book of the Dead, another spell divinizing the various members of the body, the throat and gullet of the deceased are said to be those of Anubis. The neck or throat in such passages either is seen as fastening the head, or in connection with the ritual of the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ (on which see below), or as a passageway analogous to the passage to the tomb or to the netherworld. Less explicitly corporeal forms of identification with Anubis occur at times in the later afterlife literature. Hence among the ‘transformation’ spells of the Coffin Texts is a brief spell “To Become Anubis” (546), and in spell 179 of the Book of the Dead, “for going yesterday and returning today, when one asks it of his limbs,” the deceased affirms “I take the Form of Anubis”.

The most crucial role played by Anubis, aside from the embalming, is in the ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth, in which an officiant representing Anubis touches the mouth of a statue of the deceased with an iron adze to render it a suitable habitation for the ka, or spirit, of the deceased. This is represented as restoring to the deceased the power to breathe, eat and speak. The ka statue thus empowered provides a focal point for interaction with the living and in general acts as an idealized stand-in for the deceased. The ceremony, which is similar to those which rendered the cult statues of the Gods suitable for use by them, is the key moment of the resurrection as such, for it makes a new life possible in the other world, and it may underlie the identification of the deceased’s lips with Anubis in spell 42 of the Book of the Dead, as well as the other corporeal identifications previously mentioned. The ritual of the Opening of the Mouth is present already in the Pyramid Texts (utterances 20-22) and remains constant, albeit growing more elaborate, for the rest of Egyptian history. The instrument used in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony is referred to in spell 816 of the Coffin Texts as having been broken loose from the sky by Anubis, possibly a reference to the meteoritic origin of much Egyptian iron. [Anubis is initially thought of as a sky dweller. In utterance 577 it is said that “Anubis who claims hearts … claims Osiris the king from the Gods who are on earth for the Gods who are in the sky.” In utterance 699, the king’s ascension takes place by Anubis taking his arm, and in spell 908 of the Coffin Texts Anubis is said to dwell “in the middle sky”, descending from there to assist Osiris.]

Anubis plays an important role in the judgment scene or weighing of the heart of spell 125 in the Book of the Dead, the heart representing for Egyptians the seat of thought and of the conscience. In depictions of this scene Anubis frequently escorts the deceased, introducing him/her to the assembled Gods and acting as an intermediary, questioning the deceased on their behalf. In the actual weighing of the heart Anubis is said to announce the finding and Thoth to record it (Lichtheim vol. 3 p. 140). In one version of the spell Anubis says, “A man come from Egypt [the deceased] declares he knows our road and our city, and I agree. I smell his odor as that of one of you [i.e. the Gods],” playing on the canine power of scent. Anubis is frequently thought of as having searched out the parts of the dismembered Osiris, probably through this power, which perhaps also enables Anubis (in the Jumilhac Papyrus) to penetrate all of the deceptive forms assumed by Seth in his attempt to steal aspects of Osiris’ essence. Another canine quality attributed to Anubis is wakefulness or vigilance, a function which is sometimes delegated by Anubis to members of his retinue, such as the seven akhu, or ‘blessed ones’, who are stationed by Anubis to stand vigil around the coffin of Osiris in spell 17 of the Book of the Dead. In other texts these spirits under the command of Anubis are increased in number so that they can take turns hourly watching over Osiris.

In the magical literature of the late period Anubis is frequently invoked in spells for divination by lamp or vessel gazing (a good example being PDM xiv. 528-53). Here Anubis is the bringer of light, with the wick of the lamp being identified with the bandages Anubis uses to wrap Osiris (PDM xiv. 160-2; 540). The sequence of divinatory visions begins in these spells with the vision of Anubis, who pierces the initial darkness and then acts as an intermediary between the person seeking the divination and other deities from whom the desired information is to be procured. Such spells probably developed from the intermediary role Anubis plays in the judgment scene from the Book of the Dead.

The longstanding popularity of Anubis meant that certain novel elements were integrated into his iconography over time. Thus depictions of Anubis in the garb of a Roman soldier or in the pose of a victorious Imperator appear during the Roman period to update his image as protector of Osiris or of champion over the forces of entropy, and Anubis becomes ‘key-bearer’ when keys come into use, updating his basic function as psychopomp to take into account new technology associated with the granting of entry or the releasing of secrets (Grenier, pp. 34-40). Anubis has a consort, Anupet, and Kebehwet is mentioned several times in the Pyramid Texts as daughter of Anubis, but they do not form a familial unit.

Return to Index


3 Responses to “Anubis”

  1. […] Edward P. “Anubis.” Henadology. WordPress, 19 May 2009. Web. 25 Apr. […]

  2. […] Kemeticism, we have many Gods, but one of our more famous is that of Anup (or Anubis, in the Greco-Roman). Anup is often misunderstood as the Egyptian “God of the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: