EGYPTIAN GOD OF DEATH
Want to know more about the very popular Egyptian god of the death? Want to know the origin of the Anubis' myth? Or would you like to discover the different roles he plays in the Egyptian pantheon?
As enthusiasts of the myths of ancient Egypt, we will make you discover these wonderful subjects!
Jackal or wolf Egyptian god of death according to the times, Anubis is the god of all embalmers, the protector of the tombs, and the guide of Egyptian souls. It is also Anubis who judges the sins of the dead during the "weighing of the heart."
In this article, you will discover:
- The myth of Anubis in Egyptian civilization
- The origin of Anubis in Egyptian civilization
- The roles attributed to Anubis according to Egyptian mythology
- What Anubis has become in our modern culture today
Arrived at the bottom of this page, you will know everything about the most famous of the Egyptian gods.
Let's start this article with the "myth of Anubis"!
1) The Egyptian history of Anubis
A) The myth of Anubis
Since Predynastic Egypt (i.e. 4000 BC), where the poorest citizens were buried in shallow tombs, wolves and jackals were strongly associated with cemeteries, being scavengers who desecrated graves to eat the dead.
This desecration of tombs was a great cause for concern because the burial of bodies could impede access to eternal life for recently dead ancient Egyptians. To put their minds at ease, the ancient Egyptians created from scratch the wolf god Anubis to "fight" his congeners.
Anubis (or Anpu in ancient Egyptian, "Anubis" being the Greek name of Anpu) is the god of the dead, mummification, tombs, embalming, the Afterlife, and the Underworld in the ancient Egyptian religion. He is usually depicted as a wolf or as a man with a wolf's head.
Archaeologists have identified Anubis' sacred animal as belonging to a breed of Egyptian dog: the African golden wolf.
B) Variations in the history of Anubis through time
In the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2700-2000 BC), Anubis was the most important god of death. However, Anubis was gradually replaced in this role by Osiris during the Middle Kingdom's period (2000-1700 BC).
In spite of this considerable increase in importance of Osiris, Anubis always completely retained his mission as guide of the dead's souls. He can be seen in many funerary paintings, depicting him holding the hands of the dead to guide them to Osiris.
Anubis, the fascinating wolf-headed god who watches over the resting of the dead and judges their souls with perfect fairness.
Anubis' family situation has varied according to myths, eras, and sources. In primitive mythology, he was represented as a son of the creator god Ra. In the texts written in the first intermediate period (c. 2181-2055 BC) found on sarcophagi, Anubis is the son of the cow-goddess Hesat or of the cat-goddess Bastet. Another tradition depicts him as the son of Ra and Nephthys.
Nevertheless, the most famous version of the story of Anubis is described by the Greek Plutarch (c. 40-120 AD), who states that Anubis was the illegitimate son of Osiris and Nephthys, the wife of Set. Indeed, Nephthys would have seduced Osiris by disguising herself as Isis, the wife Osiris. Anubis is said to have been abandoned by Nephthys fearing the wrath of Set if he learns about the existence of Anubis.
Saddened by this abandonment and helped by jackals, Isis miraculously found the young Anubis left in the middle of the desert and raised him like her son. To thank her, as he grew up, Anubis became her guardian and ally, protecting her from Set during the assassination of Osiris.
2) The roles of Anubis
A) The Egyptian protector of tombs
Unlike real wolves, who desecrated graves, Anubis was a protector of tombs and cemeteries. Most ancient tombs had inscriptions honoring Anubis and praying that he would accompany the soul of the deceased into the next life. Several names are attached to him, confirming his role as a protector of graves:
- "The First of the Westerners" alluded to his function as protector of the dead, called "Westerners" because they were buried on the "west" bank of the Nile.
- "He who is above his mountain" (i.e., the one who stands guard over all the graves).
- "Lord of the Sacred Land" which designates him as a god of the desert necropolis.
Anubis had the important task of guarding tombs, a crucial role for the ancient Egyptians. Indeed, the good condition of their tombs (the last earthly resting place of men) facilitated the passage of their souls into the Afterlife (the Egyptian paradise).
B) The guide of souls
At the end of the Egyptian Pharaonic era (664-332 BC), Anubis was often depicted as a guide for individuals crossing the threshold of the world of the living and heading for the Afterlife.
Although a similar role was sometimes played by the cow goddess Hathor, Anubis was more commonly chosen to fulfill this function.
Greek writers of the Roman period (300-100 BC) referred to the role of Anubis as a "Psychopomp" role. This Greek term meaning "Guide of Souls" was used by Greeks to refer to their own god Hermes, who also played the role of Psychopomp in Greek religion.
C) The judge of souls
Anubis' third role was that of "the Guardian of the Scales."
In the collection of myths named the "Book of the Dead," Anubis is very often represented in paintings depicting the "Weighing of the Heart." In this ritual, Anubis makes a judgment that determines whether a person is worthy of entering the realm of the dead (the Afterlife, the paradise known as the Duat). Anubis weighs the heart of this person and compares this weight to that of a feather of Maat, the winged goddess of justice.
The weight of the heart was weighed down by the various sins committed during a person's lifetime (but was lightened by his good deeds). Souls with hearts lighter than the feather rose up to an eternal, wonderful existence. As for souls with hearts heavier than the feather, they were devoured by Ammit, the Egyptian soul devouring goddess, and condemned to eternal damnation.
While Anubis weighs the soul, Thoth, ibis-headed god of knowledge, takes note of the judgment, and Osiris watches over the impartiality of the judgment. At the end of the judgment, the goddess Ammit stands ready to devour the soul of a deceased who is a little too sinful.
D) The creator of mummies
As the "creator of mummies", Anubis was associated with mummification. He was also called "He-who-presides-over-the-Antechamber-of-the-Gods," where "Antechamber" could designate either the place where embalming was performed or the burial chamber of the last deceased pharaoh considered to be the doorway to the Afterlife.
In the myth of Osiris, after the killing of Osiris by his brother Set, Anubis helped Isis embalm Osiris (who became the first of the mummies with this event). As a reward, the organs of Osiris were given to Anubis as a gift. Thus, Anubis became the protective god of the embalmers. For this reason, embalmers (who are a bit the priests of Anubis) always wore wolf masks in ancient Egypt.
3) Anubis nowadays
In popular and media culture, Anubis is often misrepresented as the sinister god of the dead. He has gained popularity in the 20th and 21st centuries where artists portray him extensively in movies, in video games, in books, through tattoos, or in other contemporary artworks.
These artists nowadays make him an evil figure, often depicting him as an infernal commander of armies of the dead and ghosts. This "evil" representation slightly distanced him from his role as a benevolent protector of the tombs that he was in the Egypt of pharaohs. Despite this diabolical reputation, he is now the best-known of all Egyptian gods, his wolf's head and his active role in the judgment of the dead having fascinated many.