- Pronunciation: ah-NEW-bis
- Origin: Egyptian
- Role: God of embalming
- Symbol: Jackal
- Parents: Nephthys and Osiris
- Child: Kebechet
- Other Names: Yinepu, Anpu
Who Is Anubis?
In Egyptian mythology, Anubis was the original god of the dead. But as Anubis was worshipped by more followers, Osiris took over his role while Anubis had a more direct role guiding the souls of the deceased.
Known as the jackal-god of mummification, Anubis was responsible for making sure the journey to the underworld went smoothly for man. He was considered the inventor of embalming and had several important functions.
First, he overlooked the embalming of deceased bodies. Embalming isn’t simple work and Anubis ensured it was done correctly. He also received each mummy and would quickly perform both the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and ritual of conducting the soul in the Field of Celestial Offerings. He also oversaw the Scales of Truth, which protected the deceased from eternal death and deception.
Many believed that Anubis would both physically and spiritually guard their tombs. The Egyptians believed that the bodies of deceased needed to be preserved for the afterlife and Anubis played a large role in their beliefs.
Anubis came to be known during the third millennium BC as the god of the dead. He ruled the underworld and decided the fate of the deceased. As time went on, Anubis’ daily responsibilities changed.
Osiris took over ruling the underworld and managing those entering the afterlife while Anubis became a more specialized god. He became a psychopomp and guided the souls of the newly deceased to the underworld. He presided over the area between the living world and the underworld, making sure that spirits were never left behind.
Legends and Stories
As one of the most famous Egyptian gods, there are many stories surrounding Anubis. Here are a couple, one about his birth and the other about his role in Egyptian mythology.
The Birth of Anubis
Anubis’ mother was the goddess Nephthys. She tricked her brother Osiris into fathering the child. Her husband, Set, was furious about the affair and vowed to kill the child as soon as he was born. Nephthys did what she had to do to protect Anubis and hid him in marshes near the Nile River. Isis, Osiris’ wife, found the baby and raised him as her own. Once Anubis was grown, he repaid Isis by protecting her.
Osiris took Anubis with him on many adventures. When Set murdered Osiris as revenge for having relations with his wife, he separated Osiris’ body into several pieces and scattered them throughout the land. Anubis helped Isis find the body pieces and embalmed the body so that it wouldn’t decay. This was the first act of embalmment. He also performed the first Egyptian burial rites over Osiris.
Other myths suggest that Set was Anubis’ father. The myths say that Nephthys disguised herself as Isis. This version is sometimes accepted because of Set’s dark side, which would go along with Anubis’ responsibilities.
Yet another version claims that Anubis was the son of Ra and Nephthys. This was the earliest explanation but it is now mostly accepted that Nephthys and Osiris were Anubis’ biological parents.
The Roles of Anubis
Anubis had several rolls as the god of death. He was the Guardian of the Scales, which gave him the power to decide the fate of souls. He would weigh the heart of the deceased against the weight of a feather. The feather symbolized truth. If the scale tipped in favor of the heart, the person would be consumed by a female demon named Ammit. But if the scale tipped in favor of the feather, Anubis would lead the deceased to Osiris so that they could enter heaven.
Anubis also oversaw embalming and mummification. His daughter, Kebechet, would often assist him during the mummification process. Ancient Egyptians would cover the bodies of their dead with herbs ad plants because they believed Anubis would sniff the bodies before mummifying them. Anubis also performed the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, which would allow the deceased to be able to talk and eat in the afterlife.
Another role of Anubis can still be seen today. He was responsible for protecting the dead. Many prayers to the god have been found carved into tombs. This would eventually fall under Osiris’ responsibilities but many believed that Anubis still protected the dead after the transition of power.
Anubis was the son of Osiris and Nephthys. His consort was Anput and together they had Kebechet and according to some myths, Ammut.
In artistic representations, Anubis is portrayed as half jackal and half man. He is usually holding the divine scepter. Sometimes he is shown as a black jackal or other times as a dog next to Isis. His symbol is usually included in his pictures, a black and white ox-hide covered in blood hanging from a pole. Historians do not know the meaning behind the symbol.
There are many symbols associated with Anubis, more than most gods. First, as previously mentioned, the ox-hide hanging from the pole is his main symbol though no one knows what it means. The other main symbol he is associated with is the jackal. Jackals are known to stay near tombs and graves, which is one of the reasons the Egyptians began to make tombs.
Anubis is also associated with embalming equipment as he is credited with inventing the technique.