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Egyptian God of Embalming

"Anubis" is the Latinized version of the Egyptian "Anpu" or "Ynpw" (and even Anpu is an approximate transliteration from the hieroglyphs), but for the sake of convenience I will use "Anubis" throughout this essay. For a very brief introduction, Anubis is the jackal-headed Egyptian Neter/Netjer of emblaming and the mythological inventor of mummification. I have been obsessed with Ancient Egypt for many years and I began to teach myself hieroglyphs in fifth grade. During this entire time period a mysterious rapport began to grow between Anubis and I. These are my personal musings on a God I have resonating with for a long time. I finally began writing them down around 2000, and they are finally appearing here in 2002. As it stands currently, there is still more that I would like to explore and write about concerning this Deity, for He yet has much more to reveal to me. If you are interested in Him as well, I hope you will drop by from time to time to see what has developed. At the bottom of the page there are links to both imagery and information regarding Anubis that I hope you will find useful and interesting.
Anubis is a quiet God with a gentle and mysterious air about Him. This is somewhat appropriate for the son of a paradoxically well-known, yet obscure mother, the Goddess Nephthys.
     The threads of solitude which weave through His quiet character are undoubtedly due to His sorrowful past. He was born because of the irrepressible pangs of loneliness experienced by His mother, Nephthys. Being the ambitious sort that he is, Set, Her husband, did not invest much time in the emotional welfare of His wife. It is said that She grieved so much for His love and attention that she took on the persona of Her sister Isis since Isis obviously had no problem keeping the attentions of Her husband Osiris. Nephthys gradually began to look so much like her sister that even Osiris could not distinguish one from the other. One day He found Nephthys weeping in the garden and, believing it to be His beloved, sought to comfort Her. In Her longing for such an expression of tenderness, She did not resist His advances. Thus, through Her deception She bore Anubis, but Anubis' own tie to solitude did not end with the manner of His conception. It was known that Set, as a God of the desert, was barren, and therefore a child would be solid proof that Nephthys had been unfaithful to Her husband. Nephthys then had to abandon Him in order to preserve His life and not spark the vengeance of Set. So Nephthys brought Him to the marshes where He was found by Isis and raised as Her own son and near His father, Osiris.
     There is a heqa segr, "silent power," about Him also. In fact, another Egyptian word also translated as "power" or "strength" is wsr, which is represented by a staff with the head of a jackal. However, He does not command it like Horus the Younger (His half-brother), spearing the bellowing Set in hippopotamus form and appearing as vigilant protector to the royal family with boldly outstretched wings. This is a sharp contrast between the two sons of Osiris. They each appear to have taken their positions almost as heirs to the two distinctly different aspects of their father's life. Before His murder by Set, Osiris was an earthly pharaoh of the two lands. He was the ideal monarch, wise and powerful, and with much compassion towards the people He governed. In the historical Egypt, Osiris was first a fertility God bound to the well-being of the farmland. Horus followed this set of footsteps of His father, becoming a God of honor, political order, royalty, and the skies. Anubis, however, chose the Western path of His father and followed Him to His new reign in the Underworld. Strange how Horus, born from the resurrected flesh of Osiris, clung to the living world while Anubis, born of the living Osiris before His assassination, found Himself in the place where mens' souls are resurrected. Anubis is even in charge of the "Opening of the Mouth" ritual in which a mummy's senses are restored to him and he is resurrected.
     Anubis has often been given modern titles that indeed are not true to His nature. Perhaps this is because His classic Egyptian appearance makes Him so easily recognizable. In any basic book on Egyptian mythology, one will undoubtedly find Him. He's a quintessential member of the Egyptian pantheon right along with Isis, Osiris, Re, and Horus. Being some of the most commonly published images of Egyptian art, various copies of the Boook of the Dead portray Him often enough. This is, of course, because Anubis' most important role was in the Hall of Two Truths where He is poised below the all-important and central scale; important since it determined the fate of a person's very soul. Books of the Dead are actually quite variable. They consist of around some too hundred spells, hymns, etc. collectively, meaing that any particular Book of the Dead would certainly not contain all two hundred especially if the person purchasing it was poor. But, because of the scene's importance to the soul of the deceased, it was a required chapter. Thus, there are many reproductions of these vignettes around, all displaying Anubis, at least compositionally, as a main character. This leads many to assume Anubis was a glorified God, joining the ranks of Amen-Re and Osiris with many temples and copious hymns while He probably had more in common with household Deities such as Bes and Tauret. There is no denying his role was important, but apparently the ancients knew he required no gaudy festivals and legions of priests to satisfy Him. He seems a God quite content with lingering in the shadows, just as there are those that prefer quiet time with their thoughts as opposed to the superficial pleasure gained by social gregariousness. This is why Anubis chose the solemn route, venturing past the reaches of the sun's light during the day and into the Duat (the Underworld). If he had desired the spotlight, so to speak, He could have taken it easily as the eldest son of Osiris.
     It takes a certain dignified detachment to do what Anubis does, for he reads the scales that ultimately determine the destiny of every person who traverses the challenges of the Duat and reaches the Hall of Two Truths. Chapter 30B of the Book of the Dead is a spell to placate the guilt of a person's heart. The heart in Egyptian thought held one's memories, affections, and intellect; it was believed that during judgement that heart would disclose all information about a person's conduct during his life. The purpose of Chapter 30B was to force the heart to not speak against its owner, but would a simple spell be enough to truly quiet the sorrows of a guilty conscience? Perhaps Anubis could still hear it whispering the truth as He placed it on the scales to be weighed against the feather of Ma'at. It can be sure that He heard each newly deceased soul's fervent recital of all of the fourty-two horrible deeds that he supposedly did not take part in as well as his appeasals to the other Gods....but these could not sway Him from reading the scales honestly. Thoth records the outcome on His scrolls, and the status of every person's spirit remains there for eternity. Osiris wields the power in the Hall of Two Truths. It is He who sends a soul upon its merry (or in some cases, not so merry) way, yet he can only act based on the reading of the scale which only Anubis can provide. All of Osiris' power and all of the extensive funerary provisions and preparations made by the deceased are rendered of little consequence at this moment. So while Anubis may not possess the raw force of Gods such as Re, Amen, and His father Osiris, He is nonetheless powerful. It was the power of Anubis' mind that in fact brought Him to His status as the patron of the embalming arts.
     Traditionally, Anubis has been said to have the head of a jackal, but some have suggested that He is associated with another sort of African wild canine. In either case, His representational animal is not portrayed in its natural color. Instead of the typical scheme of browns and greys displayed by the jackals (colors the Egyptians could certainly produce for the purposes of painting) in northern Africa, Anubis is always shown as black. The reasoning behind Anubis' ebony coat is due to what that color represented in Ancient Egyptian thought. On one hand, black symbolized some of the same ideas as it does in our culture: darkness, mourning, and death, but on the other hand it symbolized just the opposite. Black indicated both death and life. After the river Nile flooded its banks each year, it left behind dark, rich silt in its wake. This black silt was all of the nutrient-filled soil and decaying matter brought north to Egypt by the river after the heavy rains that occured farther south. The silt deposits allowed Egypt to become a major agricultural center of the ancient world, and without them the Egyptian civilization may not have existed at all. The Egyptians called their kingdom Kemet or Khem which actually translates to "Black Land" or "Black One," referring to the habitable thin strips along the Nile where the silt was deposited while the surrounding desert was called the "Red Land." Since their livelihood was based on the black silt, black became a color that denoted fertility and life.
     Such duality expressed by the color black corrosponds to the duality of Anubis' nature. Anubis holds the key to the life beyond death. All of the joys in the West could only be experienced if your physical body was preserved. The Egyptians believed that one's spirit could travel to the Underworld during sleep, but in order to reside there eternally upon one's death one had to bring his mortal body with him. This was achieved through the process of embalming and mummification. Through both the surgical and chemical system of dehydrating the corpse as well as the magical system of wrapping the limbs, the placement of amulets, and the recitation of spells, the body was ceremoniously enabled to traverse eternity. Obviously, this all-important process could not be performed until death, and without this process the body and spirit would perish, therefore, eternal life in the Egyptian paradigm was dependent upon death. Anubis is credited with the creation of mummification which he first devised to make whole the sundered body of Osiris. Without this help, Isis could not have breathed life back into Her husband and conceived Horus the Younger.

Inspired by Anubis: Links and Lore



Essays on other Egyptian Deities:
Isis as a Dark Goddess

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