Anubis : Egyptian god of death. Facts | Symbol | Power

Anubis : Egyptian god of death. Facts | Symbol | Power

Most ancient civilizations had a god of death. For ancient Egypt, this god was called Anubis.

Origin and function


Origins of Anubis 

Anubis was the Greek name Άνουβις, which means "Young dog" from the Egyptian Inpou (or Inpu or Anpu or Anepou). His name means "jackal" or a "black dog". Anubis was also called "Imy-ut", which in the broadest sense means "the one who is in the place of embalming" and "nub-tA-djser" which means "lord of the sacred land". The etymological meaning of his name therefore suggests that Anubis was of divine royalty.
  • Wild dogs and jackals inhabited the lands near the necropolises. They came here to dig around the tombs and dig up corpses. To protect themselves from these looters, the Egyptians would have deified them and made them guardians of the necropolises, earning their favors.
  • His ancestry is not well established. His mother was Bastet or Nephthys and his father was Osiris.

  • The Greeks later identified him with their God Hermes under the name of Hermanubis. Anubis' parèdre was a goddess called Anupet (or Anput or Input or Aneput) of whom he had a daughter, the goddess Qebehut (or Kebechet or Khebhut or Kebehut or Kabehchet).

  • A story from the first millennium BC tells how Seth disguised himself as a leopard to approach the body of Osiris. He was surprised by Anubis who marked him with a burning firebrand. This is why the leopard has black dots on his coat. Anubis then flayed Set and took his bloody skin as a warning to the wicked.

 Functions of Anubis

  • Anubis is a psychopompe god, that is to say, a god who helps and leads the dead to their new destiny. He is therefore the God of the dead, protector of the embalmers and Lord of the necropolises, exercising the functions of ruler of the dead.
  • The color black represents the color of the mummies after they have undergone the embalming process. It is a beneficial color, symbolizing the metamorphosis of the deceased in the ground. It is also the color of the silt deposited by the Nile during the flood.

  • As early as the Ancien Empire (2647-2150), Anubis was the patron saint of the embalming ceremony and the opening of eyes and mouth. He helped the deceased as he ascended to heaven, making him a very popular funeral deity. In the Texts of the Pyramids, he is the guide who leads the deceased into the Beyond to the Hall of the Two Ma'at, presents him to the divine judges, and performs the weighing of the heart (Psychostasy). From the Fifth Dynasty (2465-2323), he was dispossessed of these functions by Osiris and was relegated to a role of assistant, support. In this role he is mentioned as the conductor of souls.


  • Anubis presents himself with a number of adjectives. These are very numerous compared with those of other gods. They clarify the name of the god by providing an explanation of its origin or function :

    1. Neb-ta-djeser (or Neb-To-Djeser) "Lord of the necropolis".

    2. Tepy-djouf (or Tepy-Djou-ef) "He who is on his mountain", the Guardian of the necropolis.

    3. Khenty-seh-netjer "He who presides in the divine pavilion". The Purification Tent (Owl) is the place where mummification ceremonies and embalming take place.

    4. Imy-out "He who is in the place of embalming, he who is in the bands" Anubis is of course the patron saint of embalmers.


    Representations and symbols of Anubis



   In the early cult Anubis was portrayed as a red-haired dog with large ears and a long tail. His name means "jackal" or "black dog," hence his sometimes entire wolf or jackal lying on a model of a burial chapel, or on a naos, with a red band around his neck and a whip between his hind legs.


    • Beginning in the New Empire (1549-1080), he is also often shown standing in a walking position in human form, with a black dog's (wolf or jackal's) head, pointed ears, and drooping tail, holding the Enkh cross in one hand and the scepter in the other.
This appearance comes from the Egyptians' observation of all the wild or stray dogs that prowled the necropolises of the desert, seeming to be their guardians. They were soon assimilated to Anubis, who took over their heads.


    • The earliest representation of Anubis is a bas-relief of King Horus Aha (c.2995-2974) of Dynasty I (c.3050/3040-2828), which also evoked the festivities associated with the god, who was originally represented only as a dog with a long tail and a scepter moving on a mastaba.


    • On the walls of the early mastabas it was to him that the deceased addressed his prayers for the survival of his body after death. Thus, at the entrance to the hypogeums, two Anubis are often found in the form of canids lying face to face, acting as a barrier against the forces of evil that would seek to disrupt the eternal rest of the deceased.


    • Then he was depicted in tomb murals, often with another deity with the body of a man and the head of a hawk and a double crown. In the tomb of Nakhtamon (TT335) at Dayr al-Madina and other tombs, such as KV17 of Sety I (1294-279), he was shown with a ram's head with a serpent on its horns.


    • His divine attributes and emblems: Anubis has few emblems of his own. He holds the scepter Ouas, and especially the cross of life Ânkh. This cross is not peculiar to Anubis, but it is perfectly justified in his case, since it is an obligatory passage to the new life.

Animals, color and element: His animal was the black dog, but also the jackal, and even the African wolf all three are more or less associated in the Egyptian bestiary. His color was black, a color that in Egypt is not a sign of mourning, but of rebirth and therefore of hope. Moreover, this color indicates the decomposition of bodies, the bitumen used in mummification, but also the fertile silt, a symbol of rebirth. Its element was the earth.

    •  Festivities in his honor: Anubis does not seem to have had any festivals regularly celebrated across the country. At least he was honored in many necropolises and, of course, he was revered at each embalming. Also he was daily prayed to intensely.

    The cult of Anubis


    Evolution of the cult of Anubis 

    • During embalming operations the embalming priests never failed to take the mask of Anubis to pronounce certain ritual words. Many other names were given to him, proving the vigor of his cult and the importance of the texts dedicated to him.

    • Later, during the Ptolemaic period (305-30), Anubis was merged with the Greek god Hermes, becoming Hermanubis. He will continue to be the guardian of the Gates of the Beyond. This is why he can sometimes be depicted holding a key in his hand attached to a necklace. The center of this cult was Cynopolis "City of Dogs".

    • In the book XI of Apuleius (Writer of Berber origin, v.123-v.170), we learn that the cult of this God was maintained in Rome, at least until the second century. Hermanubis also appears in the alchemical and hermetic literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

    The catacomb of dogs 

    • Anubis played an important role in the life of the afterlife, with mortal souls. However, unlike those of other gods and goddesses, most of Anubis' temples are in the form of tombs and cemeteries. Not all of these tombs and cemeteries contained human remains. 

    • As such, there is a network of dog catacombs, systems of underground tunnels containing nearly eight million mummified dogs and other canids, such as jackals and foxes, to honor the jackal god of death. These dogs were given to Anubis in the hope that he would lend favors to their donors after their deaths.

    • Evidence also suggests that these dog catacombs were an important part of the Egyptian economy at Saqqarah, where merchants selling statues of the deity and breeders of dog-breeding animals were mummified in honor of Anubis.


    Principal places of worship of Anubis

    Each city had at least one chapel dedicated to Anubis, but the worship of this God was mostly personal. Each Egyptian's relationship to his impending death inevitably brought him into contact with God. 

    Its main places of worship were :

    • Assiut (or Lycopolis or Lykopolis or Lyco or Lycos in Greek: Lykopolis, or Syowt in Coptic, or Asyut or Usyiut in Arabic: أسيوط), an important city in Upper Egypt on the west bank of the Nile. Its two tutelary deities were the god Oupaout (or Oupouaout "The opener of the paths") who was represented in the form of a wild dog, hence the Greek name of the city Lycopolis "city of the wolf" (or city of the fox). He was in charge of protecting "The Sacred Land" (ta-djeser), together with his fellow Anubis, whose Asyut was the center of worship for the country.  On the emblem of the city was the elongated image of the black dog Anubis.

    • Only one of Anubis's own temples has been identified as an important center of his worship, in Cynopolis (or Hardai or Henu), the name of the city in Ptolemaic times, in the 17th century Upper Egyptian nome (The Name of the Jackal or Black Dog - inpw), of which he was the principal deity.

    • However, Anubis was worshipped in many chapels in other parts of the country. Places of worship were reserved for him everywhere, mainly at the entrance to necropolises. His worship seems to have been particularly strong in Deir-Rifeh (or Rifeh or Rifa or Deir Rifa or Dayr Rifah), in Middle Egypt, on the west bank of the Nile, and especially in Sharuna in Middle Egypt where a dog necropolis was discovered.

    Legends and myths



    • The main cult city of Anubis, was Asyut, where he was assimilated to Horus, which meant that he was considered the son of Osiris. However his ancestry is not well determined, the name of his mother is not clear, perhaps Nephthys? In which case, he would be an incestuous child between Osiris and his sister.
    • The legend tells that he would be the child of this love. Fearing the wrath of the great God Seth, Nephthys hid the child in the swamps. The Goddess Isis discovered the infidelity of her husband Osiris and went in search of the infant. She found him in the swamps, raised him as her son and made him her protector. In Memphis, it was thought that Isis, Osiris' lawful wife, was his mother. Finally, it should also be added that she was sometimes given as her mother the Goddess Bastet, the left eye of the God Re.

    Weighing of the heart

    • Anubis was at the head of the "weighing of the heart" ceremony: a ceremony dedicated to defining the fate of a person's soul in the life of the afterlife. This ceremony takes place after the purification and mummification of the body of the deceased.

    • In ancient Egypt, it was believed that the heart was the place where a person's emotions, intelligence, will and morality are found. Thus, for a soul to be able to go to the afterlife, its heart must be deemed pure and good.

    • Everything began at the moment of death, the soul of the deceased was welcomed at the gates of the Amenti (Dwelling Place of the Dead) by Anubis. From that moment on, the dog God protected the soul, just freed, from all the risks that presented themselves to it during its journey to Osiris, the judge and ruler of the world of the dead.

Anubis and the soul of the deceased then headed for the ends of the world, to one of the four mountains that support the sky. Both embarked in the boat known as "Kheper" and began the descent of the night gallery where the River of Hell flows. Lying in the turbulent waters was the serpent Apophis, an enemy of Ra, who suddenly tried to hinder the boat. The banks were filled with monstrous creatures that pounced on travelers. Gigantic baboons tried to capture the deceased with large nets. Knife-wielding snakes and five-headed reptiles, all hungry, agitated on the shore.

    • The deceased was terrorized, but Anubis was there to protect him. To get out of this terrifying realm, seven doors had to be opened, each guarded by a deity. Anubis helped the deceased find the magic words needed to open them. Then he had to pass through seven pylons

    • After the last one, the soul, still accompanied by Anubis, arrived at the Hall of Justice of Osiris. In the middle of it stood a stepped pyramid that still had to be climbed. The deceased was supported by Anubis. At the top stood the throne of Osiris and before him stood the scales, the instrument of his judgment. From then on, Anubis could no longer be of any help to him. The soul was alone before its judges.



    • Anubis is one of the principal gods of the Pantheon, linked to the most important deities of Egypt, and as such he could not but enjoy great prestige.

    • He is often referred to as "the psychopompe", a Greek term meaning that Anubis accompanied the soul. This accompanying role made him a reassuring God for the Egyptians. The importance of the psychopompe was of particular importance to the Egyptians, for more than their earthly lives, it was their lives in the afterlife that preoccupied them.

    • Because of this, Anubis was revered by all who hoped at the moment of death to be judged "righteous in voice," and therefore fit to pass into the hereafter. It was he who guided them, comforted them during their post-mortem journey.


    * Dictionaries and encyclopedias Britannica, Larousse and Universalis.
    * Encyclopedia of Mythology by Arthur COTTERELL; (several editions) Oxford 2000
    * Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities by Charles RUSSELL COULTER and Patricia Turner
    * Dictionary of mythologies in 2 volumes by Yves BONNEFOY, Flammarion, Paris, 1999.
    * The Encyclopedia of Mythology: Gods, Heroes and Beliefs of the World by Neil PHILIP, Editions Rouge et Or, 2010
    * Myths and legends from around the world; Editions de Lodi, 2006 Collective.
    * Myths and mythology by Félix GUIRAND and Joël SCHMIDT, Larousse, 1996.
    * Dictionary of Symbols by Jean CHEVALIER and Alain GHEERBRANT, 1997.
    * Dictionary of the fable of François NOEL
    * Critical dictionary of mythology by Jean-loic LE QUELLEC and Bernard SERGEN


    Anubis Statues and Jewelry 

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