Anubis: God of the Dead

Anubis

Anubis is the Greek name for the god of mummification and the afterlife described in ancient Egyptian religious scripts. The Jackal-headed god is also known as Inpu, Anupu, and current translations of Egyptian texts peg the pronunciation as Anapa. He was the first god of the dead and mummification described in Egyptian history, and was once the most important, Osiris eventually replaced Anubis in prominence, though Anubis retained his role as in mummification and embalming.

Common imagery also has Anubis portrayed as judge of the souls of the afterlife, and would have been the god that witnessed the ruling of a person’s soul against the weight of the feather. Osiris also usurped the role as judge of the dead when he came to prominence in the middle kingdom, though Anubis still brought the dead’s soul to the scales. Anubis retained some prominence though as the original god of the underworld, and many depictions of parades had Anubis at the head.

The image of the Jackal headed god is striking enough, and his role as judge of the dead significant enough, that popular culture picked up on this deity’s role and used very loose legends of the god’s role to populate several current era movies and TV series. The Movie ‘The Mummy Returns’ has the heroes trying to stop a legion of ‘Anubis Warriors’ before they can conquer the world, where each warrior has the traditional jackal headed look portrayed in Egyptian artwork. The TV Series Stargate: SG1 features Anubis as a villain that ‘returned from the dead’ as a major threat to the main characters, using heavily ‘interpreted’ versions of Egyptian mythology to explain the origins of the character. Both popular portrayals used common knowledge of Egyptian mythology, but twisted them to make their plotlines work.

Egyptian mythology did not really need much embellishment, despite popular attempts to do so. Anubis was alternately the son of Ra in some Myths, but the son of Osiris and Nephthys in other mythology. This is where his role as the patron deity of embalming came into play. He ended up embalming his own father, and receiving his organs as a gift. When Osiris revived, he took over the role his son once held, in somewhat of a reversal of many myths, where the son takes over the role of the father.

Like the other deities of ancient Egypt, Anubis faded in prominence with the arrival of the Greeks, though he did maintain a strong presence until the fall of the Egyptian pharaohs. Anubis had temples and cults throughout the Nile delta and the necropolis at Saqqara seemed especially dedicated to the Anubis cult. Even as Egyptian culture eventually became subsumed by the arrival of a foreign religion, Anubis remained prominent enough that his worship persisted significantly longer than many of the other Egyptian deities. Anubis was enough of a striking figure though that even though Egyptian cults and culture may have gone by the wayside, you still see prominent figures of the Jackal headed god in common culture and in modern times.

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