Anubis is closely associated with Osiris and with Thoth. He is the patron, guardian, guide and guild master of the funerary arts. He initiates, step by step, the procedures of the mummification of Osiris. Anubis is Patron of Embalming and Caretaker of The Dead, guiding deceased souls through the processes of mummification and guaranteeing the success of the procedure. He is the Nayture who guards the Great Pathway to the Next Dimension.
Cult symbols of Anubis are an ox-hide displayed on a pole and elements of the embalming equipment. One of Osiris’s names is “Bull of His Mother,” and Anubis is also “Lord of the Cattle.” The tanned ox-hide is a metaphor for the processes of preservation over which Anubis ruled. Some of other his names are, “The One Who is on Top of His Mountain, Lord of The Sacred Dimensions, as well as “Lord of The Cave,” referring to the tomb. Anubis is the divine power who leads the deceased to the Scales of Mayat.
The phrase Inpu hotep da is used, meaning “May Anubis give offering,” as well as “May Anubis give peace.” This is usually followed with a list of party-items provided for the grand “picnic of the dead” that were regularly given in honor of the deceased, during which food, drink, perfume and other offerings were presented to the ka of the deceased. Once the offerings had sat on the altar through the course of the ritual singing and chanting, they were then gratefully consumed by the members of the funeral party. Egyptians made such great celebration of the joys of life because their spiritual faith kept them aware that life is a journey from birth to death and from death to eternity. The ultimate importance of the Anubis image is that our spiritual beliefs in the Next Life are the guide and guardian of the way we live our lives.
Ritual burial sites have always defined human culture and religion. Scientists who study humankind’s most ancient ancestors describe sites where human remains have been found accompanied by remnants of dried blossoms or pollen or with ritual and personal artifacts buried alongside as the first signs of mythological and religious impulse. Even in the earliest burials the body is found in carefully organized positions or with elaborate wrappings. By this definition, Anubis is the continuity of our earliest spiritual expressions. His worship was carried forward into high Egyptian civilization from the days of the cave and the great hunt.
Anubis comes from the Paleolithic past when canine ancestors forged their first alliances with humanity and became our companions, as guides in our travels and as guards in a world full of dangerous animals and treacherous landscapes. These canine guides are the runners of the pathway of life, source of the image of the one who leads the soul through the maze of the journey between dimensions. The dog as spirit-guide can be found around the world. Anubis is the companion and guide leading you through the maze to the next life in the same way that the loyal dog at your side will lead you home in the dark. Anubis is as caring and as trustworthy as well. This sense of trust given to a familiar canine presence was invoked for the comfort and faithfulness of your spiritual guide. That sense of a comforting, trusting relationship to the guide is the basis of the Anubis image.
One clue to the spiritual nature of Anubis is that the traditions of who his parents were varies from place to place and era to era. In some traditions, he is the son of Rae and Nephthys. In the temple complex of the twenty-second Upper Egyptian province, Anubis was the part of the trinity of the white cow Hesat and the black bull Mnevis. One of the puns on his name is that inpu, the ancient spelling of his name, translates as “The One Who Runs” and also “Royal Child.” Anubis as the royal child of this divine couple further emphasizes the belief that following the pathway of the spirit was a natural function of our biology. The Greek writer Plutarch named Osiris and Nephthys in this role. Older texts, such as the Coffin Texts, refer to the trinity of Kynopolis in which the white cow Hesat is the mother of Anubis. This relationship earned him the occasional title of “Lord of The Cattle.” This is likely a reference to their dogs as helpers in guarding and managing cattle. In the same tradition of the Coffin Texts, the feline goddess Bastet is Anubis’s mother. In later texts, Isis-as-Sakhmet is listed as his mother rather than Nephthys. These metaphors each point to the role of the woman in the family as the ultimate source of the spiritual teaching and guidance for the young child. Mother, as well as the women in their extended households, set the young Egyptian on the pathway of the Great Journey by sharing with the child an awareness of faith and the tenets of belief.
The Anubis Hound
Two ancient breeds of dog are associated with the Anubis hound. Egyptologists are uncertain whether the word used to describe Anubis means “dog-faced” or “jackal-faced.” Some consider it to be a jackal, because these nocturnal animals are known to haunt grave sites and dig up and rob graves that are not properly secured. The Romans portrayed Anubis as a black wolf. The latest thinking, however, is that this is a tradition which was grafted onto the Anubis image much later in the evolution of his spiritual iconography. The most influential Anubis temple complex was in the seventeenth Upper Egyptian Nome, named by the Greeks Kynopolis, which means “Dog City,” suggesting that they understood Anubis to be a dog-faced deity, not a jackal.
The Egyptian Saluki is one of the candidates for the breed represented in their artwork as Anubis. The Saluki is the oldest known breed, with records dating back to 6,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia. The Saluki has the greyhound-like physique, as well as the longer, slightly bushy tail.
The other breed is the Basenji, almost as old a breed as the Saluki and with a similar build but with a tightly curled tail. This tail curl does appear in some of the artwork depicting Anubis. Egyptians did not have the great variety of dog breeds which evolved in the last two thousand years, making the Saluki and the Basenji the most likely candidates. These breeds still thrive, scions of an incredibly ancient heritage. Their owners have posted a number of fascinating and enthusiastically presented websites about them. A search on the breed names will produce a wealth of information and photographs.