The History of Anubis, God of Embalming and Funerals

Statue of Anubis at Vatican Museum

Paul Seheult/Getty Images

Anubis was the jackal-headed Egyptian god of death and embalming, and is said to be the son of Osiris by Nepthys, although in some legends his father is Set. It is the job of Anubis to weigh the souls of the dead, and determine whether they were worthy of admittance to the underworld. As part of his duties, he is the patron of lost souls and orphans.

History and Mythology

After Osiris was killed by Set, it was Anubis' job to embalm the body and wrap it in bandages, thus making Osiris the first of the mummies. Later, when Set attempted to attack and defile Osiris' corpse, Anubis defended the body and helped Isis restore Osiris to life. In later periods, Osiris became the god of the underworld, and Anubis guides the deceased into his presence. In the pyramid texts, a passage reads, "Get thee onwards, Anubis, into Amenti, onwards, onwards to Osiris."

Prayers to Anubis are found in many ancient sites in Egypt. Later on, along with Thoth, he was absorbed into the Greek Hermes, and was represented for a while as Hermanubis. As a protector of cemeteries, Egyptians believed Anubis watched over tombs from a high mountain. From this strategic vantage point, he could see anyone who might attempt to desecrate the graves of the deceased. He is often invoked as protection against those who would rob a tomb or commit evil acts in the necropolis.

According to Ancient History Expert, NS Gill, "The cult of Anubis is very ancient, probably pre-dating that of Osiris. In parts of Egypt, Anubis may have been more important than Osiris... As well as being ancient, the cult of Anubis lasted a long time, continuing into the second century CE, and is a feature in the Golden Ass, written by the Roman author Apuleius."

Author Geraldine Pinch says in Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt, "The jackals and wild dogs who lived on the edge of the desert were carrion eaters who might dig up shallowly buried corpses. To avert this horrible end for their dead, the early Egyptians tried to placate Anubis, "the dog who swallows millions." Most of the epithets of Anubis link him with death and burial. He was "the one who is in the place of embalming," "the Lord of the Sacred Land" [the desert cemeteries], and "the Foremost of the Westerners," that is, the leader of the dead."

Appearance of Anubis

Anubis is typically portrayed as half human, and half jackal or dog. The jackal has connections to funerals in Egypt, bodies which were not buried properly might be dug up and eaten by hungry, scavenging jackals. Anubis' skin is almost always black in images, because of its association with the colors of rot and decay. Embalmed bodies tend to turn black as well, so the color is very appropriate for a funeral god.

Prayer to Anubis

Use this simple prayer to call upon Anubis during a ritual to honor your dead.

O, Anubis! Mighty Anubis!
[Name] has entered the gates to your realm,
And we ask that you deem him worthy.
His spirit is a brave one,
And his soul is an honorable one.
O, Anubis! Mighty Anubis!
As you take his measure,
And weigh his heart as he stands before you,
Know that he was loved by many,
And will be remembered by all.
Anubis, welcome [Name] and deem him worthy of entrance,
That he may walk through your realm,
And be under your protection for all eternity.
O, Anubis! Mighty Anubis!
Watch over [Name] as he bows before you.

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "The History of Anubis, God of Embalming and Funerals." Learn Religions, Sep. 13, 2021, Wigington, Patti. (2021, September 13). The History of Anubis, God of Embalming and Funerals. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "The History of Anubis, God of Embalming and Funerals." Learn Religions. (accessed June 9, 2023).