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Deities of the World: Anubis, the story of the Egyptian God of the Underworld

Today in Deities of the Wold, let’s talk about Anubis, the Egyptian god of the underworld, that has intrigued historians for centuries.

The knowledge of how Mother Nature operates has been a challenge for humanity since its beginnings. Today we understand a little more about how certain phenomena such as thunder or other more mysterious phenomena like optical halos in the sky are generated. However, ancient cultures did not have an explanation for it, which is why their reading of reality was gradually forming a worldview full of gods who gave meaning to the phenomena around them. One of the most complexes that have bequeathed us a great pantheon of gods, as well as a vision that borders on mystery, is the Egyptian one, and one of its main gods, Anubis, helped them understand death and how humanity can face it.

What animal does Anubis represent?

According to historical descriptions, Anubis was represented by an animal described as a black jackal lying on its belly. Although representations of a jackal-headed person accompanied by a staff, a golden scale or the cross have also been found.

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Jackals are canid mammals very similar to wolves, although smaller and with reddish-brown or yellowish-gray fur (whitish on the lower parts). They feed on carrion and small animals and live in the temperate regions of Asia, Africa, and southeastern Europe in large herds.

Where does the name Anubis come from?

Nowadays he is known as Anubis; however, this is only the Greek deformation of his real name Input in Egyptian or Anoub in Coptic. His origin, however, is still surrounded by shadows, and it is not clear why he was named this way, although one of the explanations is that it is an onomatopoeia of the howl emitted by jackals. Some of the translations of hieroglyphs suggest that Anubis had several epithets that referred to him as ‘Lord of the necropolis,’ ‘Lord of the sacred land,’ ‘He who is on his mountain,’ ‘Lord of the embalmers,’ among some others.

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It seems that Anubis was of great importance for Ancient Egypt since one of his many tasks was to mummify the departed. In the religion of the Egyptian culture, mummification was not only understood as a technique to preserve corpses, but as a religious ritual where demise was treated as a curable disease.

The priests, who had to use a mask of Anubis to represent him, carried out this task in which the god had the power to make the heart of the deceased beat again in the afterlife. That is to say, he was in charge of the Underworld together with his father Osiris. For this reason, he was also known as the protector of the tombs; that is why most of them had Anubis carved on them.

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After resurrecting the dead in the Underworld, the Egyptians believed that Anubis led them to the court of Osiris, where the ‘psychostasis’ or ‘weighing of the soul’ took place. This was when Anubis placed on one of the plates of his golden scales a feather of the goddess Maat and the other side, the heart of the deceased, the source of the conscience and the sins committed in his life. If the scale tipped towards the feather of Maat it meant that Osiris would accept the entrance of the soul to the Underworld, otherwise, it would be eaten by Ammit, a monster half hippopotamus, half crocodile that would end its existence forever.

What does the symbol of Anubis mean?

The cross is an Egyptian symbol that often accompanied Anubis in his representations. It corresponds to a hieroglyphic whose name is ‘ankh’ which means life or eternal life and was drawn by the Egyptians as a cross with an oval or loop at the top. Anubis is not the only god who is seen carrying the ansa cross, many others like Horus also carry it in one of their hands on some occasions.

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Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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