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January 05, 2019 2 min read

Anubis is actually the Greek name of the Egyptian god originally known as Anpu, which means “royal child”. In early mythology, he is a son of Ra, but intermediate texts show him as the son of the cow goddess Hesat or the cat-headed Bastet. Later, he is identified as the son of Ra and Nephthys. Some versions of the Osiris myth show Anubis as the illegitimate son of Nephthys and Osiris (and the motive for Set’s murder of Osiris), but then adopted by Osiris's wife Isis. His female counterpart is Anput and his daughter is the serpent goddess Kebechet. In art he is usually depicted in canine form, or sometimes as a man with a canine head. Archaeologists have identified Anubis’ animal form as the African golden wolf. However, Anubis was mainly black, a colour connected with the fertile soil of the Nile delta, symbolising regeneration and life.

Throughout Egyptian history, Anubis has held various roles. In the Old Kingdom he was the most important god of the dead, before being replaced by Osiris. He was known as a protector of graves and an embalmer. At the “Weighing of the Heart” he judged the weighing scale to determine whether a soul was worthy to enter into the underworld and then he ushered souls into the realm of the dead. Anubis weighed the heart of the deceased person against Ma'at (the Egyptian moral code), represented by an ostrich feather. Souls heavier than a feather would be devoured by Ammit, a fierce demoness goddess, with a body part lion, part hippopotamus and part crocodile, the three largest animals in Egypt. Souls lighter than a feather would be rewarded to afterlife in Duat.

Anubis protected the body of Osiris from Set. Set attempted to attack the body of Osiris by transforming himself into a leopard. Anubis prevented the attack by branding Set's skin with a hot iron rod. Anubis then skinned Set, wearing his skin to warn all those who dare desecrate the tombs of the dead. In funerary rituals priests wore leopard skin to commemorate Anubis' victory over Set. The story of Anubis branding Set’s leopard hide was used to explain how the leopard got its spots.

During the Ptolemaic period (350–30 BC) Egypt became a Hellenistic kingdom ruled by Greek pharaohs. Anubis was merged with the Greek god Hermes, becoming Hermanubis. Both gods were known for guiding souls to the afterlife. Hermanubis appears in alchemical and hermetical literature of the Renaissance.

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