God Anubis

The jackal  god of mummification and the guardian of the  cemetery, Anubis played three important roles in  the funerary rituals. First, he was the guardian of the  cemetery, where he often appears as the jackal wearing a collar decorated with magical inscriptions and  holding a flail or whip, a sign of authority. Second, mythology tells us that Anubis embalmed  Osiris and was the protector of the god’s body during  and after the embalming. Anubis’s most important  role is to prepare the mummy for its journey to the  Netherworld.

Third, Anubis is the guardian of the mummy in his  or her tomb. Images of Anubis are prominent in the  tomb of Tutankhamen. When the British Egyptolo- gist Howard Carter opened Tutankhamen’s tomb in  1922, he found the storeroom packed with magical  items that the king would need in the next world.  Between the paws of a statue of Anubis facing west was  a magical reed torch with a brick stand that had a small  hole in the middle in which the reed could be placed. 

Scratched on the brick was the ominous spell: It is I who hinder the sand from choking the  sacred chamber, and who repel he would repel him with the desert-flames. I have set aflame the desert(?),  I have caused the path to be mistaken. I am for the protection of Osiris.

It was the duty of Anubis to guard this room, which  in ancient times was called the “Treasury of the Inner- most.” Anubis was perched on a shrine that had several  compartments, each of which held funerary objects,  including four blue faience forelegs of a bovine animal  and two wooden amulets in the shape of a mummy. Different myths claim different gods as the parents  of Anubis. One myth says his mother was Nephthys  and his father was Osiris; in other myths his father  was Set. The Greek writer Plutarch wrote that  Anubis was the son of Osiris and Isis. Plutarch also noted that the dog (Anubis) “. . . is equally watchful  by day and by night, making him a good guardian.” Anubis’s home was the cemetery, and his most  important duty was to preside over embalming and  mummification.

Anubis is said to have mummified  Osiris and wrapped his body in fine linen bandages  woven by the sisters Isis and Nephthys. Tomb paint- ings show him attending the mummy in the tomb,  placing his hands on the mummy and saying, “I have  come to protect Osiris,” for every mummified body  was associated with Osiris, the god of the dead. Other  scenes show Anubis offering the heart to the mummy  in its coffin so the body will be complete when it  reaches the Netherworld. In actual mummifications, a priest wearing a jackal-head mask played the part of  Anubis. Anubis is mentioned in several mythological texts.  In the Book of the Dead, he is shown in the vignettes  or illustrations attending the weighing of the heart  ceremony in the Hall of the Two Truths. Anubis  stands next to the scale where the heart of the mummy  is weighed to make sure it is as light as the feather of  truth; if so, he will prepare the deceased for immortality while Thoth stands ready to record the decision.

 In the Book of Caverns, Anubis first wraps the head  of the deceased king, placing linen strips on the face  of the mummy to support and preserve it. It is Anubis  who prevents the corpse from decaying by anointing  the mummy with sacred oils and fragrant incense. The  seven magical unguents used in embalming were also  used in daily life. They were called festival perfume,  Hekenu oil, Syrian balsam, Nechenem salve, anointing  oil, best cedar oil, and best Libyan oil. Anubis’s several titles acknowledged his varying  roles as god of mummification: Imy-ut, “he who is at the place of embalming”  (guardian of embalming) Tepy-dju-ef, “he who is upon his hill” (Anubis  guarding the necropolis) Neb-ta-djser, “lord of the sacred land” (the actual  necropolis) Khenty-imentiu, “foremost of the westerners”  (first among the deceased) Khenty-seh-netjer, “lord of the god’s pavilion” (a  symbol for the tent where mummification  took place) AnubIs.

When the Greeks and, later, the Romans ruled  Egypt, Anubis was worshipped as a cosmic deity who  brought light to the people. Shown on the walls of the  catacombs in Alexandria, Anubis appears in the garb  of a Roman general while serving as the guardian of  Osiris. In second-century Rome, Anubis was described as  he appeared in the Procession of Isis by the author  Apuleius: Immediately after these came the Deities conde- scending to walk upon human feet, the foremost  among them rearing terrifically on high his dog’s  head and neck—this messenger between heaven  and hell displaying alternately a face black as  night, and as golden as the day . . .Anubis remained important as a guardian of the  dead until the Christian era, when mummification  was outlawed.


God Apis

The Apis bull is  a rare example of the Egyptians worshipping a living  animal as a god. The Apis was a special bull believed to  be a god by the ancient Egyptians. He was worshipped  during his life and then mummified when he died. The cult of the Apis was central to Egyptian  religion and dates from Egypt’s earliest settlements.  Because of its strength and virility, the bull was  associated with the pharaoh and his divinity. The cult  of the Apis, associated with Ptah, the creator god of  Memphis, was very popular during the reign of the  Ptolemies, Greeks who ruled Egypt from the city of  Alexandria (332–32 b.c.).

God Apis

According to the Greek historian Herodotus,  a bolt of lightning came down from heaven and impregnated the mother of the Apis. The Apis calf  had special markings: It was black with a white dia- mond on its forehead, an eagle on its back, a scarab  under its tongue, and split tail hairs. There was only one Apis bull alive at any time.  When the bull died, all of Egypt mourned, and a  search for the new Apis calf began. In general, the  Egyptian religion was based on the idea of resurrection: When a person died, he or she could resurrect  in the next world. When the Apis bull died, however,  the Egyptians seemed to believe in reincarnation,  that the bull would be born again in this world in the  body of another bull.

During its lifetime, the Apis was pampered, perfumed, and adored each day in luxurious surroundings  at the temple complex in Memphis. The cow that gave  birth to the Apis was also venerated and associated  with Isis as a divine mother; when the cow died, it was  buried in a special tomb called the Iseum. When the Apis bull died, it was mummified on a  huge alabaster table, and several of these mummifica- tion tables can still be seen at the site of the ancient  city of Memphis.

After the rites of mummification,  the Apis was taken in sacred procession to a special  burial place, the serapeum, an extensive underground  cavern at Saqqara that held the granite sarcophagus  of each Apis bull. After death the Apis became one  with Osiris and was called Osirapis (see Serapis).  The Apis bull was one of three sacred bulls in ancient  Egypt (see the Buchis and the Mnevis bulls). The cult of the Apis bull was so popular and so  important to the Egyptians that when the invading  Persian king Cambyses (ruled 525–522 b.c.) reached  the city of Memphis, he could think of no greater  insult than to kill and eat the Apis bull.


Egyptian Akhet 

The exact spot on the horizon where  Nut, the sky goddess, gives birth to Re the sun god  each morning. Egyptian mythology relates that at  the end of each day, when the sun set, the sun god  traveled through the 12 hours of night, crossing the Underworld.

When the sun appeared on the horizon  at dawn, it was recognized as a sign of rebirth and  renewal and a triumph over darkness. The heretic  king Akhenaten believed the akhet appeared on the  horizon to show him where to build Akhet-Aten, his  new city in the desert. Akhet is the hieroglyph for horizon, and the word  akhet is also the name of one of the three seasons in  the ancient Egyptian calendar. It was the first season  after the Egyptian new year and corresponds with  our month of July.

 Amulets in the shape of the akhet  represented Re the sun god and provided powerful  protection to the wearer. Akhet amulets are almost  always redcarved from carnelian or made of red  glass or faience.


God Amun

  The supreme deity of ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom (1550–1069 b.c.), Amun is one  of the most ancient gods in the Egyptian pantheon.  Amun was the principal god of the city of Thebes,  along with his wife, Mut, the lion-headed goddess,  and their son, Khonsu, the moon god. Egyptian gods  frequently came in threes, or triads. Over Egypt’s long  history, Amun gained many titles: Amun Kematef;  “He Whose Time is Over”; “Lord of the Throne  of the Two Lands”; and “Eldest of the Gods of the  Eastern Sky,” to name a few.

Amun’s name meant the  “hidden one” or “that which is concealed,” implying  that his nature was unknowable. A possible origin of his name is the ancient Libyan  word aman, or “water.” In one creation myth, a group  of eight gods lived in the Ogdoad, or primordial  water, and they were the first gods to come into existence. Amun and his first wife, Amunet, were the  gods of the Ogdoad, representing “hiddenness.” In statues and paintings, Amun is personified as a  man, either standing or seated on his throne, wearing  a kilt and a round, flat crown with a sun disk and two  tall ostrich feathers on top. His skin is often blue,  perhaps a symbol for water or lapis lazuli, a highly  prized stone worthy of the gods.

The animals sacred to Amun were the goose and  a special breed of ram with large, curling horns. The  ram became the symbol of Amun, as did the ram’s  horns, and sometimes Amun was depicted as a ram  or as a ram-headed man. Amun probably was first worshipped as an agricultural god who assured abundant crops and fertility  in animals. Over time he evolved from a minor local  god to the supreme deity in the Egyptian pantheon.  Amun is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, where he  is said to “protect the other gods with his shadow.”  The earliest known temple for Amun was built in the  Eleventh Dynasty (2125–2055 b.c.) in Thebes. In ancient Egypt, religion and politics went hand  in hand, and when the Theban princes in the south  won a battle with the north, they united the country  and started the Twelfth Dynasty (1985–1795 b.c.).

 The powerful southern kings paid special homage  to Amun, in thanks for his divine help, by taking the  god’s name as their own. King Amenemhet I (Amun- em-het) took the name “Amun is Supreme,” as did  his immediate successors. Their patron deity became  “the king of the gods.” As the cult of Amun became  powerful, Waset (later called Thebes by the Greeks),  grew in power and wealth and was called the City of  Amun. During the New Kingdom (1550–1069 b.c.),  when Egypt was at the height of its Golden Age,  Waset was named the capital of Egypt and the most  important religious center in the land. Amun’s most important religious celebration was  the Festival of Opet in Thebes. Cult statues of  Amun, Mut, and Khonsu were carried from Karnak  Temple to Luxor Temple once a year, and the whole  city celebrated the joyous event. Amun was often credited by the queens of Egypt  as having fathered their children.

When Queen  Hatshepsut came to power, she inscribed the story  of her divine birth, from the union of Amun and her  mother, Queen Ahmose, on the wall of her mortuary  temple at Deir el Bahri. The queen is visited by  Amun in the guise of her husband; the god and the  queen sit on a bed, with hands touching. Amun holds  an ankh, the sign of life, to the queen’s nose, and  in due time she gives birth to Hatshepsut. Carvings on the walls of Luxor Temple show how Amun  visited Queen Mutemwiya in the same fashion, and  their union produced her son, Amenhotep III.

The  clear portrayal of this myth helped to strengthen  Hatshepsut’s and Amenhotep’s right to the throne of  Egypt, and Hatshepsut boasted that she erected her  obelisk at Karnak “for her father Amun.” Thebes (modern Luxor) was the center of the  Egyptian universe, and Amun was its most powerful  god. By elevating Amun to the position of supreme  god, the Egyptian priests came close to the idea  of monotheism, a concept that would be fully  developed later when Akhenaten came to power  (1352–1336 b.c.). Amun’s popularity continued even  during the Ptolemaic dynasty (332–32 b.c.), for the  Greeks saw Amun as a version of their principal  god, Zeus.