Anubis: Ancient Symbolism and Meaning

Anubis is one of ancient Egypt’s most iconic and fascinating figures. Known for his jackal-head and dark, sleek physique, this deity was deeply intertwined with the afterlife as a guide and protector of souls. Anubis’s role wasn’t just limited to mythical tales; his symbolism permeated everyday life, making him a constant and revered presence in ancient Egyptian culture. His powerful imagery and intriguing roles continue to captivate people’s imaginations, transcending time and bridging cultures.

History and Origin of Anubis

The god Anubis occupies a central position in the rich mythology of ancient Egypt. Regarded as the protector of graves and a guide to the deceased, Anubis’s influence spanned religious rites, arts, and cultural practices, making him a complex deity with diverse representations and interpretations.

As a primary figure of the Egyptian pantheon, Anubis’s presence can be traced back to the Old Kingdom, around 2686–2181 BC, where he was initially the chief god of the dead before Osiris took over this role. Nonetheless, Anubis’s significance persisted, maintaining an essential role in the rituals and beliefs associated with death and the afterlife.

Anubis in Ancient Egyptian Mythology

Anubis, or Anpu in Ancient Egyptian, played a vital role in Egyptian mythology as the guardian of the dead. His primary function was to oversee the mummification process, the body’s preservation after death, which was integral to the ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife. In addition, Anubis was considered a just and fair deity, ensuring the smooth transition of the soul from the mortal realm to the eternal.

In addition to his role as a guardian, Anubis was also a psychopomp, a guide for souls to the world of the dead. It was believed that he escorted the spirits of the deceased through the afterlife trials and led them to the Hall of Ma’at, where their hearts would be weighed against the Feather of Truth to decide their fate in the afterlife.

Evolution of Anubis’s Depiction and Role Over Time

Over centuries, the depiction and role of Anubis evolved significantly. In early dynastic periods, Anubis was the principal god of the dead before Osiris took over this title during the Middle Kingdom. Despite this, Anubis retained his importance as the god of mummification and protector of graves, still revered for his association with death rites.

With the advent of the New Kingdom and the increasing prominence of Osiris, Anubis’s role transformed further. He became the loyal assistant to Osiris, helping judge the souls of the deceased in the afterlife. The changing roles of Anubis mirror the evolution of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs and practices, reflecting shifts in their understanding of life, death, and the intricate journey of the soul.

Running Short on Time? Dive into this Quick Summary!

Are you pressed for time, or are you just eager to explore a specific symbol linked with Anubis? No problem! We’ve got you covered with a handy summary table that quickly encapsulates the meaning and significance of each symbol. This swift guide allows you to grasp the essence of these rich symbols at a glance or jump straight to your preferred section.

S/NoSymbolMeaning and Significance
1The JackalThe Jackal head, characteristic of Anubis, symbolizes his protective role in guiding souls in the afterlife.
2The AnkhSymbolizing life, the Ankh represents the eternal aspect of existence and Anubis’s role in facilitating the soul’s journey to immortality.
3The Was ScepterAn emblem of power and authority, the Was Scepter reinforces Anubis’s control over the afterlife.
4The Imiut FetishAssociated with embalming, the Imiut Fetish highlights Anubis’s role as preserver of the body for its afterlife journey.
5The Flail and CrookThese symbols underscore Anubis’s dual roles as a caring guide to the deceased and a powerful enforcer of order and justice in the afterlife.
6The Uraeus (Cobra)The Uraeus denotes sovereignty and protection, emphasizing Anubis’s divine authority and protective nature in the underworld.
7The Feather of Ma’atSymbolizing truth and justice, the Feather of Ma’at aligns Anubis with the divine adjudication of souls in the afterlife.
8The Black ColorThe color black, linked with fertility and rebirth, stresses Anubis’s connection with regeneration and the cyclical nature of life and death.

Symbols of the God Anubis

Anubis’s portrayal is teeming with rich symbols, each woven with layers of meaning that offer a deeper understanding of this complex deity. From his jackal head to the symbolic objects he holds, these icons are not merely artistic choices but powerful statements about life, death, and the divine in ancient Egypt. Let’s examine these captivating symbols to unravel the intriguing tales and truths they represent.

1. The Jackal

The Jackal is one of the most prominent symbols associated with Anubis. In ancient Egypt, jackals were commonly seen in cemeteries and burial grounds, leading to their association with the afterlife. Thus, Anubis, depicted with a jackal’s head, became a symbol of protection for graves and the dead.

Significance of the Jackal Symbol

The significance of the Jackal symbol with Anubis is profound. The jackal, a scavenger known to survive in harsh environments, symbolized resilience and the ability to navigate the complex realm of the dead. By embodying the jackal, Anubis was perceived as a vigilant guide and a guardian, safeguarding the deceased’s journey into the afterlife and protecting their resting places from desecration. It represented the inherent duality of life and death, existing simultaneously as a reminder of mortality and a beacon of hope for eternal life.

2. The Ankh

The Ankh is a distinctive symbol in ancient Egyptian culture, often depicted in the hands of deities, including Anubis. The Ankh, also known as the “key of life,” represents life and longevity. Its unique shape, a cross with a loop on top, is thought to symbolize the union of opposites, the earth (the horizontal line) and the divine (the vertical line), crowned by the loop of eternal life.

Interpretation of the Ankh in Anubis’s Imagery

When Anubis is depicted holding the Ankh, it underscores his role as a guide and protector in the afterlife. The “key of life” in the hands of the guardian of the deceased signifies the potential for eternal life after death, a concept central to ancient Egyptian beliefs. This association showcases Anubis’s role in securing life after death for the souls he guides, reinforcing his importance in the afterlife journey.

3. The Was Scepter

The Was Scepter is a powerful symbol from ancient Egypt, commonly seen in depictions of gods, including Anubis. The Was Scepter, characterized by its long shaft, forked base, and topped by canine head, represents power and dominion. It symbolizes authority, signifying the divine control exercised by the deity who wields it.

The Was Scepter in Anubis’s Iconography

When associated with Anubis, the Was Scepter adds another layer to his persona. It underscores his divine authority in the underworld and over the rituals of death and mummification. By holding the Was Scepter, Anubis is shown as a potent force overseeing the realm of the dead, demonstrating his control and influence in the soul’s journey. This depiction instills a sense of trust and reverence towards Anubis, ensuring that the souls he guides are under safe and authoritative protection.

4. The Imiut Fetish

The Imiut Fetish is an intriguing symbol associated with Anubis. It consists of a stuffed, skin-covered animal head, often a big cat or a bull, on a pole with a lotus flower at the top, and it is usually placed inside a jar. This symbol was typically associated with embalming and the rites of mummification.

The Role of the Imiut Fetish in Anubis’s Depictions

In the context of Anubis’s depictions, the Imiut Fetish amplifies his connection with the mummification process. As the god of embalming, Anubis used the Imiut Fetish to ensure the body’s preservation and preparedness for its journey into the afterlife. Thus, it further accentuates Anubis’s role as a preserver and protector, highlighting his efforts to maintain the body’s integrity even in death.

5. The Flail and Crook

The Flail and Crook are paired symbols often appearing in ancient Egyptian deities’ depictions. The Crook, shaped like a shepherd’s staff, represents guidance and leadership, while the Flail, a farming tool, symbolizes the capacity to provide and nourish. Still, it can also be an emblem of punishment and the authority to maintain order.

The Flail and Crook in Anubis’s Representation

When these symbols are seen with Anubis, they emphasize his guiding and protective roles in the afterlife. The Crook underscores Anubis’s responsibility as the leader of souls to the underworld, while the Flail symbolizes his power to maintain order and justice during the journey. These symbols, therefore, present Anubis as a caring guide and a powerful enforcer, capable of leading and defending the souls entrusted to him.

6. The Uraeus (Cobra)

The Uraeus, typically represented as a cobra in an upright position, is a potent symbol in ancient Egyptian culture. The cobra was revered for its deadly potential and protective nature, symbolizing sovereignty, divine authority, and protection.

The Uraeus in Anubis’s Portrayals

In the context of Anubis, the Uraeus underscores the jackal-headed god’s divine authority and protective characteristics. It reinforces Anubis’s role as a protector – not just of the dead but also of the order in the underworld. This symbol, aligned with Anubis, reaffirms the sense of security and sanctity he provides in the afterlife, warding off any threats to the peace and stability of the souls he guards.

7. The Feather of Ma’at

The Feather of Ma’at symbolizes truth, balance, and order in ancient Egyptian culture. Ma’at, the goddess of truth, morality, and justice, used this feather to weigh against the hearts of the deceased in the Hall of Truth to determine their fate in the afterlife.

The Implication of the Feather of Ma’at in Anubis’s Imagery

When associated with Anubis, the Feather of Ma’at holds significant implications. It highlights Anubis’s role in the critical judgment in the Hall of Truth. Anubis, in collaboration with Ma’at, ensures the deceased face the consequences of their earthly actions. This association with the Feather of Ma’at reinforces Anubis’s commitment to justice and morality in the afterlife, aligning him with the divine adjudication of souls.

8. The Black Color

In the context of ancient Egyptian symbolism, black was a color of considerable significance. Contrary to some modern connotations, black did not represent evil or death but fertility and rebirth. This association came from the fertile black soil deposited by the Nile River, which brought life to the Egyptian lands.

Implications of the Black Color in Anubis’s Iconography

In the iconography of Anubis, black is a dominant color, further deepening his connection with regeneration and the afterlife. Anubis’s black coloration represents the fertile soil and, by extension, the idea of rebirth and renewal after death. It emphasizes the role of Anubis as a facilitator of the soul’s journey toward rebirth in the afterlife, linking him to the cyclical nature of life and death and the hopeful prospect of regeneration.

Anubis’s Role in Ancient Egyptian Rituals

In ancient Egyptian culture, Anubis was integral to the rites surrounding death and burial. As the god of embalming, he supervised the process of mummification, ensuring the preservation of the body for its journey into the afterlife. Anubis also protected the graves, maintaining the sanctity of the deceased’s resting place and shielding it from any possible desecration.

Anubis’s Role in the Judgment of the Dead

Beyond the physical realm, Anubis also played a crucial role in the spiritual aspect of death. He was involved in the Judgment of the Dead in the Hall of Truth, where the hearts of the deceased were weighed against the Feather of Ma’at. Anubis, who led the souls to this divine court and overseer of the weighing process, played a key part in determining the fate of the souls in the afterlife.

Modern References and Interpretations of Anubis

With his distinctive imagery and intriguing mythology, Anubis has become a popular figure in contemporary culture. He has appeared in numerous books, movies, and video games, usually maintaining his role as a guide or guardian of the afterlife. While sometimes adapted for contemporary audiences, these portrayals often retain the core elements of Anubis’s ancient symbolism, ensuring his enduring presence in cultural narratives.

Anubis’s Symbolism in Modern Spiritual Practices

In addition to popular culture, Anubis also finds relevance in modern spiritual practices. Some neo-pagan religions and spiritual paths that draw inspiration from ancient traditions incorporate Anubis into their beliefs and rituals. His symbolism – as a guide, a protector, and a figure associated with the afterlife – resonates with contemporary seekers, highlighting the timeless appeal of his mythology. Anubis continues to symbolize guidance, protection, and the mysteries of life and death, whether as an archetype, a spirit guide, or a deity.


In summary, Anubis’ss, the ancient Egyptian god of the afterlife, holds profound symbolism. His unique imagery, characterized by the Jackal head, the Ankh, the Was Scepter, the Imiut Fetish, the Flail and Crook, the Uraeus, the Feather of Ma’at, and his black coloration, each contrMa’at to his multi-faceted persona. These symbols emphasize Anubis’s roles as a protector, guide, and oAnubis’sof the afterlife, solidifying his significance in ancient Egyptian mythology. His involvement in burial rituals and the Judgment of the Dead further underscores his integral part in the death-and-afterlife narrative of ancient Egypt.
Over centuries, Anubis’s impact has extended beyond the ancAnubis’sld and into modern cultures. His symbolism and mythology continue to resonate, appearing in popular culture and influencing contemporary spiritual practices. Whether through the medium of books, movies, video games, or modern spiritual paths, the figure of Anubis maintains a significant presence, highlighting the timeless and universal appeal of his narrative. Anubis is a powerful symbol of the journey beyond life, a testament to our enduring fascination with the mysteries of death and the afterlife.

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