Photo Essay: Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land (Part 1)
following after the night.
O Dread Lord, terror of millions,
fear of You possesses the hearts
of those enemies of Ausir Wennefer,
and their blood has watered the earth
on the day of the Haker-Festival.
It brings joy to your heart to see
the rebellious punished,
your seat upon the mount
being raised upon their bones.
in your holy presence.
elevated within the Duat.
purifications in the East.
by your silvery claws.
those who follow after You.
of the day.
by Master Iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
Do we need an introduction to Lord Anpu (or Anubis), not arguably one of the most famous deities in the Kemetic pantheon? If you do not know Him, then let me introduce you through the beginnings of my newest work, a cult image being made according to His specifications: “Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land”.
The religion of the ancient Egyptians was founded upon the conviction of immortality, and let it be said that their concept of immortality, contrary to New Age speculation, did not include the concept of reincarnation. The Egyptians were not aiming at rebirth in the physical, human world, nor did they believe in some abstract spiritual melting into a unified consciousness at the moment of death. No, the Egyptians believed in physical resurrection after death, a literal resurrection into the afterlife that was to be a perfect extension of their life on earth. This life was to be an eternal manifestation of life’s greatest joys, pleasures, and benefits, without the drawbacks of suffering or want. The spiritual components of a person’s personality were believed to be equally vital to survival after death, however, eternal life in the afterlife realm called the duat, the Sacred Land of the West, was a physical existence, and as such required a physical body(1).
Enter Anpu, the deity the Egyptians venerated as the inventor of the sacred art of mummification(2). The first being to be the recipient of Lord Anpu’s funereal skills was the God Ausir (Gr. Osiris), who had been slain and dismembered by His brother Seth. It was through the cunning knowledge of Anpu that the shattered body of Ausir was transformed into an immortal form, being preserved and bound together as the first true mummy. It was this act that allowed the Goddess Auset (Gr. Isis) to restore life to the body of Ausir, and thus to make of Him the judge and sovereign of the West (the duat, realm of the afterlife).
“Anpu Lord of the Sacred West” is a complex icon of an equally complex netjer (god), presenting the viewer with a veritable kaleidoscope of this deity’s many attributes and manifestations. These are woven together, one flowing very subtly into the other, using the multi-layered narrative of Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) iconography.
In the center we see Lord Anpu Himself, His gesture, although that of holding aloft the celestial disk (suggestive in this case of both sun and moon), is also that of the ka, the spiritual identity of each living being.
A nearly identical image from the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
It is my express opinion that the gilded and spotted cape worn by the God in these images is the leopard pelt worn by the classification of priests known as the sem, that is, those priests who performed the cultic/ funereal rites of Opening of the Mouth(4). It is well known that the presence of the God Anpu was mandatory in this ceremony, when a priest representing the God donned a canid mask of Anpu as he held up the mummy of the deceased outside the tomb in order to receive the Opening of the Mouth(5).
Mask of the God Anpu fitted with eye slits for use by priests in the rite of Opening the Mouth. Late period. Clay. H 49 cm. IN 1585. Roemer-Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim
My icon of Lord Anpu portrays the God in the role of a Sem Priest. Clad in the leopard pelt, with its distinctive head ornament hanging down over the torso of the God, Anpu walks at the foot of the sacred Mountain of the West. Here He performs His vital magical role as the embalmer of the God Ausir, whose mummified body is seen directly behind Anpu. This may at first seem strange and mistaken. If Anpu is here in the role of a Sem Priest, His duty being that of Opener of the Mouth of Ausir, shouldn’t the mummy of Ausir be placed near the entrance to His tomb, shown as if springing up from the side of the Mountain of the West?
Kemetic iconography is very specific concerning the cardinal directions and their magical/ symbolic functions. In the Egyptian view, east is married with left, and right is married with west(6). My icons always follow this fundamental view from the perspective of the viewer, thus I have placed the Mount of the West and the tomb of Ausir on the right, western side of the icon panel, while the mummy of the God stands on the left or eastern side. In this instance, my use of the cardinal directions follows the solar theology which places the blessed dead in the west, the place where the sun sets, the location of Ra’s entrance into the duat through the mouth of His mother Nut. On the eastern (left) side of the icon panel we find the mummy of Ausir in the cardinal direction signifying the rising and reborn sun, the location where the Sun-God Ra as Khepri becomes master of the day. East is always the place where the blessed dead are reborn, revivified, and reconstituted together with the triumphant Sun-God.
Part of the magical aim of this icon is to provide for the perpetual resurrection of the God Ausir via the ministrations of Anpu, who Himself is depicted giving rebirth to the solar disk (though the disk also doubles for the moon in this icon). The God Ausir wears His characteristic tall white crown, at the brow of which is the solar disk signifying His resurrection through the solar cycle, His being merged with the indestructible, cyclical power of the sun/ Sun-God. That is why I have placed the mummy of Ausir on the left, eastern side of the icon panel, for here Ausir is being given new life with the rising of the morning sun. He Himself is that newly-born sun, having defeated the stifling terror of the night/ death to become Lord of the Day.
To highlight the magic of Ausir’s resurrection we see that that the newly-risen God is sprouting leafy vines. These are the trailing plants of the snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria L.) and birthwort (Aristolochia clematitis L.) varieties, which, according to Dr. Lise Manniche, are the most likely candidates for the trailing and vine-like plants depicted in Egyptian tomb scenes where a connection with birth and fertility, thus rebirth and regeneration, is undoubtedly being suggested(7).
Painting from the tomb of Userhat (TT 51) depicting the God Ausir enthroned as trailing plants, papyrus, and lotus spring to life in His presence.
Also depicted in this icon is a cult object or fetish associated with the Gods Anpu and Ausir, know as the Imiut fetish. Representing a headless animal skin mounted on a pole, which in turn is fixed in a pot or vase, the Imiut appears in tomb and temple scenes often in the presence of either Anpu or Ausir, and is certainly a totem associated with the protective power of these deities, though it is probable that the Imiut began as an insignia of royal power and protection(11).
The Imiut in this instance is the symbol of the God Ausir, and is a veiled allusion to His brutal murder, a savage action that nevertheless initiated the process through which the God achieved resurrection in the duat, becoming its king and the judge of souls in the West. The neck of the fetish pours forth blood, signifying the tearing open of the body of Ausir, not only as a consequence of His being cut down, but also as a consequence of His mummification, a process requiring the evisceration of the corpse. Thus the Imiut here may be seen as the skin or corpse of Ausir before its transformation into an eternal body. It is through the magical arts of the God Anpu that the inanimate body of Ausir becomes a vehicle for His resurrection and immortality.
However, the Imiut as the fetish of Anpu spells out one of the primary epithets of the God in His most significant role, that of divine embalmer, He “Who is in the Wrappings”. It is by way of the process of wrapping, of placing a “skin” over the corpse of the deceased, that the shell of the body is metamorphosed into an eternal body, a living “statue” in which the spiritual essence of the deceased may reside forever. In its context within the Ausirian mythos, the Imiut represents this process of transformation into an eternal body, and thus the protection offered by the “skin” or “wrappings” in which the power of Anpu is present.
We see that the tail of the headless animal skin is itself being transformed into something new, a green papyrus flower, which becomes synonymous with the power of fertility over impotence, life over death, rebirth over putrefaction. The fact that the mummy of Ausir is depicted standing up over the papyrus tail of the Imiut tells us that the Imiut here is a rebus for the entire process of the Ausirian and solar nature. Ausir/ the sun/ Sun-God is first taken by that principle of night or inertness (death), thus sacrificed. It is by way of this sacrifice that the God Ausir/ Sun-God passes through the terror of the hours of darkness in order to achieve an eternal rebirth as an everlasting body. We see that the body of Ausir has undergone this transformation from corruption/ inertness/ death into a resurrected, renewed, and living god. And all of this process is possible because of the power of Anpu, who invented the process of purification, mummification, through which Ausir became an indestructible god.
The tomb of the God Ausir rises up from the sacred Mountain of the West, level with the legs and thighs of Anpu. Its form is that of the traditional funeral chapel of New Kingdom Egypt, complete with pyramidion and the name of the God Ausir in hieroglyphs. In a little round-topped niche above the tomb’s lintel we see the sign called nefer, representing the heart and windpipe. This is the phonogram for “beautiful”, “perfect”, “good”(12), but it is also part of one of the primary names of Ausir, Wennefer (Gr. Omnophris), “the Beautiful“, “the Good“, a name used in conjunction with the resurrection of the God in the next world(13). Thus this image of the tomb of Ausir is a rebus spelling out the name Ausir Wennefer, that is to say, “Ausir (Who is) the Beautiful (or perfect) God”.
From the resurrected body of Ausir climbs a trailing plant whose apex flowers in a five-pointed star within a circle, this spouting a “tail” composed of streamers of light. The five-pointed star is, of course, the hieroglyph for “star”, also used to represent the duat or Other world when it is fixed within a circle. However, this circle may also represent the body of Ausir encircling the “Other world” or duat (14), and its use here is meant to signify precisely that: the body of Ausir has become the duat, the place where life is renewed into an eternal, star-like form, a form of celestial light. But this form of light, renewed from the passage into death, is likened to the Sun-God’s perpetual renewal in the East, for the little streamers shooting forth from the encircled star are filled with the same chevron pattern used to decorate the feathers of the solar falcon, representative of Ra.
To complete this solar connection, we see that the radiation of the duat star becomes the Wedjat Eye, the “Whole One”, the Eye of Ra itself, which has been put back together after its nocturnal journey, becoming the restored and indestructible power of Ra as Creator of the solar world. This journey of the Sun-God through the hours of darkness in the West, being reborn in the East after a terrible struggle, is repeated within the Ausirian mythos. Here, the God Ausir is dismembered and passes away into the West, where He is put back together again and resurrected from the dead, this being mirrored by the Sun-God as He is resurrected each morning in the East.
1 For an accessible but detailed exploration on these thoughts, I direct my readers to Bleiberg, Edward. “To Live Forever: Egyptian Funerary Beliefs and Practices”, in To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures From the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY, 2008, pp. 24-43.
2 Pinch, Geraldine. Handbook of Egyptian Mythology. Santa Barbara, California, 2002, pp. 104.
3 Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London, 2003, pp. 241.
4 Teeter, Emily. Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt. New York, N.Y., 2011, pp. 24-25.
5 Ibid, pp. 25.
6 Wilkinson, Richard H. Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art. London, 1994, pp. 63-66.
7 Manniche, Lise. An Ancient Egyptian Herbal. London, 1989, pp. 84-85, 168-170.
8 Ibid, pp. 84.
9 Ibid, see illustration on pp. 85.
10 For the complete scene and more from the tomb of Userhat see Pinch-Brock, Lyla. “The Tomb of Userhat” in Valley of the Kings, edited by Kent R. Weeks, with photographs by Araldo De Luca. Vercelli, Italy, 2001, pp. 414-417.
11 Lurker, Manfred. An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt. London, 1980, pp. 70. See also Logan, Thomas B. The Origins of the Jmy-wt Fetish. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol 27 (1990), pp. 61-69.
12 Allen, James P. Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs. Cambridge, 2010, pp. 462.
13 Goelet, Dr. Ogden, Jr. “A Commentary on the Corpus of Literature and Tradition Which Constitutes The Book of Going Forth by Day” in The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth By Day. San Francisco, 1994, pp. 149, 175. Also Faulkner, Raymond O. A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. Oxford, 2001, pp. 62.
14 Clark, R.T. Rundle. Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. London, 1959, pp. 249, also plate 14.