Greetings. As many of you will know, Anubis is associated with the Jackal, and in virtually every Egyptian text or drawing in which he is featured, he appears either as a Jackal, or a man with the head of a Jackal. He was the son of Osiris and Nephthys, and was originally considered a mortuary deity. In one of the ancient Egyptian myths -- the Lamentations of Isis -- it was Anubis that taught Isis how to prepare the body of the slain Osiris for proper burial. He formulated the embalming oils and devised the method of wrapping the body with strips of cloth. And from that time, Anubis was considered the patron deity of embalmers. In the most ancient periods of Egypt, Anubis was also considered the God of the Dead. But when the worship of Osiris as the Lord and Judge of the Dead became more popular over time in Egypt, Anubis took a more secondary role. He became more of a Guide of the Dead than a God of the Dead. And in his function as Guide, he was known as the "Opener of the Ways" -- for it was the priests of Anubis that prepared the body and Soul for its Journey to the Hall of Justice, where the newly-deceased were questioned by a panel of 42 assessor-gods before being judged by Osiris.
Technically speaking, the descriptive phrase "Opener of the Ways" originally belonged to a different deity named Upuat, whose name literally means "Opener of the Ways". Upuat was very similar to Anubis, except that Anubis was depicted as black or dark-skinned, and Upuat was portrayed as grey or light-skinned. Some scholars speculate that Upuat's tutelary animal was related to the Wolf (as opposed to the Jackal), since the Greeks called his cult center "Lycopolis". There is not much mythology concerning Upuat, though it is known that the Egyptians placed him at the helm of the sun-god Re's boat of Millions of Years, serving as the guide or lookout. Hence his title "Opener of the Ways.". In time, however, the "Opener" designation was transferred to Anubis in his function as guide of the Dead as the two gods became more closely associated in the popular mind. There are even several Middle Kingdom-period Egyptian hymns extant that address Anubis as the "Opener of the Ways".
Of course, there was melding of the two gods -- Anubis and Upuat -- over the course of Egyptian history, and we may justifiably consider them a single force operating in two modes or directions, especially since their symbolism overlaps. Anubis was the Egyptian Psychompomp, or guide of the soul, to the Duat (pron. "DOO-ah), the Egyptian otherworld. But in the mode of Upuat, he was the Opener of the Ways to Life and Enlightenment. When we see in Egyptian texts or temple drawings a figure of a jackal either lying down or standing with a cobra or serpent rising to the level of his throat, or more rarely, the depiction of a serpent with a jackal's head, we are really viewing Anubis in his guise of Upuat, whether his skin be pigmented darkly or lightly. The serpent in this instance is a symbol of undulating vibration, which the Egyptians associated with "hekau" (words of power), or what we might term in the Christian tradition, "the Word", the manifested form of which is the life and light of men. This will repay additional thought.
In what way is this god, in his combined modes, a symbol of the process of enlightenment? Here we must begin to speak of the human body, which is the subject of the Great Work. This concept may seem surprising to some, but achieving the stages of adeptship are largely dependent on refining the physical body and training the cellular consciousness, such that the body becomes a fit instrument for the spiritual forces that will flow into it when it is properly prepared. The body is the bridal bed for the mating of Heaven and Earth.
The Egyptians have always associated the Jackal with the stomach. This is clearly seen from the fact that the head of another Jackal-god named Duamutef adorned the canopic jars that held the stomachs of the dead that the priests of Anubis had removed (1). Why would the Egyptians associate the Jackal with the stomach? To understand this, one must know a bit about Jackals. They are primarily nocturnal creatures -- hunting their prey by their keen senses of smell and sight. They are scavengers, too, and are not above finishing off a meal killed by another animal (2). This is one indication that Jackals are patient creatures -- like all scavengers must be. Another indication of the Jackal's patience is that it will rarely eat its meal after it has killed its prey. It will bury its food in the earth for several days to let it decompose slightly. Only then will it return to dig it up and feast. And this is the connection between Jackals and the stomach. The Egyptians saw a parallel between the Jackal's decomposing meal in the earth and the process of decomposition that is wrought upon food in the stomach. The Jackal gets the most nourishment out of its food when it has decomposed. The same is true of your own body. Unless your food is broken down in your stomach, it cannot pass through the rest of the digestive system to nourish the blood and cells.
It is a rather distasteful comparison ... but an accurate one. Despite the fact that the Jackal is a rather mangy-looking type of wild dog, the Egyptians admired his lifestyle enough to honor him as the animal of Anubis. And this is not the Jackal's only honor. The Egyptians paid homage to him in their very language. The word for "jackal" in ancient Egyptian is "saba" or "zaba." This same word was used in other contexts to mean "dignitary" (as a noun) and even "worthy" or "honorable" (as adjectives). Those are fairly respectable designations. Obviously the Egyptians thought very highly of him and the functions they associated with him.
Why is the stomach so important? The Egyptians had an interesting word for the stomach -- "ra-ib" Literally translated, this means "entrance of the heart", or "gate of the heart". In other words, those functions represented by the stomach lead on to a greater process that takes place in the heart. This comports very well with Anubis's appellation of "Opener of the Ways." Anubis is not only the Opener of the Way toward Death, but also the Opener of the Way to the Heart, which is also the Way of Life and Enlightenment. And since Anubis is the Opener, the processes symbolized by the stomach are amongst the first steps along that Way.
The heart, in the Egyptian tradition, was the anatomical seat of a principle represented by the god Horus. Horus, whose parents were Isis and Osiris, was the younger half-brother of Anubis. Horus is a solar deity, and given his semi-miraculous birth, is nowadays often considered the Christ-force principle of the Egyptian tradition (3). Many other traditions also associate the heart with the Sun and the principle of enlightenment.
What this means is that the processes symbolized by the stomach are amongst the first steps along the road to the secret chamber of the heart. In other words, decomposition is amongst the first steps along the way to enlightenment. This process of disintegration is precisely the task over which the apprentice must labor when he first starts learning the Lesser Mysteries of any tradition. The aspirant must break down his personality into its component parts, analyze them, throw out what is useless, and start rebuilding from the ground up. Only by taking this first step will he begin to provide himself with the spiritual nourishment that his soul craves. One needs the patience of a Jackal to do it right.
Just like eating rotten food, it can be a distasteful process to open oneself up to one's own Self -- shining the light of meditation on those dark corners of the personality that one wishes would just go away. But it can be done. We can take heart from the fact that the young Anubis scoured the world with Isis searching for the body parts of the slain Osiris, serving as her protector and friend, and enduring all sorts of setbacks, trials and ignominies at the hands of Osiris's arch-enemy, Set. And he never gave up -- because he knew that he was "Opening the Way" for his younger half-brother Horus, the Light, to come into the world. He was "Opening the Way of the Heart" even as you, as a spiritual aspirant, may be doing now. Go slowly and patiently, for there are no short cuts. Look most to the Higher Self for guidance, for its instruction is infallible. Have faith, for any shadow cast before you is the Light of the Lord at your back. Heed these things, and you will see that the Light which is the Horus-in-Man already shines from out your heart.
I give greetings to thee Anubis,
Thou who art the Guide of Souls of Heliopolis!
Bearer and Giver of blessings,
I pray, give Thy blessing to me.
from an 18th Dynasty hymn to Anubis as Opener of the Ways
Footnote 1: Duamutef is one of the Four Sons of Horus. The others are Imsety (guardian of the liver, with the head of a man, associated with Set), Hapi (guardian of the lungs, with the head of a baboon, associated with Thoth) and Qebhsenuf (guardian of the small intestine, with the head of a falcon, associated with Horus himself). In this article, we deal primarily with a function associated with Duamutef and the jackal. However, there are other processes, just as important as the one under consideration, associated with these other three Sons.
Footnote 2: Note, too, that the name of the Jackal-headed Duamutef is based on the Egyptian root word "Mut." This was also the name of a goddess associated with the Vulture--another scavenger.
Footnote 3: For those unfamiliar with the story of the Birth of Horus, Osiris impregnated Isis with a golden phallus during the one day that Osiris was risen from the dead. Note, too, that the metal gold is associated with the Sun in many esoteric traditions.
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