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For many centuries Anubis was the main god of the dead. Later, when the role of Osiris changed from god of vegetation to that of god of the dead, he became superior to Anubis. Anubis, however, retained an important part in the funeral rights and was considered to be the son of Osiris and Nephthys. It was Anubis, aided by his mother and aunt, the goddesses Nephthys and Isis, who embalmed the murdered Osiris's body, and he who devised the method of wrapping the body in bandages and formulated the embalming oils.

Anubis is shown in Egyptian art either as a jackal or as a man with a jackal's head. However the colouring is not the natural colour of the animal but a symbolic black, perhaps representing rebirth, or possibly recalling the colour assumed by the skin following treatment with natron and the other resins during the process of mummification. In Ancient Egypt the necropolis or cemetery would be situated in the desert to the west of the settlement to which it was attached. This was for three reasons: firstly, by placing the cemetery in the desert essential good farming land was not lost, secondly, as good farming land symbolized life, so the desert came to represent death and was a natural place to house the dead, and thirdly, the gate or entrance to the realm of the dead was believed to lie in the west, as Ra in the form of the setting sun was seen to die there each day, slowly descending into the underworld.

On edge of the desert the jackal lived, scavenging what he could from the communities and frequenting the cemeteries which lay within his natural habitat. So it was inevitable that this animal should become associated with the dead.

One of the main areas for the worship of Anubis was the Seventeenth Nome of Upper Egypt, the capital of which the Greeks named Cynopolis, the 'city of the dogs'.

As the embalmer of Osiris, Anubis became the patron of all embalmers. One of his titles was lord of the divine pavilion: referring to the building within each temple complex where mummification was carried out. In his early history the rites of Anubis were the domain of the king alone, but as time passed he became the god of death for all members of the community.

On passing from this life to the next, the deceased was judged to test his worthiness to enter the afterlife. As part of this test Anubis took the deceased's heart and weighed it upon his scales against a feather, the symbol of Ma'at, goddess of truth. Nearby stood Thoth, the celestial scribe, recording the findings of the trial. Then the deceased stood before each of the 42 assembled gods, and to each in turn he denied that he had committed any of the 42 sins. Instructions for the soul on the correct way to present this negative confession were painted on the inside of the tomb and form Chapter 125 of The Book of the Dead.

If the deceased passed the test he was pronounced true of 'voice' or 'justified', and taken by Horus to the presence of Osiris, who upon his throne, flanked by Isis and Nephthys, granted him access to the afterlife.

However, for those who failed the judgement, punishment was severe. Outside the hall of judgement the monster Beby 'the destroyer' lay waiting to consume them. Beby was a composite creature with the head of a crocodile, the body of a lion and the rear of a hippopotamus.

Related to Anubis was the god Wapwawet. He was also a god of the dead, resembling Anubis in several ways. Both gods were dog-headed but where Anubis was shown with a black head, that of Wapwawet was white. It is probable that his head was that of a wolf, for his cult centre in the Thirteenth Nome of Upper Egypt was called by the Greeks Lykopolis - the 'wolf city'.