Wepwawet was the local deity of Lycopolis, which mean ‘the city of wolves’ in Greek and as a result was associated with Anubis, who similarly was a jackal-like deity, eventually being considered to be his son. It is often difficult to distinguish Anubis and Wepwawet as coming from a different species but the strongest evidence lies the Greek names for their respective cities, that of Anubis being Cynopolis, ‘dog city’, while that of Wepwawet was Lycopolis, ‘wolf city’, where ‘wolf’ likely means almost any wild member of the dog family. And whereas Anubis usually appears in his customary black, Wapwawet is often coloured blue-grey as we can see from his famous portrait at the Temple of Set I at Abydos.
Wepwawet was also known as the funerary deity, portrayed as a jackal-headed man in military attire and carrying weapons in his hand, being seen as one who opened the ways to and protects the deceased through the Underworld. By the Old Kingdom he was popular throughout Egypt, but later absorbed by Khentyamentiu, a god of the Abydos necropolis. In the Pyramid Texts, however, it states that Wepwawet was the one who has separated the sky from the earth, perhaps as the ‘opener of the sky’ and as such, helped the deceased through the frequently dangerous paths to the afterlife, clearing the way to the final judgment of the dead.
Although frequently paired with Anubis in connection with protecting the dead, Wepwawet also had his own independent identity, as well as important cult centers at Asyut and Abydos. Inscriptions from Lykopolis attest to his status as a popular local god. On his own, Wepwawet often appears as a standing jackal or standing jackal-headed god; when he and Anubis are paired in funerary art, the two gods are typically shown as identical seated jackals facing each other. Wepwawet is also more likely than Anubis to be depicted standing, rather than recumbent, and in pairs, rather than singly, a trait some Egyptologists argue as indicating that the animal depicted is indeed a jackal, inasmuch as mated jackals hunt in pairs, unlike dogs and wolves which hunt in packs.
The iron instrument used in the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ritual is called in Pyramid Text Utterance 21 ‘the adze of Wepwawet’, indicating that historically Wepwawet may have preceded Anubis in this role. In PT Utterance 210 ‘the Wepwawet-jackal which emerged from the tamarisk-bush’ is a symbol for the resurrected king. In Utterance 482, it is said of the deceased king that ‘you shall become Wepwawet’, while in Utterance 535 it is said of the king that ‘your eyes have been given to you as your two uraei because you are Wepwawet who is on his standard and Anubis who presides over the God’s Booth [i.e. the embalming tent].” Uraei are fire-spitting cobras and hence light the way in the darkness, a function obviously related to that of Wepwawet insofar as the uraeus accompanies him on the king’s standard.
Interestingly, an epithet given to Wepwawet as a ‘disrupter’, literally ‘loud of voice’ is typically a negative trait in Egyptian literature and often associated with Seth. The same stela, which depicts Wepwawet harpooning a crocodile, reveals the god as having picked up some of the more positive aspects of Seth associated with his defense of the solar boat against the serpent of chaos and disorder, Apophis.
From this we can see that Wapwawet is a far more complex character than may have been previously thought. His pre-dynastic antecedents suggest that he was another casualty of the social and religious upheavals at the end of the Pyramid Age. A surviving story tells that Wepwawet was born at the sanctuary of Wadjet, the sacred site for the oldest goddess of Lower Egypt and consequently, Wepwawet, who had once been the standard of Upper Egypt alone, formed an integral part of the Unification of Egypt.
The Atum-Re Revival: Ancient Egyptian Wisdom for the Modern World by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ISBN 978 1 78099 437 6 : 272 pp : UK£14.99/US$24.95