Imagine that upon your birth, your mother is so terrified of your father that she gives you away to ensure that you never know him. Your foster parents are nice, treat you like a son, but give you a job dealing with dead people. The next thing you know your birth father has killed and chopped up your foster dad. You help your foster mother put him back together only to have your reincarnated foster dad take your job. To top it all off, you get a new foster brother out of the deal and he becomes king of the world while you still have to deal with dead people all day long. It sounds like a raw deal to me.
Family of Anubis
Before getting to Anubis, it is important to understand a little about his family. In the beginning of time, the sun god Ra came into existence. From Ra came the air, the god Shu, and moisture, the goddess Tefnut. As with many ancient deities, brother and sister mate and become the parents of earth, the god Geb, and sky, the goddess Nut. Following in the tradition of their parents, these two also mated and became parents. Nut gave birth to sons, Osiris and Set, and daughters Isis and Nephthys. These four also formed two pairs of couples with Osiris marrying his sister Isis and Set marrying Nephthys.
Osiris, by all accounts, was the favored son. When his father Geb, who was the first pharaoh, decided to step down, Osiris was appointed pharaoh of the world. This made his brother Set, who happened to be the god of evil and chaos, very angry. He vowed that some day he would get his revenge. In the meantime, Set with his wife Nephthys, goddess of the Nile, had a son she named Anubis.
Nephthys loved her husband, but she knew he would be a terrible influence on their son. Many believe that she also loved or brother, Osiris, more and wished he had selected her over their sister Isis. Others hint that Osiris might have actually been Anubis's biological father, but the goddess never admitted that. For whatever the reason, Nephthys asked her brother Osiris and sister Isis to raise her son as their own and they agreed.
Anubis: God of the Underworld
While Osiris ruled as pharaoh, Anubis served as God of the Underworld. This was a very prestigious position, as there were many dead. The young god protected the dead in many ways from watching over their graves to ensuring that those pure of heart found their way to the afterlife in the Field of Reeds.
Perhaps Anubis's most important responsibility to the dead was ensuring that their bodies were properly preserved for their next life. As the creator of mummification, he developed a distinct process that included removing the liver, stomach, lungs and intestines for proper cleaning and preservation in canopic jars. These jars are of a specific design and have lids that represent the heads of a baboon, a falcon, a jackal and a human. These jars were called the Four Sons of Horus. Next, the heart was also removed and preserved as it would be vital in the time of judgment. Determining that the brain was of little use, Anubis prescribed for it to be pulled through the sinuses and thrown away. Finally, the body would be wrapped in linen and allowed to dry.
Once the body is prepared for burial, it is Anubis that begins the journey through the Duat, land of the dead. He uses a netjeri blade for the Opening-of-the-Mouth ceremony. This would allow the dead to, once again, use their mouth to read the spells from the Book of the Dead. Passing through the Duat was impossible without having this guide to protect you from demons.
God of Funerals and Embalming
Things were going fine for the god until his birth father, Set, decided it was time to murder his brother, Osiris, and take the throne for himself. Set tricked his brother Osiris into getting into a coffin and killed him within it. He would eventually chop his brother to pieces and scatter them throughout the nomes (counties) of Egypt in hopes that Isis would never be able to collect all of the parts. Isis was determined, however, and did manage to find almost all of her husband.
She brought the pieces to her foster son, Anubis, and he put Osiris back together again. The one piece that was missing, however, was the one Isis needed the most, as she was intent to bring her husband back to lifelong enough for him to impregnate her. Anubis created a replacement phallus from gold, and Isis was able to revive her husband long enough to consummate their son, Horus.
Osiris was no longer dead, but he could no longer live in the upper world. He assumed the role of Lord of the Dead. Some say that Anubis volunteered to relinquish his position of ruler, but he was more likely was pressured to do so by his mother, Nephthys.
Now that his position over all things dead was diminished, Anubis's main role was in overseeing the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. If the dead made it through the Duat with all of its demons and gateways, there was still the most important test of all to be taken. The heart was the most important part of the body according to the Egyptians. It was the part of the person that stored all knowledge. The dead would cite the Negative Confessions before Anubis. This was a list of 42 sins that the dead would swear they had never done (i.e. I have not stolen and I have not uttered lies). If they were able to complete all 42, he would place their heart on the scale and weigh it against the Feather of Truth. The feather belongs to the goddess Maat. She is the goddess of order and balance, and her feather would know if the heart was pure. The only trick was that the dead person's heart could not weigh more or less than Maat's feather.
If the heart was equal to the feather, the dead would be lead by Horus to greet Osiris then allowed into the Field of Reeds. If the feather was heavier or lighter than the feather, Anubis would feed the heart to Ammit the Devourer while Thoth, god of knowledge would record the proceeding.
While Anubis does not seem to mind his role in his people's religion, it had to sting a little bit that when Isis gave birth to the child she conceived with Anubis's help, he went on to fight a war with Set and take the throne as Pharaoh. He should take comfort, however, in the fact that his face is the one adorning the tombs of the pharaohs, and he is the perhaps the most famous god of Egyptian mythology since he is the god of funerals and the afterlife was considered more important than life in the upper world over which his brother Horus presided.