was one of several ancient Egyptian deities who appeared in canine form. Usually depicted as a doglike creature with a gray or white head, Wepwawet is often incorrectly identified as a wolf, but the animal sacred to Wepwawet was most probably the jackal. The jackal was an appropriate representation for a funerary deity since the ancient Egyptians had no doubt observed the jackal's nocturnal activities in the desert areas used for cemeteries.

Like another jackal god, Anubis, Wepwawet was a funerary deity. He was one of the earliest deities worshiped at the cemetery site of Abydos in southern Egypt. The worship of Wepwawet at Abydos paralleled that of Khentyamentiu, yet another jackal god. When Osiris absorbed the characteristics of Khentyamentiu, Khentyamentiu's role as the lord of the cemetery at Abydos was filled by Anubis. With the rise of solar religion at the beginning of the twelfth dynasty, Osiris's role was limited to the underworld, and the position of local god and lord of the cemetery was in turn filled by Wepwawet, who bears the epithets “Lord of Abydos” and “Lord of the Necropolis.” Wepwawet was also the local deity of the thirteenth nome of Upper Egypt, modern Asyut. The ancient Greeks called the town Lycopolis (“Town of the Wolf”), indicating early confusion about the original form of this god. Other cult centers of Wepwawet included Quban, el-Hargarsa, Memphis, and Sais.

Wepwawet's name (Wp-wʒ.wt) means “the opener of the ways” and refers to his role in leading the deceased through the paths of the underworld. In the funerary texts of the New Kingdom, such as the Book of Going Forth by Day (Book of the Dead) and the Book of That Which Is in the Underworld (Amduat), Wepwawet's role is that of a protective deity. In royal mythology, the king was accompanied by a fast, doglike creature while hunting, and the animal was referred to as the “the one with the sharp arrow who is more powerful than the gods.” These arrows also “opened the way,” and may be connected to the name of this deity.

Wepwawet is often depicted atop a standard. His image is accompanied by a uraeus and an enigmatic hieroglyph, which has been described as a representation of the placenta of the king. The standard of Wepwawet was carried preceding the king, and, in the Middle Kingdom, preceding Osiris in processions from the palace or temple. The Narmer mace head shows such a standard in use as early as the first dynasty. This use of the god's image on a standard may indicate his early role as a warlike deity. The jackal god Wepwawet symbolized Upper Egypt in royal processions, while Lower Egypt was represented by the Apis bull of Memphis. Wepwawet was thought of as the messenger and the champion of royalty. He is called the son of Isis, and has close connections with the deities Harendotes and Herishef. Like the god Shu, Wepwawet is referred to as “the one who has separated the sky from the earth.”

Bibliography

  • Graefe, Erhart. “Upaut.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie 6: 862–864. Wiesbaden, 1985.
  • Kees, Hermann. Ancient Egypt: A Cultural Topography. Edited by T. G. H. James. Chicago, 1961.
  • Spiegel, Joachim. Die Götter von Abydos: Studien zum ägyptischen Synkretismus. Wiesbaden, 1973.

Jennifer Houser-Wegner