Wepwawet (Upuaut, Wep-wawet, and Ophois) was an ancient wolf god whose worship originated in Upper Egypt.
He was one of the earliest of the gods to be worshipped at Abydos, possibly predating (and absorbing) Khentyamentiu (another god of the Abydos necropolis). By the Old Kingdom Wepwawet was popular throughout Egypt, but as Osiris grew in popularity (absorbing both Khentyamentiu and Wepwawet) Anubis took on his funerary role. However, he did not entirely disappear.
Wepwawet’s standard was associated with Upper Egypt and was given the honour of going before the king during many ritual processions. During the New Kingdom his standard even preceded that of Osiris and the “procession of Wepwawet” initiated the mysteries of Osiris as a god of the dead.
His name means “the opener of the ways (roads)”. This is thought to refer to the paths through the underworld, but may also refer to the choices or paths taken in life, as he also seems to have been linked to the power of the living pharaoh.
In the “Book of the Dead” and the book of “That Which Is in the Underworld” (Amduat) he leads the deceased through the underworld and guards over them on their perilous journey, but he was also thought to act as a scout for the army, “opening a path” to allow them to proceed.
According to some traditions, it was Wepwawet and not Anubis or Ptah who devised the “opening of the mouth” ceremony which ensured that the person would have the use of all their faculties in the afterlife. However, he also accompanied the king when he was hunting and was given the epithet, “the one with the sharp arrow who is more powerful than the gods.”
Wepwawet may also have symbolized the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. In royal processions his standard was paired with the Apis Bull (representing Lower Egypt). Yet in one inscription the location of his birth is claimed to be the temple of the goddess Wadjet in Buto (in the Delta). It seems that this was a political move as all other evidence suggests that he had Upper Egyptian origins.
Wepwawet was generally depicted as a wolf or a man with the head of a wolf. Yet there is some debate as to whether he is in fact a wolf. Unlike Anubis, he is often depicted with a grey or white head, and the Greeks named the Thirteenth nome of Upper Egypt Lycopolis (Wolf town) in his honour.
Some scholars argue that he was a jackal and others that he was originally a wolf but was merged with Anubis, and so became seen as a jackal-headed god. He was often depicted alongside the uraeus (royal cobra) and a “shedshed” standard. A good example of this can be seen on the Pre-Dynastic Narmer Macehead.
His relationships with the other gods were confused by the merging and shifting of roles throughout Egyptian history. Wepwawet was closely associated with Anubis who was originally part of the Ogdoad of Hermopolis, and came to be seen as his son. However, he was also linked to the god Shu of the Ennead of Heliopolis by the epithet “he who has separated the sky from the earth”.
When the two theologies merged and Anubis made way for Osiris the idea developed that Osiris was the father of Anubis (although his mother was generally not described as Osiris’ wife Isis but rather her sister Nephythys). To complicate matters further, Wepwawet was sometimes called the “son of Isis” and identified as Horus (and therefore the pharaoh) although she was also seen as the grand-daughter of Shu and the step-mother of Anubis according to the Heliopolitan tradition.
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Copyright J Hill 2016