Werewolf Fact #69 (dude!) – Ancient Egypt

Well, I thought this month would be about something else, but my patrons spoke differently! And I always listen to my patrons when it comes to folklore facts.

So, without further ado, let’s finally get back to werewolf facts! This is a big one, as it’s a lifelong favorite topic of mine!

An ancient Egyptian mask worn by a priest during rites performed for the dead, who would have “taken on the aspect” of the wolf-headed god Anubis

Let me just open by saying that I absolutely love ancient Egypt. It’s fascinated me since I was a small child and I was reading a tiny children’s book about cats, and ancient Egypt was discussed. Naturally, when I found out about Anubis, I was even more interested. Then came games like Age of Mythology and many movies… especially The Mummy (1999), of course. Anyway!

Ancient Egypt didn’t have a negative opinion of wolves. In fact, several important deities had wolf heads and were associated with wolves. Let’s begin with something that’s always interested me, which is the city of Lykopolis (as it was called in Greek)…

Lykopolis (ancient Egyptian transliteration is something like “Zawty”) was an important city located on the western bank of the Nile, capital of the Thirteenth Nome of Upper Egypt during about 3100 BC. The primary deities of the city were – as you might imagine – Anubis and Wepwawet, both wolf-headed gods. Mummified wolves (golden wolves, not jackals; more on this momentarily) have been found in various excavated chambers throughout the city ruins, of which very little still survives.

The city has a very fun story behind it, as told by Greek historian Diodorus Siculus. In the first century BC, an army of Nubians invaded from the south – but they were repelled by packs of wolves. These wolves drove the army from the southern borders of Lykopolis and then back beyond the borders of Egypt. According to Diodorus, this is why Lykopolis was called “the city of the wolf” and revered wolves and wolf-deities so greatly.

Some sources claim that these wolves were summoned by the god Osiris, who was also worshiped as a wolf in Lykopolis, and had also, at one point, taken the form of a wolf. I will admit I personally haven’t read this source, as it’s in French, so I can’t fully attest to that element of the story – I haven’t seen that one cited very often in various specifically ancient Egypt history sources. Regardless, it’s fun if true. Either way, the tale of the wolves driving back Egypt’s enemies was definitely recounted in detail in a primary historical source!

By the way, you’ll hear a lot of people refer to these deities as “jackal-headed.” It’s very popular still to call Anubis the “jackal god.” We now know, though, that the animals in question were in fact not jackals – they were indeed wolves. Scientists for a long time asserted that they for some reason knew things better than the ancient Egyptians and Greeks who actually lived during the time period and retroactively dictated that they weren’t wolf gods, they were jackal gods.

However, the Egyptian jackal was discovered to be a species of gray wolf. You can read a lot about that here in this article, regarding how people didn’t believe wolves lived in the area during those time periods, but we found out they did, and we also found out that the mummified wolves in Lykopolis were – yes – wolves, like their contemporary cultures said.

A quote from the article: “the Egyptian jackal is in fact a gray wolf. ‘We now know that wolves were indeed in Africa in the days of the ancient Egyptians—and long, long before,’ says Stenseth.”

I honestly don’t know why everyone thought wolves couldn’t have lived in the area during these time periods (when we know perfectly well a wide variety of animals inhabited regions they no longer inhabit, and that we discover new species in the deserts even to this day) or decided the ancients didn’t know what they were talking about, but anyway…

Another fun fact, by the way, is that the word “jackal” didn’t even enter the English language until the 1600s, borrowed from French, which in turn was most likely borrowed from Persian – not Egyptian. The animals in Egypt were wolves, and we now know that they were also wolves scientifically. In fact, some scientists even believe it’s possible that jackals (as in actual scientific jackals, not golden wolves) didn’t find their way into the Egyptian region until much later, when these wolf gods would have been well-established. They may have followed travelers out of Arabia. This is speculation, though, but regardless, the long-believed-to-be “jackals” of ancient Egypt were all wolves. So it sounds like we should’ve believed the ancient Egyptians and Greeks in the first place, huh?

Long story short – Lykopolis was indeed a wolf city, wolves drove invaders out of Egypt, and Anubis, Wepwawet, and Duamutef were wolf gods. Not jackals.

Please note that there are those who would argue with me that some of them are jackals and some are wolves, or that they were all jackals, or whatever else, but in my personal opinion (and the opinion of many historians and scientists), it’s very clear across depictions, mummified wolves, historical accounts from both Egyptians and Greeks, etc., that these many Egyptian wolf-related beings were what we now call “golden wolves” or “Egyptian wolves” (and sometimes referred to as “jackals” still despite their genetics), which are indeed gray wolves, and not a species of true (genetic) jackals. There also exist theories that these wolves are something that no longer exists, and also that the modern animals we have are interbred wolves and jackals. Theories abound, whatever the case.

Then of course there are those who say that Anubis was the jackal-headed god and Wepwawet was the wolf-headed god, due in no small part to inherent biases that wolves only come in “gray.” I think those are all very silly, especially as we already know that colors in ancient Egypt were highly associated with ritual and meaning, rather than directly stating that Anubis’s head was black because he’s some kind of black-backed jackal – which don’t even have black heads, anyway. We have multiple associations between Anubis and wolves, and just because Wepwawet was often depicted with a grey or white head doesn’t make him a wolf and Anubis something different. Therefore, I personally will continue to refer to all of these as wolf-headed gods, and I apologize if that bothers anyone.

Sorry. Brief Mav-rant there. More important things to follow, because we haven’t even talked about those deities yet!

So now let’s talk about these gods themselves…

Anubis in the book of the dead (which was not actually a book)

Easily my favorite thing in all of ancient Egyptian mythology, Anubis (known by many other epithets, including but not at all limited to “Lord of the Sacred Land,” “He Who is Upon his Sacred Mountain,” “Master of Secrets,” and “He Who is in the Place of Embalming”) is the god of the dead. He was the protector of graves, guardian of the dead, the shepherd of souls passing into the afterlife, and many more roles, including the ever-important Weighing of the Heart (as seen above), the results of which would dictate whether or not someone was allowed to enter the afterlife – or if their heart was devoured by the monster Ammit and their soul destroyed forever.

Anubis was depicted with the black head of a wolf. His head was colored black because black was the color associated with life, the life-giving soil of the Nile River, regeneration, and embalmed bodies, and he, of course, is also the god of mummification. Anubis is one of the single most important deities in all of ancient Egypt, depicted and mentioned very frequently, even more than most any other deity – however, despite this, there are almost no stories actually involving him.

But no, Anubis was not “evil,” as much of modern pop culture would have you believe! (Sorry The Mummy Returns, I love you to death, I really do – but it was super rude to make Anubis evil.)

Long story short, Anubis was freaking awesome, and there’s way too much to say about him and his awesomeness for just one post. Maybe I’ll do a separate post all about him later, because he’s a personal obsession of mine.

Anubis’s brother (at least, he is considered to be this by some) was the god Wepwawet, another wolf-headed deity. Wepwawet was a man with a white or grey head of a wolf (though some think he may have also had a black head like Anubis, but others claim that is not the cause and the coloring was on purpose as we have seen it in too many different places – still more claim it was just the artist’s preference; it’s hard to know any of these things for sure)…

Wepwawet with Pharaoh Seti I (try not to read that in Ardeth Bay’s voice, I dare you. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to, though)

Like basically all deities of ancient Egypt, Wepwawet is a complicated god, a deity involved in some funerary rites, but especially associated with war and royalty. Wepwawet means “opener of the ways,” and he was depicted as a man with the head of a grey or white wolf, as well as wolf at the prow of a solar boat, sometimes said to lead armies, to scout, and even to have the honor of going before the pharaoh himself. He is also known by the title “one with sharp arrows more powerful than the gods.”

A very important god, Wepwawet is one of the oldest gods of Egypt ever recorded, and he was always associated directly with royalty and specially the pharaoh. He was said to accompany the pharaoh on his hunts, as well as protecting the pharaoh in life and the afterlife – he is a symbol of divinity of rule and of kings in general. He is, for certain, a very good deity, rather than some kind of evil wolf of Western literature.

And lastly among the prominent wolf-headed deities, we have one of the four sons of Horus, Duamutef

The four sons of Horus were depicted upon the canopic jars (jars containing certain organs of the mummified dead) starting in the First Intermediate Period of Egyptian history, which was around 2181-2055 BC. Each deity protected a different important organ; Duamutef, the wolf-headed god, always protected the stomach and represented the direction of the east. Please note he was not always depicted with a black head like Anubis; sometimes he also had a white or grey head. It varied. Likewise, in later periods, the forms of these various gods were sometimes mixed up, and a different son of Horus would have the wolf head. These deities were depicted not only on the canopic jars, but also on many other funerary artifacts, including the sarcophagi that would contain the jars.

So we have all these wolf-headed deities… but does any of this tie into werewolves at all?

Well, it doesn’t, really. There seems to be no indication that Anubis, Wepwawet, Duamutef, or anyone else did any particular shapeshifting, and they certainly weren’t cursed. They were gods. Anubis and Wepwawet are both sometimes depicted as simply a wolf as opposed to a wolf-headed man – as many of the Egyptian gods are depicted as their animal counterparts, including Ra, Horus, Hathor, Sobek, and many, many others – but that’s merely his animal aspect counterpart. Depictions and aspects of the gods of ancient Egypt (and also, later, how Rome and Egypt intermingled some of their deities during the Roman occupation, such as Hermanubis) are extremely in-depth topics. I’ve always loved studying them, but they are immensely complicated – certainly far too complicated for this post! So let’s get back to the matter at hand…

I’ll be honest, I have yet to find a credibly-sourced legend that talks about anything like an ancient Egyptian “werewolf.” I’m pretty darn sure they didn’t have anything remotely like what we consider among actual werewolf legends, my friends, and especially none that meet my personal criteria. The ancient Greeks, however, absolutely did, as you probably know if you’ve spent time browsing my werewolf facts masterlist (link at the bottom of this post!).

Wolf-headed gods, however – yes, they definitely had those, and no, they were not “evil gods.” In fact, some of them were very highly revered and associated directly with necessary aspects of life and death, as well as with pharaohs.

Speaking of, if you love ancient Egypt (and also adventure movies), you should absolutely check out my new novella that came out just this past June – Wulfgard: The Tomb of Ankhu!

It is the first of two short novellas that tell an exciting tale about adventure, an ancient curse, mummies, memorable characters, and last but not least lots of Anubis and other legends, all of it set in the vast ancient-medieval dark age fantasy realm of Wulfgard: a world where all myths are true.

Every book release means the world to me, and this one is no different. I’m very proud of this story, and I really think you’ll enjoy it.

Deep in the southernmost deserts of Wulfgard lies the resting place of Pharaoh Ankhu the Endless, one of the greatest evils the land of Kemhet, or the world, has ever known. So terrible was his power that the gods themselves cursed him, sealing him away in an underground labyrinth. Ankhu rises with each darkening of the moon, a walking mummy, wandering this tomb in search of his own still-beating heart, without which he can never reach the afterlife.

Over untold ages, Ankhu’s tomb remained undiscovered, a secret protected always by the loyal Medjai, an order sworn to guard Kemhet from all threats. And now, a new threat has arisen: Lord Tefnahkt the Red, a powerful warlock, drives his cult and his many slaves to uncover Pharaoh Ankhu’s resting place and steal the mummy’s power.

While a small group of Medjai desperately work to stop Tefnahkt’s plans, one slave may become the key to putting an end to this evil once and for all: Djedar Rath. In a race against time, Djedar must lead the Medjai to prevent Tefnahkt from opening the tomb of Ankhu before the coming of the new moon, when the undead Pharaoh will awaken once more. For, if Ankhu escapes, the world will never survive his wrath.

Inspired heavily by real-world ancient Egyptian and other mythologies – but with many original additions and elements – as well as the classic character-driven adventure genre that mixes aspects of action, thriller, and horror, with a tasteful sprinkling of levity, The Tomb of Ankhu is a tale of non-stop adventure and excitement that will leave you on the edge of your seat! Now available in ebook and paperback!

Go here to purchase on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C8897R1K

Readers have been really enjoying this one! The second one has been in the works for quite some time already, so expect news about that in the coming months, as well.

Hope you enjoyed the werewolf fact this month, even if it was kind of more a wolf fact. But, myself, I have spent my entire life captivated by ancient Egypt, so I love this kind of stuff.