The past week has been interesting — to say the least — in regards to religious matters. At this point in time, I’m unwilling to go into detail, but it’s renewed an interest in researching Kemeticism and ancient Egypt in general. I’ll be honest: I don’t know much about ancient Egyptian history, nor do I consider myself as learned or well-read as other Kemetics. I’ve barely done any academic research in the past few months, simply because I’ve been so engrossed in more experiential lessons.
In addition, I was recently inspired by holyandros on tumblr to purchase faux leopard skin for Anpu’s shrine. I found the perfect product on etsy: two rabbit pelts dyed with a leopard print. The smaller one went right to Anpu’s shrine, but I’m saving the bigger one for a more historically accurate devotional artifact: the imywt fetish.
The faux leopard skin (actually a dyed rabbit pelt) on Anpu’s shrine.
Naturally, I soon realized that I know nothing about the imywt fetish. Well, that’s not true; I know it’s an object associated with and sacred to Anpu, and I know that it’s composed primarily of a headless animal skin, a wooden pole, and a pot. But for years, I was ignorant about its significance and symbolism, and as a devotee of Anpu, I decided: that will not do.
As it turns out, imy-wt is actually one of Anpu’s most commonly featured epithets, in usage from as early as Predynastic Egypt until the Roman Period. It means “He Who is in the place of embalming” or “He Who is in the mummy-wrappings,” with -wt itself describing the mummification bindings (DuQuesne 1). For those unaware, while popular media opts to portray Anpu as the Egyptian god of death, He is actually the god of embalming and funerals. imy-wt isn’t the only epithet of His related to this domain, either; others include Lord of the Burial, He in the Heart/Middle of the House of Embalming in the Duat, Lord in the Place of Embalming, and so on and so forth.
(Actually, one of my favorite epithets of His is Lord of the Knife, an aggressive title relating to His role as a guardian, a protector, and an upholder of Ma’at — and when I think of “knife” in the context of Anpu, I think of the knife that embalmers in ancient Egypt used to remove internal organs from the body.)
A depiction of an imywt fetish at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt.
The prevalence of the imywt fetish in ancient Egyptian iconography mirrors the prevalence of imy-wt as an epithet. DuQuesne writes that in the Pyramid Texts, the fetish is said “to have been born from the cow-goddess Hezat,” which reflects the myth that Anpu was born of Hezat, with Ra as His father. The imywt fetish itself was made primarily of the pelt of a cow or an ox, as indiciated by the color on surviving artifacts. Variants exist, however, including those with leopard pelts — which were also worn by sem priests, who dealt with funerary rites. The connection is rather obvious.
The fetish itself is considered a symbol of healing and rebirth. The Jumilhac Papyrus recounts a myth local to the XVIIth nome of Upper Egypt, of which Anpu is a primary deity:
. . . Hezat, named as the mother of Anubis, separated the god Anti’s bones from his soft organs, placed the assemblage in an jmjwt, and squirted her milk over it, with the result that Anti was restored to life. (DuQuesne 2)
Alternatively, the imywt is the skin in which the dismembered limbs of Wesir were placed by Anpu and where they knitted together to make Wesir whole again (Henadology). Practically speaking, the imywt fetish was naturally used in funerary rites, but also in coronations, royal celebrations, the Sed festival, and the dedications of temples, often as a planted standard to commemorate the appearance of the king in public, suggesting a close connection between the king and Anpu Himself.
I’m not founding a physical temple or other important edifice, but Anpu is my Patron, and I received the tiniest glimpse of one of His plans the other week — enough to kick my butt into gear and get back into studying. The first steps are to understand Him more thoroughly and to worship to Him more deeply, bringing Him back to the center of my practice. That in itself is a foundation in the most metaphorical sense of the word, a solid base upon which service to my god can be built and reinforced. A little imywt fetish beside His shrine only seems appropriate.
- Butler, Edward P. “Anubis.” Henadology. WordPress, 19 May 2009. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- DuQuesne, Terence. “Jmjwt.” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology. Los Angeles, 2012.
- Espinel, Andrés D. “The Boundary Stelae of Djoser’s Funerary Complex at Saqqara.”Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century. Vol. 2. Cairo, Egypt: American Univ in Cairo Press, 2003. 215-20. Print.
- Irytsabu, Jennifer. “The Imywt Fetish.” Per-Sabu: House of Jackals. Weebly, June 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- Logan, Thomas J. “The Origins of the Jmy-wt Fetish.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 27 (1990): 61-69. JSTOR. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- Szafrański, Zbigniew. “Imiut in the ‘Chapel of the Parents’ in the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir El-Bahari.” Ägyptologische Tempeltagung. Vol. 8. Weisbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 2010. 187-96. Print.