For the past month or so I’ve been feeling a gentle calling from Hermanubis, and have decided to answer that call. Because I’m me, however, I wanted to research as much information as I could possibly find about this god who has been so fascinating to me of late. This is a summary of my research, presented to you so that others who are interested in working with him or learning more about him can benefit from my efforts.
Precious little is written about Hermanubis (Greek: Ἑρμανοῦβις, Coptic: ϩⲉⲣⲙⲁⲛⲟⲩⲡ, Egyptian: 𓅃𓏺𓅓𓇋𓈖𓊪𓅱𓁢) that survives from the ancient world, and there appears to be little written about him overall. A syncretic fusion of the Greek Hermes and the Egyptian Anubis, he is a cynocephalic (“dog-headed”) god who is mentioned briefly by Plutarch and Porphyry. The latter source in On Images calls him “composite, and as it were half Greek, being found among the Egyptians also”, which effectively tells us nothing that we didn’t know already. Plutarch in De Iside et Osiride speaks him as “belonging in part to the things above and in part to the things below”, i.e. as part heavenly and part chthonic, in a phrase that beautifully mirrors the Hermetic axiom “as above, so below”. He also states that “for this reason they sacrifice to him on the one hand a white cock and on the other hand one of saffron colour, regarding the former things as simple and clear, and the others as combined and variable”.
And there you have it. Sadly, this appears to be all that we have in terms of direct information about Hermanubis from primary sources.
In the modern day, practitioners who venerate Hermanubis have generated a bit more of a body of work around him, but this is still sparse at best. He is often referred to with the title Apherou, thanks almost entirely due to Gordon White’s popularization of the epithet in The Chaos Protocols almost a decade ago, but we have already seen that this word is incorrect and should instead be Wp-wꜣwt or Wepwawet, meaning “Way-Opener” and rendered in Greek as Ophois. White also notes that he is identified with Sirius, the dog star, the heliacal rising of which in the Eastern sky marked the annual flooding of the Nile–in part because this time heralded greater disease and death. He further reports that Hermanubis is mythically the son of Isis and Serapis.
As a god, Hermanubis is primarily a psychopomp, or a conductor of the souls of the dead to the underworld. As such, he is generally depicted holding the Caduceus staff of Hermes and a feather representing the Shu feather against which the heart of the dead person is weighed on the scale of Ma’at in the Hall of Judgement. He is also depicted, at least in the statue of him preserved (perhaps ironically) in the Vatican, bearing the lunar disc of Anubis on his head.
In terms of offerings, apart from the aforementioned white and saffron cocks mentioned by Plutarch, there is general consensus that dark beer and bread are appropriate offerings for Egyptian deities in general, these being the “golden symbols of life” in ancient Egypt. Spring water is generally held to be appropriate for Hermanubis as well, and White additionally suggests rum, aquavit, and storax or myrrh incense as appropriate offerings. Based on the work that Caitlin Coppock has done with Hermanubis oils at Sphere + Sundry we can posit some additional suitable offerings for him. These include wine, the hair of a black dog, beeswax, gold, olive oil, cemetery ivy, fallen autumn leaves, poppy, hops, barley, and dried mushrooms. Obsidian and snowflake obsidian may also be appropriate for Hermanubis. Cypress, especially cypress growing in a cemetery, is especially apropos for Hermanubis as this tree had funerary associations for the ancient Egyptians.
Caitlin Coppock additionally provides valuable notes to those who would approach Hermanubis or work with him. He is the render of the veil between the living and the dead, and as such he is excellent to petition as a patron to facilitate ancestral work and other forms of necromancy. He can help specific souls to navigate the death realms, facilitates communication between incarnate humans and the deceased, and can allocate offerings to specific dead (or classes thereof). He can provide gnosis around death and dying, helping individuals to confront their own mortality. He can provide guidance through meditation, trance, dreaming, and ritual, and is considered an initiatic deity–a function especially alluded to by the name of the (likely fictional) Hermanubis Temple of Golden Dawn history.
Coppock also provides an especially curious symbol for Hermanubis on her product labels, similar to the Mercury symbol but terminating in a six-rayed star perhaps signifying Sirius. Truly, she’s done modern-day devotees of this god a service by providing so many rich resources for those seeking to venerate him.
Finally, Hermanubis is one of the figures depicted in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot on the Wheel of Fortune card. Of this Paul Foster Case writes in The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages that “Hermanubis (Hermes-Anubis), jackal-headed Egyptian god, rises on the right side of the wheel, to represent the evolution of consciousness from lower to higher forms. His jackal’s head represents intellectuality. His red color typifies desire and activity. He symbolizes the average level of our present human development of consciousness. Beyond him and above him is a segment of the wheel which only a few humans being have, as yet, traversed” (p. 122).
It is also a fruitful exercise to dive into the separate persons of Hermes and Anubis, to better understand the overlap between the two deities and the ways that they complement each other, and to find other epithets and inspirations to draw out from this research.
For those of you desiring to do magical or devotional work with Hermanubis, I wish you well and would love to hear about your experiences of him! Since first calling upon him recently I have already received multiple dreams from him, which is a very new thing for me as I almost never have dreams of any spiritual significance. May he enrich your life with his presence, and when you leave this life may he guide you safely to the sacred halls of Amenti.