If you had to find the Ancient Egyptian god of the afterlife in America, where would you look? In a funeral parlour in the Illinois city of Cairo, of course.
In American Gods, Mr Jacquel – otherwise known as Anubis – makes his living at the Ibis and Jacquel Funeral Parlour which he runs with his partner Mr Ibis (Demore Barnes), an incarnation of Thoth the Ancient Egyptian God of writing, wisdom and magic. (In the series, Mr Ibis is the one carefully writing the Coming to America stories in old-fashioned calligraphy.)
In his spare time he also helps to guide the souls of remaining worshippers to the next life. Find out more about the character’s origins here.
Who is Anubis, the ancient Egyptian god of the afterlife?
Mr Jacquel is a manifestation of the Ancient Egyptian god of mummification and the afterlife, Anubis. He is also the protector of graves, and the patron god of lost souls.
He is one of the oldest gods in Egyptian legend, and most likely developed from the earlier jackal god Wepwawet, which is how Mr Jacquel got his name.
Anubis’ image – a human with a black dog head – appears on royal tombs from the First Dynasty of Egypt (around 3150-2890 BC). Experts suggest that the idea of Anubis (and Wepwawet before him) developed in response to wild dogs and jackals digging up newly buried corpses in the thousands of years before that. In response, the Egyptians believed a powerful canine god could be the best protection against wild animals.
This god is always shown with a black head, the colour used by the Egyptians so symbolise the decay of the body and the fertile soil around the Nile which represented regeneration. The name itself comes from “Anpu”, “to decay”. As protector of the dead, Anubis made sure they received a dignified burial and assisted them with the resurrection in the afterlife.
Many other images show Anubis standing or kneeling to hold the golden scales which weigh the heart of the soul against the white feather of truth. In American Gods, Mr Jacquel explains: “Back in my day, we had it all set up. You line up when you die, and you answer for your evil deeds and for your good deeds, and if your evil deeds outweighed a feather, we’d feed your soul and your heart to Ammet, the Eater of Souls.”
How is Mr Jacquel different in the novel compared to the TV series?
In Neil Gaiman’s novel we first met him in Cairo as a black dog with tall, pointed ears. But showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have opted to give him his own “somewhere in America” story in episode three.
An Egyptian woman who was taught the old myths when she was a child now lives in America and is making dinner for her family. When she has a fall and dies in her kitchen, she receives a knock on the door from Mr Jacquel who leads her up the fire escape to the afterlife, where he weighs her heart against a feather.
Accompanying her on the journey is her cat, who trots happily up the otherworldly fire escape. This is a reference to Bastet (known as “Bast” in the novel), an Egyptian cat goddess who sometimes served as a guide and helper to the dead. She, too, lives at the funeral parlour.
American Gods is available on Amazon Prime Video in the UK, with new episodes added every week. Episodes air on US channel Starz on Sunday nights.