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Egyptian Afterlife

A rich ancient Egyptian drawing his last mortal breath didnt just lie down and accept eternal rest; he packed his tomb and got ready for his biggest ever adventure. His goal was the Field of eeds ! basically the "ile valley# but with better weather ! and to get there hed need to journey through $siriss netherworld# fighting demons and chatting with gods# but also breathing# eating and doing everything else involved in staying... if not alive e%actly# them something strangely close to it# before he could get his heart weighed and emerge blinking into the sunshine. &t was complicated and perilous# so to keep himself safe hed buy a set of spells before he died# chosen from the vast body of magic words and pictures that we now know of as the 'ook of the (ead. )ummification was done to preserve the body# and an *opening of the mouth ritual occurred so the deceased could breathe again. (ying was not# then# a termination but rather a different state of being# like sleeping or sickness# in which the self remained essentially intact. +alismans and spells that protected the living would also protect the dead, a headrest used for sleeping could be used again in the tomb; spell -./# against injury and death# could be used to keep the dead body safe and gain admittance to the afterlife. And it was because the dead were separated from the living by only the thinnest of veils that# in return for leaving food and drink in their tomb# relatives could get the dead to intercede for them with the gods. +his mi% of the practical and fantastical looks strikingly like a giant fantasy0based computer game. +he deceased moves through an intricate environment battling a series of snake0 and knife0wielding gods before defeating the crocodile0headed# lion0chested# hippo0rumped (evourer and so completing his mission. Along the way# he must fight a whole series of deadly animals and insects# collect magical talismans 1amulets to keep evil beings out of the burial chamber# a magic brick with a reed stuck in to breathe through should the tomb fill up with sand2 and complete various side0missions# while all the time remembering to eat# drink and monitor life force levels. &f the netherworld is a computer game# the 'ook of the (ead is a set of cheats. &n fact# the objects gathered here suggest the ancient Egyptian upper classes were idle# selfish fibbers of the highest order. &t wasnt piety or good works that got you waved you through the netherworld# it was heka# the magical use of a word or image, just reading out an entitys name from your 'ook was normally enough to overpower it# suggesting the immortal legions didnt really have a fighting chance.

The Ancient Egyptian Soul

The Egyptians believed that to be alive in the afterlife they had to keep their physical bodies... thus the mummies. However, other than The Ha (the physical body), there were 5 other components of the human. These parts made up the soul The Ren ! The name given to a person at birth. "t was believed that as long as it was repeated by the living, the deceased would continue living in the Egyptian afterlife. That is also why rivals of the deceased tried to erase their names. The Ib ! The heart that is given from mother to child at conception. "t is also the central part of the weighing!of!the!heart ceremony. The Sheut ! The person#s shadow. "t was represented by a black figure of the person. The Ba ! The individual spiritual characteristics of the person, it#s what made each person uni$ue. The %a was represented as a human!headed bird. The Ka ! The life force that animates a living person. "t#s the spiritual essence of the living, and is what leaves the body upon death. The Akh ! The combination of the %a and the &a, and is what is called the 'effective being' or the spirit of the person. (uring life, all of the above elements were present with the person. )pon death, these elements separated and were reunited for the person#s rebirth in the afterlife if the proper funerary practices were followed. The %a and &a had to be reunited so that the &a could get its nourishment through the %a. This was because the &a needed sustenance through food and drink, but could not get it on its own. *nce the %a was released form the body and united with the &a, they formed a person#s +kh. The +kh was free from the person#s body, but would return to it nightly and emerge again as a free spirit in the day. ,o after death, a person had to go through an elaborate mummification and burial process before beginning the -ourney through the


3ou did need to get your heart weighed before you could pass through to the Field of eeds# but $siris wasnt as all0seeing as 4t 5eter at the 5early 6ates; even 4anta 7laus is probably a better judge of character. All you needed to guarantee a favourable judgement was a heart0scarab amulet and spell /8' instructing your heart not to tell on you. +he power of words over truth is demonstrated by another of the tasks of the netherworld, the deceased had to deny 9: faults to 9: deities# apparently regardless of whether or not they were actually guilty.

"ot only did the dead cheat to win safe passage# but they cheated to get out of doing any work. +he papyri show them playing interminable games of senet# and they even packed the boards with them in their tombs; admittedly# this was partly because senet was a symbol of the journey of death; but it seems likely they were also hoping to get a good amount of gaming in on the other side. +hey carried with them# too# a set of shabti figures# so that if once they had tricked their way into paradise they were asked to do any manual labour# they could magically activate the little statues and set them to work in their stead. +he importance of imagining every one of these possible dangers also leads to some rather gruesome specifics; for instance# not only do you need spells for protection against decapitation and slaughter# but to keep you from a diet of e%crement and urine. 4uch graphic images testify to the horrors of death# which was ever0present for a people destined to die young ! on average# at around /; ! and which essentially had to be navigated alone and without priests to intercede. 4till# the whole nightmarish effect is rather undermined by just how cute and cartoonish these animal0headed gods and demons look# as well as their evident uselessness, not once is there any suggestion that they might manage to stop the dead getting through the netherworld# and given the gods failure to wise up to the old heart0scarab amulet trick# its a wonder the (evourer had <uite so much flesh on her mismatched bones.

The Hall of Judgement and the Weighing of the Heart

)pon death the soul would enter the underworld where he would have to pass certain tests and then reach his -udgment day. The ancient Egyptian underworld, called Duat, was not a type of Hell, it was more like a strange, and sometimes scary, obstacle course that a deceased#s soul had to go through "n (uat, souls had to pass a series of ./ gates that were guarded by demons. They had to recite each demon#s name correctly in order to be let through to the ne0t gate. *nce the souls passed through all ./ gates, they were led into the Hall of 1udgement for final assessment.

1ustifying oneself was not easy. 2ace to face with forty!two gods, the heart of the dead was weighed in the presence of the -ackal!headed +nubis, god of the dead. "t was placed on a set of scales against a feather, representing 3a4at, goddess of truth. %alancing the scale 5 meaning you had done more good than bad ! meant immortality. ,hould the heart not balance perfectly, +memet (the (evourer) ate it, and ,eth, murderer of *siris, ate the rest of the body. "t is little wonder then that

spells, tokens, shabtis, amulets, and charms held such sway over the Egyptians..

From Journey through the afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, runs until 6 March !"" at the British Museum, #ondon $%"B &D'( )ickets cost *" and can be booked from ! ! +& & ,"," or online at ---(britishmuseum(org(

The Egyptian Afterlife

1. Describe the Field of Reeds.

2. Why was the

!enin" of the #outh ritual !erfor$ed%

3. Why was food and drink left in to$bs%

4. Why is the &ourney to the afterlife like a co$!uter "a$e% How is the Book of the

Dead like a 'set of cheats(%

5. In your own words) define the followin"* a. Ren

b. Ib

c. Sheut

d. Ba

e. Ka



6. What ha!!ened to the abo+e as!ects when a !erson died%

7. Why did the Ba and Ka need to reunite after death%

8. How is the '!ower of words( de$onstrated in the afterlife &ourney.

9. What were 'shabti( fi"ures% What did they do%

10. At what a"e did $any die%

11. ,o!y the chart that shows the !ro"ression fro$ Death to Aaru.