Ancient Egyptian Beliefs in the Afterlife

Life After Death

Egyptian Book of the Dead
A Scene from the Egyptian Book of the Dead

According to the Ancient Egyptians, the body was made up of several parts: the ba or soul, the ka or life force, and aj, the force of divine inspiration of life. To survive in the afterlife, the ka needed the corpse to remain intact, and that was only possible through technique of mummification.

The type of mummification varied according to social class to which the deceased belonged. Mummification was considered a very important rite, for without it the deceased would perish for all eternity and not gain the afterlife. The preparation of the body for mummification was carried out by priests who were knowledgeable in anatomy and who could extract the organs from the body without excessive damage. The organs were then placed in separate sealed canopic jars. The rest of the body was wrapped in linens soaked with chemicals that impeded putrefaction and promoted mummification. During the process of embalming and mummification, the priests placed a series of amulets among the bandages, on which were written formulas to ensure the survival of the deceased in the afterlife.

Once prepared, the corpse was laid in the sarcophagus, and a procession would take him to the grave. The procession was led by the funerary priest, followed by some leading objects belonging to the deceased that would have ensured a comfortable afterlife. The sarcophagus was pulled by a sled, while a second sled carried the canopic jars.

A Sarcophagus. Photo credit: Giovanni Dall'Orto

When the procession reached the grave, the priest performed the ritual of opening the mouth, through which, according to tradition, the mummy would be reanimated. The funerary objects for the deceased along with the sarcophagus and offerings, were deposited in the grave, which subsequently was sealed so that no one could disturb the eternal repose of the deceased.

After the burial, the deceased began a long journey through the underworld. The deceased was led by Anubis, the god of the dead, in what is called the Hall of Two Truths. At one end was Osiris, seated on a throne and accompanied by other deities, and 42 judges. At the

Mummies. Image available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
center of the room was placed the balance, whose axes were measured carefully by Thoth, the god of the scribes, on which was weighed on the heart of the deceased. In front of the deity and the courts, the deceased had to pronounce a negative confession: his declaration of innocence. The deceased was utter a formulaic statement indicating that he had not caused harm to others. His heart was then placed on the scale and measured against a feather. If the plate on which lay the heart sat, was tilted more than that on which lay the feather, symbol of justice, the deceased would be devoured by Amit, a monster half lion and half hippopotamus. Otherwise, the deceased could enter the kingdom of Osiris and thereby attain the fields of IARU, a kind of paradise, where Ushabti, little men purpose-built from timber, would work to meet its needs.

But before he or she reached this pleasant goal, the soul of the deceased had to make a long journey. On the boat of the god Ra, the deceased had to cross a lake of fire, guarded by four baboons, face crocodiles, snakes and the evil Apophis, the gigantic monster condemned forever to threaten the sinking of the boat of Ra. The only help for the deceased were the amulets and formulas posed by priests during mummification.

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