The Egyptian Book of the Dead: A guidebook for the underworld - Tejal Gala
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Though the name is a bit confusing, the Egyptian Book of the Dead is not a bound book but rather a collection of funerary texts written on papyrus scroll. The scrolls were individualized based on people’s wealth and personal preferences. Though the most expensive ones included customized texts and images, people could also purchase cheaper pre-made Books and scribes would only write the name in. Explore this website to learn about how the funerary texts evolved to be accessible to everyone, not just the royals. A Book of the Dead was crucial for any Ancient Egyptian trying to reach the afterlife. They contained spells to use in the Underworld - view the formulas and enchantments from Iufankh’s Book of the Dead here - and Negative Confessions for the Hall of Ma’at (view the 42 Negative Confessions from the Papyrus of Ani here). Books of the Dead also feature pictures of the deceased person in different scenes, foretelling success in these areas. The journey from death to the afterlife is long and complex, leaving a multitude of avenues to explore.
Mummification alone took seventy days. Embalmer-priests did everything from washing the body with wine to tossing out “useless” organs (such as the brain) to adorning the corpse with jewelry. Only the heart was left in the body, but the lungs, liver, stomach, and intestines were preserved in canopic jars and placed in the tomb. Still curious? Watch Len Bloch’s excellent TED-Ed video to learn about how the Ancient Egyptians protected the mummies from decomposition. You can also read Aliki’s book Mummies Made in Egypt for the specific steps of the mummification process.
While mummification was the first challenge of the body, the Underworld was the first challenge of the spirit. A particularly thorny obstacle was Apep (also known as Apophis), the snake god of destruction and evil. Apep’s body is so lengthy that hieroglyphic artwork shows it wound into loops or coils. Check out this website for more information about Apep and the dangers he posed.
In the Hall of Ma’at, a person’s character determines his or her worthiness to enter the afterlife. You can read Chapter 125 from the Papyrus of Ani which lists the names of each of the Assessor Gods and the corresponding Negative Confessions. Following the Negative Confessions was the Weighing of the Heart Ceremony, and the heart was weighed against a special feather called the Feather of Truth. Thoth, the ibis-headed god of sacred writings and wisdom, recorded the results of each judgment.
The afterlife itself was a heavenly place identical to the world of living people. Read this article about the Ancient Egyptians’ joy of living and the quality of the afterlife in their eyes.
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