Ancient Egypt Afterlife Beliefs.

Ancient Egypt Afterlife Beliefs.

 

Ancient Egypt Afterlife Beliefs.

The_Book_of_the_Dead_afterlife_journey
The Book of the Dead – a guide to the deceased’s journey in the afterlife. By Jon Bodsworth, PD image.

For ancient Egyptians, religion was a very important part of life and society. Their religion consisted of their polytheistic (believing in more than one god) beliefs and rituals. Death and afterlife were also very important events in ancient Egyptian civilization. Great efforts were made to ensure that the dead received a comfortable afterlife. Over the years, different beliefs and rituals were followed, and therefore today there is vast and varied knowledge about them.


1. Egyptians Believed Death Was Only a Temporary Interruption to Life.

Egyptian_Mummy_and_Painted_Cartonnage_of_an_Unknown_Woman_Walters
Mummy and Painted Cartonnage of an Unknown Woman. Museum acquisition by exchange with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1941, OTRS

For the ancient Egyptians, life continued even after death – in the “afterlife”. To them, death was only a temporary interruption or pause to life. To ensure that the dead had a comfortable afterlife, various funerary practices, procedures and rituals were carried out, such as mummification and reverence to the gods. Only the wealthy could afford elaborate funerals and lavish tombs.




2. Egyptians Preserved the Body So the Dead Could Use It in the Afterlife.

Field Museum - diorama of Egyptian mummification process. Image credit: Erika Smith cc2.0
Field Museum – diorama of Egyptian mummification process. Image credit: Erika Smith cc2.0

Egyptians preserved the body of the dead so that it could be used it in the afterlife. They believed this was the only way to be able to have an afterlife. Therefore, mummification was a vital process in ancient Egyptian funerals. During the earliest times, bodies were simply buried in the desert and its arid conditions naturally mummified the bodies. When artificial mummification came into use, only the rich could afford the best process and the poor still had to bury their dead in desert graves. The best method of mummification took seventy days.

3. During Mummification, Protective Amulets Were Used.

Egyptian_-_Amulet_with_the_Names_of_Amenophis_III_and_Queen_Tiye_-_Walters_4267_-_Reverse_Impression
Amulet with the Names of Amenophis III (1388-1351/1350 BC) and Queen Tiye. Acquired by Henry Walters, OTRS.

The Egyptians buried various artifacts such as furniture, food, clothing and other everyday items along with the body of the deceased. These were intended for the dead to use in the afterlife. Along with such items, the ancient Egyptians also used protective amulets, funerary texts and magic spells on the tombs of the dead — these were believed to provide the spirit with protection and help in the afterlife. When the corpse was wrapped in linen during the process of mummification, protective amulets were placed in between the layers. Priests wrote special symbols on these amulets, depending on where they were to be placed on the body.

4. The Mask of the Dead Gave Strength to the Spirit of the Mummy.

TUTANKHAMUN-Death Mask
TUTANKHAMUN-Death Mask. Image credit: Harry (Howard) Potts, cc2.0

The mask was a special element in ancient Egyptian funerals. It was put on the face of the deceased. The mask was thought to play several important roles. One was to provide strength to the spirit of the mummy and guard it from evil spirits during its journey to the afterlife. In addition, the mask provided the deceased with a face so that the spirit could recognize its body in the afterlife.

5. The Hearts of the Dead Were Weighed in The Hall of the Two Truths.

Weighing_of_the_Heart_egypt
The Weighing of the Heart from the Book of the Dead of Ani. Photographed by the British Museum; original artist unknown, PD image.

In the afterlife of the deceased, the spirit’s heart was thought to be weighed in The Hall of the Two Truths. A feather from the headdress of the goddess Ma’at (known as Shu, the Feather of Truth and Justice) was weighed against the heart of the spirit. If the heart was lighter than the feather, then the spirit could pass on safely. However, if the heart was heavier than the feather, it meant that the spirit’s heart was heavy with evil, and so the demon Ammu would devour the spirit. The deceased had to go through a long journey before passing on to the afterlife.

6. Humans Had a Ka (Life Force).

Ka_god_egypt
Ka statue of Hor Awibra Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Main floor – gallery 11. Wood: height 170 cm, width 27 cm. JE 30948 – CG 259. By www.heka.co.uk, PD image.

Ancient Egyptians believed that the ka (the life force) of a person would leave the body at death. They believed that, even after death, the ka needed nourishment from food and drink just as the person had during life. Therefore, relatives of the dead would place offerings of food for the deceased to consume. The tombs of the dead also contained artwork of food, which would magically transform into food for the deceased.

7. Humans Also Had a Ba (Spirit).

egypt_Ba_bird_spirit
The ba-bird, one aspect of the ancient Egyptian concept of the soul. Image credit: Jeff Dahl, GFDL.

According ancient Egyptian beliefs, the ba was a person’s spirit, or the unique spiritual characteristic of an individual. Preserving the body was important because it was believed that the ba would return to it every night to receive new life.

8. Dead Pharaohs Were Believed to Dwell Among the Stars.

stars_vector

Beliefs and rituals come and go with time. Originally, the belief was that only the pharaoh had a ba and that the commoners passed on to the dark realm (which was the opposite of life) when they died. During the earliest times, Egyptian people believed that when the pharaohs died, they ascended to the sky and lived among the stars.




9. Tomb Images Had a Very Deep Meaning.

Paintings_from_the_tomb_of_Petosiris_at_Muzawaka_XIII
Paintings from the tomb of Petosiris at Muzawaka (XIII). Image credit: isawnyu, cc2.0

At first, bodies were simply buried in the desert sand, but later on, tombs were built for the protection of the dead. These tombs contained many valuables such as riches, texts and images. These have helped people today to discover a world long gone. Texts consisted of spells, and images consisted of deities and the daily life of Egyptians, and much more information that is invaluable. The tombs that have been found today have many images. These tomb images may look like simple paintings, but they have a much deeper meaning.

To learn more about the Ancient Egyptians, see:


Journey to the Egyptian Afterlife

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