Ancient Egyptian beliefs, customs, traditions and superstitions of the afterlife include Ka and Ba, mummification, embalming, magic spells, good luck charms, and preparations for journey towards the kingdom of Osiris.
In ancient Egypt, customs, beliefs, traditions and superstitions regarding the afterlife takes precedence over almost all aspects of life and living. At first glance, the concept of ancient Egypt and the concept of the afterlife seem unrelated at all. When we think of ancient Egypt, we picture the pyramids, we imagine the pharaohs, we remember the Nile, the Euphrates and the Tigris.
The Afterlife as the Major Preoccupation of Ancient Egyptian life
But nothings seems to deserve more attention in the ancient Egyptian imagination as the concept of the afterlife. In ancient Egyptian cosmology, humans were considered children of the gods. Being so, human beings must have inherited certain aspects of divine aside from physical bodies.
The most important and studied aspects of the divine, which humans were thought to have acquired as children of the gods, are the immortality of the human soul and the “force” that drives life.
The Ka and the Ba in the Ancient Egyptian Belief of the Afterlife
Two so-called spiritual concepts play major roles in the ancient Egyptian preoccupation over the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians believe that, at the moment of birth, every human being receives Ka, which is comparable to a life-force that animates the body. As long as an individual has Ka, he continues to live. Upon death, Ka acquires a separate existence. It still resembles the body in form, and retains much of the body’s needs like food for sustenance. Egyptians enjoyed life to the fullest, and expects to enjoy the same pleasures in the afterlife.
The other spiritual force that ancient Egyptians believed man inherits is the Ba. The Ba is comparable to the Christian concept of the soul, some sort of an intangible essence. It can be compared to the breath that sustains life. Ba is portrayed on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs as a human-headed bird leaving the body.
The ancient Egyptians believed that in order to have an afterlife, the Ka and the Ba should be reunited with the body after, which is why it was important to them to preserve the body through mummification.
Ancient Egyptian mummification for the Afterlife
When we think of mummies or mummification, what immediately comes to mind? It is to ancient Egypt that the concept of mummification is inextricably linked. Ancient Egypt and the concept of mummification are joined like the body and soul.
Mummification is the process of slowly drying the body to prevent rotting. In ancient Egypt, this process takes about 70 days. The body is first carefully embalmed. Embalming priests remove the lungs, the liver, the brains, the intestines and carefully store them in canopic jars. The heart is stored to be weighed personally by the god Anubis. These jars are later kept in the tomb beside the mummy.
The corpse is then washed in palm wine and soaked with a natural salt, called natron, to absorb moisture. After 40 days, embalmers rub the skin with oils, pack the body with spices, linen, sawdust and sand to reshape it (minus the organs). It is then wrapped in layer upon layer of linen bandages that have been soaked in resin. Magic spells and good luck charms are placed between the strips. The mummy is then placed in a coffin, lying on its side, as if it were only asleep.
Preparation for the Journey towards the Afterlife
Before the tomb is sealed, everything the dead person needs for the afterlife is brought in. Things like utensils, vessels for water and food, weapons and hunting equipment, even toilet articles. The rich can afford to bring gold and other jewelry. Servants are even sacrificed especially if the person needing their services is the Pharaoh.
Family members recite spells while priest sprinkle water and use special instruments to touch the mummy on the lips. Without this ritual, the dead is thought to be unable to eat, drink and move in the afterlife.
It is the god Anubis, through weighing the heart, who determines who qualifies in entering the kingdom of Osiris, which is the ultimate aim of the journey towards the afterlife. Those who have committed evil during the Earthly life is thrown to the monster Ammit, who is known as the Devourer of the Dead.
“Preparing for the Afterlife,” “Mummies in the Making,” “Journey to Osiris”. Ancient Egypt. History. The Encyclopedia of Discovery. Weldon Owen. Australia. 2001. 224 pages.
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