Those used to philosophies centered on a single God,
focused on the uniqueness of the individual, and formed
by the view that earthly existence precedes an eternal
paradise become easily confused by the various divinities
and their role along the treacherous path of the Egyptian
afterlife. It is impossible to encapsulate the full
scope of the divine, since not only was it extremely
crowded, but it also changed over the centuries. Gods
and goddesses performed different tasks at different
times, but all were deeply concerned with the dead.
Every Egyptian held deep concerns for the Beyond. Although
gods and goddesses demanded mollification and obeisance
while one was alive, when you died the gods became beneficent
protectors - provided the dead passed the netherworld's
many hurdles. Representation of the deities was often
a fascinating blend of man and animal. Those animals
that might seem comical, like the hippo or the baboon,
often assumed a more menacing air - or assumed a certain
nobility - when attached to the body of a man or woman.
Death was not seen as the last stage of life, simply
as a state in which one was at rest awaiting revivification.
We know little of the peasantry; their lives, and thus
their deaths, are not easily reconstructed. For those
fortunate to live comfortably, however, funerary objects,
mummification, and entombment tell us how dangerous
the next life could be. Ample evidence exists of how
terrifying the afterlife was: inscriptions from the
Book of the Dead, the Book of the Two Ways, the Amduat
(a section of the Book of the Netherworld) found their
way onto objects accompanying the corpse. These inscriptions
were spells to be ward off and protect the dead as they
progressed from netherworld to the Hall of Judgment.
The dead chose to travel on the solar barque, a low-slung
boat from which Re, the sun god, recreated the world
every day, as a way to achieve eternal life.
A priest had to perform the, "Opening of the Mouth,"
ceremony over the mummified body, whereby all the incantations
restored all the senses to the body. Speech especially
was needed, since the Egyptians had to justify their
time on earth upon arrival at the Hall of Judgment.
The other senses were needed immediately because the
first trip after death was to the Field of Reeds, the
land of wish-fulfillment. Having to pass through seven
gates, aided by the magic spells inscribed upon the
funerary objects, the dead arrived in the presence of
Osiris, god of the netherworld, to face judgment. The
ceremony was called, "weighing the heart,"
and explains why the heart remained intact while the
priests removed the other vital organs and placed them
in canopic jars.
Justifying himself was not easy. Face to face with
forty-two gods, the heart of the dead was weighed in
the presence of the jackal-headed Anubis, god of the
dead, against a feather, representing Maat, goddess
of truth. Balancing the scale meant immortality. Should
the heart not balance perfectly, Amemet devoured it,
and Seth, murderer of Osiris, ate the rest of the body.
It is little wonder then that spells, tokens, ushebtis,
shabtis, amulets, and charms held such sway over the