Museum of Science logo  Ancient Egypt Science & Technology  MosTIX logo
Mummies Excavation Egyptian Afterlife Activities Teaching Links

The Egyptian Afterlife

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 Egyptians.


Plan your journey
Need help coordinating your trip to the afterlife? In our interactive game, Eternity Travel assists you with everything from shopping for tombs, to selecting a mummification stylist, to choosing just the right coffin.

More Start planning

For a limited time is offering a special ANUBIS Promotion (a 750 debens value). To redeem, just enter the code ANUBIS in the promotion area of the shopping cart.


Acknowledgements | Send Comments | Copyright 2003 Museum of Science