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The After Life
The ancient Egyptians believed in an
afterlife. The afterlife was a heavenly
place, complete with a heavenly Nile
River. The ancient Egyptians called
this heavenly place the land of the
Two Fields.
First, you had to pass the test of heart
in the Hall of Maat. That got you
onboard Ra's boat.
In the beginning, only pharaohs could
board Ra's magical boat and travel to
the land of the Two Fields, to dwell
forever in the afterlife. But the god
Osiris changed that. One of the
reasons that Osiris was such a famous
and important god in ancient Egypt is
that Osiris opened the door to the
afterlife to everyone.
And you had to have a preserved
body.
Just dying would not get to you the
land of the Two Fields. You had to
earn a place in Ra's boat. To board
Ra's boat, your heart had to be light.
To keep your heart light, the ancient
Egyptians believed you had to spend a
lifetime doing good deeds.
Crime was very low in ancient Egypt
because someday, after a good life
spent by the Nile, everyone wanted to
board Ra's boat and travel to the land
of the Two Fields to enjoy their
afterlife.
There were a couple of other
requirements you had to satisfy
before you could spend eternity in the
afterlife.
But you also had to have your name
written down somewhere.
Why? Because the ancient Egyptians
believed that everyone had a soul.
They called the soul by two names the Ba and the Ka. As the story goes,
the Ba returned during the day to
watch over the living family, while the
Ka flew off to enjoy life in the land of
the Two Fields. At night, both the Ba
and the Ka flew home to their tomb, to
rest and prepare for the next heavenly
day.
If something happened to your
preserved body, or if your name was
not written down somewhere, the Ba
and Ka would get lost and you would
disappear, no longer able to reach
your afterlife.
That's why grave robbing was the
most horrible crime in ancient Egypt.
Grave robbers not only stole
someone's wealth, they stole their
chance to live happily ever after in the
land of the Two Fields.
The Book of the Dead and Grave Goods
The Book of the Dead is not a book. It's a nickname for a bunch of different magical
spells written down in various ways by the ancient Egyptians. These spells were
supposed to help the Egyptians reach the afterlife safely.
Nearly all of the magical spells that have been discovered to date were written to help the
ancient Egyptian safely reach their afterlife. Egyptologists have found about 200 different
spells so far, most written on piece of papyrus, some written on tomb walls.
Everyone in ancient Egypt wanted to safely reach the afterlife. They believed the afterlife
was a real place, and they believed magical spells would help them get there.
Wealthy Egyptians hired scribes to write down all their personal favorite spells on
papyrus sheets. Once prepared, this collection of spells was packed carefully away with
their other grave goods, to be placed in their tomb someday.
If you did not have a lot of money, you could buy a ready-made version that included
several of the most popular spells. A space was left on the sheet of papyrus for your
name. That way, you not only had several spells on hand to use, but you also had your
name written down, which helped your Ba and your Ka - the two pieces of your soul find their way home each night to your tomb.
The ancient Egyptians believed that if their heart was light from spending a lifetime
doing good deed that, after their death, they would climb in Ra's boat and travel to
their afterlife. To the ancient Egyptians, the afterlife was a real place, the land of
Two Fields, a truly splendid place!
In preparation for their trip to the land of Two Fields, before they died, and
throughout their lifetime, people spent a great deal of their leisure time making
grave goods. Grave goods were all the things they wanted to bring with them to the
land of the Two Fields.
People in ancient Egypt fully expected to be assigned jobs to do in their afterlife, just
as they were assigned jobs to do in their daily life. So nearly everybody made little
statues of people as part of their grave goods.
To the ancient Egyptians, it made perfect sense to create little statues that would do
the work for them. It was believed that when the deceased was called on to do their
share of the work in the afterlife, they could send their little workers instead. That
would leave them free to sail the heavenly Nile or visit with friends who had entered
the afterlife.
They made toys. They made beautiful clothing. They made jewelry. They made
everything they would need in the land of the Two Fields. And they made most of it
in little tiny sizes. It is assumed that the ancient Egyptians believed these articles
would grow to whatever size was needed when they reached the end of their trip.
Once made, grave goods were packed carefully away in big urns. After they died,
these urns, full of the grave goods they had spent a lifetime preparing, were buried
in their tomb, along with their mummified body, rather like luggage.
The ancient Egyptians had a great deal of fun preparing for their afterlife.
Canopic Jars
Canopic jars were an important part of
the mummification process. The body's
internal organs were carefully stored in
these jars.
There were always four jars,
representing the four sons of the god
Horus - four protective spirits - human,
baboon, falcon, and jackal.
It was very important to ancient
Egyptian religious beliefs that the human
body was preserved.
A method of artificial preservation,
called mummification was developed by
the ancient Egyptians. During the
process of mummification, all of the
major organs were removed and placed
in canopic jars.
1. Imsety had a human head, protected
the liver.
2. Qebehsenuf had the head of a falcon
and guarded the intestines.
3. Hapy had a baboon head protected the
lungs.
4. Duamatef had the head of a jackal,
and guarded the stomach.
The four canopic jars were put into a
special chest which went into the tomb
with the mummy.
A cartouche was an oval circle with a
name written in it, rather like a
nameplate.
The persons liver, intestines (guts), lungs
and stomach were placed in canopic jas.
Each organ was placed in a special jar
with a top representing an animal or
human head.
In the early days of ancient Egypt, a
cartouche was attached to the coffins of
kings and queens. As time went on,
many people hired an artist to create a
cartouche for their own coffins.
The heart was left inside the body
because the Egyptians believed that in
the afterlife it would be weighed to see
whether the person had led a good life.
The ancient Egyptians believed that you
had to have your name written down
somewhere, so that you would not
disappear when you died. By attaching a
cartouche to their coffin, people made
sure their name was written down in one
place at least!
The Canopic Jars were decorated with
the heads of the four sons of Horus.
Pyramids and Grave Robbers
It was only during the time of the Old
Kingdom that the ancient Egyptians built
pyramids to hold the royal tombs of their
kings. Pyramids were huge structures.
Pyramids had storage rooms, courtyards,
secret passageways, and all kinds of
fancy traps designed to catch robbers
who tried to break into the pyramid to
rob it. Pyramids were full of treasures.
The average person created grave goods
to take with them to their afterlife.
Imagine the treasures a pharaoh might
feel were necessary to bring along!
The first pyramid, the Step Pyramid, was
built around 2700 BCE, nearly 5000
years ago! Pyramid construction was
abandoned after the time of the Old
Kingdom. It was simply too easy to find
a pyramid. Grave robbers knew exactly
where the pharaohs were buried, and
thus knew exactly where to find riches
and wealth. If you were caught, the
penalty for grave robbing was death.
The ancient Egyptians did not simply
build a pyramid, bury a pharaoh, and
walk away. A whole city grew up around
a pyramid during its construction. These
cities were called pyramid cities.
The pharaoh provided homes for
everyone who worked on the pyramid
construction. People were paid for their
work in goods and food and homes.
After a pyramid was finished, the
pyramid city continued to exist. Some of
the people who stayed had jobs
maintaining and guarding the pyramid.
Others, like bakers and basket weavers,
were merchants who created needed
goods.
Grave robbing was the most horrible
crime in ancient Egypt. When grave
robbers broke into a tomb, they often
broke the cartouche when they opened
the coffin. They nearly always damaged
the mummified body in their haste to
find treasures buried within the fabric
that wrapped it. This put the Ba and the
Ka at risk.
The ancient Egyptians believed that
everyone had a soul. They called the
soul by two names - the Ba and the
Ka. After you died, the ancient
Egyptians believed that your soul had
two jobs. The Ba visited the living
family, to watch over them. The Ka flew
off to enjoy life in the land of the Two
Fields, the afterlife. At night, both the Ba
and the Ka flew home to their tomb, to
rest and prepare for the next heavenly
day.
But, if something happened to your
preserved body, or if your name was not
written down somewhere, the Ba and Ka
would get lost. They would not be able
to come home to their tomb at night, and
you would disappear forever, no longer
able to dwell happily in the afterlife.
Grave robbers not only stole someone's
wealth, they stole their chance to live
happily ever after in the
afterlife. Punishment was swift and
terrible for grave robbers caught robbing
a grave.
Mummies
The earliest ancient Egyptians buried their dead in small pits in the desert. The heat and
dryness of the sand dehydrated the bodies quickly, creating lifelike and natural
'mummies'.
Later, the ancient Egyptians began burying their dead in coffins to protect them from
wild animals in the desert. However, they realized that bodies placed in coffins decayed
when they were not exposed to the hot, dry sand of the desert.
Over many centuries, the ancient Egyptians developed a method of preserving bodies so
they would remain lifelike. The process included embalming the bodies and wrapping
them in strips of linen. Today we call this process mummification.
The poor placed the bodies of their dead relatives out in the sun, in the desert sand. The
bodies mummified naturally. Anyone who could afford it went to a professional mummy
maker. People wanted to look their best in their afterlife.
Embalming
First, his body is taken to the tent known as 'ibu' or the 'place of purification'. There, the
embalmers wash his body with good smelling palm wine and rinse it with water from the
Nile.
One of the embalmer's men makes a cut in the left side of the body and removes many of
the internal organs. It is important to remove these because they are the first part of the
body to decompose. The liver, lungs, stomach and intestines are washed and packed in
natron, which will dry them out. The heart is not taken out of the body because it is the
center of intelligence and feeling and the man will need it in the afterlife. A long hook is
used to smash the brain and pull it out through the nose. The body is now covered and
stuffed with natron, which will dry it out. All of the fluids, and rags from the embalming
process will be saved and buried along with the body.
After forty days the body is washed again with water from the Nile. Then it is covered
with oils to help the skin stay elastic.
The dehydrated internal organs are wrapped in linen and returned to the body. The body
is stuffed with dry materials such as sawdust, leaves and linen so that it looks lifelike.
Finally the body is covered again with good-smelling oils. It is now ready to be wrapped
in linen.
Wrapping the mummy
First the head and neck are wrapped with strips of fine linen. Then the fingers and the
toes are individually wrapped.
The arms and legs are wrapped separately. Between the layers of wrapping, the embalmers
place amulets to protect the body in its journey through the underworld. The 'Plummet'
amulet helps keep the person balanced in the next life. The 'Isis knot' amulet helps protect
the body.
A priest reads spells out loud while the mummy is being wrapped. These spells will help
ward off evil spirits and help the deceased make the journey to the afterlife.
The arms and legs are tied together. A papyrus scroll with spells from the Book of the Dead
is placed between the wrapped hands. More linen strips are wrapped around the body. At
every layer, the bandages are painted with liquid resin that helps to glue the bandages
together. A cloth is wrapped around the body and a picture of the god Osiris is painted on its
surface.
Finally, a large cloth is wrapped around the entire mummy. It is attached with strips of linen
that run from the top to the bottom of the mummy, and around its middle.
A board of painted wood is placed on top of the mummy before the mummy is lowered into
its coffin. The first coffin is then put inside a second coffin.
A ritual called the 'Opening of the Mouth' is performed, allowing the deceased to eat and
drink again. Finally, the body and its coffins are placed inside a large stone sarcophagus in
the tomb. Furniture, clothing, valuable objects, food and drink are arranged in the tomb for
the deceased.
Now his body is ready for its journey through the underworld. There his heart will be judged
by his good deeds on earth. If his heart is found to be pure he will be sent to live for all
eternity in the beautiful 'Field of Reeds'.
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