If I talk about ancient civilizations, I am just fascinated with the Egyptians.
While reading about their civilization, the culture they followed, the gods they worshipped, I often wondered if they were actually the most mesmerizing of all cultures who ruled the earth.
And after doing a little bit of research, I came across a few facts which proves that indeed they were. For instance, the concept they had for death is simply so enticing, that it will make you want to go back in those times.
The Egyptian Belief
Egyptians were the ones who believed that the world was imbued with magic. And so was every living being upon it. They believed that when humans were created, magic took the form of the soul. For them, a soul was a magical force that resides in every human being.
And I don’t think any other civilization had such outlook on life. Moreover, the belief in magic doesn’t stop here. They had facts and concepts about various forms of the body that combines and makes a human being complete. So, it’s not just your physical body that makes you a human. Or at least, that’s what they used to put their faith in.
According to them the body comprised of 7 distinctive parts –
1. ẖt (physical)
They believed that ẖt, or physical form had to exist for the soul to have the chance to be judged by the guardians of the underworld. Therefore, it was necessary for the body to be preserved. Which is why they put a lot of effort in body preservation and creating the epic mummies.
They even made sure that the burial chambers were as personalized as it could be. For this, they painted scenes and triumphs from the deceased’s life on their graves.
And hey, this was never taken lightly because it affected the next stage after death, which was for them to be judged by the gods of the underworld.
2. sꜥḥ (spiritual body)
After the physical body, the spiritual body came next in line. If the physical body perfectly went through the rites, ceremonies, and preservation rituals, it was generally deemed worthy by the underworld gods to grant the passage to their afterlife.
Only then, the spirit body was able to interact with the afterlife entities. As a part of the larger construct, the physical and spiritual body was sometimes seen as an avenging spirit. It even had the ability to return from the underworld to seek revenge on those who had wronged the spirit in life.
Now I know where the actual concept of walking dead came from.
3. jb (heart)
In the Egyptian religion, the heart was a key to the afterlife. Whatever the person did in his/her life was stored in the heart and it played a key role in the judgment.
It gave the clearest evidence for, or against, its possessor. If the person was good at heart, it reflected the same and vice versa. For the same reason, it was to be carefully preserved and stored within the mummified body with a heart scarab carefully placed over it.
It was thought that the heart was then examined by Anubis and the deities during the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. If the heart weighed more than the feather of Mat ( a representation of the goddess and the personification of truth and justice), it was immediately consumed by the monster Ammit. And that’s how the soul became eternally restless.
Even though most of the religious don’t believe in the heart-consuming monster, but most believe that a bad soul does not attain peace and hence, wander around restlessly.
4. kꜣ “double”
Yet another Egyptian belief was that Khnum created the bodies of children on a potter’s wheel. Once complete, they inserted them into their mothers’ bodies. Depending on the religion, Heqet or Meskhenet was the creator of each person’s double and they would breathe their doubles into them, at the time of their birth.
This is what made them alive. If you relate this belief, you will see that this resembles the concept of spirit in other religions. Even Hindu’s believe that the children stay in heaven with God. And just before they are born, God pushes them into this world. The children become sad and come out crying because they had to leave the perfect heaven for a life on earth.
There, now you know why you were crying like anything when you were born.
5. bꜣ (personality)
Everyone knows that personality is everything that makes an individual unique. The Egyptians believed that in the same way, inanimate objects also had a personality or a unique character.
This was the same reason that pyramids were called the bꜣ of their owner. Egyptians believed that a ‘personality’ lived even after the body died. So, it was basically considered more as a complete person rather than just being a part of a being’s personality. Sometimes the bꜣ (personality), was depicted as a human-headed bird flying out of the tomb to join with the kꜣ in the afterlife.
6. šwt (shadow)
next came the concept of a shadow or silhouette. Everyone knows that a šwt (shadow) is always present with a person. Because of this, Egyptians concluded that it must contain something of the person it represents. And mostly, it was linked to Anubis, god of the underworld.
The shadow was considered as a servant of Anubis. And sometimes pharaohs had a shadow box in which part of their šwt was stored, to keep it safe from Anubis’s claim.
7. rn (name)
And last but not least, the Egyptians believed that rn was a part of the soul. According to them, a person’s rn was given to them at birth and it would live for as long as that name was spoken.
This is why efforts were made to protect it. From this, the practice of placing names in numerous writings came into the picture. A person’s identity, their experiences, and their entire life’s worth of memories were carefully placed in a monument. This was done so that, it would be read and spoken in coming years keeping the person’s memory alive.
It is pretty similar to the concept of marking the name of a deceased on its grave. So that even if a person doesn’t know him, he can read the name on the grave and speak it out to recall the dead.
The Concept of Afterlife
Egyptians thought of an afterlife as quite similar to normal physical existence — but with a difference. Just like most of the religions treat this life to be a small part of the larger and eternal life we all live. Even they thought, that death in this life is just a phase and that soon the soul will be reborn in a new form, once their turn comes.
The Book of the Dead
Even though most of the Hollywood movies have portrayed this book as an evil source of dark magic and to resurrect dead army, it actually isn’t about those things at all.
The Book of the Dead is the collection of spells which aids a person in the afterlife. And during ancient times, it was known as the Book of going forth by day. This book helped people to avoid the obstacles of the afterlife and also aided their existence. It is believed that this book contained spells to ensure “not dying a second time in the underworld”. And also to “grant memory ” to a person.
They believed that it was possible to die in the afterlife and the physical death in this life was permanent. So, they worked so hard for their loved ones, after they passed away to ensure they can have a happy life in the afterlife.
I don’t know if what they did, worked or not. But one thing is for sure, the Egyptians did pay a lot of respect to the dead. And be it the concept of ‘Moksha’ and ‘Pind -Daan’ in Hinduism or burying the dead with personal items in Christianity, I somehow believe that the Egyptian concept of soul and afterlife still exists.
It just lives and breathes in fragments, which can be seen in every other religion that we know today.