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Egyption View of Death by Jesse
The Egyptian afterlife is filled with many different wondrous ideas. These differ radically from other religious views of the afterlife. Egyptian afterlife would be preferred to other religions because the idea of damnation is neither eternal nor complete. When a corrupt individual wishes to go to a pleasant afterlife all they had to do is read a few spells from the magic tomb, and shed the evil side of themselves. This is a key difference between modern religions which salvation depends on following scripture. Another difference is the notion of damnation. If a particular Egyptian didnít say the special incantations and meets his fate by getting devoured, the torturous perils do not continue as they would in other religions. In fact the dangers of damnation are radically different from most modern religions. For most Egyptians the afterlife was a realm that they did not need to fear, Egyptians had an optimistic view about death. This paper will examine what the common Egyptian as well as the pharaoh had to look forward to in death. It will also examine what fate was held for the Egyptians who did not live up to the godís idea of a pure, good, man and some of the differences between the treatments of the pharaoh versus the common man.
Once someone met their death in Egypt the process involved with the newly dead was roughly the same for all Egyptians. The person would be embalmed, which was a long process, often taking up to seventy days. The deceased would be taken away from their house to another location. This location would serve as a purification house which was a special place used only for embalming rituals. The deceased would be looked after by the wife or another relative during this time. The body would first be purified by being washed in the Nile River and the internal organs of the body would then be removed. Once the organs were removed, spices would take their place. These organs would be placed into jars and kept separate from the body. The brain was also removed and in the place of it was either mud or linen, the brain was not looked at as the source of the personality and intelligence, the heart instead got this belief attached to it. This is important because the heart will be the organ judged by the gods, not the brain. The reason for these processes was to enable the body of the dead person to stay in the original shape. This was very important to the Egyptians because they believed the body was sacred and that in keeping the body as close as possible to itís original shape ensured immortal life for the deceased. The deceased was then placed into a tomb where special priests would cast spells and perform ceremonies on the dead. These ceremonies and spells were all used to ensure a peaceful afterlife. The tomb would then be sealed, after which no one was supposed to disturb the tomb (Ions, 1968).
Another common feature among the Egyptians was the idea of three entities that existed in all men and women. Every person, whether it was the pharaoh or the common person, had the ka, akh, and the ba. The ka was the part of the individual that resided in heaven since birth. After death the Egyptian would meet the ka and the ka would rest in the tomb of the Egyptian (or where the burial was). If the ka was not left food by the dead Egyptianís family, it would perish. This was why it was important to leave food and other belongings in the tombs of the deceased, the food to feed on and the other belongings were used by the ka for entertainment purposes. The ka, as it dwelt in the tomb, also resided in heaven. The ba came into being after the person died, as to be distinguished from the ka, which was around before hand. The ba would occasionally revisit the tomb, but that was not itís resting place. The ba was free to travel wherever it so desired. In the Egyptian tombs and writings the ba was drawn as a hawk with a humanís head. The final spirit was the akh, the purpose of which was to travel through the underworld where it would come before Osiris and the counsil of gods in order to be judged. All three of these spirits were vastly important to the Egyptians, and they all were essential for life beyond death (Ions, 1968).
In addition to the similar treatment of the corpse, all Egyptians shared a similar series of events after death. The first of which consisted of the akh coming before Osiris, who was the ruler of the afterlife. Osiris was once a sun god and ruled over Egypt. His brother Seth became jealous of this and decided to murder Osiris to then claim that he was the rightful ruler. Osiris was resurrected when his wife Isis found his body and hovered over it, she became pregnant and had Horus. Horus avenged his fatherís death, killing Seth, and became the new Pharaoh. Osiris decided to rule the afterlife and came to be represented in the form of the mummy. In addition to Osiris there were other gods who would serve as judges of the deceased individualís Akh. The deceased would then have to recite a variety of pleas in front of this mass of judges; these pleas were a variety of prostrations similar to the Ten Commandments of the Jewish and Christian religion. The pleas were said by the deceased in order to prove that they were pure and without evil. After completing these various phrases the person would then come to his next challenge. This next challenge involved the goddess Maat, who was the goddess of truth and order. Maat was represented as a feather, and the deceased was expected to have lived using her as an example for living a good and pure life. The dead individualís heart was weighed against Maat's feather; the heart of the deceased represented their personality be it good or bad. If the heart weighed equal to or lighter than the feather then the deceased was admitted into Osiris's afterlife and got to reap the benefits of paradise. However if the heart's evil deeds outweighed the feather then the deceased advanced towards a different fate, not necessarily a final one though (Nigosian, 2000).
According to Erik Hornung (1994), Egyptians had no misconceived notions of actually being equal to the purity of Maat. Instead they believed that with the aid of magic they would be able to pass into the afterlife. The spells the deceased and priests used were in an effort to satisfy the gods who passed judgment. The spells would either flatter the gods or repeatedly state that the deceased had been a faithful servant (Ions, 1968). Magic was not necessarily important to avoid damnation however; Hornung instead states, "The Judgment of the Dead is more the Egyptian version of Purgatory. It is not a Last Judgment." (pg.135). This means that as long as the Egyptian had taken measures to make sure their bodies were mummified they would have ample time to make up for their sins. He also says "it is the great purification that alone enables man to enter the Beyond" (pg.136). In order to enter the "Beyond" the deceased must become divine and pure, which can be achieved by being "identified with a divinity" (pg.137), one of the members of the gods that are judging the deceased. After this purification the evil side of the person is purged from the world and into the jaws of the monster that is only responsible for destroying the damned sections of the person. This monster was a combination of different animals that the Egyptians held in fear, which include the lion, crocodile and hippopotamus. This monster was quite a creature to be feared (Hornung, 1994).
Another fact according to Hornung (1994) was the damned part of the Egyptian, after being subjected to the gnashing jaws of the monster, was not condemned to any hell that is familiar with Christian or Jewish or Muslim thought. There is no lake of fire, no eternal suffering in Egyptian damnation. Instead the evil part of the person was dissolved and eradicated from the world. It is put into a "Black Hole" and can never escape (Hornung, 1994). This is a very reassuring belief to the Egyptians because they do not suffer and they still go into paradise. All the evil is resolved and the deceased is left as the pure being, this was the main reason that Egyptians were optimistic about the afterlife.
Egyptian Pharaohs were subjected to the same fate as the common Egyptian; they went before Osiris and went through the process previously mentioned. The differences begin with the burial grounds. Pharaohs had elaborate tombs made for themselves, which the common Egyptian could not afford. The common Egyptian was often placed into the soil of the desert or some sort of rudimentary tomb. The Pharaoh also had a pantheon of priests who would recite spells for the Pharaoh after his demise. These spells would enable the Pharaoh to speak and to be able to use the goods placed into his tomb as well as to help the Pharaoh into paradise (Spalinger, 1998). Also enclosed in the tomb of the Pharaoh were a variety of foods, jewelry, and models of servants that were intended to help with the transition of life after death and to feed and entertain the ka (Nigosian, 2000). Another element in the Pharaohs tomb was the book of the dead. This book was usually an entire copy, bound in elaborate materials, which was opposed to the few scraps of paper the common Egyptian would be able to pay for. This book enabled the owner to pass all judgements of Osiris and the other gods in the afterlife and for this reason the book was of great importance. The book of the dead also included a few incantations and other helpful information that would help the owner pass the many turbulent obstacles on the way to be judged. The common Egyptian only bought the few scraps of paper that were deemed most crucial for the afterlife (Burns, 2001). The priests of the Pharaohs would also hold an elaborate feast after the closing of the tomb, which needless to say, the commoner would not receive. The commoner would receive a smaller feast, usually only attended by the family and friends (Ions, 1968).
Death for all Egyptians was not the fearsome event common to many of the modern religions. This is as long as the body of the dead person was properly taken care of. Every Egyptian had paradise to look forward to in the world of the dead, if not right after death then eventually with the passing of time and the purification of evils. Pharaohís, as well as the common man, met the same fate after death; the difference lay in the process and the elaborateness of the tombs. These are the reasons why the Egyptians had a fairly optimistic view of the afterlife; there was no eternal damnation. There was no reason to be afraid of death; the bad parts of the personís soul were expunged, leaving the Egyptian to enjoy the peace of paradise as a perfectly pure being.
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