The Ancient Egyptians believed in immortality after death and the afterlife. They spent their lives in preparation for death, evidently through constructing tombs for themselves. To enter the afterlife, a well functioning body was necessary. Thus, to protect their bodies and reach the afterlife, a set of burial customs needed to be followed. These rituals included mummification, spells, and the burial with certain goods needed in the afterlife. These rituals became the responsibility of the family to carry out with the assistance of priests. The burial process developed and changed over time, however the main elements of preparation of the body, the magical rituals, and the grave goods, all remained as significant and essential factors in an Egyptian funeral. I will discuss how the religious beliefs of ancient Egyptians underlie how they perceived death, burial customs, and the responsibilities of the living toward the dead. I will also explore the question of disrupting life after death. Religious Beliefs
“The concept of the afterlife is one of a daily journey from death to life, and funerary texts were made to ensure the success of this journey” (Allen & Manuelin 2005). Ancient Egyptians did not consider death as the end of one’s life, they believed that there was a certain process that occurs when a person dies which allows them to enter a dimension of eternity and bliss, the ‘afterlife’. “Eternal life was the greatest good for an Egyptian” (Wilson 1951). They believed that in order to successfully enter the afterlife, there were certain challenges to overcome. This includes the deceased being placed before 14 judges who decided and judged ones life. The person is judged, and based on the judges’ verdict, determine whether they can enter the afterlife. They also believed in the purity and value of the soul, which they understood as being represented by the heart. An individual’s heart would be weighed against a feather. If the feather is lighter than the heart, the person is made to live in a space of limbo for all eternity, and is not permitted in to the afterlife. On the other hand, if the feather weighs more, they are allowed in to the afterlife.
- The ‘Ka’, ‘Ba’ and ‘Akh’
“The ancient Egyptians believed that each human being consists of three basic parts: the physical body and two nonmaterial elements known as the ‘ba’ and the ‘ka’” (Allen & Manuelin 2005). A ‘Ba’ was someone’s soul or spirit, and when a person died, their ba was released from their body. It was the feature of a person that made them a unique individual, disregarding their physical body. The Ba would go to the living family and friends of the deceased. According to the Egyptians, the Ba provided the family and friends with information on how the deceased is doing. “Egyptian priests were interested in what made a person or other animal alive, and how that something might reanimate a dead person” (Gordon & Schawbe 2004). This was known as the Ka and was someone’s life force, which was also released from the body when they died. It is the difference between a living body and a dead one. In order for a person to endure being a spirit in the afterlife, the ba needs to reunite with its life force, the ka. Until the burial rituals were completed, the Ka was at rest, and then the Ba might rejoin with Ka and live again. This union results in what is known as the akh.
An Akh is an ‘‘effective being, no longer subject to a physical body or the limitations of physical experience.’’ (Allen & Manuelin 2005). It is able to live eternally, not only on earth, but also in the space/world of the gods (the afterlife). Essentially, an akh is a mummy who has completed the transition to the afterlife successfully. If the ba and ka could not unite, the ba continues to dwell, but is no longer considered alive. This being is considered as dead. The Livings Relationship and Responsibilities with Death and the Dead -
Preparation for Death...
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