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May is mummy month 2: Why mummify?

by aposematic guest blogger Jolaine Incognito

Life in ancient Egypt was a tough gig: annual droughts followed by annual floods; oppression of the working classes; treachery and assassination within the upper classes. But the Afterlife in ancient Egypt was even scarier.

A mummy in the Vatican museum -- Wikipedia

Beneath the Earth’s surface lay Osiris’ kingdom, called Duat or the Underworld. The fauna included poisonous snakes and the scenery included lakes of fire. The spirit of a deceased person had to travel through the Underworld to the Hall of Two Truths where his or her heart would be weighed. A worthy heart was rewarded. An unworthy heart was fed to the Devourer of the Dead.

In early lore, the sun god Ra reigned over the afterlife, and worthy spirits could expect to spend eternity with Ra in the sky. Later, the Afterlife came to be dominated by Osiris and his Underworld, where unlucky souls could spend eternity labouring in the Field of Reeds.

Funerary rituals had two main goals: protection and ease. The spirit needed a corporeal home, an anchor point. Without it, the spirit might be lost. The mummified body provided a suitable home. In a pinch, the spirit could also inhabit statues or paintings. The tombs of the rich and powerful might contain all three. (Clearly the Egyptians knew about planned redundancy.)

Tombs were also stocked with items to ease the spirit through the afterlife. In addition to real or symbolic food and money, the deceased would even be provided with shabtis – small figurines representing servants. If necessary, the shabtis would labour for the deceased. (Clearly the Egyptians knew about playing the system.)

Equally important was know-how. Coffins might be painted with maps of the Underworld, to help the deceased navigate its danger, or inscribed with spells for the deceased to recite to ward off trouble. Over the generations these spells became more elaborate and more uniform, eventually being collected in what is somewhat misleadingly called the Book of the Dead.

Next time: The Books of the Dead

Sources

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About teresawilde

Author of Young Adult Paranormals, Paranormal Romance, Historical Paranormal Romance, tragical- comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, and poem unlimited.

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