Life After Death in Egypt - Eternal Bliss
Death was not the compulsive obsession that many people ascribe to
ancient Egyptian civilization. This widespread misconception is perhaps
explained by the fact that most Egypt tourists and travelers visit tombs
and see funerary objects at museums. Life after death in Egypt was a
preoccupation, but ancient Egyptians were perhaps more obsessed with
life than death. After all, the human species is the only one aware,
at least at a conscious level, that physical life must eventually end.
We also know that we spend a lot more time dead than alive. It is perfectly
understandable that the items we build to remember and praise our loved
ones be made of more permanent materials, and many of these items have
survived to present times. We assume that death is an irreversible process,
but some believe that eventually technology will catch up and we'll
be able to bring the dead back to life. Ancient Egyptians practiced
the art of body
preservation in the hope that their dead would eventually revive.
As intriguing as the question of life after death in Egypt or anywhere else might be, the study of ancient Egyptian religion gives us clues of their particular approach to the subject of the afterlife, eternity, immortality, heaven and the everlasting.
There was life after death in Egypt. From the pharaoh to his humblest servant, every Egyptian believed in the afterlife. The need for scientific evidence of life after death was unheard of. The reproductive cycles in the natural world carried the burden of proof for life after death in Egypt. Ancient Egyptians conceptualized human life as another one of these cycles. After death, Egyptians expected to continue a blessed life of eternal happiness without the burdens of physical existence.
Without entering into complex comparisons between ancient Egyptian religion and the Christian, Islamic, Jewish or Buddhist views of life after death, two criteria are worth mentioning:
Eternal life after death in Egypt was not guaranteed:
Life had a meaning in ancient Egypt and that was to make it as eternal as possible. Eternity or immortality was not guaranteed to Egyptians. You don't die, get judged and either go to eternal heaven or eternal hell. If you're an ancient Egyptian, you must prove worthy of living among the vindicated in the land of Osiris, or you get digested by the Devourer into non existence. The Book of the Dead and other funerary texts had the purpose of guaranteeing an after death definitive everlasting life. It was a great concern to live forever, but to do so, Egyptians had to follow Maat in their thoughts, intentions and actions. Maat was the perfect order created out of the primeval chaos, but chaos was never destroyed. Egyptians were jealous guardians of their traditions in the hope that Maat would always prevail.
Life after death in Egypt did not consist of a single
Ancient Egyptians not only believed in one, but many unique existences after death. If you're Egyptian, you don't have just one body and soul. The ancient Egyptian being had many components or aspects, from the physical natural to the spiritual divine, living together to form an identity. The visible body was known as khat, and needed to be mummified for rebirth. The spiritual equivalent of the physical body is the sahu. The khaibit is the shadow. The heart, ab, was the seat of intelligence, and carried the burden of all human actions in the judgment against the feather of Maat. What we regard as the soul, ancient egyptians called Ba, the animated spirit, imbued by emotion, and represented it by the head of the deceased on the body of a bird, capable of moving swiftly from place to place. A higher spiritual aspect, Akh, is the divine spirit in each one of us, represented by three sacred ibises, which separated from the body after death and dwelled in heaven among the stars.
All egyptians strove for immortality by eternalizing
two principal elements of their identity - memory and name. One of the
most talked about concepts of ancient Egyptian belief is the Ka, or
double of man. Ka has been equated to the ghost, a rarified form that
is atom by atom the exact double of the material body, created at the
moment of birth and as individual as its physical counterpart. Ka is
the image of the person, how we visualize a human being after death,
in other words, their unique and individual personality and attributes,
remembered and venerated by the offspring for all time.
The name, ren, had to be remembered, and spoken, too. The most cruel punishment any ancient Egyptian could receive was to have their name totally obliterated and unpronounced.
And how was life after death in Egypt? It was a perfect Egypt. A land of eternal bliss where the fertile soil of the Nile was seeded and cultivated by small figures of the deceased magically brought to life to do all the work, while the blessed kau (plural of ka) sat at the table of the Lord Osiris to partake of food, bread, beer and wine, and the bau joined the solar bark of Re on its daily journey across the sky (Nut).
Category: Ancient Egypt