The Ancient Egyptians are renowned for their complex and sacred burial rituals, after all, one of the most significant things you could do in life, is die.
Our new thank you card design highlights one of the many trials in the Egyptian Underworld, directly referencing a scene from Ani's Book of the Dead. The god Anubis is setting the scale's plumb bob to ensure Ani's heart is weighed fairly against the feather. What does this scene mean however, and how does one's soul make it to this trial?
Death: The Entrance to The Underworld
Upon death, the deceased’s body would be subject to a series of funerary practices, given that their family could afford it. During this 2 month process of embalming and mummification, a corpse would have all organs but their heart removed, wrapped in linen woven with protective charms, have a special scarab amulet placed over their heart, and given a 78 foot scroll known as the Book of the Dead. It is believed that upon the end of this process when the now-mummy is laid to rest in their tomb, their soul may enter the Underworld (also known as “Duat”), where their journey to the Afterlife begins.
Originally referenced papyrus painting from the Book of the Dead of Ani, in possession of the British Museum since 1888
A journey through the Underworld is not for the faint of heart (pun intended), as there are many trials and tribulations along its path- the long succession of raging monsters, tests of knowledge, and godly judgement require great preparation in both life and death. For those properly buried however, it is only a matter of endurance with the tools provided at burial such as the Book of the Dead, whose depictions and texts give a detailed walkthrough to clearly navigate all challenges of the Underworld. Those who endure will eventually find themselves at the Hall of the goddess of justice and order, Maat.
The Hall of Maat
Once a soul has made it to the Hall of Maat, they must immediately face 42 gods to which they declare each god’s name and a sin relevant to that god that they have not committed. This is where some souls may be caught lying in the face of judgement, and be betrayed by their own heart involuntarily recalling the situations where they have committed those sins. Only the scarab amulet prevents the heart from acting against its owner, allowing them to safely pass while maintaining purity in front of the many deities.
Example of a limestone scarab amulet that would be engraved with the text “Do not stand as a witness against me.”
At this point, we are met with a familiar jackal-headed Anubis and are almost at the last stage before reaching the Afterlife. Given the soul’s heart, Anubis carefully weighs it against a feather of Maat and determines if the soul is worthy of Afterlife. If the heart is heavier than the feather, it is consumed by the beastly crocodile-leopard-hippo chimera goddess, Amamit. If the heart remains balanced against the feather however, the soul is ready to face Osiris who makes the final judgement.
Horus presents Ani to Osiris as Thoth records the scale's outcome, from the Book of the Dead of Ani
Into the Reeds
The worthy soul, free of all hardships and sin, now enters a peaceful afterlife known as Aaru- the Field of Reeds. Here they lead a pleasant life with family and other worthy souls, tending to the land overseen by Osiris and preparing their harvest for consumption of the resident gods, seen as a task of the highest honor.
The Egyptian Afterlife offers a comforting outlook on death, giving its worshippers hope of reuniting with their loved ones along with an esteemed posthumous purpose. The trials to reach it serve as a test of knowledge, preparedness, and endurance over that of pure judgement seen in other cultural mythologies, true to the nature of ancient Egyptian society. After all, mythology serves as a window to the beliefs of the culture it belongs to, showing that we are all only human no matter the era. Would you survive the journey to the reeds?