What did the PHARAOHS know about the realm of the dead?
The moment the priest has been dreading has arrived. He has carried out this procedure dozens of times – but never on a pharaoh. The priest follows one of the oldest and most meticulous codes in history: the mummification of a god king. The priest cannot afford to make any mistakes. Carefully, he inserts a hook into one of the dead man’s nostrils. Using this, he’ll mash the pharaoh’s brain to a pulp. Sounds grisly, but it serves a purpose: it will enable him to pull the brain out of the nose – all while ensuring that the face remains intact. If the face was damaged, the ancient Egyptians believed, then the pharaoh wouldn’t be recognised by the judges of the dead – possibly denying him a rebirth. That, rather than death itself, was their greatest fear. This made the priests the most powerful caste and turned their secret code for eternal life into a holy relic: the Book Of The Dead.
According to Egyptian wisdom, a person had two souls, both of which escaped the body after death. The aim was then to retrieve them through religious rituals. But an incorrectly performed action, such as an improperly disembowelled body or a disfigured face, could jeopardise the rebirth.
Dying away from home was also a major source of worry. In 30 BC Cleopatra eluded capture and execution in Rome, choosing instead to commit suicide in Alexandria to ensure that the correct rituals of mummification were performed.
Without these rites, the journey through the underworld would be fraught with danger, according to the Book Of The Dead. The most important moment came when the deceased was faced with the Eye of Truth before Osiris, the god of the dead, and his 42 judges. The deceased’s heart was placed on a pair of scales, and if it was found to be lighter than the Feather of Truth they were declared free of sin and could continue on to the afterlife. If the heart didn’t betray its owner at this critical moment, the deceased then used the scarab from their grave. Magical formulae from the Book Of The Dead were engraved on the trinket, covering not only the journey through the underworld, but also spells with which to ward off danger. Magic was seen as the only useful weapon against the monsters of the underworld.
For centuries, researchers have been trying to unlock the secrets of the Book Of The Dead. But there are still passages that raise questions – in the search for the Egyptians’ vast knowledge of the afterlife.
“I am yesterday, today and tomorrow.” BOOK OF THE DEAD, Chapter 64