What did the PHARAOHS know about the realm of the dead?

World of Knowledge (Australia) - - History -

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

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