ANCIENT EGYPT AND THE AFTERLIFE



The ancient Egyptians were preoccupied with the specter of death and the problem of how best to accomplish passage to the other side. There was never an ancient people who insisted upon believing that death was not the final act of a human being, that "it is not death to die," with more emphasis than the Egyptians.

In the cosmology of the early Egyptians, humans were considered the children of the gods, which meant that they had inherited many other elements from their divine progenitors than physical bodies. The ba, or soul, was portrayed on the walls of tombs as a human-headed bird leaving the body at death. During a person's lifetime, the ba was an intangible essence, associated with the breath. In addition to the ba, each person possessed a ka, a kind of ghostly double which was given to each individual at the moment of birth. As long as people kept control of their ka, they lived. But as soon as they died, it began a separate existence, still resembling the body that it formerly occupied, and still requiring food for sustenance. Each person also had a ren, or name, which could acquire a separate existence and was once the underlying substance of all one's integral aspects. Other facets include the khu, or intelligence; the ab, or heart (will); the sakkem, or life force; the khaybet, or shadow; the ikh, or glorified spirit; and the sahu, or mummy. But the most important of all these facets of a human being was the ka, which became the center of the cult of the dead, for it was to the ka that all offerings of food and material possessions were made. Those priests who were ordained to carry the offerings to the dead were called "servants of the ka."

Upon an Egyptian's death, although the body became inert, no longer capable of motion, the body did not decay, for the greatest care was taken to preserve it as a center of individual spirit manifestation. The body was carefully embalmed and mummified and placed in a coffin, on its side, as if it were only asleep. In the tomb with the mummy were brought all the utensils that a living person might need on a long journey, together with toilet articles, vessels for water and food, and weapons and hunting equipment to protect against robbers and to provide food once the initial supply was depleted.

Based on their writings concerning their concepts of goodness, purity, faithfulness, truth, and justice, beginning in the Pyramid Texts and extending onward, most scholars agree that the ancient Egyptians were a highly moral people. The gods Osiris and Isis were exalted as the ideal father and mother, and Set (god of chaos) became the personification of evil. During the time of the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000 B.C.E.,) the story of Osiris became a kind of gospel of righteousness, and justice was exalted in a manner found in few periods of history.

DELVING DEEPER

Gaster, Theodor H., ed. The New Golden Bough. New York: Criterion Books, 1959.

Larousse Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions. New York: Larousse, 1994.


DELVING DEEPER

Ferm, Vergilious, ed. Ancient Religions. New York: The Philosophical Library, 1950.

Gaster, Theodor H., ed. The New Golden Bough. New York: Criterion Books, 1959.

Larousse Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions. New York: Larousse, 1994.

DELVING DEEPER

Brandon, S. G. F. Religion in Ancient History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969.

Ferm, Vergilius, ed. Ancient Religions. New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.



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