The Ancient Egyptians believed that life continued after death, the deceased could live out eternity in the Field of Reeds, a perfect version of Egypt itself.
However, to get to the Field of Reeds, the dead had to make the treacherous journey through the Underworld. The path through the Underworld was blocked by gates and caverns as well as guardians and demons who would set tests that must be passed before the dead were allowed to journey on.
To aid this perilous journey, the Ancient Egyptians wrote “Books of the Afterlife” that contained spells and maps to guide the dead through the Underworld. Examples include the Book of the Dead, the Book of Caverns, and the Book of Gates.
The Ancient Egyptians also hoped that these spells might prevent a person from dying a “second death”, from which there was no return. At the end of their journey, the Dead were judged in the presence of Osiris, god of the Underworld. The deceased would claim that they were not guilty of any crimes, and hoped that their heart would not betray them when weighed.
Anubis would weigh the heart against the feather of Ma’at, representing balance and truth. If the heart was heavier than the feather, it would be devoured by Ammut and the deceased would die a second death.
If you passed you could go on to the Field of Reeds. You could even come forth by day and visit relatives in the Book of the Dead.
This general overview covers a few certain aspects of death in Ancient Egypt. There are millennia to cover and vast array of different beliefs. Learn more, and see if you will pass the test to join the Afterlife, at the Book of the Dead exhibition… If you dare.
Book of the Dead: Passport through the Underworld, 19th May 2017-13th September 2012, Wednesdays 10am – 4pm. Open for Light Night 19th May, 5pm-Late.
Image: Book of the Dead Papyrus depicting Ammut, photographed by Julia Thorne.