Definition of the Egyptian Underworld
The Ancient Egyptians believed that after death they would go to the dark and terrifying place called the Underworld. The Underworld - Definition: The Underworld, called Duat, was a land of great dangers through which every Egyptian would need to pass through after death according to the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptian religion.
Egyptian Religious beliefs led to the Underworld
The religious beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians were quite complicated due to their pre-occupation with death. To understand the Underworld it helps to be aware of the major elements of their beliefs and religion. The religion of the Ancient Egyptians was extremely important to them and touched every aspect of their life. The main Egyptian Gods and Goddesses were fundamental to the Ancient Egyptian religion and fundamental to their beliefs. The Ancient Egyptians lived in terror of evil spirits and the displeasure of the gods. Some of the gods looked after matters of daily importance and others governed the realms of the dead. The Egyptian priests created legends and myths about the Underworld and the role of the gods who inhabited the underworld.
The Meaning of Death to the Ancient Egyptians
The Ancient Egyptians believed that each person was thought to have three souls - the Ka, the Ba and the Akh:
- The Ka or double was a less solid duplicate of the body. Without a physical body the soul had no place to dwell and became restless forever
- The Ba was able to leave the tomb and revisit the dead person's haunts in the mortal world.
- The Akh was the immortal soul which emerged when the Ka and the Ba united after the deceased person passed judgement in the underworld
All of these entities, or elements of the soul were perishable and therefore at great risk. The tomb, the process of mummification, rituals and magic spells promoted the well-being, and ensured the preservation, of the dead and their Ka, Ba and Ahku.
Death - The Journey to the Underworld
The journey to the Underworld started at the death of an Ancient Egyptian and the process of Mummification. The Egyptians believed that preserving the body in death was important to keep their soul alive and that a physical body was essential for an eternal life for the deceased. Without a physical body the soul had no place to dwell and became restless forever. The journey to the Underworld had began. A guidebook known as the Book of the Dead contained spells and instructions to ensure safe passage through the dangers of the Underworld. These spells would be inscribed on the walls of Pharaohs and the nobility. But funeral prayers and spells were chanted to the Egyptian Gods and a papyrus scroll of the Book of the Dead together with various amulets were buried with many ordinary Ancient Egyptians.
Death - The Underworld and the Book of the Dead
The Book of the Dead contained nearly 200 different spells. Each spell was designed to help with the tests and trials that would be met in the Underworld. The correct spells would need to be recited to pass each test. Spells relating to safety in the Underworld included those for not dying again, for not rotting, for preventing a man's head be cut off, spells of transformation into the forms of a snake, phoenix, hawk, swallow etc. The spells provide an insight to what waited for the deceased in the Underworld.
Death - The Underworld and the Hall of the Two Truths
The journey through the Underworld and the terrifying tests culminated in the day of judgement in the Hall of the Two Truths. The ruler of the Kingdom of the Underworld was Osiris, the "Lord of Eternity". The god of the Dead Anubis would lead the dead in the Underworld to the Hall of Two Truths, where the deceased would stand in front of Osiris, the head of the Court of the Dead, and forty two judges.
The Underworld and the Great Scales of Truth and the 'Get out' Clause
In the Hall of Two Truths the deceased was led to a great set of scales where his or her heart containing the deeds of their lifetime was weighed against the feather of truth, which symbolised Maat the goddess of justice. The Egyptians believed that they could withstand the Test of the Balance with a magical scarab charm which would prevent the conscience telling the whole truth. The dead were able to obtain salvation by knowledge of magical charms even if they lead a sinful life.
The Underworld and the Great Scales of Truth Ritual
Spell 125, the 'Declaration of Innocence', was chanted when entering the Hall of Truth consisting of denials such as "I have not killed, I have not robbed and I have not lied" made to Osiris and the 42 judges of the court. The jackal headed Anubis and Thoth, the god of writing, presided over the ritual. The heart of the dead Egyptian was weighed against the feather-symbol of Truth by the falcon-headed god Horus. The deceased only passed the test if the heart was as light as the feather. Everyone was afraid of this trial as next to the scales the fierce female demon called Amemit, waited (the Great Swallower), who was depicted with the head of a crocodile combined with elements of other dreaded creatures, the body of a hippopotamus, and the hind legs of a lioness. The fate of the deceased would then be decided - either entrance into the perfect afterlife or to be sent to the Devourer of the Dead. If the deceased passed the test the judges pronounced the following divine order:
"He is justified. The Swallowing Monster shall have no power over him."
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