, Research Paper
Ancient Egyptian Beliefs in the Afterlife
by Amanda Rains
What were the religious beliefs of ancient Egyptians? Why did they mummify their dead? Many people have wondered and thought these questions for centuries and have never really found out the whole truth. Ancient Egyptian?s belief in the afterlife is very similar to the belief that Christians have. The only real difference is the gods they believe in and their belief of what happens after death. The ancient Egyptians wanted everything to be the same, or better, in the afterlife.
Around 4100 BC, people were just buried a few feet underground in the desert. The hot sun dried out the bodies that were buried in sand, causing a natural mummifying process to occur (Mahdesian). Other people that were buried in tombs decomposed and had nothing left of their bodies. Grave robbers found the bodies, that were buried underground, dried up and decided to start a tradition. They got more sophisticated and wanted to be buried in tombs but didn?t want to rot, so they decided to make mummification a religious practice around 2700 BC (Richer).
“Mummification is a drying process, that?s all it is,” says Linda Mahdesian. After the person died, the embalmers took the body to a place called the Beautiful House to work on it. First of all, they cut the left side of the body open with a knife and removed the liver and the lungs. The brain was removed by placing a straw-like tool to suck it out of the head. The heart was not removed because they believed that you needed the heart so that Osiris could weigh it and make sure your evil deeds didn?t weigh more. After that, they covered the body with crystals called natron which kept the body from rotting. They packed the body with dry leaves and then wrapped it in linen which was to be used as a clothing for the afterlife (Eye Witness Books). The whole process took over seventy days and then you would be put into a casket-like statue that resembles your body. After the casket was put on, you?d be ready for placement: either underground or in a pyramid if you were a pharaoh. The pyramids were a symbol of the sun. It has steps all the way to the top so the pharaohs and their families could go live in the sky. Only pharaohs and their family could be buried in the pyramids because they were said to be the “human suns” which rise everyday and always lives on.
Mummification was necessary because ancient Egyptians were afraid to die, so they formed a funerary cult which, to them, promised everlasting life (Mummy). They enjoyed their life on Earth and wanted an even better life after death. This meant that they had to do something to preserve their bodies. “They believed that the stars at the North Pole were the dead pharaohs and when they died they became a star in the sky. That was only if the pharaoh was good. If his bad deeds out-weighed his heart, he?d live in the underworld with Osiris,” says Julie Richer.
The legend of Osiris was very important to ancient Egyptians. He was once a living king of Egypt. He was married to his sister Isis. They had a jealous brother named Seth, who was married to their sister Nephthys. Seth wanted the throne so he planned to kill Osiris. He trapped Osiris into a golden coffin and slammed the lid shut and threw it into the Nile River.
Seth became king and Isis went to the Nile to find her dead husband?s body. She found it and brought it back to Egypt. Seth became angry and cut Osiris?s body into 14 pieces and threw them into the Nile again. Wherever a piece was found, Isis built a temple in that place. Once she collected all the pieces, she turned into a hawk and flapped her wings and breathed the breath of life back into Osiris. This legend tells us why the coffins have Isis?s hawk wings wrapped around the dead, so that the breath of life will be back in their souls.
In the afterlife, the ancient Egyptians wanted more and better things than they had on earth. All of their death preparations were for a rebirth, or a new life, for eternity. The short span of life here was just a time to get themselves ready and prepared for this big time that they were going to spend dead.
Eyewitness Books. Ancient Egypt. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1990
“Legend.” Julie Richer. Http://www.cyberkids.com/Issue1/Legend.html.
“Mummy.” Academic American Encyclopedia. 1989.
“Mummy Dearest.” Linda J.P. Mahdesian. http://www.brown.edu/Administration/George_Street_Journal/v22n8/mummies.html.