In Egyptian history the most interesting topic in my opinion is their belief in and preparation for the afterlife. It amazes me what extremes they went to prepare for this.
The Egyptians saw death as a transitional stage in the progress to a better life in the next world. They believed they could only reach their full potential after death. http://www2.sptimes.com/Egypt/EgyptCredit.4.3.html
The Egyptians believed that the soul was made up of three parts: the Ba, Ka, and Akh. Each of these parts were vital to the Egyptian human. Without all of them the soul would die. The Ba represented the person's personality, character, or individuality. It was depicted as a human headed bird. The Ba lived in the tomb, however, it was allowed to leave as it wishes. The Ka was a physical and emotional replica that was thought to live in the humans heart. The Ka was only able to live if the humans body was preserved properly. The Akh was the immorality of the deceased. It was the Akh's job to make the journey to the underworld.
All of these opponents take place in what the Egyptians thought to be the afterlife. The deceased person would be led to the hall of judgment by Anubis. There their heart would be weighed with a feather, representing Ma’at (the Egyptian concept of Right and Order). If the heart weighed less the person would be released to continue on in their afterlife. However, if the heart weighed more it would be eaten by Ammit, a monster that was part crocodile, part lion, and part hippopotamus.Without the heart the person would be wiped out of existence.
As you can see it was important to the Egyptians to have their bodies properly preserved. To see that this was done they had their bodies mummified after death. There were many steps to this process. The first of the steps was to take out all of the organs, except the heart. They were mummified and put in canopic jars that were placed in the tomb at the time of burial. At this time the brain was also taken out. To the Egyptians the brain was useless and was taken out in pieces through the nose. Next, the body would be placed in natron, a salty drying agent, and left to dry out for forty to fifty days. When this time was up all of the bodies liquid would be gone, leaving only the skin, hair, and bones. The body would then be stuffed with resin, sawdust, or linen. This was done so the body would regain its old form. At last the body was wrapped in many layers of linen with numerous good luck charms, or amulets, wrapped between the layers. Between each layer of wrapping a priest would chant spells and prayers. This part of mummification could take up to fifteen days alone. The mummy was then put in his tomb or burial site.
It is incredible that they went through this process every time a person died, if they could afford it. It is so different in contrast to today's burial process. The Egyptians always have a fascinating way of doing things.
On the day of the burial the friends and family would gather at the home of the decedent and start the process of carrying the tomb. Slowly the funeral would make its way to the Nile. There one boat would take the mourners, while the other one would take the mummy, two mourners, and Semi-Priest. At the entrance of the tomb the opening of the mouth ceremony would take place. the mummy was raised to an upright position, the Semi-Priest would then speak the words of ritual while lesser-ranked priests would purify the coffin with water and incense. A adze was raised the the mummies mouth twice, then a forked instrument would be raised to tough the mummies mouth. Once the ceremony outside the tomb was completed the Lector Priests (usually three or four priests) would then recite an Offering Ritual at the false door of the tomb. During this ritual the coffin would be placed inside the tomb. Then the mourners would have a feast in honor of the deceased.
In a tomb erected during the Middle Kingdom, models of Nubian archers were found. They were believed to become life size in the journey to the afterlife. (Day 25)
Nubian ArchersThe well known pharaoh, Tutankhamen, was one who went to great lengths to provide a prosperous afterlife. He built an amazing tomb and filled it with extraordinary things he thought would be useful in the afterlife. One of these included two statues that looked as if they were guarding Tutankhamen's tomb. In his tomb there was also much gold. Some of it included gold rings, jewelry, mask, and a coffin. Tutankhamen cared deeply for his afterlife. (MacQuitty)
This is very amazing to me. One man had the power, will, and belief to do such a thing. He spent the majority of his life so he could live well after death. The Egyptians never even questioned why; they just accepted this religion to be true and made great things because of it.
This is why I find the Egyptians belief in and preparation for the afterlife to be the most interesting topic. They believed in something that there's nothing else quite like it. Also they did such extreme lengths to ensure a prosperous afterlife, even if it meant major consequences for others.
MacQuitty, William. Tutankhamen: The Last Journey. Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1978.
Day, Nacy. Your Travel Guide to Ancient Egypt. Learner Publishing Group, Minnesota, 2001.