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The Egyptians believed in life after death. In order to prepare a person for the long and hazardous journey before they could enjoy the pleasures of the afterlife, the body of a dead person was preserved by a process called mummification. The Egyptians believed that when someone died, various spirits were released. One was the life force, called the ka, and the other represented the individual personality of the living person, called the ba. These spirits enabled the dead person to exist in the after life. In order for these spirits to survive, the dead body had to be preserved in a recognizable form.

First, the body was washed and oils were rubbed onto the skin. The internal organs were removed from the body through an incision in the abdomen. The brain was pulled out through the nose and discarded; the Egyptians believed that the brain was useless and that all thinking was done by the heart. The rest of the organs were dried and sealed in canopic jars under the protection of four gods. The body was covered in salt crystals to dry it out. After 40 days the body was washed and stuffed with linen, sawdust, and spices and wrapped in linen bandages soaked in resin. A painted mask was placed over the mummy's face, and amulets and jewels were placed on the body, which was then wrapped a second time. Three coffins were prepared, which were shaped like bodies and fitted into each other. They could be made of clay, wood or stone. Coffins of pharaohs were made of gold and decorated with colored glass. The mummy was placed inside the coffins and they were all put in a large outer coffin. Many of the person's possessions along with items the person would need in the afterlife would be buried with the mummy, such as food, wine, clothes, chairs, tables, headrests, linen, boxes, chests, jewelry, amulets, model boats and model houses. Also, a box of shabtis, or little statues that would do work for the dead person in the Other World, were included with the funerary items.

The funeral procession consisted of the priest who walked in front, waving a censer and sprinkling milk; followed by the bier, or boat-shaped frame which held the mummy, drawn by oxen and decked with flowers. The widow sat beside the bier and two women mourners attended the mummy, who represented the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. Next came the important guests, who walked in front of a small sled on which a chest was placed containing the jars that held the organs. At the end of the procession were the professional mourners (women dressed in blue were paid to wail and scream and tear their hair) and the servants who carried the funerary goods and furniture to be placed in the tomb. Once the tomb had been reached, the most important ceremony took place. This was called the Opening of the Mouth, which gave back to the mummy all the functions that had been lost at death. Only then could life be enjoyed in the next world. The mummy was propped up in front of the tomb chapel and the priest touched the face of the mummy with various implements and offerings were made. The mummy was then placed inside the coffins. A copy of the Book of the Dead was placed in the coffin. This book was written on papyrus and illustrated with small pictures. It was a list of some two hundred spells to help the dead pass through the dangers of the Underworld before reaching the paradise of the Other World.


Before entering the pleasures of eternity, the dead person had to pass a test in which Anubis, the god of the dead, weighed the person's heart against Ma'at, the goddess of justice and truth, who was represented by a feather. (In this picture, Ma'at is placed on on the right side of the scale, and she is depicted as a woman with a feather on her lap. Often, however, she is shown simply as a feather) If his good deeds outweighed the bad, the his heart will be as light as the feather. Osiris would welcome the newcomer to the next world. If he fell short in his judegement, his body would be eaten by a monster that was part crocodile, part lion, and part hippopotamus. (These were the three scariest animals to an Egyptian) Then the person would cease to exist, which was the worst possible fate an Egyptian could imagine. If the person was accepted, he would be asked by Osiris to perform some menial tasks, usually those that were agricultural. Wealthy people could afford to have statues, called shabtis sculpted and placed inside their tombs. It was believed that these figures would come to life and do the person's work for Osiris in his stead. The picture at left is King Tut's shabti figure.
The funeral feast was held in front of the tomb, after it was sealed forever.

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