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A Historical Look At Ancient Egyptian Burial Practices

Written by Anthony Martin | Last updated: April 12, 2019

Ancient Egyptian Burial Practices

In ancient Egypt, a funeral was not just a funeral.

It was a big operation with many different parts: elaborate rituals, mummification, massive tombstones, and magic spells. The afterlife was a serious matter because everybody wanted to go to the Field of Reeds.

A funeral ceremony was thought of as a way to join the physical world to the eternal world and the afterlife.

 

The Field Of Reeds

In the Field of Reeds, sometimes also called The Field of Offerings, there’s no suffering; only pleasure, infinitely.

Ancient Egyptian Burial Practices

Death was not the end, but the beginning of the journey into afterlife and to enter the Field of Reeds, it’s essential to observe the proper funeral practices.

Ancient Egyptians believed that the soul was divided into nine parts:

  1. Khat – The body
  2. Ka – a doppelganger
  3. Baa human-avian conduit between heaven and earth
  4. Shuyeta shadow self
  5. Akha transformed immortal self
  6. Sahupart of Akh
  7. Sechempart of Akh
  8. Abthe source of good and evil, the heart
  9. Rena secret name

After collecting the Akh, the god Anubis would guide the soul to the Hall of Truth where it would be judged by Osiris, the Judge of the Dead, and Ruler of the Underworld.

Osiris would weigh the Ab, “the heart” of the soul against the Feather of Ma’at on a grand scale of gold.

If it’s heavier, the soul would be punished. If it’s lighter, the soul would be further investigated by the 42 Judges and the gods. Only worthy souls would enter the Field of Reeds.

 

Mourning And Lamentations

Mourning was a significant aspect of ancient Egyptian funeral practices. The louder, the better.

In the households of the elites, there would be screaming and wailing as the people mourn the passing of the master or mistress.

In grandiose spectacles of grief, women would, after smearing their heads and faces with mud, take to the streets and round up their relatives and friends. They would beat on their exposed breasts and grieve in public.

Lamentation was essential in a successful funeral. During the ceremony, professional mourners known as the “Kites of Nephthys” would be employed to perform “The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys”.

Egyptians believed that these outpourings of grief could reach the Hall of Truth where the soul faced judgment.

 

Mummies And Coffins

The body, the Khat, of the dead was considered a part of the soul; it had to be preserved and buried according to strict religious regulations.

To plan for the funeral, the family would transport the corpse to the embalmers. From the embalming procedure to the grade of coffins, there would be different grades.

Ancient Egyptian Burial Practices

For more wealthy folks, more expensive ingredients, like palm wine and pure myrrh, were used in the preservation process. Removal of the organs was more intricate, involving complex surgery.

Not all ancient Egyptians could afford to mummify the dead.

The body would then be covered in natron, the sacred salt. After 70 days, it would be wrapped in linen, held together with gum.

For poorer folks, new linens were too costly, so they had to use their old clothes for mummification. The wealthy would order a sarcophagus to encase the coffin, but the poor would be buried in the simplest graves.

It’s also a common practice for early Egyptians to place their most valuable possessions in the coffin, so they could “enjoy” these things in the Field of Reeds. Along with other religious objects, “The Book of the Dead”, an ancient Egyptian funerary text, would also be placed in the coffin.

 

The Opening Of The Mouth Ceremony

The Opening of the Mouth ceremony would be performed by a priest or the son of the deceased, who would typically be clothed in leopard skin. Selected spells from “The Book of the Dead” would be recited and a calf would be sacrificed.

Ancient Egyptian Burial Practices

Throughout the ceremony, “The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys” could be heard. When the body arrived at the entrance of the tomb, the priest would touch the mouth or face of the dead with his hand.

In an early Egyptian funeral, the Opening of the Mouth was significant because it “opened” the senses of the spirit of the dead to enjoy offerings of food and drink. Reincarnated as an Akh, the dead could then join the funeral feast with the mourners.

After the meal, the dead would journey to the Hall of Truth.

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