Saturday, November 6, 2010

The ancient Egyptian was essentially a passport to paradise

The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead picture pic photo image gallery in nature phenomena blogAncient Egyptians' spells were 'passport' into paradise. The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead was essentially a passport to paradise for the deceased.

The Egyptians had strong beliefs about life after death and the underworld, their Book of the Dead was a collection of spells that was designed to fast-track the dead through the underworld in to paradise.

London, England (CNN) -- If you've ever wished that there was a guidebook to get you into heaven, no matter what your exploits in this life, you're not alone.

In fact, so strong was the desire for eternal life for the ancient Egyptians that they took things a step further, in the shape of a collection of spells, known as the Book of the Dead, designed to fast-track them through the underworld into paradise.

For the ancients, the journey through the underworld after death was filled with obstacles and tests, including knife-wielding gods, monsters and perilous gateways - and that's where the spells came in.

"It's a kind of repertoire, a pool of about 200 hymns to the gods, magical spells. You could choose from these a number of texts to put onto a roll of papyrus to take with you into your tomb and that would be your passport, your guide, to the next world." John Taylor, curator of a new London exhibition, "Journey Through the Afterlife: Egyptian Book of the Dead," told CNN.

The gods that had to be overcome are depicted on a number of fragile papyri on display in the British Museum, where the exhibition is being held. They include one with the head of a hippopotamus and the body of a lion, wielding a giant knife.

"If you couldn't speak the correct words to this god then it would leap at you with the knife and you would be killed and you would not have the afterlife," Taylor explained. "So, knowing these spells was absolutely crucial."

Ancient Egyptians also believed they would have to endure a ritual known as "the weighing of the heart" before a monster in the underworld known as the Devourer. If their hearts were pure, they could pass into the next life; if not, the heart would be eaten.

Mark Smith, a professor of Egyptology at Oxford University, explained that treatment of the body was also a crucial part of the funerary process.

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