The Afterlife

The Ancient Egyptian idea of life after death is so simple, to go to sleep one day and wake up beside the gods and goddesses of Egypt the next. On the other hand, nothing could be more complicated, their thoughts on the Afterlife clouds everything including the archaeological evidence they left behind. The question of the famous Egyptian wall paintings on the tomb walls have been puzzling researchers for years. Do they represent real life? Oh do they represent the perfect idea of the Afterlife where the dead will spend the rest of all eternity? On the other hand, there are many stories in literature that tell us not only of the spirits of the dead looking after the living (as in so many other religions, such as the angels?), but also of the dead visiting each other’s grave to have….you’d never guess…. tea!

So where do the dead of Egypt go? It is doubtful that they can ALL join the sun-god Ra in his endless sky journey, the boat would be too overcrowded! So, who decides which of the dead joins Ra and who gets to work the fields? There are so many different variations of the Afterlife, of the creation myths and of the order of things in the Egyptian mythology that one could get completely lost in the meaning. Worse than that, for even in the Afterlife the rich can still cheat and not do any work by creating as many as 356 shabtis statues (one for every day of the year) to take their place in the work field. So, do the wall paintings represent real life? or hope?

Tomb owner and wife plowing the fields in the Afterlife (New Kingdom)

Further more, the Egyptians also built their tombs with a specific architectural meaning. In the mastabas of the officials from the Old Kingdom, the tombs were constructed in such a way that the further in you go, the closer you are to the Afterlife. The wall paintings at the entrance with the statue of the deceased standing at the door, sometimes with his arms stretched out waiting for the visitor to enter and murmur a pray to fill his dishes with food again (another reason the spirits of the Ancient Egyptians must be ecstatic that we have learnt how to read ancient hieroglyphs again for they must have been starving for centuries.) The journey down the corridor, and the wall paintings, could represent not only the daily life of the Ancient Egyptians, but also the journey the deceased has to undertake in order to reach his final and desired destination, the ‘Field of Reeds’.

Eample of a Mastaba's plan belonging to Idut (Giza, 6th Dynasty)


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