Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mummification and the Afterlife

The Egyptians had such a love for life that it was important for them to continue that enjoyment even after death.

Elaborate burials were a part of the acceptance of death. The Egyptians were not preoccupied with death, but they did spend much time preparing for the time when their life on this earth would cease and they would enter the afterlife.

The Egyptians believed that the mummy housed the soul and the Ka, Ba, and Akh. The goal in the Underworld is to live in one's Ka, as this holds the physical resemblance to the deceased. Therefore, the ancient Egyptians developed the process of mummification to keep the body in a good state and to preserve its physical features so that the soul might identify it, for the destruction of the body would have meant also the decay of the soul.

The more elaborate burials were reserved for royalty and their families, priests, and other high-ranking officials. Even those people who were not able to afford the most elaborate burial, valued their family members enough to give the most basic mummification.

The actual mummification process took approximately 70 days. The body of the deceased was cleaned and purified to begin the journey into the afterlife. The next step involved removing the inner organs. In order to dry out the organs and prevent decay, they were placed in natron, a type of desert salt used for drying.

The organs were wrapped in linen strips and placed in canopic jars. The body cavity was then stuffed with additional natron. The embalmers never removed the heart of the deceased; it was believed that the heart was the central point of being and intelligence. Then the brain and surrounding tissue were removed with extreme care.

The potential to disfigure the face during the process of removing the brain made this part of the mummification process extremely important. However, the brain was not saved, as the Egyptians considered it an unimportant part of the body.

The body was then covered in natron to remove the moisture. This allowed the body to slowly dry out and retain much of its shape.

The actual drying of the body took approximately 40 days. The natron was then removed and the body was washed. The corpse was wrapped in hundreds of yards of linen. Each finger and toe was wrapped individually and then the entire hand and foot.

During the process of wrapping the mummy, good luck charms, words of wisdom, and prayers were placed within the layers of the wrappings. It was also common for a mask, or likeness, of the deceased to be placed upon the mummy's face between layers of head wrappings. Throughout this process, the mummy was coated with resin and the wrapping resumed. Finally, the mummy was wrapped in a shroud or cloth.

When the mummy was completed and ready for burial, the ceremony and rituals began. The priests would use a special instrument to touch parts of the body to open it for the afterlife. This ritual is called the "Opening of the Mouth." The instrument enabled the priest in opening the senses of the dead and, the ceremony allowed the dead person to eat and speak in the afterlife.

The Egyptians believed that this ritual released the Ba and Ka to travel into the afterlife. When all the rituals were complete, the mummy was sealed within the coffin, placed in the burial chamber, and the tomb was blocked.

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