The ancient Egyptians remain one of the most mysterious and intriguing civilizations in history. Over time, like many other civilizations, it seems that the beliefs, traditions, rituals, and lifestyle of the Egyptians changed, leaving most of the spiritual aspects behind as each Dynasty passed. However, one thing did remain: an extreme concern and importance was placed on the process of death and what was to happen in the afterlife.
Similarly, what happens when we die is a fascinating and important subject for most cultures, and many questions remain unanswered. If we want to explore what happens when we die while still living, one way we could begin to do so is through exploring the ancient Egyptian ceremonies and rituals, which could give us some insights into this inevitable process.
The common element in most of the known texts of the Egyptians speaks of escaping hell by using the time on earth to change spiritually, to be in line with the divine will, and carry out the process that leads to living peacefully in eternity.
Utterance 262 of the Pyramid Texts:
334. Unas has passed by the dangerous place.
The fury of the Great Lake (S wr) avoided him.
His fare is not taken in the Great Ferryboat.
The Shrine of the Great Ones (Hedj-uru) could not ward him off the road (msk.t) of the sehedu-stars.
Utterance 267 of the Pyramid Texts:
365: The earth is beaten into steps for him towards heaven,
that he may mount on it towards heaven,
and he rises on the smoke of the great fumigation.
Utterance 269 of the Pyramid Texts:
382: That land into which Unas goes,
he will not thirst in it,
he will not hunger in it, eternally.
The weighing of the heart is the ancient Egyptian depiction of what happens at death. Anubis brings the Initiate (who in this papyrus was altered to be for the Theban scribe Ani) before Osiris, who is one of forty-two divine judges, to have his heart (symbolizing the way he has spent his life) weighed upon the scales of justice against that of the feather (representing Ma’at – the universal order). If the scales are balanced, he has been judged to have achieved eternal life, but if weighing more, his heart is devoured by the crocodile Ammit and he is sent to the lake of fire (hell).
Using our physical lives to achieve eternal life is a concept seen across many civilizations, cultures, and religions. Similarities can be seen in the teachings of Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Quetzalcóatl, and many more. Also, many people who have experiences with astral projection or near-death experiences have told of this connection between our lives now and what happens in the afterlife.
Particularly, many have shared experiences with having a review of their lives, looking over every moment and seeing how they have lived their lives and the consequences of their actions and choices. Many who have shared these near-death experiences have expressed a feeling of greater understanding as well as remorse for any harmful actions. The life review is also reflected in ancient Egyptian texts where Anubis looks over the actions of the individual and which culminates in the weighing of the heart, where he judges their fate.
During the early and later Dynastic periods of Egypt, portions of what is known as the Book of the Dead or the Coming Forth by Day were found in tombs, coffins, and written on many papyri. The spells, prayers, and hymns within them were personalized by scribes for the deceased.
At ancient Egyptian funerals, these chosen spells, hymns, and prayers were apparently enacted with the intention that it would help their passage to the afterlife. A lot of importance was placed on the ceremonies and rituals performed at the funeral and they contained many symbolic aspects to them, as well as items used for different purposes in the ceremony, like incense, jars, and food.
While these rituals and ceremonies ended up only being done during funerals, their significance goes far beyond that, which is something we can still explore today, without any funeral taking place. In this particular depiction of the weighing of the heart, the Initiate has succeeded in reaching enlightenment and gaining access to the eternal, avoiding hell, and “becoming an Osiris” (a divine being). To re-enact an ancient Egyptian ceremony can bring to life the original teachings and meanings behind them, and allow people even today to gain an understanding of death and the importance of what we do in this life, and the connection it has to what becomes of us after this life.
During ancient Egyptian funerals, they would hold a procession from the house of the deceased to their tomb. Since the following ceremony does not need to be used when someone dies, but just as a way of exploring the meanings behind the original ceremony, it can be held in a place that is more suitable to fit with any situation. Ideally, it should be held in a quiet and reflective spot that suits the nature of the ceremony. This could be a spot outdoors, such as a sacred grove or sacred circle, or indoors in a meditation room. However, if you don’t have access to a spot like this (as many people won’t) then you could easily improvise with what you have—for example, a quiet private spot in your backyard, a corner of your bedroom set up as a meditation area, and so on. Just make do with what you have.
The ceremony can be done with seven or more people, and if there are less you can configure it in whatever way works best. Alternatively, small figures or pictures of the Egyptian gods could be used in place of a person who has no speaking role. If there are extra people, they can act as some of the forty-two judges that were present in the ancient Egyptian depiction, and they would situate themselves around Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys.
All participants can wear white and gold accents can be included but are optional. Alternatively, as per the image at the top of this post, the participants representing Anubis and Horus can wear dark green if they wish, and the person representing Nephthys can wear gold/tan/yellow.
Each person will take on the role of the speakers and participants in the ceremony, which include:
Image credit: Depiction of the Gods on the Ancient Egyptian weighing of the heart – Public domain image found here.
During this ceremony, participants will stand in three distinct areas representing three stages of the process of weighing of the heart. The first area is the entrance-way where all participants pass through and ideally the entrance should try to be aligned with the rising sun. Beyond that, towards the middle of the circle/area, is where the weighing of the heart takes place. In this area it would be suitable to have a firepit in the centre (or candle if doing the ceremony indoors). Towards the back of the circle is the throne of Osiris. You can keep these three areas in mind when you read the order of the procession that comes next to help visualize where participants will be standing.
The two mantras included in this ceremony are taken from the papyrus of Ani. They are transliterations of a portion of the hymns of adoration for the sun God Ra and the God Osiris. At the beginning of the funeral ceremonies in the past, the ancient Egyptians would first give praise or homage to various Gods and Goddesses.
The first mantra Ṭua Rā is to be pronounced in two breaths as Th-oo-a (“th” as in the word Thomas, “oo” as in zoo, “a” as in father) and Raaah (A trilled “R” and “a” as in the word Father). This is the transliteration of “Adoration of Rā.”
The second mantra Ṭua Ȧusȧr is to be pronounced in three breaths as Th-oo-a (same as above), Aoosss (“a” as in father, “oo” as in zoo, “sss” as the hissing of a snake), and then Arrr (with a trilled “R”). This is the transliteration of “Adoration of Osiris.”
The participants arrive to where the ceremony will take place just before sunrise. A man representing Osiris, and two women representing Isis and Nephthys (Isis carrying lit incense or a singing bowl and Nephthys carrying lit incense) pass through an entrance-way and walk to the furthest point in the circle where they will stand, facing the entrance. Osiris takes his place in the throne with Nephthys on his right and Isis on his left. Isis and Nephthys begin the mantra “Ṭua Rā” quietly and continuously.
Next, a man representing Horus (carrying a lit torch representing the sun) and a man representing Thoth enter and walk to the centre. Horus will enter first and stand behind the firepit, facing the entrance, half-way between the throne and the fire. Thoth then enters and will go to the left of the fire, turning to face the fire.
A man representing Anubis (ideally someone tall if possible) and the Initiate (who can be represented by a male or a female), stand together at the entrance, without going in. The initiate then recites the following prayer:
THE PRAYER OF THE INITIATE
“My heart, my mother; my heart, my mother! My heart whereby I came into being! May nought stand up to oppose me at [my] judgment, may there be no opposition to me in the presence of the Chiefs; may there be no parting of thee from me in the presence of him that keepeth the Balance!”
Anubis, carrying a white feather (representing Ma’at, universal order), takes the Initiate who is carrying a heart scarab or white stone (signifying a pure heart) by the hand and leads him/her to the centre with the firepit and stands to the right the fire, opposite to and facing Thoth.
The Initiate hands Anubis the scarab/white stone and he raises the stone/scarab and feather in each hand with arms outstretched equally, to signify they are in balance. As the sun rises, Anubis returns the heart (scarab/white stone) to the Initiate and Horus lights the fire. Isis and Nephthys stop their mantra and go silent.
Thoth then declares:
THE SPEECH OF THOTH
“Hear ye this judgment. The heart of Osiris hath in very truth been weighed, and his/her Heart-soul hath borne testimony on his/her behalf; his/her heart hath been found right by the trial in the Great Balance. There hath not been found any wickedness in him/her; he/she hath not wasted the offerings which have been made in the temples; he/she hath not committed any evil act; and he/she hath not set his mouth in motion with words of evil whilst he/she was upon earth.”
Afterwards on behalf of the Gods Anubis then says to Thoth:
THE SPEECH OF THE GODS (SAID TO THOTH BY ANUBIS)
“That which cometh forth from thy mouth shall be declared true. The Osiris, this initiate, whose word is true, is holy and righteous. He/she hath not committed any sin, and he hath done no evil against us. The devourer Am-mit shall not be permitted to prevail over him/her. Meat offerings and admittance into the presence of the god Osiris shall be granted unto him/her, together with an abiding habitation in the Field of Offerings as unto the Followers of Horus.”
The Initiate goes to Horus and Horus turns to Osiris and declares:
THE SPEECH OF HORUS TO OSIRIS IN INTRODUCING THE INITIATE TO HIM
“I have come to thee, O Un-Nefer, and I have brought unto thee this Initiate who has become an Osiris. His/her heart is righteous, and it hath come forth from the Balance; it hath not sinned against any god or any goddess. Thoth hath weighed it according to the decree pronounced unto him by the Company of the Gods, and it is most true and righteous.”
The Initiate kneels before Osiris, raises his/her arms in the manner depicted by the ancient Egyptians as adoration (see image on right) and says:
THE CLOSING SPEECH OF THE INITIATE
“Behold, I am in thy presence, O Lord of Amentet. There is no sin in my body. I have not spoken that which is not true knowingly, nor have I done anything with a false heart. Grant thou that I may be like unto those favoured ones who are in thy following, and that I may be an Osiris greatly favoured of the beautiful god, and beloved of the Lord of the Two Lands.
Isis rings her singing bowl signifying the end of the ceremony and everyone begins chanting the mantra “Ṭua Ȧusȧr.” The initiate goes to take their place next to Anubis and they exit with everyone following in an orderly fashion.
Afterwards, if they wish, participants can come back to sit or stand around the fire and reflect.
**All text excerpts have been taken from Sir E. A. Wallis Budge’s translations and transliterations.