Mummification: Why did the Ancient Egyptians embalm their dead?

The ancient Egyptians believed that mummification would preserve the body for the afterlife. The soul was thought to reside in the heart, and the body was needed as a home for the soul to return to after death.

Mummification not only preserved the body, but was seen as essential to enable the afterlife for the deceased. The body had to be preserved so that the soul could recognize it and return to it.

The embalmed body was wrapped in linen and often had amulets placed among the wrappings. These amulets were thought to protect the body and give the deceased power in the afterlife.

Ancient Egyptians’ magical beliefs

According to ancient Egyptian creation myths, the god Atum used his own magic to create the world out of chaos. As a result, Egyptians thought that the Earth was loaded with magic, as was every living thing on it, because the earth was created by magic.

When humanity were created, that magic manifested itself in the shape of the soul, an eternal power that dwelled within and with each individual. From the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom, the concept of the soul and the pieces that make it up has changed, at times shifting from one dynasty to the next, from five to more.

The Ancient Egyptian concept of the Soul

The ancient Egyptians believed that the soul was made up of several parts: the ib, the ka, the ba, the ren, the akhu, and the shut.

The ib was the heart, and it was thought to be the seat of the soul. It was believed that all emotion, cognition, will, and intention resided in the heart. Unlike in English, ancient Egyptians used the term ib to refer to the physical heart rather than a metaphorical heart. When it came to emotion or cognition, however, ancient Egyptians rarely distinguished between the mind and the heart. The two were interchangeable.

The ka was the Egyptian idea of vital essence that distinguished a living person from a dead one, with death happening when the ka departed the body.It was thought to be an exact replica of the person in life and needed food and drink to survive. As a result, food and drink offerings were made to the deceased.

The ba was everything that distinguishes a person, similar in concept to the idea of ‘personality.’ The ancient Egyptians believed that the ba was the aspect of a person that lived after the body dies. It is sometimes portrayed as a human-headed bird soaring out of the tomb to join the ka in the afterlife.

A person’s ren (name) was given to them at birth as a portion of their soul, and the Egyptians believed that it would live for as long as that name was uttered, which explains why efforts were taken to protect it and why it was written down in so many places. It is a person’s identity, their experiences, and all of their memories from their entire life.

The akh was the intellect and it had an important role in the afterlife, because it was the seat of the deceased’s memorries. The ba, the ka and the akh were reconnected when the physical body died in order to reanimate the departed. Reanimation was only possible if proper funeral rites were performed and continual gifts were made.

The shut was the shadow of a person, which the Egyptians hypothesized included a piece of the person it portrayed. People and deities were sometimes referred to as shadows as a result of this relationship.

How did the Ancient Egyptians embalm their dead?

Mummification was a lengthy and complicated process that involved removing the internal organs, treating the body with natron (a type of salt), and wrapping it in linen. The entire process could take up to 70 days.

Steps in the mummification process:

  1. The body was washed in wine and spices.
  2. The brain was removed through the nose using a hook.
  3. The internal organs were removed and placed in canopic jars. The heart was left in the body because it was thought to be the seat of the soul.
  4. The body was stuffed with natron and left to dry for 40 days.
  5. The body was then wrapped in linen strips and covered in a resin called bitumen.
  6. The body was placed in a coffin or sarcophagus.

The process of mummification varied over time and between different social classes. The most elaborate and expensive funerals were reserved for the pharaohs and their families.

Mummification was a costly process, and not everyone could afford to have their body preserved. Commoners were usually mummified using a simpler process and buried. In some cases, the deceased was too poor even for that, so the body was not mummified and was buried in the desert, where it would naturally mummify over time.

Conclusion

The mummification process ensured that the ba, ka, and akh could all find their way back to the body and live on after death. It was a costly and complicated process, but it was essential to the ancient Egyptians’ belief system.

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