Ever seen Hollywood movies like The Mummy where they read the "Book of The Dead" working all sorts of magic? But what is the Book of the Dead? The Book of The Dead was not a set text. It's not canonized into scripture or a statement of faith or anything. Instead, it is a guide. It's a practical guide on how to navigate to the next world, with spells that would help one on one's journey.

Egypt is a fascinating country with a rich past, there is so much more to it than just the pyramids. It even has a lost sunken city called Heracleion or Thonis near Alexdrania.


What The Book of The Dead Was

The Book of the Dead is a modern term for a collection of magical spells that the Egyptians used to help them get into the afterlife. These are perhaps not quite what one would expect. They thought of the afterlife as a hazardous journey that one has to take in order to get to paradise.

  • Collection: It Was A Collection of Magical Spells
  • Hazardous: The Afterlife Was a Hazardous Journey

So in order to be able to make it through to paradise, one would need some magical help along the way.

Being an ancient Egyptian book, it's also not a bound "book" as one would imagine today. Instead, it is a roll of papyrus with lots and lots of spells written on it in hieroglyphic script. Learn some of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and one might be able to make some sense of the "book".

It's also rather colored - the text comes with beautiful colored illustrations.

Related: Visiting Egypt? Here Are Some Things To See There Besides The Pyramids

Only For The Rich

These papyrus rolls of the Book of the Dead would have been very expensive in ancient Egypt. So only wealthy, high-status people would have had them.

  • Expensive: They Were Rather Expensive

There were also different options for those who had a higher or lower budget. If one was a bit tight with money, one could get a ready-made papyrus that would have blank spaces for one's name to be written in. Alternatively, if one could fork out a bit more, one could likely choose which spells one wanted.

The Need For Spells In The After Life

There were many types of spells, and some were to ensure one could have control of one's body after death. They thought that people were made up of different elements: body, spirit, name, heart. They were afraid that on death, these elements would disperse. While we may say in English "don't lose your head" metaphorically, the Egyptians were quite literally afraid of losing their head, heart, spirit, and name.

  • Elements Of People: The Body, Spirit, Name, and Heart

There were also other spells to keep alive by breathing air, having water to drink, having food to eat.

Related: Dazzling Aten: Egypt's 3,000 Year Old Lost City Just Discovered

The Afterlife Was A Scary Place

The underworld to paradise was thought to be paved with many hazards. So one needed protection against these damages like insects, crocodiles, and snakes. Then there were the deities and demons who could attack the departed on the route to paradise.

There were also gods guarding various gateways that one would need to get through (one needed to have the right answer at the correct gate). If one got the answer wrong, then watch out as the gods at the gates were armed with knives and snakes.

  • Dangers: Insects, Gods, Crocodiles, Demons

All in all their idea was that the afterlife was much like the world they knew, only much more scary and perilous.

They were afraid of punishments if they didn't have the right spells handy. One could be decapitated or turned upside down. But being turned upside down isn't just that, one's digestive process would also be in reverse - so one would need to eat feces and drink urine forever. It would seem that today's commercials have nothing on the scare campaign to buy stuff as the Egyptian priests in selling their spells!

But the worst was not any of that. The worst was the second death - if one died again here, there would be no coming back and one would have no afterlife at all.

Where To See the Book Of The Dead

As there are lots of papyrus of the Book of the Dead and various fragments, parts of it can be seen in many museums around the world. If in Egypt see their very impressive national museum and see examples there.

  • Queensland Museum: There Are Fragments In The Queensland Museum
  • Met Museum: There Are Extensive Collections In New York's Met Museum

One is also likely to find parts of the ancient texts in many other museums around the world - like the British Museum in London.

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