The Book of the Dead
By Caroline Seawright

One of the best preserved copies of The Book of the Dead (known to the ancient Egyptians as prt m hrw 'Coming Forth by Day') comes from 'The Papyrus of Ani', written in 1240 BC. This The Papyrus of Ani version of the book is filled with beautiful pictures of Ani and his wife as they travel through the land of the dead, and to the Halls of Ma'ati and beyond.

The papyrus goes through many of the spells used to be able to survive the afterlife, as well as hymns of praise various gods. This collection has come to be known as The Book of the Dead, though it is not a book, per se. The spells were written both on papyrus and on the walls of tombs.

Ani's papyrus is full of hymns and praises to the deities (Osiris, Ra and Hathor) and various speeches and spells to get him past the tests and judgements of the underworld. The texts relating to the weighing of the heart in the Halls of Ma'ati where Ani's heart is proven to be the same weight as the feather.

The gods laud Ani, saying that he speaks the truth, and that he shall escapes the jaws of Ammut.

The gods welcome Ani, where Horus ushers him into the presence of Osiris.

Afterwards, Ani has spells to recite to allow him past the seven 'Arit', so he can be transported to live among the blessed spirits in the domain of Osiris. The Arit are guarded by a doorkeeper, a watcher and a herald. Knowing the name of these guardians, and knowing the spell would allow one to pass through.

The next ordeal was to pass the 'Pylons of the House of Osiris', and here, too, knowing the name and the spell would allow Ani to pass through. At each of the twenty one Pylons, Ani had to recite the correct spell before continuing on to Osiris.

Following these trials are a number of spells to be said for the deceased at his funeral, complete with instructions to the priests who would read the papyrus over the body. Here, for instance, is 'The Chapter of Not Letting the Heart of the Osiris, The Assessor of the Divine Offerings of all the Gods, Ani, Whose Word is Truth Before Osiris, Be Driven Back from Him in Khert-Neter':

These spells were recited to allow the deceased to speak, to have magical powers, to not allow the ab  to be left behind, to have protection against fire and dominion over water, to be able to breath the divine air, to not let others speak evil against the deceased, to become one with the imperishable stars, to not allow the Khat to decay and rot away. There are many more spells that were to keep physical parts of the deceased in good condition, and to give the metaphysical parts magical powers and the ability to live on with the gods in the afterlife. For instance, there is a chapter on making the sahu enter the Duat on the day of the funeral! There was even a spell to allow the ba and the khaibi to move freely:

These spells even talk about giving Ani the ability to return to look on his earthly house and to come back against his enemies.

Sets of transformation spells written to allow the deceased to turn into a wide variety of animals - swallows, hawks, serpents, crocodiles, herons and even a phoenix. Other transformations included the ability to turn into a holy lotus, or even into different gods.

A chapter of 'Negative Confessions' has Ani speaking to each god who sits in judgement, saying that he has not committed a number of sins - violence, theft, murder, lies, adultery and arrogance to name a few.

Finally, in the Duat, Ani was able to give homage to the gods in the Halls of Ma'ati

The doors attempt to block Ani's path through, but the deceased must name each part of the door before it would allow him to pass to stand before Thoth.

Finally Ani is allowed to become like a god. Each part of his body becomes like that of a deity - his eyes like the eyes of Hathor, his face like the face of Ra, the cheeks of Isis, the backbone of Set, the belly of Sekhmet, buttocks of the Eye of Horus, the phallus of Osiris, the thighs of Nut and the feet of Ptah. Each part changes until Ani is as a god.

Isis and Nephthys become his protectors, as they protected Osiris. The four Sons of Horus come to act as his guardians, to smite his enemies. Ani says to his new protectors:

Ushabti figures come to life and offer to do any work for Ani, to plough the fields and irrigate the land in the Land of the West, whenever he calls. Another spell provides Ani with meat and milk from the Seven Cows and their Bull, giving him their names, and power over them.

Through the spells in The Book of the Dead, the scribe Ani is able to overcome any obstacle in his path, and to provide himself with food and drink and everything he needs to dwell happily in the Land of the West for eternity. He has gained such power and such magic that he is, himself, like a deity and can live among the gods.

Ani's papyrus was the best preserved with its beautiful images mostly intact, but there were many version of The Book of the Dead. The earliest were in the pyramids - known as the Pyramid Texts - such as those for Unas, Teta and Pepi I. Later on, there were versions written on papyrus and left in the tomb of the deceased. There were huge changes made over time, with only select spells being used or, later in Egyptian history, the more ritual parts of the text disappearing completely. There were also changes made that were influenced by whichever god had the most powerful priests at the time. Eventually manuscripts of these spells were pre-written and sold with spaces left for a name!

The title 'Coming Forth by Day' refers to the belief that the deceased took a whole night (as did Ra with his solar barque) to travel through the realms of the dead. The said spirit would then emerge with the sun, triumphant.

A full version of the Papyrus of Ani has been translated as The Egyptian Book of the Dead by E.A. Wallis Budge.

The Book of the Dead, the ceremonies, rituals and magic were all done in the hopes that one could reach the Land of the West and a happy afterlife, filled with good things. To live forever with the gods. To, once more, come forth by day as a living man would awaken with the sun.


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