Monday, September 21, 2015

Gateways to the Egyptian Afterlife

     I have recently re-read the Pyramid and Coffin texts, as well as the Book of the Dead. These "books" are collections of what we would call "spells" that enabled the deceased to achieve a safe and happy existence in the afterlife.

     A feature of many of the ancient Egyptian texts that deal with the afterlife is the presence of gates and their guardians. If the deceased did not know the information required at each gate, they would not be able to continue ahead to reach Osiris and join the blessed dead.

     The earliest religious texts from the Old Kingdom (the Pyramid texts) do not have a reference to gates. This is not surprising as the gates are associated with religious texts that deal with the underworld. The Pyramid Texts instead tell how the Pharaoh ascends to the sky to join the blessed dead.

     It is not until the Middle Kingdom that we find references to gateways serving to potentially bar the deceased from the realm of Osiris. It should be noted that while Egyptian funerary documents mention many locations in the underworld, none of them are specifically located in the texts. We know that the dead must pass through a series of gates, but we do not know where in the underworld the portals are located.

     The closest we get to a description of the actual location of these gates is in the so-called "Book of Two Ways", a text that is found on a few Middle Kingdom coffins from the Hermopolis area. These coffins actually have a "map" of the two routes that are followed through the underworld. The "Book of Two Ways" is, strictly speaking" a subsection of the Coffin Texts, which was written in ink on interior of coffins dating to the First Intermediate Period and the early Middle Kingdom.

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