In Ancient Egypt, once a person died, their ba (“soul”) (Note 1) left the body to travel the Duat, the Underworld (Note 2). The destination for the ba was the Hall of Two Truths (Double Maat). There the Dead would be judged and either admitted to the Field of Reeds (Sekhet-Aaru) or consumed by Ammut, the Eater of Souls.
The dark and cavernous Duat was a land of swift rivers and lakes of fire. Hordes of man-eating rabbits with huge teeth hunted the Dead (the ba). Meanwhile, they had to evade the Crocodiles of the Four Directions, while crossing deserts and climbing mountains. There were other hardships that the Dead had to contend with. The Snakes of Meretseger, Protector of Tombs, guarded each of the Twelve Gates of the Underworld. Fire-spewing baboons watched over the Lake of Fire, where the Hall of Two Truths was.
To get to the Hall of Two Truths, the Coffin Texts and the Egyptian Book of the Dead provided various maps. In addition, these books also listed spells for the Dead stay safe in their travels. Since the Ancient Egyptians could not agree on how to navigate the Duat, they provided multiple versions of each text with every burial.
Upon death, the ba went west, where the Sun died each day. There the ba would go through the body of Nut, the Goddess of the Sky, to begin the journey. Before leaving, this Goddess would give the ba sustenance for the arduous trip.
From there, the Dead had a choice of two routes to the Hall of Two Truths. One way was through the stars to the Solar Barque of Ra (the Boat of Millions). As the God of the Sun traveled the sky, Ra employed the Dead to crew his boat. At night, the Solar Barque traveled the Duat. Lying in wait, Apophis (Apep), the Chaos Monster, would attack at the seventh and twelfth hours. He would try to eat Ra, while the Dead fended off his attack.
The other route was just as dangerous. Since the underworld cavern was full of lakes, marshes and rivers, the Dead had to persuade ferrymen to carry them across. If the Dead were equipped with a boat at burial, they could sail, guided by Amaunet, the Goddess of the Sweet North Wind. Going through each of the Twelve Gates, the Dead had to contend with venom spitting snakes. However, along the way, they could stop at the Mansion of the Moon, the Home of Thoth, and the God of Wisdom. While there, they could rest from their harsh ordeal.
The last Gate before the Hall of Two Truths was guarded by Hathor, the Eternal Mother, and Her Seven Cows (the Seven Hathors). She opened this Gate to allow the Dead to travel to the Lake of Fire, guarded by the Four Baboons. Finally arriving at the Hall of Two Truths, the Dead was greeted by Anubis, one of the Gods of the Underworld.
In the Hall of Two Truths, Osiris, the Great God, sat at the far end on his throne. Around Him were the Forty-two Judges, who heard the Declaration of Innocence of the Dead. In the center of the Hall was the Balance to weight the hearts of the Dead. After the Declaration, Anubis placed the heart on the scale, and Thoth weighed it against the Feather of Maat of Divine Order. If the scale did not balance, the heart was eaten by Ammut.
If the scale did balance, then the Dead would go to the Field of Reeds. There the ba would be transformed into the akh (“transfigured soul”). The Field was guarded by the Aker, the Double Sphinx, who watched over both its entrance and exit. This new world resembled the old one that the Dead had left. In their new home, the Dead were expected to plow and harvest crops. To do these tasks, their living relatives would place ushabi (models of humans) into their tombs. Meanwhile, the Dead would be fed from the milk of Hathor’s cows. In addition, Taweret, the Goddess of Childbirth and Mistress of the Horizon, purified and nourished them. During the Festival of Sokar, they would return to feast with their living relatives.
Note 1. The Egyptians believed that everyone had nine souls. They are: kha: the body, ka: the living life force, ba: the personality, sekhem: the transfigured life force, khaibit: the shadow, akh: the transfigured soul, sahu: the spiritual body, ib: the heart and ren: the true name of the person.
Note 2. Since Ancient Egyptian is hieroglyphic, the Roman alphabet spellings vary. I have used the spellings given by Geraldine Pinch in “Egyptian Mythology.”
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