Death Personified Part I

KaliKali, Hades, Anubis — all well-known figures of mythology that are associated with the process of death and the transition to the afterlife. Throughout history, death has been symbolized in some kind of physical image, often to help us understand mortality, to find comfort in it as a natural part of existence. For many people, the fear of death can often be replaced with great spiritual importance instilled in the belief of guidance from deities whose duty it is to meet them at their last breath and ensure safe passage to the afterlife.

Oho! Oho! Rise up, O Teti!
Take your head, collect your bones,
Gather your limbs, shake the earth from your flesh!
Take your bread that rots not, your beer that sours not,
Stand at the gates that bar the common people!
The gatekeeper comes out to you, he grasps your hand,
Takes you into heaven, to your father Geb.
He rejoices at your coming, gives you his hands,
Kisses you, caresses you,
Sets you before the spirits, the imperishable stars…
The hidden ones worship you,
The great ones surround you,
The watchers wait on you,
Barley is threshed for you,
Emmer is reaped for you,
Your monthly feasts are made with it,
Your half-month feasts are made with it,
As ordered done for you by Geb, your father,<
Rise up, O Teti, you shall not die!

(excerpt from Teti I’s pyramid)


As civilizations evolve and change, so do the names and functions of their goddesses, gods and other deities. The ancient Egyptians were no exception. The Old Kingdom pyramid texts, the oldest known religious texts in the world, offer the first mention of Anubis –- god of mummification, cemeteries and guide of the dead into the afterlife. He kept his image as a jackal-headed god until he was replaced by Osiris, a more human-like figure, during the Middle Kingdom.

Jackals, being scavengers, were naturally often seen near cemeteries. This could help to explain why their image came to represent the face of Anubis and the Egyptian’s idea of death, while the black soil of the Nile Valley, rich with nutrients, represented rebirth and therefore, the color of the god’s head. There is often a concrete basis in the natural world for the origins and threads of many deities, something that the average person can relate to through the course of daily living. But, some roles of an underworld goddess or god cannot typically be seen in ordinary existence.

Tuat/Duat, the Egyptian underworld, was a dangerous place, dark and easy to become lost in. The dead required guidance. The Book of Coming Forth by Day, was a text helpful with that journey. However, it was the job of Anubis to ferry the dead and to empower them with magic to avoid harm during other phases of the journey.

Anubis was also given the duty to measure the weight of the hearts of the dead, a judgment that decided the fate of the deceased. He placed the heart upon a scale to be measured against an ostrich feather, representing Ma’at, goddess of truth and justice. If the heart was equal to the weight of the feather, the soul was granted permission to continue on it’s journey into the realm of paradise and towards rebirth. But, if the heart was shown to be lighter or heavier, it was eaten by The Devourer Of Souls and the deceased was not allowed to continue on their journey, forced to remain a restless spirit for eternity. Obviously, the life one chose, followed over into death, a point well made in the imagery and symbols of ancient Egypt.

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