The Egyptian Book of the Dead Display at the British Museum.
If you are in London or get a chance to visit you must see the new Egyptian Book of the Dead display at the British Museum.
Its an amazing experience for anyone interested in the spiritual traditions of Ancient Egypt. I have been to Egypt many times and this display still managed to take my breath away. Some of the rare items they have for you to view include the curved magic wand used to draw a protective circle, a 6-foot metal cobra staff and the complete set of items used in the opening of the mouth ritual.
It’s only £10 to get in but well worth ten times that.
For anyone new to Egyptology it’s worth explaining that 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. The Egyptians themselves called the text the book of going forth by day.
To the Egyptians the afterlife as a kind of journey you had to make to get to paradise – but it was quite a hazardous journey so you’d need magical help along the way. The book of the dead is a roadmap or handbook for that journey. It’s a practical guide to the next world, with spells that would help you on your journey.
Some of the spells are to make sure you can control your own body after death. The ancient Egyptians believed that a person was made up of different elements: body, spirit, name, heart, they’re all embodiments of a person, and they were afraid that these elements would disperse when you died. So there are a lot of spells to make sure you don’t lose your head or your heart, that your body doesn’t decay, as well as other spells about keeping alive by breathing air, having water to drink, having food to eat.
There are also spells about protecting yourself because the ancient Egyptians expected to be attacked on the journey to the afterlife by snakes, crocodiles, insects – an idea very much based on the threats they knew in real life only much more frightening and much more dangerous.
As well as the animals, you could be attacked by gods or demons who served the gods. In the next world there are a lot of gods who are guarding gateways that you have to get through, and if you don’t give the right answers to their questions at the gates, they can attack you because they have knives and snakes in their hands.
Without the correct spells to protect you, you could be punished in a variety of ways: you could be put onto the slaughter block, you could be decapitated, or you could be turned upside down.
The worst thing that can happen is what is called the second death. This meant you were killed and your spirit couldn’t come back and so you would have no afterlife at all.
Of course, this is all symbolic too. In life, you need to keep yourself balanced and use your skill to avoid attacks from various sources. For this reason, The Book of the Dead was and can also be used as a template for the spiritual path of the Ancient Egyptians. By reading it with the correct mindset you can learn the art of rebirth and spiritual regeneration.