Egyptian Ideas Of The Future Life - E. A. Wallis Budge - ebook

Egyptian Ideas Of The Future Life ebook

E.a. Wallis Budge



This book is intended to give the reader an account of the principal ideas and beliefs held by the ancient Egyptians concerning the resurrection and the future life, which is derived wholly from native religious works. The literature of Egypt which deals with these subjects is large and, as was to be expected, the product of different periods which, taken together, cover several thousands of years; and it is exceedingly difficult at times to reconcile the statements and beliefs of a writer of one period with those of a writer of another. Up to the present no systematic account of the doctrine of the resurrection and of the future life has been discovered, and there is no reason for hoping that such a thing will ever be found, for the Egyptians do not appear to have thought that it was necessary to write a work of the kind. This book sums up all thought, beliefs and myths concerning future life in ancient Egypt.

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Egyptian Ideas Of The Future Life

E. A. Wallis Budge,


Ancient Egyptian Religion

Egyptian Ideas Of The Future Life


Chapter I. The Belief In God Almighty.

I. From The Papyrus Of Ani.

II. From The Papyrus Of Hunefer.

III. From The Papyrus Of Ani.

Chapter II Osiris The God Of The Resurrection.

Chapter III. The "Gods" Of The Egyptians.

Chapter IV. The Judgment Of The Dead.

Chapter V. The Resurrection And Immortality.


Egyptian Ideas Of The Future Life, E. A. Wallis Budge

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9


ISBN: 9783849641306

[email protected]

Ancient Egyptian Religion

An Essay by Eugène Hyvernat (1858 – 1941)

God and man, those two essential terms of every religion, are but imperfectly reflected in the Egyptian religious monuments. A book similar in scope to our Bible certainly never existed in Egypt, and if their different theological schools, or the priests of some particular theological school, ever agreed on certain truths about God and man, which they consigned to official didactic writings, such writings have not reached us. Nor is the vast body of religious monuments bequeathed to us by ancient Egypt of such a nature as to compensate for this lack of positive and systematic information. The figured and inscribed monuments discovered in the temples, and especially in the tombs, acquaint us with the names and external aspects of numerous deities, with the material side of the funerary rites, from which we may safely conclude that they admitted the dependency of man on superior beings, and a certain survival of man after death. But as to the essence of those gods, their relation to the world and man as expressed by the worship of which they were the objects, the significance and symbolism of the rites of the dead, the nature of the surviving principle in man, the nature and modes of the survival itself as depending on earthly life, and the like, the monuments are either silent about or offer us such contradictory and incongruous notions that we are forced to conclude that the Egyptians never evolved a clear and complete system of religious views. What light can be brought out of this chaos we shall concentrate on two chief points:

The Pantheon, corresponding to the term God; and

The Future Life, as best representing the term Man.

(a) The Egyptian Pantheon.—By this word we understand such gods as were officially worshipped in one or more of the various nomes, or in the country at large. We exclude, therefore, the multitude of daemons or spirits which animated almost everything man came in contact with—stones, plants, animals—and the lesser deities which presided over every stage of human life—birth, naming, etc. The worship they received was of an entirely local and private nature, and we know almost nothing of it.

Each nome had its own chief deity or divine lord, male or female, apparently inherited from the ancient tribes. With each deity an animal, as a rule, but sometimes also a tree or mineral, was associated. Thus Osiris of Busiris was associated with a pillar, or the trunk of a tree; Hathor of Denderah, with a sycamore; Osiris of Mendes, with a goat; Set of Tanis, with an ass; Buto of the city of the same name, with a serpent; Bast of Bubastis, with a cat; Atàm, or Tàn, of Heliopolis, with a serpent, a lion, or possibly, later the bull Mnevis; Ptah of Memphis, with the bull Apis; Sovek, in the Fayàm and at Ombos (Kôm Ombo), with a crocodile; Anubis of Assiàt, with a jackal; Thoth of Hermopolis, with an ibis or a baboon; Amon of Thebes, and Chnàm, at the Cataract, with a ram; Horus of el-Kab and Edfu, with a hawk. According to some scholars, this association at first was merely symbolical; it was not till the Nineteenth Dynasty that sacred animals, having gradually come to be considered as incarnations, or at least as dwelling-places, of the various gods, began to be worshipped as gods (Breasted, "Hist. Anc. Egypt.", 59, 324). But this view, once quite common, is now generally abandoned, and fetishistic animal-worship is now considered as the true basis of the Egyptian religion [cf. Chantepie de la Saussaye, "Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte" (1905), I, 194 sqq.]. In any case the origin of the association of certain animals with certain gods, whether symbolical or not, is unknown; as a rule, the same may be said of the various attributes of the various gods or goddesses. We understand that Thoth, being a lunar god, could have been considered the god of time, computation, letters, and science (although we do not know how, being associated with the ibis or a baboon, he became a lunar god); but we do not see why the ram-god Chnàm should have been represented as a potter, nor why the cow-goddess, Hathor, and the cat-goddess, Bast, were identified with beauty, joy, and love, while the lioness-deity, Sekhmet, was the goddess of war, and Neith was identified both with war and with weaving. The names of the gods, as a rule, give no clue. At an early date the crude primitive fetishism was somewhat mitigated, when the deities were supposed to reside in statues combining human figures with animal heads.

Triads.—In other respects gods and goddesses were imagined to be very much like men and women; they ate, drank, married, begat children, and died. Each nome, besides its chief god or goddess, had at least two secondary deities, the one playing the part of a wife or husband to the chief deity, the other that of a son. Thus, in Thebes the group of Amon, Màt (or Ament), and Chons; in Memphis the group of Ptah, Sekhmet, and Nefertem; etc. Sometimes the triad consisted of one god and two goddesses, as at Elephantine, or even of three male deities. Those groups were probably first obtained by the fusion of several religious centers into one, the number three being suggested by the human family, or possibly by the family triad Osiris, Isis, and Horus, of the Osiris cycle. In some cases the second element was a mere grammatical duplicate of the first, as Ament, wife of Amen (Amon), and was considered as one with it; it was then natural to identify the son with his parents, and so arose the concept of one god in three forms. There was in this a germ of monotheism. It is doubtful, however, whether it would ever have developed beyond the limits of henotheism but for the solar religion which seems to have sprung into existence towards the dawn of the dynastic times, very likely under the influence of the school of Heliopolis. But before we turn to this new phase of the Egyptian religion, we must consider another aspect of the ancient gods which may have furnished the first basis of unification of the various local worships.

The Gods of the Dead.—Gods, being fancied like men, were, like them, subject to death, the great leveller. Each community had the mummy of its god. But in the case of gods, as in that of men, death was not the cessation of all life. With the assistance of magical devices the dead god was simply transferred to another world, where he was still the god of the departed who had been his devotees on earth. Hence two forms of the same god, frequently under two different names which eventually led to the conception of distinct gods of the dead. Such were Chent-Ament, the first of the Westerners (the dead) at Abydos, Sokar (or Seker), probably a form of Ptah, at Memphis. Sometimes, however, the god of the dead retained the name he had before, as Anubis at Assiut, Khonyu at Thebes, and Osiris, wherever he began to be known as such.

Legend of Osiris.—Each of these gods had his own legend. Osiris was the last god who reigned upon the earth, and he was a wise and good king. But his brother Set was a wicked god and killed Osiris, cutting his body into fragments, which he scattered all over the land. Isis, sister and wife of Osiris, collected the fragments, put them together, and embalmed them, with the assistance of her son Horus, Anubis (here, perhaps, a substitute for Set, who does not seem to have been originally conceived as his brother's slayer), and Nephthys, Set's wife. Isis then, through her magical art, revives her husband who becomes king of the dead, while Horus defeats Set and reigns on the earth in his father's place. According to another version, Qeb, father of Osiris, and Set put an end to the strife by dividing the land between the two competitors, giving the South to Horus and the North to Set.

Sidereal and Elemental Gods.—It is generally conceded that some of the local gods had a sidereal or elemental character. Horus, of Edfu and el-Kb (Ilithyaspolis), and Anher, of This, represented one or other aspect of the sun. Thoth of Hermopolis and Khonsu of Thebes were lunar gods. Min, of Akhmim (Chemmis) and Coptos, represented the cultivable land and Set, of Ombos (near Nakadeh), the desert. Hapi was the Nile, Hathor the vault of heaven. In some cases this sidereal or elemental aspect of the local gods may be primitive, especially among the tribes of Asiatic origin; but in other cases it may be of later date and due to the influence of the solar religion of Re, which, as we have already said, came into prominence, if not into existence, during the early dynastic times.

Solar Gods, Re or Ra.—That Re was such a local god representing the sun, is generally taken for granted although by no means proven. We cannot assign him to any locality not furnished with another god of its own. We never find him, like the vast majority of the local gods, associated with a sacred animal, nor is he ever represented with a human figure, except as a substitute for Atàm, or as identified with Horus or some other god. His only representative among men is the pharaoh, who in the earliest dynastic monuments appears as his son. Finally, it is difficult to understand how the kings of the southern kingdom, after having extended their rule to the north, should have given up their own patron god, Horus, for a local deity of the conquered land. It looks as if the worship of Re had been inaugurated some time after the reunion of the two lands, and possibly for political reasons. At all events, the solar religion soon became very popular, and it may be said that to the end it remained the state religion of Egypt. Re, like the other gods, had his legend—or rather myth—excogitated by the theological school of Heliopolis in connection with the cosmogonic system of the same school. He had created the world and was king over the earth. In course of time the mortals rebelled against him because he was too old, whereupon he ordered their destruction by the goddess of war, but on the presentation of 7000 jars of human blood he was satisfied and decided to spare men. Tired of living among them, he took his flight to heaven, where, standing in his sacred bark, he sails on the celestial ocean. The fixed stars and the planets are so many gods who play the parts of pilot, steersman, and oarsmen. Re rises in the east, conquers the old foe (darkness), spreads light, life, wealth, and joy on all sides, and receives everywhere the applause of gods and men; but now he comes to the western horizon, where, behind Abydos, through an enormous crevice, the celestial waters rush down to the lower hemisphere. The sacred bark follows the eternal river and, unretarded, the god passes slowly through the kingdom of night, conquering his foes, solacing his faithful worshippers, only, however, to renew his course over the upper hemisphere, as bright, as vivifying, as beautiful as ever. Soon each phase of the sun's course received a special name and gradually developed into a distinct god; thus we find Harpochrates (Horus's Child) representing morning sun; Atàm, the evening sun; Re, the noon sun; while Harmakhuti (Horus on the two horizons—Harmachis, supposed to be represented by the great Sphinx) is both the rising and the setting sun.

Cosmogony and Enneads.—Different cosmogonic systems were excogitated at a very early date (some of them, possibly, before the dynastic times) by the various theological schools, principally by the School of Heliopolis. Unfortunately, none of these systems seem to have been handed down in the primitive form. According to one of the versions of the Heliopolitan cosmogony, the principle of all things is the god Nàn, the primordial ocean, in which Atàm, the god of light, lay hidden and alone until he decided to create the world. He begat all by himself Shu, the atmosphere, and Tefnàt, the dew. In their turn Shu and Tefnàt begat Qeb, the earth, and Nàt, the vault of heaven. These two were lying asleep in mutual embrace in the Nàn, when Shu, stealing between them, raised Nàt on high. The world was formed, and the sun could begin its daily course across the heavens. Qeb and Nàt begat Osiris, the cultivable land and the Nile united in one concept, Set the desert, and the two sisters Isis and Nephthys. To this first ennead, of which Tàm (later supplanted by Re) appears as the head, two others were added, the first of which began with Horns, as son of Osiris and Isis. The three enneads constituted as many dynasties of gods, or demi-gods, who reigned on the earth in predynastic times. We have seen above that the third of these dynasties, called "the shades" (nekues) by Manetho, represents the predynastic kings mentioned on the Palermo Stone. The Heliopolitan Ennead became very popular, and every religious center was now ambitious to have a similar one, the same gods and order being generally retained, except that the local deity invariably appeared at the head of the combination.

It has long been customary to assert that in Egypt human life was compared to the course of the sun, and that Osiris was nothing but the sun considered as dead. It is far more correct, however, to say, with Professor Maspéro [Revue de l'histoire des religions (1887), XV, 307 sqq.], that the course of the sun was compared to that of human life. Osiris is not a sun that has set, but the sun that has set is an Osiris; this is so true that when the sun reappears on the eastern horizon, he is represented as the youth, Horus, son of Osiris.

The great prominence given to Re and Osiris by the Heliopolitan School of theology not only raised the Egyptian belief to a higher plane, but brought about a certain unification of it—a consolidation, so to speak, of the local worships. Naturally, the local gods retained their original external appearance, but they were now clothed with the attributions of the new Heliopolitan deity, Re, and were slowly identified with him. Every god became now a sun-god under some aspect; and in some cases the name of the Heliopolitan god was added to the name of the local god, as Sobek-Re, Chnàm-Re, Ammon-Re. It was a step towards monotheism, or at any rate towards a national henotheism. This tendency must have been encouraged by the pharaohs in their capacity rather of political than of religious rulers of the nation. There could be no perfect and lasting political unity as long as the various nomes retained their individual gods.

It is significant that in the only two periods when the pharaohs seem to have had absolute political control of Egypt—viz. from the Fourth to the Fifth and from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Dynasty—the systems of Re, in the former period, and his Theban form, Ammon-Re, in the latter period, come clearly to the front, while the local religious systems fall into the background. These, however, though they were no more than tolerated, seemed to constitute a menace to political unity. The effort of Amenhotep IV to intro-duce the cult of his only god, Aton (see above, in Dynastic History; Second Period), was perhaps not prompted exclusively by a religious ideal, as is generally believed. A similar attempt in favor of Re and his ennead was perhaps made by the Memphite kings. From Khafre, second king of the fourth dynasty, to the end of the sixth dynasty, the word Re is a part of the name of almost every one of those kings, and the monuments show that during that period numerous temples were erected to the chief of the Heliopolitan Ennead in the neighboring nomes. Such encroachments of the official religion on the local forms of worship may have caused the disturbances which marked the passage from the fifth to the sixth dynasty and the end of the latter. That such disturbances were not of a merely political nature is clear in the light of the well-known facts that the royal tombs and the temples of that period were violated and pillaged, if not destroyed, and that the mortuary statues of several kings, those of Khafre in particular, were found, shattered into fragments, at the bottom of a pit near these pyramids. Evidently, those devout "sons of Re" were not in the odor of sanctity with some of the Egyptian priests, and the imputation of impiety brought against them, as recorded by Herodotus (II, 127, 128; cf. Diodorus Siculus, I, 14), may not have been quite as baseless as is assumed by some modern scholars (Maspéro, Histoire Ancienne, pp. 76 sq.).

If the foregoing sketch of the Egyptian religion is somewhat obscure, or even produces a self-contradictory effect, this may perhaps be attributed to the fact that the extremely remote periods considered (mostly, in fact, prehistoric) are known to us from monuments of later date, where they are reflected in superimposed outlines, comparable to a series of pictures of one person at different stages of life, and in different attitudes and garbs, taken successively on the same photographic plate. The Egyptians were a most conservative people; like other peoples, they were open to new religious concepts, and accepted them, but they never got rid of the older ones, no matter how much the older might conflict with the newer. However, if the writer is not mistaken, two prominent features of their religion are sufficiently clear: first, animal fetishism from beginning to end in a more or less mitigated form; secondly, superposition, during the early Memphite dynasties, of the sun-worship, the sun being considered not as creator, but as organizer of the world, from an eternally pre-existing matter, perhaps the forerunner of the demiurge of the Alexandrine School.

(b) The Future Life.—As early as the predynastic times the Egyptians believed that man was survived in death by a certain principle of life corresponding to our soul. The nature of this principle, and the condi tions on which its survival depended, are illustrated by the monuments of the early dynasties. It was called the ka of the departed, and was imagined as a counterpart of the body it had animated, being of the same sex, remaining throughout its existence of the same age as at the time of death, and having the same needs and wants as the departed had in his lifetime. It endured as long as the body, hence the paramount importance the Egyptians attached to the preservation of the bodies of their dead. They generally buried them in ordinary graves, but always in the dry sand of the desert, where moisture could not affect them; among the higher classes, to whom the privilege of being embalmed was at first restricted, the mummy was sealed in a stone coffin and deposited in a carefully concealed rock-excavation over which a tomb was built. Hence, also, the presence in the tombs of lifelike statues of the deceased to which the ka might cling, should the mummy happen to meet destruction. But the ka could also die of hunger or thirst, and for this reason food and drink were left with the body at the time of the burial, fresh supplies being deposited from time to time on the top of the grave, or at the entrance of the tomb. The ka, or "double", as this word is generally interpreted, is confined to the grave or tomb, often called "the house of the ka'". There near the body, it now lives alone in darkness as once, in union with the body, it lived in the sunny world. Toilet articles, weapons against possible enemies, amulets against serpents, are also left in the tomb, together with magic texts and a magic wand which enable it to make use of these necessaries.

Along with the ka, the earliest texts mention other surviving principles of a less material nature, the ba and the khu. Like the ka, the ba resides in the body during man's life, but after death it is free to wander where it pleases. It was conceived as a bird, and is often represented as such, with a human head. The khu is luminous; it is a spark of the divine intelligence. According to some Egyptologists, it is a mere transformation which the ba undergoes when, in the here-after, it is found to have been pure and just during lifetime; it is then admitted to the society of the gods; according to others, it is a distinct element residing in the ba. Simultaneously with the concepts of the ba and the khu, the Egyptians developed the concept of a common abode for the departed souls, not unlike the Hades of the Greeks. But their views varied very much, both as to the location of that Hades and as to its nature. It is very likely that, originally, every god of the dead had 'a Hades of his own; but, as those gods were gradually either identified with Osiris or brought into his cycle as secondary infernal deities, the various local concepts of the region of the dead were ultimately merged into the Osirian concept. According to Professor Maspéro, the kingdom of Osiris was first thought to be located in one of the islands of the Northern Delta whither cultivation had not yet extended. But when the sun in its course through the night had become identified with Osiris, the realm of the dead was shifted to the region traversed by the sun during the night, wherever that region might be, whether under the earth, as more commonly accepted, or in the far west, in the desert, on the same plane with the world of the living, or in the northeastern heavens beyond the great sea that surrounds the earth.

As the location, so does the nature of the Osirian Hades seem to have varied with the different schools; and here, unfortunately, as in the case of the Egyptian pantheon, the monuments exhibit different views superimposed on one another. We seem, however, to discern two traditions which we might call the pure Osiris and the re-Osiris traditions. According to the former tradition the aspiration of all the departed is to be identified with Osiris, and live with him in his kingdom of the Earu, or Yalu, fields—such a paradise as the Egyptian peasant could fancy. There ploughing and reaping are carried on as upon the earth, but with hardly any labor, and the land is so well irrigated by the many branches of another Nile that wheat grows seven ells. All men are equal; all have to answer the call for work without distinction of former rank. Kings and grandees, however, can be spared that light burden by having ushebtis (respondents) placed with them in their tombs. These ushebtis were small statuettes with a magic text which enabled them to impersonate the deceased and answer the call for him.

To procure the admission of the deceased into this realm of happiness his family and friends had to perform over him the same rites as were performed over Osiris by Isis, Nephthys, Horus, and Anubis. Those rites consisted mostly of magical formulae and incantations. The mummification of the body was considered an important condition, as Osiris was supposed to have been mummified. It seems, also, that in the beginning at least, the Osirian doctrine demanded a certain dismemberment of the body previous to all further rites, as the body of Osiris had been dismembered by Set. Possibly, also, this took place in the pre-dynastic times, when the bodies of the dead appear to have been intentionally dismembered and then put together again for burial (Chantepie de la Saussaye, op. cit., I, 214). At all events Diodorus narrates that the surgeon who made the first incision on the body previous to the removal of the viscera had to take to flight immediately after having accomplished his duty, while the mob pretended to drive him away with stones (Diodorus Siculus, I, 91), as though he impersonated Set. This custom, however, of dismembering bodies may be older than the Osirian doctrine, and may explain it rather than be explained from it (Chantepie de la Saussaye, op. cit., I, 220). When all the rites had been duly performed the deceased was pronounced Osiris so-and-so—he had been identified with the god Osiris. He could now proceed to the edge of the great river beyond which are the Earu fields. Turn-face, the ferryman, would carry him across, unless the four sons of Horus would bring him a craft to float over, or the hawk of Horus, or the ibis of Thoth, would condescend to transport him on its pinions to his destination. Such were, during the Memphite dynasties, the conditions on which the departed soul obtained eternal felicity; they were based nn ritual rather than on moral purity. It seems, however, that already at that time some texts show the deceased declaring himself, or being pronounced, free of certain sins. In any case, under the twelfth dynasty the deceased was regularly tried before being allowed to pass across the waters. He is represented appearing before Osiris, surrounded by forty-two judges. His heart is weighed on scales by Horus and Anubis, over against a feather, a symbol of justice, while Thoth registers the result of the operation. In the meantime the deceased recites a catalogue of forty-two sins (so-called "negative confession") of which he is innocent. Between the scales and Osiris there is what seems to be a female hippopotamus, appearing ready to devour the guilty souls; but there was no great danger of falling into her jaws, as the embalmers had been careful to remove the heart and replace it by a stone scarab inscribed with a magical spell which prevented the heart from testifying against the deceased. The concept of retribution implied by the judgment very likely originated with the School of Abydos [see Maspéro, "Revue de l'histoire des religions" (1887), XV, 308 sqq.].

According to another tradition, which is represented along with the foregoing in the Pyramid Texts, the deceased is ultimately identified not with Osiris himself, but with Re identified with Osiris and his son Horus. His destination is the bark of Re on the eastern horizon, whither he is transported by the same ferryman Turn-face. Once on the sacred bark, the deceased may bid defiance to all dangers and enemies, he enjoys absolute and perfect felicity, leaves the kingdom of re-Osiris, and follows re-Horus across the heavens into the region of the living gods. The same concept was resumed by the Theban School. An important variant of this re-Osiris tradition is to be found in two books due to the Theban Ammon-Re School of theology, the "Book of what there is in the Duat" (Hades) and the "Book of the Gates". In both compositions the course of Re in the region of darkness is divided into twelve sections corresponding to the twelve hours of night, but in the latter book each section is separated by a gate guarded by gigantic serpents. Some of these sections are presided over by the old gods of the dead, Sokar and Osiris, with their faithful subjects. The principal features of these two books is the concept of a retribution which we now meet clearly expressed for the first time. While the innocent soul, after a series of transformations, reaches at last, on the extreme limit of the lower world, the bark of Re, where it joins the happy crowd of the gods, the criminal one is submitted to various tortures and finally annihilated,

Egyptian Ideas Of The Future Life


The following pages are intended to place before the reader in a handy form an account of the principal ideas and beliefs held by the ancient Egyptians concerning the resurrection and the future life, which is derived wholly from native religious works. The literature of Egypt which deals with these subjects is large and, as was to be expected, the product of different periods which, taken together, cover several thousands of years; and it is exceedingly difficult at times to reconcile the statements and beliefs of a writer of one period with those of a writer of another. Up to the present no systematic account of the doctrine of the resurrection and of the future life has been discovered, and there is no reason for hoping that such a thing will ever be found, for the Egyptians do not appear to have thought that it was necessary to write a work of the kind. The inherent difficulty of the subject, and the natural impossibility that different men living in different places and at different times should think alike on matters which must, after all, belong always to the region of faith, render it more than probable that no college of priests, however powerful, was able to formulate a system of beliefs which would be received throughout Egypt by the clergy and the laity alike, and would be copied by the scribes as a final and authoritative work on Egyptian eschatology. Besides this, the genius and structure of the Egyptian language are such as to preclude the possibility of composing in it works of a philosophical or metaphysical character in the true sense of the words. In spite of these difficulties, however, it is possible to collect a great deal of important information on the subject from the funereal and religious works which have come down to us, especially concerning the great central idea of immortality, which existed unchanged for thousands of years, and formed the pivot upon which the religious and social life of the ancient Egyptians actually turned. From the beginning to the end of his life the Egyptian's chief thought was of the life beyond the grave, and the hewing of his tomb in the rock, and the providing of its furniture, every detail of which was prescribed by the custom of the country, absorbed the best thoughts of his mind and a large share of his worldly goods, and kept him ever mindful of the time when his mummified body would be borne to his "everlasting house" in the limestone plateau or hill.