Death and Rebirth: Initiation Rituals in Funerary Traditions of Ancient Egypt

14 Oct 2018
11:40
Lecture Hall

Death and Rebirth: Initiation Rituals in Funerary Traditions of Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, the funerary tradition focusing on the passage from the world of living to the world of death may be considered as an initiatory process. Such a notion can be found in a number of spells in The Egyptian Book of the Dead (New Kingdom), The Coffin Texts (Middle Kingdom), with some spells dating back to the Old Kingdom (2450 B.C.) and more. After the death of the body, the Ba enters into Duat, the realm of the death. This Netherworld was watched by dreadful creatures and had many caves inhabited by terrifying mythical beings. The deceased needed to deal with these creatures to reach the Hall of Ma’at. After reaching the Hall he needed to recite his Confession of Innocence, and his heart was weighed against the feather of Ma’at. If the heart was heavier than the feather he was devoured by Ammit and die a second death, meaning total annihilation. If the heart was light as a feather he was not burdened with sin and was transfigured into a spirit-state (akh), acquiring a semi-divine status and entering the Field of Reeds, the blessed realm of the Gods. This spiritual state was characterised, in the material sphere, by the embalming of the corpse and a series of magical rituals so the perishable would become imperishable, the mortal becomes immortal. The very word mummy, for instance, can be interpreted as elevation or dignity to denote this superior sphere the deceased entered through the course of embalming, whilst the coffin or sarcophagus may be interpreted as a regressus ad uterum, which will lead to the rebirth of the deceased into the sphere of Nut, the heavenly mother -goddess. These Ancient Egyptian processes of transition and rebirth are also interpreted by HPB in a number of her writings.