An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 88From the Pyramid texts of Unas we glean some further information concerning the celestial sphere. It is called Aaru (perhaps 'the Place of Reeds'), or, in another part of the text, Sekhet-Aaru, and was divided into a number of districts, the names of which may be translated 'the Field of Offerings,' 'the Field of Peace,' and 'the Field of Grasshoppers.' It was watered by extensive lakes, where Ra bathed and the dead purified themselves before beginning their heavenly existence. Originally Aaru was thought to be located in the sky, but there is evidence that it could be entered from certain places in the Delta, called Pe-Tep and Tettu. The vignettes of Sekhet-Aaru in the Theban recension of the Book of the Dead indicate that it was placed in the north of Egypt. It seems to have been composed of good agricultural country bearing heavy crops, a pleasant and well-watered land where the justified soul might rest from the labours of earth, secure in an eternity of bucolic delights. This, be it noted, was the Paradise of the cult of Osiris, a worship anciently connected with the land and the tillers thereof. There is little or no ground for its being confounded, as it certainly appears to have been confounded at a later period, with the Heaven of Ra. The myth of the Paradise of Ra, with its choirs of chanting spirits and its different classes of supernatural beings, bears traces of ecclesiastical elaboration, whereas the Paradise of the Osirian cult is the Otherworld of a race purely agricultural—the cult of the peasant as opposed to that of the dweller in towns.
It was probably only in later times that the 'Duat' was regarded as a place of punishment. Originally it seems to have been merely the place through which the dead sun-god Ra passed, after his setting or death each evening, on his journey to the east, where once again he might rise. The Duat was peopled by the powers of night and darkness, the natural enemies of the sun. At a later period these powers were confounded with the damned—that is, they met with the[Pg 201] fate generally accorded to the deities of gloom and chaos at the hands of more distant generations. There was no Hell proper for 'lost souls' in the Egyptian religious economy; but a region existed at the end of the Duat where infernal goddesses presided over pits of fire, slaying, beheading, and dismembering the enemies of Ra, and burning the remains. Once the god had quitted this region, however, the fires went out and his enemies were granted a period of rest until he reappeared on the following night. As these beings appeared in Egyptian pictorial art with human forms, the idea gradually took shape that they represented the souls of the damned. Dr Budge very shrewdly says: "The souls of the damned could have done nothing to hinder the progress of Ra, and the Egyptians never imagined that they did, but it is possible that in late dynastic times certain schools of theological thought in Egypt, being dissatisfied with and unconvinced of the accuracy of the theory of the annihilation of the wicked, assigned to evil souls dwelling-places with the personifications of the powers of nature already mentioned." The description of the Duat is hard to fit to any known mythic locality, but it is usually employed in the texts as a name for a place of the dead—a Hades, not a place of retribution.
The Hades of Assyria is a vast expanse of emptiness and gloom, from which, as we learn from a mythological poem on the descent of Ishtar, "there is no return." Mud and dust feed its population, darkness is their heritage, it is a house with no exit. A keeper guards the entrance and exacts homage to Allatu, the queen, from all who enter the gate. A spell is then cast over the ill-fated new-comer and he is led through seven successive gates and stripped of all earthly possessions. In the end he is bereft even of the power of speech.