Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 14

The canopic jars in which the intestines were placed had lids so carven as to resemble human heads, but subsequent to the Eighteenth Dynasty the heads of the four sons of Horus, the man-headed Mesti, the ape-headed Hapi, the jackal Tuamutef, and the falcon Qebhsennŭf, the 'genii' who guarded the north, south, east, and west, were represented upon their covers. In their respective jars were placed the stomach and larger intestines, the smaller intestines, the lungs and heart, and the liver and gall-bladder. These jars were placed in the tomb beside the mummy,

Model of a Funeral Boat with figures symbolizing Isis and Nephthys &
Canopic Jars representing the Four Sons of Horus—Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.

Funeral Offerings

The tomb furniture of the Egyptians of the higher ranks was elaborate and costly—chairs, jars, weapons, mirrors, sometimes even chariots, and wigs. Beginning with the Middle Kingdom (Eighteenth Dynasty), small statuettes, called ushabtiu, were placed in each tomb. These represented various trades, and were supposed to assist or serve the deceased in the otherworld. The walls of the tomb and the sides of the sarcophagus were usually covered with texts from the Book of the Dead, or formulæ devoting offerings of loaves, geese, beer, and other provisions to the ka of the deceased. The burial ceremony was stately and imposing. Sometimes it chanced that the corpse had to be conveyed by water, and gaily painted boats held the funeral procession; or else the chain of mourners moved slowly along by the western bank of the Nile. The ceremonial[Pg 30] at the tomb appears to have been almost of a theatrical character, and symbolized the night journey of Ra-Osiris. The prescribed prayers were recited, and incense was offered up. The kinsmen of the deceased were loud in their lamentations, and were assisted in these by a professional class of mourners who 'keened' loudly and shrilly as the procession slowly approached the mastaba, or tomb, in which the mummy was to be laid to rest. It was taken from the coffin when it arrived at the door of its long home, and was placed upright against the wall of the mastaba by a priest wearing the mask of the jackal-headed god Anubis. At this point an elaborate ceremony was performed, known as the 'opening of the mouth.' With many magical spells and signs the mouth of the deceased was opened by means of a hook, after which he was supposed to be able to make use of his mouth for the purpose of speaking, eating, or drinking. Special literature had sprung up in connexion with this custom, and was known as The Book of the Opening of the Mouth. Elaborate and numerous were the instruments employed in the ceremony: the pesh-ken, or hook, made of a pinkish flint, the knife of greyish-green stone, the vases, small stone knives representing the 'metal of the north' and the 'metal of the south,' the unguents and oils, and so on. Interminable was the ceremonial in the case of a person of importance, at least twenty-eight formulæ having to be recited, many of which were accompanied by lustration, purification, and, on the part of the priests who officiated, a change of costume. The coffin containing the mummy was then lowered into the tomb by means of a long rope, and was received by the grave-diggers.

[Pg 31]

The Ka

The dead man was practically at the mercy of the living for subsistence in the otherworld. Unless his kinsmen continued their offerings to him he was indeed in bad case, for his ka would starve. This ka was his double, and came into the world at the same time as himself. It must be sharply distinguished from the ba, or soul, which usually took the form of a bird after the death of its owner, and, indeed, was capable of assuming such shape as it chose if the funeral ceremonies were carried out correctly. Some Egyptologists consider the ka to be the special active force which imbues the human being with life, and it may be equivalent to the Hebrew expression 'spirit' as apart from 'soul.' In the book of Genesis we are informed that God breathed the breath of life into man and he lived. In like manner did He lay His arms behind the primeval gods, and forthwith His ka went up over them, and they lived. When the man died his ka quitted the body, but did not cease to take an interest in it, and on occasion even reanimated it. It was on behalf of the ka that Egyptian tombs were so well furnished with food and drink, and the necessities, not to say the luxuries, of existence.

The Ba

The ba, as has been mentioned, did not remain with the body, but took wing after death. Among primitive peoples—the aborigines of America, for instance—the soul is frequently regarded as possessing the form and attributes of a bird. The ability of the bird to make passage for itself across the great ocean of air, the incomprehensibility of its gift of flight, the mystery of its song, its connexion with 'heaven,' render it a being at once strange and enviable. Such freedom, argues primitive[Pg 32] man, must have the liberated soul, untrammelled by the hindering flesh. So, too, must gods and spirits be winged, and such, he hopes, will be his own condition when he has shaken off the mortal coil and rises on pinions to the heavenly mansions. Thus the Bororos of Brazil believe that the soul possesses the form of a bird. The Bilquila Indians of British Columbia think that the soul dwells in an egg in the nape of the neck, and that upon death this egg is hatched and the enclosed bird takes flight. In Bohemian folk-lore we learn that the soul is popularly conceived as a white bird. The Malays and the Battas of Sumatra also depict the immortal part of man in bird-shape, as do the Javanese and Borneans. Thus we see that the Egyptian concept is paralleled in many a distant land. But nowhere do we find the belief so strong or so persistent over a prolonged period of time as in the valley of the Nile.