In Egypt, death was not a termination, but a transition. A way to move on to eternal life. The afterlife is nearly a mirror-image of life on earth. However, Duat (also known as the netherworld) relates more to hell in today’s religions.
The word Duat is a very old one. It describes a place of punishment. There are familiar geographical features including impressive islands, fields, caverns, rivers, and mounds. But there are also features that are beyond the mind’s eye: lakes of fire, trees of turquoise, and walls of iron. Duat was separated from the living world by a chain of mountains and consisted of a great circular valley. It begins where the sun sets in the west and ends where the sun rises in the east. And through this valley runs a river, the counterpart of the Nile.
This landscape is fraught with danger. Funerary texts tell stories of all manner of monstrous beasts, demons, and other hazardous obstacles that reside in the netherworld. It’s basically the things of nightmares: decapitations, snakes, crocodiles, poisoned or contaminated water, and lines of corpses. The soul was expected to navigate through this unpredictable landscape, passing through twelve gates (one for each hour of night) and their gatekeepers, to make their way to the Hall of Judgment. Fortunately, the funerary texts provided guidelines and directions for these souls to take and provide certain spells and recitations for specific situations.
Once the soul passed the hazards of Duat, they would face their final test, the Weighing of the Heart. Here, they would perform the Negative Confessions in front of Osiris, Anubis, Thoth, and forty-two other minor gods. You can read more about the Weighing of the Heart in my post, The Weighing of the Heart: the Sins and Virtues of the Descendants of Isis.
- Brafford. (2014). Duat. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp455-fs14/2014/10/28/duat/
- Budge, E.A.W. (1904) The Gods of the Egyptians. New York, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
- Mark, J (2016). Egyptian Afterlife – The Field of Reeds. https://www.ancient.eu/article/877/egyptian-afterlife—the-field-of-reeds/
- Oakes, L., and Gahlin, L. (2003). Ancient Egypt: An illustrated reference to the myths, religions, pyramids and temples of the land of the pharaohs. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
- Strudwick, H. (2006). The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. New York, New York: Metro Books.
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