The Afterlife

One of the most intriguing tales of Ancient Egypt is that
of the Afterlife.  Laid out step-by-step in the Book of
the Dead
, the Pharaoh must embark on an amazing journey to attain his
ultimate goal of becoming the sun god, Ra.

The Death of a Pharaoh

As soon as a Pharaoh died, the process of embalming and preparing him for the afterlife began.  All
of the organs, except the heart, were removed from the body and placed in separate
canopic jars.  Each jar was topped with the god or goddess that represented that organ.

 The process of embalming was a very intricate and important ritual.  This practice took 70 days to complete.
 The canopic jars held the lungs, liver, stomach, and intestines.

When mummification was complete, the Pharaoh was placed in a
tomb that was created for him, and all of his riches and personal possessions were added
to the tomb along with food and any pets the Pharaoh may have had at the time.  All
of these items were thought to assist the Pharaoh in the trials of the Underworld.

The Journey Begins

Before a Pharaoh could face the trials of the Twelve Great Halls, he first had to secure passage in the form of a boat that would carry him down the river of the Underworld. Once a Pharaoh was placed in his tomb, his spirit would descend into the Underworld where he would meet with a group of guards and the gods Heka, Sia, and Hu who would help him (along with the god, Sobek) during his journey. The Pharaoh would then set sail and begin his adventure.

The Twelve Gates of the Underworld

Each hallway in the Underworld was protected by a gate and three guardians (a serpent and two gods). In order to successfully pass the gates and enter the halls, the Pharaoh had to correctly name all three of the beings.

The gates themselves represented the 12 hours of the night. The Pharaoh would begin his journey at nightfall and it would end at dawn.

Because of the number of gates, I will only be touching on the most important ones.

Gate One

The first gate was simply the process of the Pharaoh being greeted by the souls of the dead. The gate itself had two stakes, one with a jackal head atop it and the other with a ram head.  They would destroy those who were evil.

Gate Two

In the second hall, we see a distinction begin to form between the levels of the Underworld. Much like Heaven and Hell, this chamber was divided into top, middle, and bottom sections. The middle section was where the boat holding the Pharaoh was greeted by several gods. The top section was where the “blessed souls” resided, and the bottom was for the evil and wicked. In order to become a 'blessed soul' one had to follow the teachings of Ra during their earthly life. If he did not and committed crimes, he would end up in the bottom section where the damned souls were sent. In this chamber, the Pharaoh was told that the path he was on was a perilous one that would have many obstacles along the way. After this meeting, the Pharaoh continued on his way and came upon a spiked and guarded corridor. Two fire-breathing serpents lined the hall, though their flames did not hurt the Pharaoh. The beginning of the corridor was guarded by Am-awa and, at the end of it, Sekhabesnfubeb. The gate leading to the third chamber was protected by Aqebi the serpent.

Gate Three

In this chamber, the Pharaoh would be faced with a lake of fire and twelve re-animating mummies. The lake would only hurt the wicked so, if the Pharaoh was not tainted by wickedness, he would have no trouble traversing the fiery lake. Gate three, or the Gate of Tchetbi, was an important one because it was the first, but not last, encounter with Apophis. Apophis was a gigantic serpent and a bitter enemy to Ra. In this chamber, Atum and nine others were restraining him. At the end of this chamber, there was a gate that led to a corridor which led to the fourth gate. This gate was protected by Enuerkhata and the end of the corridor was guarded by Setata. Between the two were nine gods.

Gate Four

The fourth gate was even more spectacular than the ones before it. Like the third chamber, this one had three levels as well. Inside the top, the Pharaoh was met with two lakes, the Lake of Uraei (guarded by the Uraei) and the Lake of Life (guarded by twelve jackal gods). There were also twenty-four beings (twelve gods and twelve doppelgangers of the gods). In the middle level were shrines dedicated to the nine gods that followed Osiris. It was the Pharaoh’s duty to feed them after he had resurrected them. After the shrines, the Pharaoh was met with a female serpent, Hereret, who represented the goddesses of time. In the bottom, there was a congregation of many gods, including Osiris in the form of Khentiamentiu and a serpent goddess of fire. They were all within the Naos shrine performing a magical ceremony for Osiris. Finally, they came to the Arit gate, which is protected by two jackal gods, Aau and Tekmi, and nine more gods within the corridor. A serpent, Teka-hra, guarded the way to the fifth gate.

Gate Five

Once the Pharaoh opened the fifth gate, he passed into the Judgment Hall. This was where the Pharaoh underwent one of the greatest tests he would have to face. The reason the heart was left in the body during the mummification was so that it could be taken into the afterlife and weighed against Ma’at’s Feather of Truth. If the heart was lighter than the feather, it meant his heart was light and pure. At this point, he would have passed the test of the fifth gate. If, however, the Pharaoh’s heart weighed heavier than the feather, it meant he was corrupted and evil. The heart and Pharaoh would both then be devoured and the test would be failed.

  Gate Ten
The tenth gate is, by far, the most climactic.  Within this chamber, a battle of epic proportions took place.  The Pharaoh, the personification of the sun god, Ra, spent the hour in the tenth cavern fighting with his archenemy, Apophis.  The battle was fearsome and many gods helped along the way.  Eventually, magic helped the gods gain the upper hand and they finally overcame the beast.

Gate Eleven
Through the eleventh gate, the gods emerged from the battle with Apophis and subdued him by tying him up.  The gods took Apophis and his 'army' and rendered them incapable of further attack through dismemberment.  The war was over and the gods rejoiced.  It was then time for the Pharaoh to continue to the final stage of his journey.

Gate Twelve
In the final stage, the Pharaoh prepared to be reborn as Ra and the sun itself.  Once he made it through the cavern, he emerged as the sun god, Ra.  Essentially, he became the sun.

Throughout Ancient Egypt, it was common belief that, after a Pharaoh passed away and the mummification was complete, the dark of night was when the trials he had to go through played out.  The twelve gates took twelve hours and, if the sun rose the next morning, it meant that the Pharaoh was successful in the Underworld.  On the flip side, they believed that, if a Pharaoh failed, then the sun would no longer appear and life as they knew it would be destroyed.