Books of the Royal Afterlife

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The great religious compositions in the royal tombs are perhaps the most striking aspect of these monuments as for the first time in the history of religious development in Egypt, and perhaps in the entire world, we see not just a collection of spells as in the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts, but real books with a recognizable story line.  These wall decorations present a detailed visual model of the beyond which is not found anywhere else in the Egyptian literature.  At first the model represents the underworld alone, but later also includes the heavens to form a complete picture of the Egyptian cosmos.  These books have several identifiable themes, but the main one seems to be that life and death are a continuous process.  Here it is shown that life engenders death and in death there is new life.  Also emphasized is the process of the journey of the sun beneath the earth (seen in the 18th Dynasty); a dual emphasis on the sun’s journey in the heavens along with the importance of Osiris and the earth gods in the underworld (19th Dynasty); and a combination of the two as the sun passes through heaven and earth (20th Dynasty).

The main theme seems to be that life and death are a continuous process.


This process is personified by two unique figures in the Egyptian order.  First would be the sun god Re who is the living god that descends into death and the god of the dead, Osiris, who ascends and comes to life again.  In the underworld, the two are united into one being with the dual nature and form of the sun god traveling on his sacred bark through the hours of the night.  In fact, the entire realm of the dead is identified with the body of Osiris.  The depiction of this idea is seen in the 12th hour of the underworld in the Book of Gates where it is stated that ‘it is Osiris who encircles the Duat (underworld)’ with the representation of Osiris’ body circling the words.  All of the various books use mythological allusions as a kind of language to explain the differing stages of this process of life, death and regeneration.

The process involved is always the same but it is seen from different points of view with differing significance depending upon the composition involved.  The main stress is upon the passage from one stage to another which is symbolized by the passing through the hours of the night as seen in the Book of the Amduat (Underworld), Book of Gates, or Book of Qererets (Caverns).  At times the emphasis is on the actual process of the transformation of the dead body of the sun god into a new living form.  This is seen as the passage of the ram headed god Atum who is seen traveling in the sacred barque and is identified by the word ‘flesh’ in front of his face.  The word is in reference here to the total idea that this is the ‘flesh of Re’ or the corporal body of the sun god.  As this god progresses through the hours of the underworld he is transformed into the beetle Khepri who is seen carrying the sun disk in the final hour or section of the composition.  The theme here is one of transformation from death into life. 

This idea is best illustrated in the Book of Caverns where the sun god Re is seen descending into the dead realm of Osiris.  The sun god is the source of all life and so is seen to revive Osiris with his magical words of power and with the light that his sun disk brings.  Here we can plainly see that it is the sun which is the power that brings the deceased to life again.  Those who are removed

The sun god is the source of all life.

from the sun and who never see its life giving light, dwell in the lowest reaches of the underworld.  These are the inhabitants of the Egyptian equivalent of Hades.  The king, who in his tomb is identified with Osiris as the Osiris-king, thus becomes a new sun and is risen as Re.  In this text we are to understand that Osiris, the Lord of the Underworld and the god of the dead regions, is also the symbol of resurrection and life everlasting.

Other mythological allusions also present themselves here in these books that relate the sun’s journey.  As we have related prior, the tombs of the 20th dynasty show the sky goddess Nut on the ceiling of the burial chamber.  Though the sun god is the creator of the world, he is still born every day by the sky goddess and swallowed by her every evening.  His renewal and daily birth then, are dependant upon this process, just as mortal man is, by the sky goddess/mother.  The fierce eye of the sun is also seen to be the goddess Hathor.  She, in the guise of the goddess Sekhmet, is the emanation of divine wrath.  The main feature of all that is observed in these compositions is however, the progression, the journey of the dying sun god through these realms of darkness, the Duat, which is the body of his mother Nut as the night sky.  It is here in the dark, that the god must pass through the gates and caverns which are guarded by fiery serpents and where lie the dead bodies of divinities who are his own forms of the past.  The journey then is one of time as well as distance and is possible as the nature of time is circular in the Egyptian view.  What has happened once, will happen again.  The dead come to life as the sun god passes their souls, those human headed birds, who rise to join the sun god as he moves through the hours and who mournfully wail as his form passes out of view through the closing of the gates as darkness returns.  Re gathers new energy for his new birth from his past forms and at the same time he judges and fights the evil enemies in his path.  Most evil of these is the serpent Apopis (Apep), who nightly impedes his progress and which Re, through the agency of these great magical spells, overcomes.                >>>