N. is no one in particular. N. is everyone. He/she is the peasant of the Nile, the builder of pyramids, the daughter of Pharaoh, the soldier of his army. Or Pharaoh himself.
Everyone must go through this: the door of death.
N. just died. He/she is placed in the presence of God. He/she speaks and addresses Him.
« Tribute to you who has come, God Atum, creator of the gods. Tribute to you, King of the Gods, who makes your ‘tuau’ shine with your beauty.
Tribute to you who come in your splendors, around your disc. »
At the same time, the prayer of the officiants accompanying the ceremony rises:
« O Sun, Lord of light, emerged from the East, shines on the face of the deceased N.!
May the soul of the deceased N. be at your side in your boat as you cross Heaven (…)
Your perfume is not known. And incomparable is your splendor. »i
The « Great Egyptian Papyrus » of the Vatican Library gives an idea of how the dead are introduced before God, to plead their cause and be admitted to divine transformation.
The funeral ritual of the ancient Egyptians was highly sophisticated. Traces of the prayers accompanying each phase of the « manifestation to day », and of the « luminous transformation of the soul » have been kept.
Emmanuel de Rougé translated in 1864 an Egyptian Funeral Ritual that includes more than a hundred chapters. Each one corresponds to a prayer adapted to a particular action in favour of the soul of the deceased. Together they form a subtle gradation, reflecting the stages of the soul’s journey into death:
« Take the form of the divine sparrowhawk » (Ch. 78), « Take the form of God » (Ch. 80), « Open the place where Thoth is and become a luminous spirit in Ker-Neter » (Ch. 96), « Sit among the great gods » (Ch. 104), « Receiving happiness in the dwelling of Ptah » (Ch. 106), « Advancing into the manifestation of the gate of the gods of the West, among the servants of Ra, knowing the spirits of the West » (Ch. 107), « Knowing the spirits of the East » (Ch. 109).
Ker-Neter is the Sheol, Atum or Tem is the Sun of the Night, Ra is the Sun of the Day.
Egyptology, an evolutionary science, has proposed guiding ideas for finding one’s way in this ancient world:
1) Every soul is admitted before the supreme God, and can plead his/her cause.
2) The deceased N. is called to be admitted to « cross Heaven » in the company of the God Atum himself.
3) The deceased N. can undertake a long spiritual journey involving more than a hundred distinct and successive stages.
4) Achieving the « happiness of Ptah’s dwelling place » is only one of these many steps, and it is not the highest. The final stages include the knowledge of the spirits of the West, then the knowledge of the spirits of the East.
In essence, the religion of ancient Egypt is generous, open to all. It promises after death a great journey of the soul, described with great detail in advance, for the benefit of the living.
In contrast, subsequent religions, which appeared more than two or three thousand years later, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have really little to say about what awaits the soul after death.
In contrast, and in the face of this void, poets from different periods, such as Homer, Virgil or Dante, wanted to fill the latent demand.
Today, « modernity » has no use for these old aspirations, these pictorial descriptions. Death is no longer a dream.
But fifty-five centuries ago, the future dead dreamed of « knowing the spirits of the West and the East ».
i Il grande papiro egizio della Biblioteca Vaticana, édité par Orazio Marucchi, Rome 1888