Ancient Egyptians believed in many gods and the afterlife. However, to reach the afterlife you had to do good deeds while you were alive.
If you didn’t, your heart would not be light enough to enter. You also had to have your name written down on a cartouche in your tomb and your body had to be correctly preserved.
To give their souls the best chance of reaching the afterlife, ancient Egyptians used funeral practices, or rites.
These practices included a funeral procession, preserving the body, rituals of good luck and burial in a grave with specific goods.
Preserving the Body
It was vital to preserve the body if you wanted the person’s soul to reach the afterlife.
Ancient Egyptians believed that if the body was not mummified correctly, part of the soul (the Ka) would not be able to return to the body and so could not travel on.
Special priests known as embalmers were hired by families to take care of the body so that the soul could reach the afterlife.
If the person who had died was important, mourners would cover their faces with mud and walk through the town beating their chests before the body was mummified.
After preserving the body, the mourners would carry out a ritual dance which recreated various gods passing judgement on each other, plots of gods to kill other gods, and the soul getting lost on its way home.
Women also danced at a feast after mummifying the body as a way to make the gods happy and to mourn the dead. During these dances, people played music and ate to copy what they hoped to find when they reached the afterlife.
On the day the person was buried, the body and coffin were collected from the priest. The coffin was then driven by oxen from the priest’s tent, with family walking alongside it and with two female relatives pretending to be goddesses.
The procession then walked to the edge of the Nile River, where everyone boarded boats to cross the river to the western side to be buried. This symbolised the soul of the dead boarding a boat to go to the afterlife.
The processions of rich, important Egyptians often were elaborate and showed off their wealth to the public. Family members carried canopic jars (containing the internal organs!) and other goods to place in the graves. People also hired professional mourners, dancers and priests.
Finally, the mummy was placed in the tomb in a ceremony called the ‘Opening of the Mouth’. This ritual was thought to let the dead person use all their senses in the afterlife. The body was purified and then food and clothing were offered to the dead, so they were ready to go to the afterlife.
Facts about Ancient Egyptian Funerals
- Ancient Egyptians used funeral rites to help them reach the afterlife.
- Preserving the body was needed to help the soul return home.
- Ritual dances were done to honour the gods and mourn the dead.
- Family walked next to the coffin during the funeral procession from the priest’s tent.
- Female relatives of the dead pretended to be goddesses during the procession.
- People crossed the Nile in boats to symbolise reaching the afterlife.
- Canopic jars were used to carry the internal organs of the dead.
- Rituals were used on the mummy to help them use all their senses in the afterlife.
- Why were funerals so important to ancient Egyptians?
A good funeral helped a person’s soul to successfully reach the afterlife.
- Why did a body need to be preserved correctly?
To help the soul (Ka) find its way back to the body when it left and to travel on to the afterlife.
- How were funerals of important people different to those of normal people?
Mourners covered their faces in mud and beat their chest as they walked through town. The processions were also more elaborate to show their wealth.
- Where did the funeral procession travel?
The processions started at the priest’s tent and then walked to the Nile River, crossing by boat to the west bank, where the body was buried.
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