What comes to your mind when someone mentions Book of the Dead? Experienced gamblers among you might think of their favorite online slot, Book of Dead by Play’n GO. While this fun, adventure-themed slot is an excellent pastime, we’ll focus on what inspired it – a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary texts. These spells are collectively known as Book of Dead or Book of Going Forth by Day.
Ancient Egyptians valued the afterlife just as much as their earthly existence (if not more), so their priests would ensure that the journey through the underworld after death was carried out properly. As a result, they would inscribe spells into papyrus, tomb walls or coffins, and even mummy wrappings. The afterlife supposedly held various challenges for the deceased, so the spells were meant to help the departed find their way and eventually unite with the god of the dead and resurrection, Osiris.
How Did We Discover the Book of the Dead?
Scholars learned about ancient mortuary texts as new archeological sites popped up. People in the Middle Ages were aware of them. However, it wasn’t until the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius provided context and order to them that we gained a better understanding of the Book of Dead.
He was the first to publish the collection in 1842, allowing for a more coherent approach to studying Egyptian spirituality. The magic “roadmaps” were arranged in chapters and carefully ordered, forming an articulate body of work.
Parts of the Book of the Dead are still being discovered and added. The Ministry of Antiquities announced a new discovery in 2023 – sections related to the Book in a coffin near the Pyramid of Khufu.
What are the Book of the Dead Spells About?
It is a common misconception that Book of the Dead serves to bring people back from the dead. No, it serves as a guidebook for the deceased, leading them on a journey through Duat. While this is the Book’s most well-known use, it could also be used for other purposes. Indeed, some spells could be used while the person was alive, as they are about transformation, transcendence, and religious experiences.
Many spells are about protection and precaution. They warn about the dangers of losing essential elements of being a person: body, spirit, name, or heart. They also tell tales about various gateways through which the deceased needs to go, only if they defeat the gods, animals or demons guarding the passages. In most cases, the correct way to surpass these challenges was to have the right answers to their questions at the gates.
Book of the Dead also contains guidelines for a proper way of living on Earth before the moment of passing. You could only get your chance for eternal life by being truthful and morally clean. For example, you couldn’t lie to Osiris when he judged your behavior, so you had to avoid stealing, being violent, disputing the King, or destroying food.
Curiosities About Book of the Dead
- Despite being called a “book,” this isn’t one. It is a collection of religious texts inscribed onto various surfaces containing hymns, prayers and spells intended to guide a dead person through an underworld journey towards eternal life.
- Book of the Dead has no narrative. There are only spells that can’t be viewed as a fixed cannon. Still, some spells are clearly more important than others.
- No two copies are the same.
- There is no structure or defined sequence.
- There are 192 spells currently known, and no one manuscript contains them all.
- The choice of spells was often tailored to the specific needs of dead royals or high-ranking members of society. Egyptians would order them custom-made from scribes, so the scrolls could be 1 to 40 meters long.
Book of the Dead is an important resource for Egyptologists who wish to better understand Egyptian religion and afterlife mythology. Above all, it is a priceless papyri collection that reveals what it was like to die as an Egyptian. Even as a dead soul, an Egyptian would have to endure terrors. But, with a Book of the Dead by their side, they had power over evil.