Mummies: Behind the Wraps

From pyramids to hieroglyphics, it is no surprise that ancient Egypt is known for its strange, unique, and specific rituals that tie into their spirituality. Many of these rituals are precise and well thought out, in order to fit into their beliefs. One of the more important activities of the Egyptians was mummification. When the word is mentioned, frightening bodies wrapped in white strips of cloth is usually the first image that comes to mind. But why did the Egyptians take the time to prepare the deceased in this way, as well as make their tombs as glamorous as they did?

A scene from a wooden Egyptian sarcophagus depicting Anubis, the god of mummification and the afterlife, c. 400 BCE | Courtesy of Ancient History Encyclopedia

Many of us were taught about the Egyptians and their culture in primary school, but these lessons were fairly superficial in terms of the beliefs and reasoning behind their rituals. The ancient Egyptians had many views on death and the afterlife, all of which they took very seriously. According to them, humans all possess two souls or “doubles”; the “ka” and the “ba.”1 Both of these “doubles” were widely celebrated at an individual’s death. However the “ka” was the spirit that was more accommodated to in the tomb because it was understood that they needed to be nurtured in order for the deceased to be accepted into heaven, as well as for the prosperity of the people.2

The “ka” was said to be the spirit most associated with the identity of the deceased. A person would have no interaction with his or her “ka” until that individual had passed. Therefore, generally everything that was done to and for the body was also done for the “ka.”3 One of the reasons the preservation of the body (mummification) was performed was so the spirit would not be alone in the tombs.4 It was believed that the “ka” could bring the body back to life. People of the community would fill the tomb with items that they believed would please the spirit.5 Usually, these items included food, wine, and incense. The physical body was cleansed, dried, and wrapped to preserve the body and prevent the “ka” from a lack of nourishment.

Although it is interesting to learn the process of mummification and how it preserves the body, it is equally as satisfying to learn about the reasoning behind it. The Egyptians had many gods and spirits that contributed to their way of life, and the “ka” is no exception. It serves a basis for a good part of the mummification process, and gives more of an understanding as to why this process is necessary. 6

 

  1.  E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Religion (Routledge Revivals) : Egyptian Ideas of The Future Life (London: Routledge, 2013), 34.
  2.  John H. Taylor, Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 19.
  3. Budge, Egyptian Religion, 49.
  4. Diana Craig Patch, Reflections of Greatness : Ancient Egypt at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh, Pa.: The Museum, 1990), 79.
  5.  Patch, Reflections of Greatness : Ancient Egypt at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 80.
  6. Taylor, Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt, 16-17.

53 Responses

  1. I always thought that the reason why the Egyptians wrapped the mummies in well… wraps was because it was just some way to bury them in a “nice” way. However after reading this article I learned things I didn’t know before, like how when the body dies it ends up having two souls! That isn’t a concept I ever thought would exist in the afterlife since we normally think that beings have only one soul that departs to the afterlife after passing.

  2. I have always loved Egyptian culture. Since I was young I have found it to be so interesting, mummification especially. I always knew Egyptians believed in remembering someone so they could have eternal life, but I didn’t know they believed in two souls, or that the ka was the reason for the mummification. I think it’s really cool how much respect and attention they pay to the dead.

  3. Although this article is short it gives the perfect amount of information. Ancient Egyptian culture has been something that I learned but never really understood well. The interesting part of the article was the mentioning of the two souls ba and ka. The ka really got my attention because you cant understand it until a death has occurred. It was refreshing to learn that there is more than just mummies when referring the Ancient Egypt culture.

  4. I found it interesting that the way schools teach about ancient Egypt and how it isn’t the whole truth. I have loved the history and the culture of ancient Egypt, and always found their burying techniques extremely interesting, as well as their thoughts on the afterlife. It’s true that as a Christian in a developed nation, I, as well as a majority of similar people, see these ancient beliefs and practices odd and unusual. Reading this article and many like it just reminds me that this is how these ancient people lived and what they believed.

  5. I found this article interesting because it covered the topic which not many of us are taught, which is the meaning behind mummification behind Egyptian culture. I like how the article was straightforward to get the point across. I also found it fascinating that the Egyptians believed in humans possessing two souls, especially “ka”. Being the soul, which is accommodated to in the tom, in order for the deceased individual to be allowed into heaven. Overall, a short yet very fascinating read!

  6. This article is sweet and short yet very informative and directly to the point! I also do agree with the author when she mentions that during elementary or high school the Egyptian civilization is introduced to very limited things. Egyptians are so fascinated, I learn something new about this article; the Ka and the Ba. Good job on this article it was informative and pleasant to read.

  7. Mummies have intrigued the western world since the first discoveries and grew exponentially with the early 20th century excavations. However, most people, academic and layman alike, only acknowledged the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of this obscure ancient tradition. With the ‘why’ of rituals added to the equation, more pieces of the puzzle come into focus. Spirituality plays an important role in this extravagant process that cannot be ignored.

  8. Short, but informative and articulate article. The notion that there is a dual spirituality to the soul is fascinating since modern spiritual thought (especially the three monotheistic religions) believe there is one soul per human body. The ka is the most intriguing of the two. The ka, unlike the ba, is something the living person has no contact with, thus we have to wait till death to understand the ka.

  9. This is a very short descriptive article but still pretty good. I like how you get right to the point with the topic of mummies. We do not learn about them that much in school. Like how what was left in their tombs besides the jars that held their organs. I find it really interesting that they left those jars. So that when they resurrect all their parts are there to help them function properly again. Overall it is a good short article.

  10. I found this article to be unique because of its ability to describe the Egyptian mummification in more detail than most people. What I thought was really interesting was the set of beliefs that the Egyptians had pertaining to the souls. These two different souls, ka, and ba were something that caught me off guard. I felt that this was a great and exciting article. You can also see the number of details that give a clear picture of mummification.

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