Mummies: Behind the Wraps

Mummification

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.
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47 Comments

  • Very informative article, interesting too. I had no idea the process of mummification and this was a short but good read. I’d like to add how I wish this article could have been a little longer. Maybe, give an example of one of the mummies and relate its “ka” and “ba” and explain it further. It would also have been good to add more information regarding these “two souls.”

  • Good article! I liked that you included some information on “ka” and “ba,” because it’s something I had never heard of before. I also liked that you included that the Egyptians would fill tombs with things they believed would please the spirit. In that way, I see similarities to Mexican culture (e.g. leaving goods for ancestors on Dia de los Muertos).

  • This article was very interesting and it provided me with information i never knew about mummies. It was interesting to learn how they believed there were different parts of the soul and which part should be celebrated. I also liked how the author explained how the process of mummification was taken so seriously. It it was not done properly than something bad would happen. The article provided a lot of information also about how The “ka” spirit could bring the bodies back to life if pleased enough.

  • I loved how the article began by addressing the cinematic conception we have of mummies as well as the very limited education on Egyptian culture we received in elementary school. For example, I had never even heard of the Ka or the Ba before this article. More specifically, I had no idea there was a specific goal to mummification as mentioned in relation to the Ka.

  • I enjoyed this short article because it was very straight forward and was able to provide all the details entirely. I had some background knowledge about this topic like having certain items buried with the body because their people believed they would need them. However I did learn about the two souls. I was surprised to learn how much thought and effort went into this tradition.

  • I had no idea how much of a process it was when it came to mummification. I didn’t know how much and how specific it was, also I didn’t really know much about mummification, so had no idea that they believed in to souls “Ka” and “Ba.” I would have loved to learn even more about these two souls! This article was very informative!

  • I enjoyed reading this short article. I found the writing to be very informative and interesting as well. I was intrigued to learn more about the ancient practice of mummification and how it was a spiritual event in the Egyptian culture. I also was interested in the Egyptian beliefs on humans possessing two individual souls,ka and ba, and how they believed a person’s ka soul represented their deceased identity.

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