Ancient Egypt for Kids
Book of the Dead
We always laugh at movies about ancient Egypt when someone drags out the Book of the Dead, as if it was a real bound book, as books are bound today. The Book of the Dead is not a book. It's a nickname for the many magical spells that the ancient Egyptians believed actually worked.
The ancient Egyptians believed that to reach your afterlife, besides doing good deeds and having your name written down somewhere, you had to travel through the dangerous underworld, filled with monsters. To safety make it to your afterlife, you needed help - magical help. And thus, you needed powerful spells!
Egyptologists have deciphered about 200 different spells, most written to help the ancient Egyptians reach their afterlife safely. Some were written on papyrus. Some were written on tomb walls. These were not secret spells. People had their favorites.
Wealthy Egyptians hired scribes to create fancy designs on sheets of papyrus, each with a spell, that they could include with their grave goods. But you could buy a ready-made spell in the marketplace. A ready-made was a spell on a piece of papyrus, with blanks where you could write in your name. They were very popular. The spells you chose were placed in your tomb.
Some spell makers were famous. People would travel many miles to certain spell masters to make sure the spells being written down on their behalf were the very best spells.to make sure they would work. Pharaohs had long, long scrolls of spells created for them, along with additional spells painted and carved on the walls of their tomb.
You would not reach the afterworld safely unless you had magical spells on hand in your tomb to help you.
Written spells were also important because they offered one more place to write down your name. In ancient Egypt, you needed your name written down so your Ba and Ka (your two souls) could find their way home at night to your tomb. To the ancient Egyptians, if the Ba and Ka could not find their way home, you could not live in the afterlife, and you would disappear forever!