Ancient Egypt for Kids
Mummies & the Afterlife
Egyptian Mummies or How to Live Forever
The ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife, a real and beautiful place called the Land of Two Fields, where they played and lived after they died. To enjoy your afterlife, you couldn't just die. You had to prepare. The ancient Egyptians loved life. They wanted to live forever. They believed they had found the way to reach a joyous eternity. They spent a great deal of their life preparing for their afterlife. During their lifetime, the ancient Egyptians created grave goods, things they would need after their death, goods to be placed with them in their tomb, like little tiny people made out of clay who would magically do all their work for them in their afterlife - because everybody had jobs to do in ancient Egypt, even after your death. But, it wasn't easy to get to the Land of Two Fields. To achieve immortality, you had to satisfy some requirements.
(1) Your name had to be written down. You had to have your name written down somewhere, the more places the better. If it was not written down, you disappeared. One obvious place to include your name was or above your coffin. A nameplate was called a cartouche.
(2) You had to have a preserved body. Another thing you needed to move on to the afterlife was a preserved body. One way to preserve the body of a person who had died was to dry them out and wrap them up with linen bandages. That process was called mummification.
(3) You had to pass the Weighing of the Heart. This test was performed (out of human sight) by the gods in the Hall of Maat. Your heart was weighed against the weight of a magic feather. If your heart was light, because you had lived a good, hard working, caring life, and did lots of good deeds, the scale would balance, and you would move on to enjoy a wonderful afterlife in the heavenly land of Two Fields. But, if your heart did not pass - oh dear - you would be gobbled up and disappear forever.
You needed your name written down and a preserved body so that your Ba and Ka could do their jobs. The ancient Egyptians believed that your soul split into two parts after you died. One part, the Ba, flew off every morning to keep watch over your living family. The other part, the Ka, flew happily off to enjoy life in the Land of Two Fields. At night, both the Ba and the Ka returned home to your tomb to rest up for the next heavenly day. (Even mummies need a good night's sleep.) Without a preserved body, and your name written down somewhere, the Ba and Ka would get lost. That meant you were lost, and could no longer return to the heavenly Land of Two Fields. That's why pharaohs and rich Egyptians carved their name on everything they could, just to be sure their name was written down somewhere.
The poor placed the bodies of their dead relatives out in the desert sand. The bodies dried naturally in the sun. That was a perfectly good system. It assured the dead a place in the afterlife (provided their heart was light from doing lots of good deeds while they were alive, and their name was written down somewhere) and they did not have to pay for an expense mummification process. Mummification was not free. The priests charged for this service, as did ancient Egyptians whose profession was mummy making.
The rich could afford to be more fussy. They hired professional mummy makers to help them look their very best.