Ancient Egyptians, especially those in the elite class, often believed that when they died, their spiritual body would continue to exist in the afterlife, an eternal world that resembles the living world where they enjoyed considerable luxuries and offerings. However, even for the most prestigious members of the royal family (such as the pharaoh), entry into this heavenly afterlife is not always guaranteed. The dead have to negotiate a dangerous underworld journey before they are granted access to the afterlife.
The Amduat, a “book” painted on the walls of the roy- al tombs in the New Kingdom, describes the journey the sun god Ra (or Re) takes in the underworld, sailing through the long twelve hours of the lightless night. Along this treacherous journey, he confronts various barriers and enemies who try to stop the boat. If the journey is successful, both the gods and the pharaoh can achieve rejuvenation and rebirth in the afterlife.
The gods/goddesses encountered along this journey include:
Ra – the great creator god associated with the sun. He travels in the sun boat through the sky in the day and at night enters the underworld in his transformed night boat. In the underworld, Ra encounters the forces of chaos lead by the snake Apophis who try to destroy the cosmos. Ra and his supporters must defeat Apophis to rise and start the day on earth again. In the underworld, Ra is often depicted as a ram-headed man. Apophis – the evil snake god of chaos who attempts each night to stop Ra on his journey which could result in the end of the cosmos. Apophis is associated with darkness in contrast to the light of Ra.
Apophis swallows enemies and essential elements such as water, on which the boat of Ra travels. With proper rituals and magic, Ra and those in his boat, including the pharaoh, can defeat him.
Khepri – the scarab beetle form of Ra in the morning as a young and powerful sun disc. The scarab beetle became the most popular amulet worn for protection. It also refers to the promise of Ra’s survival through the underworld to be reborn each morning, just as individuals could survive death to live in the underworld. The scarab could be shown with wings and pushing the round disc of the sun to indicate the rising of the sun along the horizon each morning.
Osiris – ruling god of the underworld. Osiris joins Ra in his boat on the journey through his realm. Osiris participates in the important regeneration of Ra and the pharaoh, but he remains in the underworld when Ra ris- es in the morning and starts his journey in his day boat through the sky. Osiris is usually depicted as a mummy. Hathor – daughter of Ra, goddess of love and dance. She is the special protector of the kings in their tombs and in the underworld, and her father Ra. Hathor is often shown as a cow or a woman with cow horns and the solar disc.
Sokar – god of the burial grounds, with special powers in the underworld including free movement in the special environment. Sokar assists both Ra’s and the pharaoh’s rejuvenation in the underworld. Sokar is presented as a hawk or hawk-headed man.
Anubis – dog/jackal god of cemeteries and mummifi- cation. Anubis protects mummies and the world of the western horizon where the sun sets to enter the underworld. Anubis ensured that the body of the deceased was preserved and protected so they could live in the afterlife.