Aaru – The Field of Reeds
On this page in Death and the Afterlife, we finally get to the coveted destination that all ancient Egyptians strived to reach: Aaru – The Field of Reeds. It’s what we can consider the ancient Egyptian version of paradise.
Our usual caveat applies here… different texts describe Aaru differently, and the beliefs of what it looks like, how you reach it, and what you do once you are there evolved and changed over the 3000+ years of ancient Egyptian religion.
But let’s look at some of the commonalities between the different descriptions of this paradise.
Life in The Afterlife
First of all, we can already deduce from the name that it had lush vegetation. But the descriptions go on to more detail, showing it as a set of different islands or oases in the middle of flowing rivers, covered in fields of reeds or rushes.
Prefer to watch? Here’s the video explanation.
This place was like an exalted version of mortal life in a more glorified version of Egypt. The agriculture was plentiful, gods and humans lived together in peace, and there was plenty of work to do and food to eat and people to meet.
Because life after death was supposed to be a continuation of life on earth, most people would be required to work. This, of course, didn’t suit most people. No one wanted to work in paradise as hard as they did while they did when they were alive.
So the solution came in the form of Ushabti.
These were magical figures that came to life when the deceased had work to do in the afterlife. They would take his place and do the work required, leaving him to enjoy leisure time.
Of course, other than having to work, people also needed sustenance. They needed to eat and drink. To guarantee this, there were spells from funerary texts that helped the deceased do just that.
In the Papyrus of Ani, Spell 148 says:
The spell goes on to further name the cattle and ask them to provide for him, telling them that he is a worthy spirit in God’s domain.
Loved Ones in Aaru
Now we get to something that is probably on everyone’s mind regarding the afterlife: will the dead meet their loved ones again? Will they get to see their parents, children, spouses and friends?
For the ancient Egyptians, this was so important that they produced spells which, in some ways, can be considered a type of black mailing of the gods to ensure they are reunited with their friends and family.
They tell the gods that they will keep getting their offerings and prayers as long as they are allowed to meet whom they wished at will, and if they are prevented, they would cease their offerings and prayers and even curse them.
As you can see, the way into the afterlife so far is much more about knowing the right spells and manoevers than about being free of sin during life. Of course, you were required to be a good person during your life, but that didn’t guarantee paradise for you.
The journey to Aaru was difficult and dangerous to everyone, the sinner and the faithful. You had to know what you were doing and how to overcome obstacles in order to get there. This is why guides were created, like the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead.
Before you died you had to prepare. Your tomb and spells should be ready, and the rituals and offerings secured. Once buried, you would then enter the underworld through the Western horizon, where the sun died every night. Your journey would be like the journey of the sun.
Though it seems the ancient Egyptians were death-obsessed, we can imagine the contrary. They loved their lives and adored their loved ones so much that they hoped their afterlife would be a continuation of exactly that. They wanted to live in Aaru as they had been living in the fertile land of the Nile, enjoying it with the same people they knew, forever.
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