The Weighing of the Heart Ceremony
On this page of Death and the Afterlife, we’re going to be talking about one of the most beautiful and meaningful events in ancient Egyptian mythology: The Weighing of the Heart Ceremony.
We’ll go through step by step in one of its clearest depictions: The Book of the Dead in the Papyrus of Ani.
Ani was a Theban Scribe in the 19th Dynasty and although this depiction of the ceremony is from that time period, the weighing of the heart has much older roots, just like the Book of the Dead itself.
But before we dive into the ceremony, let’s take a quick look at the process leading up to it.
Prefer to watch? Here’s the video explanation:
Preparing for the Journey Through the Underworld
Let’s say that you are a wealthy ancient Egyptian. When you died, you’d to go through important funerary rituals like purification, mummified, and the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.
For more on that, check out my video titled The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony.
Once buried, you’d then begin your voyage through the ancient Egyptian underworld, Duat.
First, you’d have to go through the gates of Duat by correctly reciting the name of each gate’s guardian in order to pass to the next.
Then you would enter the Hall of Judgment and recite the negative confessions of Maat, a set of declarations of your innocence from sinful deeds. Things like “I have not stolen” or “I have not uttered lies”.
After that you would be led into the Hall of Maat to have your heart weighed in the weighing of the heart ceremony.
The Weighing of the Heart Ceremony
In the Papyrus of Ani, you see him and his wife ThuThu walking towards the scales. Ani’s heart, or his Ib, is placed on the scales opposite Maat’s feather of truth. In ancient Egypt, they believed the heart was the seat of a person’s emotions, intellect, will and morality. You could not have an afterlife without it.
So it was very important to pass this test and have your heart returned.
In this scene, you see the god Anubis checking the scales and the God Thoth recording the process and outcome.
Ani’s Ba is the human-headed bird watching over the weighing. Below it are 2 birth goddesses and a male figure representing Ani’s destiny.
At the top of the scene there are 12 gods and goddesses overseeing that the process is fair. In front them is a table with offerings of incense and food.
To the far right, behind Thoth is the demon Ammit, who waits for the verdict… she’s part crocodile, part lion and part hippopotamus – animals that posed serious threat to ancient Egyptian lives
In the weighing, if the heart was found heavier than the feather, it would be devoured by the demon and the person would be doomed to oblivion.
If the heart balanced with the feather, the deceased would have it returned and then be led to final judgment by the God of the Underworld himself.
Our Ani has of course passed the test and Horus leads him towards Osiris, who is seated on the Throne of Maat with Isis and Nephthys behind him. In front of him are the four sons of Horus on top of a lotus flower.
Horus addresses Osiris, telling him that Ani did indeed pass the weighing of the heart. And now Ani gets to speak for himself. He says:
Once accepted by Osiris, Ani is admitted into the ancient Egyptian heaven, Aaru. It is an eternal field of reeds where Ani will live out his afterlife exactly as he had lived his life on earth.
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