This week, we have had the most wonderful donation of a huge quantity of books about Ancient Egypt including an amazing copy of a translation of the Book of the Dead, including these beautiful pull out images (pictured above)
The Book of the Dead is an Ancient Egyptian funerary text that was in use from the beginning of the New Kingdom (c. 1550 BC) until around 50 BC. The Book of the Dead contains around 200 spells which were supposed to help the dead transition smoothly into the afterlife. While some of these spells were part of wider funerary rituals, performed by priests and loved ones, the majority of them were intended for the personal use of the dead.
These spells formed part of a long tradition of Egyptian magic for the dead which can be seen in its earliest form as Pyramid Texts, which date from between 2400 BC and 2300 BC. These texts were almost exclusively for royal use and were laid out on the walls in such a way as to make it easier for the dead person to use them to transition into the next world.
Another body of spell known as the Coffin Texts emerged after the end of the Old Kingdom and seem to have served a similar purpose but were not just used by royalty. These texts have been found carved into the sides of coffins (hence the name), written on papyri inside coffins, and, occasionally, carved into the walls of a burial chamber.
Spells in the Book of the Dead were often concerned with ensuring the safety of the dead.
One important means of providing magical protection was the placing of four bricks of unbaked mud in niches in the burial chamber, each acting as a stand for a protective figure and part of spell 151 of the Book of the Dead contains specifications for the bricks and what the figures were to be made of.
Amulets are another example of this, and were commonly found in the wrappings of mummies. The scarab amulet was a very popular amulet and was associated to the Sun God and powers of rebirth. It was often made with Jasper as there were specific guidelines as to what colour amulets should be outlined in the Book of the Dead.
“Heart Scarabs” used to protect the heart, which was seen as the most important organ as it was the source of all human intelligence and was crucial to the process of entering the afterlife. “Heart Scarabs” often had magic spells inscribed on them and there was a specific spell from the book of the dead that prevented the heart testifying against its owner.
If you are interested in Ancient Egypt and would like to learn more about the Book of the Dead and other aspects of Ancient Egyptian life, religion and culture, please come down to the shop and chat to one of our volunteers who will be happy to help you navigate the amazing quantity of books we can offer you on this subject!