Egyptian Afterlife: Weighing of the Soul

Arkane Curiosities

The ancient Egyptians believed that all deeds resided in a person’s heart — the bad and the good. When you died, your heart was weighed against the feather of Maat (goddess of truth and justice). This process was called the weighing of the soul and it determined what sort of afterlife you could expect.

Ma’at – A Universe in Perfect Order

The goddess Ma’at was the daughter of Ra and married to Thoth, god of wisdom. But she was so much more than a simple goddess in the mythological hierarchy of Egypt. Ma’at was a primordial force that keep the world working. With Ma’at, the world had order because she kept everything in balance.

The ancient Egyptians believed the universe had an order to it, and it was Ma’at who kept everything in balance. Her name referred to the overarching concept of truth, order, and justice that she represented. The ancient Egyptians believed that the world was maintained through the principles of Ma’at, which included notions of truthfulness, moral integrity, and social harmony.

A Single Feather

The Feather of Ma’at, also known as the Feather of Truth, was a symbolic element in ancient Egyptian mythology and religious beliefs. After death, a person’s soul would enter the Hall of Ma’at in the underworld, where their heart would be weighed against the Feather of Ma’at on a set of scales. 

If the heart was found to be lighter than the Feather of Ma’at, it symbolized that the person had led a virtuous and just life, adhering to the principles of truth and social harmony. The person was deemed worthy to proceed to the eternal paradise known as the “Field of Reeds.”

Should the scales tip unfavorably, signifying a heart burdened with the weight of wrongdoing, a dire fate awaited the soul. Ammit, a fearsome deity with the head of a crocodile, body of a lion, and hindquarters of a hippopotamus, stood ready to devour the heart. The soul of the deceased would then face eternal punishment or be denied access to the afterlife.

The emphasis on the balance between one’s actions and truth echoes the universal human pursuit of leading a morally upright life. The choices we make in life reverberate beyond our existence.

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.


Thank you for sign up!

Ancient Egyptian Afterlife: The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony

Arkane Curiosities

The ancient Egyptians left behind an awe-inspiring legacy of culture, architecture, and beliefs. The ancient Egyptians also held a particularly fascinating and complex view of the afterlife. The concept of a double soul and the opening the mouth ceremony were only the start to a long journey in the ancient Egyptian afterlife.

Ka and Ba: The Dual Essence of the Soul

Central to the Egyptian concept of the afterlife were the ka and ba. These two aspects represented the dual essence of an individual’s soul. The ka was the life force or spiritual double, residing within the physical body during life and continuing to exist after death. It required sustenance in the form of offerings to remain content and connected to the earthly realm.

On the other hand, the ba was the individual’s personality, often depicted as a bird with a human head. After death, the ba would separate from the body to roam freely in the spirit world, visiting loved ones and sacred places. However, it needed to return to the tomb periodically to reunite with the ka and sustain its existence.

Opening the Mouth

The “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony aimed to revitalize the deceased’s senses, allowing the mummy to see, hear, smell, eat, and breathe again in the realm of the dead. Essentially, this would allow the ka, still residing in the body, to accept and enjoy any offerings presented to it. 

Key Elements of the Ceremony

Touching the Mouth: The priest touched the mouth and eyes of the mummy with a special forked tool. This gesture symbolized the restoration of the mummy’s senses, allowing them to speak and see again.

Incantations and Spells: During the ceremony, priests would recite spells and incantations to invoke the help of various gods and deities. These spells were believed to activate the powers of the objects used in the ritual and ensure the successful transition of the deceased into the afterlife.

Offerings: Replicas of milk (activated with the incantations) were presented to the mummy. This represented the baby’s first nourishment. There were also replicas for salt water (used for cleansing) and fresh water. These offerings were meant to sustain the deceased in the afterlife and provide them with the necessities for eternity.

Reborn: The idea that the body was “reborn” into the afterlife was strong. Egyptians used a forked blade (called a pesesh-kef) to touch the mummy’s mouth. This was the same tool used to sever the umbilical cord when this person was born.

The Opening of the Mouth ceremony aimed to reanimate the senses of the deceased and ensure their successful transition into the afterlife. By performing this ceremony, the ancient Egyptians believed that the mummy would be fully prepared to undertake the journey to the realm of the dead, where they could enjoy eternal life in the presence of the gods. 

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.


Thank you for sign up!

The Bloody Eye of Horus

Ever read a newspaper story about someone mutilated in an accident? We can’t look away from these things. As human beings, we’re drawn to the macabre. It seems the Ancient Egyptians were no different. The myth surrounding the eyes of Horus (god of kingship, victory, and the sky) is a bizarre tale.

horus vs. set

Illustration by James Ryman. Click to go to his website.

Every year I help put on an Egypt Day at my school for the sixth graders. This year, I wanted to give them a taste for the myths of the Egyptians. After digging around through my books, I discovered some really bizarre things about Horus.

First off, there are so many legends and myths in Egypt that contradict each other. For example, the god Seth is sometimes Horus’s brother and other times his uncle.I settled for one that I could string together in one sitting.

The Left Eye of Horus (The Wadjet Eye)

The Egyptians had two different types of desert: The red desert and the black desert. As Westerners, we’re trained to think of black as evil, but the opposite was true in Egypt. If you travel down to Home Depot or Lowes and buy some potting soil, chances are it will be black. That’s because black soil meant life. Red soil, at least to the Egyptians, represented the dry harsh desert.

Horus was the god of the black desert, which meant he represented life. His brother, Seth, stood for the red desert. So obviously these guys weren’t going to get along. As I researched this, their dynamic seemed similar to Thor and Loki.

Seth was jealous of Osiris, their third and eldest brother (a whole lot of other mythology surrounds the resurrection of Osiris and is better left to those with more authority). Let’s just say that Seth wanted what Osiris had and was willing to fight to get it.

Seth transformed himself into a bull (lots of animal transformations with these older gods) and trampled Osiris to death. Horus sough Seth out for revenge. Seth dealt the first blow, ripping out Horus’s left eye. Seth then cut the eye into six pieces.

Each piece became magical and stood for one of the basic senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and thought.

But still, Horus wanted his eye back. He turned to Thoth (god of Wisdom and the guy who always seems to get Egyptian gods out of a jam). Thoth glued the pieces back together using spit. Yes, spit.


Here’s the geeky math part in me. Each part of Horus’s eye stood for a fraction. ( The part was also the hieroglyphic symbol for that fraction). When you add all the parts together, something interesting happens.


When you create common denominators (I also teach math in my myths) you find that there’s a piece missing. In other words, when you add all the pieces of Horus’s eye back together, one tiny part is missing. The Egyptians believed that that this missing part was filled in by Thoth’s spit.

So there you have it, Horus has a brand new eye. Now he’s ready to give Seth a beat down. He catches up with his brother and promptly slices off his leg. (Remember, Seth is still in bull form). Horus wants to make sure that the hoof that killed Osiris never harms anyone ever again.

You can still see this severed leg anytime you look into the night sky. Instead of seeing a big dipper, the Egyptians saw this constellation as Seth’s severed leg.


In the next post, I’ll talk about Horus’s right eye (the Eye of Ra) and Sekhmet (the goddess you don’t want to invite to dinner, unless you have plenty of beer).

Tim Kane