Recently, I’ve taken to “getting back to basics” in the realm of my Kemeticism. Don’t get me wrong: I like the voodoo. I love having Legba in my house and doing work for the Ghede. But, I’ve long been thinking a restart to Kemeticism is in the stars for me. I was so thrown into voodoo that I was ignoring everything else, I feel. And as the weeks pass with each PBP post, I’ve come to miss that connection with my goddess, the desert, and a nation that was great long before Rome was a unified empire… So, with that in my head, I was looking for a post that was Kemetic related…
And I decided to go with the Duat for this entry for a couple of reasons, all of which has to do with it just popping up all over this week. Last night, I was watching a Nat Geo special about the Duat quite by accident (it was good except for Zahi Hawass’s ego). A friend of mine wrote a book about it, The Traveller’s Guide to the Duat, which I’ve been reading since it showed up yesterday. And just prior to that, it was the important point that Barbara was making in Red Land, Black Land before I put it aside for Kiya’s [excellent] book. It seemed like it was pretty obvious what I was supposed to be writing about today.
The Duat is the ancient Egyptian version of the underworld, which was originally thought to inhabit the west of the Nile. This is why most cities in ancient Egypt were situated on the eastern half of the Nile river. Since the ancient Egyptian people had a religion that was around for three thousand years, it changed and morphed over time. Later in the metamorphosis of their religion, it was decided that the Duat inhabited a vast area of land beneath the world. The underworld was actually connected to the Nun (the waters of the primordial chaos) during the later half of ancient Egyptian history. It was believed that the tombs of the dead were touching points that brought instant access to the Duat and it was through this that the souls of the dead could travel back and forth. Tombs have been found with false doors, which the soul utilized to pass between one realm and the other.
A basic problem that we often find in regards to trying to learn about the Duat is that there doesn’t seem to be any consistent interpretation of this mysterious underworld. As I noted above, the ancient Egyptian religion had three thousand years to morph into what it later became towards the decline of a once great empire (circa 380 – 343BCE, 30th Dynasty). It is because of all of this history that we find it difficult to find a unilateral perspective about the Duat. The knowledge that we have stems from various versions of what would, one day, be known (to us) as the Book of the Dead. The initial beginning of our knowledge comes from Pyramid Texts, which come to us from the Old Kingdom. This later morphed into the Coffin Texts in the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom eras. Just prior to the next state of the metamorphosis process, the Coffin Texts seem to have become The Book of Two Ways, which appears to be the first real map of the Duat. (This was a small stepping stone, however, since copies of this book seem to only come from one place.)
After all of this change, we can finally bring ourselves to the various books that the ancient Egyptians used for information on the Duat in later historical times. The most common book is, of course, The Book of the Dead. The true name for this tome, however, is The Book of Going Forth By Day. The other books were Book of Gates, the Book of Caverns, and the Amduat, which was only to be utilized by the Pharaoh. All of these books are circa the New Kingdom, as far as I have been able to find out. All of these books stem, of course, from the initial Pyramid Texts and, later, the Coffin Texts however their creations all vary. It is because of this that what we know of the Duat varies from book to book. It was both a place of things that the ancient Egyptians knew, but also things that could boggle the mind.
The basic geography of the Duat appears to be incredibly similar to what the ancient Egyptians knew in the mundane world. Sometimes, I’ve heard the Duat described as a sort of mirror image of the Two Lands. There are, apparently, maps of the place as well. (And as much as I’ve tried, I can’t find a damn image of it!) In effect, the Duat was filled with rivers, islands, caverns, lakes, and mounds. I believe it was via the river that passage through the Duat was most often done. However, on top of this simple representation, we also find fantastic things like lakes of fire and trees made of turquoise.
A major reason why we have little knowledge of the basic geography of the Duat stems from the fact that the books we have are there to describe the various series of rites that the spirit of the dead must go through in order to gain access to the afterlife. The books are a listing of utterances and spells and incantations that the dead must know in order to make it passed the myriad of demons, gods, spirits, and animals that would seek to threaten the dead.
The end result, of course, to all of this was to reach the Weighing of the Heart. This is the ritual that is most commonly illustrated whenever one does a Google search for images of the Duat. This is the ritual in which Anpu would take the heart of the deceased and place it in the scale to be weighed against the Feather of Truth. Djehuti waits to write down the outcome of this weighing, while Wesir looks on from his remote throne. Ammut, the Devourer, waits for her turn to devour the hearts of the dead whose hearts weighed heavy with sin. The souls that passed the tests would be allowed to go to the paradise fields of Aaru.
(QUICK NOTE I was actually going to begin to formulate where the Duat stands in my religious practices in this post. However, I realized that I’ve already done that. And that led to things that I don’t think have a place here. Stay tuned if you are curious, though….)