Book ‘o the Dead 1.0

Send in the next defendant! Make it a bad one, Ammit missed lunch.

“The Book of the Dead!” All right, we know it’s really the “Book of Coming Forth By Day,” but BoTD has such a delicious gothy feel to it. It’s usually the only Egyptian book you can find in bookstores, and people get the idea that it’s the equivalent of the “bible.” It’s where you should go to learn what Egyptian religion is all about, right? People who try to read it are immediately immersed in a bog of weird spells and pronouncements.

Spell 5: “I am the glutton of the Torpid Ones who came forth from Hermopolis. Mine is every soul and I live on baboon’s entrails.”

Spell 52: “My abomination is my abomination; I will not eat my abomination. Dung is my abomination; I will not eat it. Ordure- none shall drop into my belly. I will not touch it with my hands; I will not step on it with the soles of my feet.”

… words to live by!

This entry is inspired by Sharon LaBorde’s Kemetic How-To Guide video “Understanding the Book of the Dead.” It’s 15 minutes long- take a look.

The Oriental Institute has a modern translation by Thomas George Allen available for free download.

So… what in the world is it, really?

Here’s what I think: The spells are what you’d take along if you were driving to some distant country that you knew a little about. You don’t have a direct way to research things, so you take along a collection of things you might want. Do they have stores with parts that will fit your car? Maybe not- better take a couple extra headlight bulbs, windshield wipers, a gas can, etc. You’ll take your phone or navigation device, but you better have paper maps in case something unexpected happens. You might get diverted to some other route because of construction or flooding. Maybe it snows there. How about tire chains, a little shovel, and an ice scraper? Are the traffic laws the same? If a policeman stops you, how do you behave? Take some energy bars and bottled water in case you can’t find a restaurant. You’d end up with a lot of miscellaneous information and baggage, much of which you might not need. But it’s good to have it just in case!

Spell 36, for driving off a cockroach: “Keep away from me, lips of crookedness. I am Khnum, lord of the Circuit, who brings the words of the gods to Re; I report the message to its lord.” In the Duat, it’s probably a twenty-seven-foot-long cockroach that sees you as a snack. But still… a spell to send the cockroach away.

The whole thing is a pile of heka spells, and they vary depending on the concerns of the person buying them, or which edition you bought. There’s almost a “cheating” quality to some of the utterances. For instance, spell 30b is for a heart scarab, and it prevents your heart from confessing anything bad about you. Trials in this world sometimes go wrong, and even if you’re innocent it’s smart to have a lawyer on your side to make sure you don’t answer questions you shouldn’t.

“And lo, make a scarab of nephride adorned with gold and put within a man’s breast, and perform for them the ceremony of the opening of the mouth, it being anointed with myrrh.
To be said as a charm: My heart of my mother, my heart of my mother, my breast of my being, stand not against me as witness, oppose me not in the Council. Outweigh me not before the keeper of the balance. 

Thou art the spirit that is in my body, Khnum who makes sound my limbs. When thou goest forth to the goodly place prepared for us yonder, make not our name to stink before the courtiers who create mankind in his place, that it may be well for us and well for the Hearer and that the judge may be glad. Think not up lies against me beside the God in the presence of the great God the lord of the west. Behold, thy distinction as a triumphant one is involved.”

That brings us to spell 125, the Negative Confessions in the Hall of Double Ma’at. Some people attempt to construct a moral code from them, but they run the gamut from “I have not committed murder” to “I have not waded in water.” Either they ran out of serious ‘sins’ and started scraping the bottom of the barrel, or something else is going on.

The 42 negative confessions sound like diversions to me. In grade school, you might have told the teacher that you cleaned the erasers, in hope that she wouldn’t ask about your homework. In a performance review at work, you’d list all your successes, and not mention the times you messed up. You don’t want the judges to go on a ‘fishing expedition’ of your life, so you tell each of them something that might relate to their concerns. That satisfies their requirement of examining you.

Oh Strayer who came forth from Bubastis, I have not eavesdropped.

Excellent. I hate it when people eavesdrop. Now it’s the Pale One’s turn.

Oh pale one who came forth from Heliopolis, I have not been garrulous.

Good thing, Joe. I think anyone who talks too much should have their heart fed to Ammit! Next-

All the while, Joe is thinking “Don’t ask about my eating the oxyrinchus fish, don’t ask about that fish!

After the 42 confessions, it continues:

Hail to you, ye gods. I know you, I know your names. I shall not fall to your swords. Ye shall not report my wickedness to this god in whose train ye are. No affair of mine shall come before you. Ye shall not tell lies against me in the presence of the Lord of the Universe, because I have done what is right in Egypt. I have not reviled the God. No affair of mine has come before the King who was in his day.” I’ve told you all something, now keep your mouths shut about anything else.

What do you think? “Great Holy Book” or “Crazy quilt of spells you might find handy?”

Do you find any of the spells especially inspiring? Are there any that seem especially weird to you?

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  • thetwistedrope

    To this day, I still haven't read the entire BotD. I seriously… don't see a reason to lol. I think it's a patchwork of spells, yes. I think that knowing hte context is important to understand what the spells mean. I have heard theories that the 42 confessions related to priests requirements of purity and all that. But I have no clue.

    Obviously, they don't impact my practice much lol

  • Setken

    I strongly believe that these spells are also some kind of a map. I think that the spells themselves indicate something of the terrain and layout of the Duat.

  • Sharon

    For me, the BotD is a great look at what was relevant to the Egyptians and what their thoughts at that point were like…sort of like reading a Twitter feed (or more like a thread on 4chan?) and looking for memes. Some of it makes no sense to us, but it's interesting to scratch your head and think about it.I did find out something interesting just yesterday surfing the Web, let me see if I can find it…here we go, it's on Digital Egypt:http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/literature/religious/bdbynumber.htmlClick on the links for Chapter 125 (A.B or C), and the explanation says that later temple oaths were actually modeled after it. My guess is that the 42 Confessions were ideals that most Egyptians thought were good to keep, but ultimately a lot of them probably figured they'd break them sooner or later. (How many Christians break the 10 Commandments – come on, it's just 10, how hard can that be…?) Hence the spell to keep your heart quiet: "But what about that time we ate all the temple cookies and blamed it on Neferhotep?""SHHHHH! You want Osiris to hear…?!?!"Some things are universal…!