In ancient Egypt, it was believed that the dwat was the abode of light where the gods dwelled. The Egyptians had a consistent belief in life after death so much so that their inscriptions would often end with “Life Forever.” The idea of the dwat as a dwelling place for the deceased must have reached far back into ancient Egyptian antiquity. By the time of the New Kingdom, it was such an accepted part of the African idea that it was incorporated into the funerary rituals of the most important people.
The idea of life after death was complex, however. Some people thought that the deceased went to the stars in the sky, others believed that the deceased sat on tree branches and held communication with the birds, and still others thought that the deceased remained on the Earth where his bones were laid to rest.
However, many of the priests taught that the deceased was supposed to live in the dwat, a kingdom of light, the dwelling place of the deities, traveling around with the happy dead. To the Egyptians the deceased traveled the way of the glorified or justified dead only in the dwat. It is thought that the commoners also believed that the deceased went to the fields of Earu, where he could plough and reap the harvest. Obviously, it was not clear where the deceased went, and so the Egyptians had various conclusions about the dwat over their vast philosophical and religious history.
According to the ancient Egyptians, the human personality was connected after death somewhere in the dwat. This activity was not fully explained by the priests, but the general idea was that the person was not an individual, but rather an entity that consisted of three parts: the body, the soul, and the ka, which is sometimes called the double or the image. It is most important in the construction of the human because it is an independent spirit living within a person, one's double. Actually, the ka provides one with protection, health, and happiness, in the sense that it is the faithful companion of the person. Every person who is born also has a ka, a double. When the deity is shown holding a child, the ka is also being held. Thus, in the dwat, it appears that the deity looked after the deceased by taking charge of his ka.
Now when it comes to death, the ka was supposed to enter the dwat as the part of the human that continued living. One of the things the living had to do for the deceased is to preserve the body because without the body there could not be a ka. In fact, the ka could take possession of the body whenever it pleased if the body was intact. In most instances, a statue of the person was close by the corpse in case the ka wanted to find the features of the person that may have been lost during life on Earth.
Thus, when a person died, the kept body was mummified, a tomb was built, and the corpse was protected with words, paintings, and artifacts that reflected the person's life. During the journey in the dwat, the deceased person's ka could remember and reflect on all the achievements of life. Entering the dwat brought both trepidation and joyous anticipation because the person wanted to ensure that the journey through the dwat would be one of ease and not one complicated by obstacles. The best way to ensure this easy transition was to work to make the good outweigh the bad in one's life.
- Asante, M. K. (1993). Classical Africa. Saddle Brook, NJ: Peoples Publishing.
- Erman, A. (1971). Life in Ancient Egypt. New York: Dover.