Guide to Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Understanding the script
References


Ancient Egyptian Burial Texts




Hieroglyphs
Egyptian lore states that the hieroglyphs were given to the Egyptians by the divine scribe Thoth who bore the head of an ibis, a bird.
This form of writing was called mdwt ntr by the Egyptians, meaning god's words.

Passing through the Duat
A daily sequence would take place as the sun set in the West (burials were on the west bank of the Nile, people lived on the East).

Ra and the souls of those that had died that day would travel by boat through the underworld accompanied by Isis and Nephthys.
The boat was hauled on golden ropes along the River of Death though the twelve regions until it reached the judgement hall of Osiris. The souls disembarked and the boat continued on it's journey.

In the hall with it's ceiling of fire, Anubis then weighed each Ka's heart in front of the throned Osiris.
If the owner had lived a bad life then the crocodile headed Ammut would devour the heart and the spirit would be condemned to the fires for eternity.


After death, a persons immortal spirit (akh) had to travel through the underworld (Duat). The Duat was divided into twelve regions, one for each hour of the night, each with it's own dangers.

The entrance to each was marked by an arch and as the boat entered, the light of the Sun awoke the inhabitants including both demons and souls of the damned.
A gigantic serpent named Apep (Apophis, Greek) also inhabited the entire length of the netherworld and which sought to impede the Sun's passage.
Finally, in the Hall of Osiris, the deceased person's heart (all other vital organs were removed for mummyfication) was weighed against their past life to ascertain if they were worthy to pass into the afterlife.

Hieroglyphs and burial
The burial chambers in pyramids were 'decorated' with hieroglyphs detailing spells and prayers to aid the deceased in their journey, dubbed 'pyramid texts' by Egyptologists.
Later these hieroglyphs appeared on the mummies and other items within the chamber. These were known as 'coffin texts'. Finally, when written on papyrus scrolls they took the generic name 'The book of the Dead' (also known as the Book of Gates).
It is helpful to be aware that it consists, in main, of a list of items to accompany the deceased and can therefore be easily translated in part by breaking it down into the inventory of standard items.

A more formal description of the journey and perils faced by the sun and the deceased through the underworld is known as the 'Book of Amduat' he who is in the Duat. It was a collection of divine wisdom reserved for kings and high priests.

In The Book of Gates, the entrance to each of the twelve regions of the netherworld was marked by a gate and guarded by sentries, the Dwellers on the Threshold. The deceased were required to address each by name as the names were themselves the keys to the gates. Last was judgement in the Hall of Osiris before eternal life in the Field of Reeds.

The soul
Today the predominant philosophic approach is perhaps that of dualism, a person consisting of two aspects, a body and a soul.
The Egyptians believed the spirit consisted of three elements. The first, the personality or ba (depicted as a human headed bird) lived in the tomb but was free to move through time and space.
The second, the ka (spirit of life) left the body at death but had to remain close to it and could not leave the tomb (hence mummification).
It also needed sustenance so offerings were depicted or left in the tomb.
Finally was the person's immortality, the akh, which after navigation of the Duat and judgement was free to travel amongst the stars.