The JourneyWhen a person died in ancient Egypt, their religious belief held that the soul of the person would cross the Nile River in a wooden barge. The Egyptians watched as the sun was "born" in the East and would "die" in the West. The Journey would be a voyage from the land of the living on the eastern side of the Nile, to the land of the dead on the western shore.
Often a god or goddess would be steering the barge with the dead person depicted as a passenger. The god Thoth, the scribe of the gods, appears as a large ibis bird in the picture below.
To recall this journey, the mummified corpse of the dead pharaoh would be loaded onto a real barge for the final journey to be placed in the tomb, which in the time of the Old Kingdom would have been a pyramid. The illustration below shows a boat towing the barge holding a pharaoh's coffin along with mourning family members.
Anubis and the JudgmentAfter being placed in the tomb, the dead pharaoh would wait. Soon the god of the dead, Anubis, would appear (by magic!). He is depicted as a human with a jackal's head. Anubis would reach into the dead person's chest and remove the heart. Luckily, the mummification process left the dead body without its liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines but the priests did not touch the heart to make sure Anubis could find it.
Anubis placed the heart on his scales. On the other side, he placed the feather of truth. If a person did good deeds while alive, his heart would be light--lighter than the feather of truth. Then, Anubis would put the heart back in the dead pharaoh's chest, allowing him to have a happy afterlife.
If, however, the person has led a wicked life his heart would be heavy with sin--heavier than the feather of truth. Anubis would see this and promptly feed the heart to his crocodile monster. After his heart's destruction, the dead pharaoh would be forced to wander the world as a ghost, never able to experience a happy afterlife.
The Book of the DeadIn Christianity, believers hold the Bible as its sacred book. In Judaism it's the Torah, and in Islam it's the Qur'an. The ancient Egyptians had the Book of the Dead to tell them about the gods and goddess, the afterlife, and the process of mummification. Scenes from the Book of the Dead were often painted onto tomb walls or written on highly decorated papyrus scrolls.
The Ba, the Ka, and the AnkhAccording to ancient Egyptian religious belief, each human consisted of a physical body and the spirit. The body itself was the "ba" and had to be preserved for the afterlife. The soul was a separate being called the "ka," and was often depicted as a bird's body with the head of the deceased person. The ka could fly through walls, and could enter and exit the body at any time it wanted.
The ankh was a symbol to mean "life" and was drawn everywhere in Egyptian art. An ankh appears below.