I ended up in a discussion about ancient Egyptian afterlife with Mummific, when it was time to bring flowers to the graves of the dearly departed family members.
So there I was, in early summer, with a paper bag full of begonias, planting a white one for my grandparents and my father. It was a beautiful day, if a bit chilly, and I was listening to birdsong. Under my breath I was speaking the words from the Harper’s Song – a song harpers were thought to perform at funerals in ancient Egypt. I liked the song as it reminded the listeners to live fully before entering the ancient Egyptian afterlife. Carpe diem, as we would put it today.
“Forgetfulness profits you,
follow your heart as long as you live!
put myrrh on your head,
dress in fine linen,
anoint yourself with oils fit for a god.
Heap up your joys,
let your heart not sink!
Follow your heart and your happiness,
do your things on earth as your heart commands!
When there comes to you that day of mourning,
the weary-hearted hears not their mourning.
Wailing saves no man from the pit!
Make holiday, do not weary of it!
Lo, none is allowed to take his goods with him,
lo, none who departs comes back again!”
I heard a snort behind me.
“How do you explain me then?” Mummific wanted to know.
I straightened my back, wiped my hands on my jeans and turned to face him.
“What do you mean?”
“You just sung that none who departs comes back again. Yet here I am. How do you explain that?”
I noticed an elderly lady a little distance away, tending to a grave, and decided not to even try. At least not aloud.
“Well it is your song!” I mumbled barely audibly, “Written by your own people.”
“Yes, well, you know musicians. They’ll write anything for a rhyme,” Mummific declared, “And obviously the one who wrote the words was not correct. We take it that it is the result of proper mummification and burial rituals that we can travel from the afterlife to visit the world of the living. And besides I wouldn’t be all that sure about not being able to take your things with you… “
With stiff fingers he managed to pull out a little object from under his linen wrappings. A small ankh-amulet.
The elderly lady began to walk away and I also picked my bag of flowers from the ground.
“Now I need to go to my maternal grandmother’s grave,” I said to Mummific who just stood there like he was rooted to the ground.
He did not budge, just looked at the nearby stones.
“What does it say there?” he wanted to know, “Your writing is so strange…”
I could have said a few chosen words about the difficulties in trying to learn hieroglyphs, but decided not to go there.
“Well, the stones tell the names of the people buried there. When they were born and when they died,” I explained.
“But… But… Where is the hetep-di-nesu?” Mummific looked alarmed.
“The offering formula?” I didn’t get it, “Oh we don’t use it any more.”
“The offering that the king gives to Osiris, lord of Abydos. A thousand fowl, beer, bread, meat, linen, and all things good and pure. You don’t use it?” Mummific looked almost horrified, “But if no one gives a voice offering to the dead, what are they going to eat and wear in the afterlife? Those flowers you planted? Or the candles?” he pointed at a forgotten candle in a small metal lantern next to a nearby grave.
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“Well surely you need to give offerings to your dead? No? So they get nothing to eat at all?”
“Erm… No, we don’t give voice offerings…”
“No wonder they are in a pitiful state now... I wondered why they had all turned to skeletons... I wish you wouldn't do that. Do you have any idea how messy it is when you invite skeletons for dinner in the afterlife? I mean you have to, it's good manners if you are neighbors.”
I had to admit the idea of anyone inviting skeletons to dinner had not exactly passed my mind before.
"Everything they eat just drops on the floor under them. Such a mess..." Mummific shook his head, “But you do say their names at least”
“Well, yes, we do talk about them… And when we are gone, their names still stay on these stones.”
“Ah, that is good. If someone who can read walks by, they can say the names aloud and ensure the dead continue to exist in the afterlife. Even if they are only skeletons…”
“Well almost everyone can read these days, so you needn’t worry.”
“Alost everyone? Those strange scribblings?” Mummific pointed at the tombstones.
“Yes, those strange scribblings,” I sighed.
“Your scribes have taught you well,” Mummific nodded, “So you all read aloud the names in these stones while you pass them by?”
“Well, that is not the way things are done here…” I tried.
"But surely! You have to! How else will they survive in the afterlife, when you don't even feed them!"
I began to walk towards the car, and then realized the route would take me past the stones of those who had been cremated. I did not want to end up in an ancient Egyptian religious debate of the fate of those who were burnt to ashes. I had to divert Mummific's attention to something else.
"How about we go and write about the ancient Egyptian afterlife, you and I?" I asked, "I'll let you sit on the front seat if you agree."
It doesn't matter if a man is a few thousand year old. A man is a man and a car is a car and I am certain there is an automobile-gene that has been in existence for thousands of years before the invention of cars. It has manifested in different forms in human history (horse racing for example), only waiting for the invention of a horseless metal vehicle with four wheels.
Mummific vanished immediately and when I came to the car, he was already sitting on the passenger seat.
"Shall we ride the long route?" he inquired with a hopeful glint in his eyes.
"But of course. You can tell me all about the ancient Egyptian afterlife while we drive."
"You want to hear how I was mummified? I could tell you that too!"
"Erm... Well, maybe later."
I wasn't exactly in the mood for gory details of mummification at the moment.
"Very well, we can return to that story later," Mummific nodded. "Now, drive far and drive fast."
Yes, we made a long drive and no, I did not drive fast. The things Mummific told me are collected into a fact page about ancient Egyptian afterlife here.