I never knew I had owned a shabti as a child until my visit to a toy store.
Mr Mummific had mostly appeared when I had been reading or writing at home about ancient Egypt. I had never really thought he would appear anywhere outside our home, so imagine my surprise when I went to a local toy store to buy a birthday present to our 2-year-old goddaughter. I chose a little Ann Geddes doll – a tiny baby doll in bunny costume. I did not want to leave immediately and watched all the different kinds of toys we did not even dream of having when we were children. Even if they had existed at the time, our parents could not have afforded them.
I stopped in front of a Barbie-shelf - all the different brightly colored gowns were glittering, every curl of the dolls was immaculate. Handsome Kens were also standing in the boxes. I was just remembering my own Barbie-doll that had no ready-made gowns but handmade ones, when I hear a familiar voice right next to me.
“Oooo… I have never seen shabtis such as these!”
Of course I jumped into the air and couldn’t help a little shriek from escaping. A worried sales assistant peeked from between the shelves. Luckily she did not seem to see Mr Mummific, and luckily I held my mobile phone in my hand. I made an apologetic face and pointed at the phone. The sales assistant smiled and disappeared. The little girl standing at the other end of the aisle did not. She was maybe four years old and she stared right at Mr Mummific with her mouth open in delighted wonder. I looked back at her with similar wonder – someone else could see Mr Mummific too!
Just a second… Someone else could see him too… That might cause trouble…
The little girl did not call out, just stood there. I tried to look both at her and at Mummific at the same time.
“Such a beautiful servant!” Mr Mummific pointed at a blonde Barbie doll and had a similar expression on his face as the little girl. Who had taken a step in our direction, I noticed.
It was a bit hard to pay attention to both of them at the same time, so I moved so that Mummific was standing in front of me, and the little girl behind him. I took my cell phone and pretended to be talking to it when I directed my words to Mummific.
“Those are dolls,” I informed him.
“Yes, yes, so were the servant statues too. But they were buried with us, and became magically alive in the afterlife to take care of all the work that needed to be done. They cooked, they washed, the brought us drink, and when the gods commanded us to go and work for them in the fields, we sent the shabtis instead. Wouldn’t have sent these beauties to work, though…” Mummific smiled at the pretty Barbie dolls with a glint in his eye, and his mouth open so that his dry tongue was visible. Not to mention his rotten teeth.
“Do close your mouth, that is not a very pretty sight,” I hissed at him, not wanting to know what he thought about the pretty dolls. “And didn’t you have your own human servants in the afterlife to work for you?”
“Aaaa… Not so simple… The poorer ones had no servant dolls, so they have to go to work themselves. And the ones who had them just send the shabtis to work for us if needed," Mummific explained.
“I would like to have these shabtis,” he looked at me, “Carry them to your home and I shall then take them to the Duat with me.”
“Carry… What? Do you have any idea what they cost? It’s a pretty penny I would have to pay for those!” I almost forgot to talk to the cell phone.
The little girl inched closer.
“Penny? What is a penny?” Mummific did not turn his eyes away from the especially beautiful blonde Barbie.
“Money,” I clarified.
“What’s money?” he wanted to know.
“Money is… Too difficult to explain here,” I decided it would draw too much attention to myself if I started to talk into my cell phone what money was, “Let’s just say I don’t have so much I could buy you Barbie dolls!”
Suddenly the little girl was standing right next to Mummific. He noticed her, and turned to look at her with interest.
“Hello there!” he said with a less-than-toothy smile.
“Hi!” the little girl answered and smiled so that the huge gap between his upper teeth showed.
“See!” Mummific pointed, “Her teeth are like mine!”
“Hmph… Yours are of a definitely darker shade…” I mumbled.
The little girl bent forward and put her hand on the side of her mouth - she was clearly going to whisper something to Mummific’s ear.
And as children often do, she whispered with a rather loud voice so I could hear her loud and clear.
“My mother also has no money, or so she says. But I save from my pocket money and then one day I have enough money to buy a Barbie!”
“Pocket money?” Mummific’s expression lighted up, “So money has to do with clothes? Get me such a pocket-clothing immediately so I can buy these servants. Funny you haven’t got one for yourself… A pocket-dress I mean. Or a shabti, come to think of it.”
“No… Pocket money is…” the little girl began to explain but I was not going to let her explain any more – I wasn’t in the mood of ending up in a situation where I would have to pay pocket money to a mummy who was thousands of years old. Also she had called me Mummific's mother!
“Is that your mother?” I asked the little girl and she turned to the direction my finger was pointing at.
So I am no spring chicken anymore, but for a little girl to think I was old enough to be the mother of an ancient mummy...? That was too much. I grabbed Mummific by the arm and pushed him in front of me towards the counter. Thankfully the little girl’s mother was searching for her, so I pointed where her offspring was.
“Barbies, of course… They cost an arm and a leg…” she sighed.
“Really? You can buy shabti-Barbies with arms and legs?” Mummific was delighted, “I have a few extra mummified limbs to spare. The embalmers weren’t always exactly careful when they mummified poorer folks. Also lots of tomb robbing happened, and mummies had their limbs torn off. They’ve been repaired in the afterlife, but the old loose limbs are still there, piled to a great storage house. How many limbs for a Barbie?”
I did not let go of Mummific's arm until we were a long way from the toy store and the dagerous shabtis. Then I went to buy a new face cream.
Here you find the facts-only page of ancient Egyptian shabtis.
Thank you, Heidi Kontkanen for you shabti pictures!
Tutankhamun: In My Own Hieroglyphs
Tutankhamun tells about his life - and death. The book that was chosen to travel the world with Tutankhamun's treasures world tour of 10 cities from 2018 onwards.
How I Became a Mummy
Mr Mummific tells all about how he became a mummy.
Mummies, Monsters and the Ship of Millions
Mr Mummific's hilarious journey through the 12 caverns of Duat to reach the Field of Reeds.
Story of the search for one of the oldest legends of humankind, intertwining modern times and ancient Egypt.
Tutankhamon's Golden Mask Coloring Page
download the drawing for free here