Heart and Soul
The ancient Egyptians believed that the soul resided inside the heart, but the organ’s exact role to bodily function was not fully understood. Despite not knowing its physiological importance, the ancient Egyptians knew the heart played a central role in the bodily and spiritual operation of the individual. The multitude of heart shaped amulets recovered in Egypt also confirms the significance of the heart to the spiritual conscience, and besides being worn in life, the amulets were also employed during mummification and put in between the wrappings, in order to further protect the dead during their journey in the underworld.
During the mummification process, the brain was famously removed through the nose, whereas the heart was left inside the body, as the deceased would have needed it once they entered the Duat, the realm of the dead ruled by Osiris. Here, a ceremony was enacted to determine the fate of the soul of the deceased. Once they had undertaken their journey though the underworld, the souls of the dead arrived at the Hall of Maat, where the ceremony of the weighing of the heart took place.
Anubis, Thoth and Maat
The first part of the ritual consisted in the deceased addressing each of the forty-two judges, or Ren, by their name and reciting all of the sins that he or she had not committed in their life. After this test, needing to confirm their purity and freedom of sin, the deceased presented their heart to the balance where various gods performed the ceremony. The jackal-headed Anubis was usually involved in administering the test, while Ibis-headed Thoth recorded the result. The heart was weighed against the feather of Ma’at, the goddess who fittingly represented truth, balance, justice and harmony.
The Feather of Maat
If the heart successfully balanced with the feather, the deceased was presented to Osiris and granted access to the Sekhet-Aaru, or the Field of Reeds; here the souls would live eternally in heavenly paradise. Contrarily, if the heart was heavier than the feather, meaning the deceased was impure and weighted with sin, it would have been devoured by the demonic goddess Ammit, a composite beast of lion, hippo and crocodile. The soul would be destroyed forever, condemning the deceased to eternal restlessness and agony in the Duat.