The most enduring Egyptian understanding of death was that it was a continuation of life on earth but lacking any displeasure, loss, or distress, in other words, paradise. And unlike what most say these days, “you can’t take it with you”, most bygone Egyptians believed the opposite, “you keep it forever.” This insight into the afterlife ebbed and flowed throughout history. Along with this belief was an understanding of otherworldly spirits – ghosts – which, more so than the view of the afterlife, remained unaffected from the earliest indication through the end of ancient Egyptian history: ghosts were as much of a reality as any other part of life.
The essential value of Egyptian culture was ma’at (harmony, balance) which the Egyptians observed in every part of their lives; among the most vital of these was the appropriate burial of the dead. A human being was considered a traveler on a narrow road from birth, through death, and on to the afterlife. We know this from tomb paintings, inscriptions, and statuaries for the soul intended to guide their return and harmless visitations on earth, but the spirit was anticipated to depart to its own realm fairly hastily. The appearance of a ghost, and especially its interaction with the living, was a certain sign that the natural order had been disturbed and the most common cause of this distress was a spirit’s displeasure with its body’s burial, the condition of the tomb, or a lack of reverential commemoration.
And this is where I begin my story, my WIP, Garden of Lies. My main protagonist, Esmée is a holocaust survivor, a clairvoyant who sees and hears the great departed. Having grown up the child of two archeologist she spent much of her childhood in Egypt in the 1930s. As a child Esmée absorbed her mother’s teachings about ancient Egyptian goddesses, and their foreign surroundings which ignited her imagination. Flash forward to after the war, after Gross Rosen Concentration camp, and we find Esmée troubled and preoccupied with not knowing the location of her parent’s bodies which did not receive proper burial, how (exactly) the Nazis murdered them, and how she can respectfully honor them.
Though Esmée is Jewish, her ma’at (harmony, balance) has been disturbed. She sinks into her adopted Egyptian rituals. This brass amulet is intended to keep evil spirits away. However, in Esmée’s case it hasn’t worked.
In doing my research I have grown even more fascinated by ancient Egyptian beliefs, practices, and lives.
More to come….
This is an image of an Ancient Egyptian Shabti, the sort of idol the main protagonist in my WIP (work in progress) Garden of Lies, collects. Why? These objects connect her to her childhood and more importantly to her parents whom she tragically lost in the Holocaust. The object reminds her of traveling Egypt with her archeologist parents, studying burial rituals and so forth – now she is trapped in a dance of death and mourning.
In her mind these objects keep her connected to her departed. Objects in storytelling can be a vital part of the plot.
Please visit my Pinterest page to see other objects and story-telling images for my next novel.
Shabti Dolls: The Workforce in the Afterlife