The Valley of the Kings

The most splendid tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs lie in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of Luxor. Each tomb had a burial chamber and offering chamber where the ka was fed. The most famous tomb is that of Tutankhamen discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. Contrary to popular opinion, it was not intact and had been partly looted in antiquity. It contained fabulous treasures but was far less elaborate than other tombs in the valley, and the treasures that accompanied greater kings must have been astonishing. Nearby is the Valley of the Queens, and also the tombs of nobles and artisans.

When most people think of the burial of Egyptian pharaohs they think of the pyramids. Pyramid means ‘wheat cake’. Some think they may represent shafts of light, other think they may represent the mounds that are raised up over seeds to make them burst into life and grow. They seem to have had the purpose of helping the king’s ascent into heaven, or his rebirth into the afterlife.  Rulers were buried in pyramids from the third dynasty [2667 BCE] to the second intermediate period 1550 BCE when burials were shifted to the valley of the Kings. They are masterpieces of engineering, and show that as well as the sun, the stars were important in Egyptian religion. In the Great Pyramid are two shafts running from the burial chamber aligned with the constellation of Orion [identified with the god Sah, or possibly Osiris. Orion may have been the destination of the king’s ba when he ascended to take his place in the circumpolar stars. The not so wealthy often had mud brick mini-pyramids or a stone pyramid in their tomb.

The worship of a particular Pharaoh did not cease when he died. Like other departed souls he required the service of the living. His priests must assist him to reach the Osirian Paradise of Aalu, or the sun bark of Ra. Even Ra had to be assisted to pass through the perilous hour-divisions of the night.

The pharaohs also had splendid mortuary temples on the west bank of Luxor, where offerings were made to sustain them. In death, the king was identified with Osiris, and the Ramesseum has semi-mummified images of Ramesses II attached to the columns.

In ancient Egypt, people who could afford it were mummified, and in practice this meant only the royal family and very wealthy. Early attempts as mummification were not entirely successful and consisted only of the bodies being wrapped in resin-soaked linen, but by 2500 BCE better techniques had evolved.

The body was taken to a place of purification on the west bank. It was ritually washed with a solution of natron, a natural salt, which would have started the preserving process. The body was then moved to the place of embalming; the chief embalmer was called ‘he who controls the mysteries’ and probably wore a jackal mask during the proceedings to represent Anubis. His deputy was called ‘God’s seal-bearer’ a title of Osiris.

The body was stretched on a board. The brain was removed and discarded, and the head stuffed with linen. The major organs were removed and preserved separately through incisions made with obsidian.  These were dried out and packed with spices into canopic jars, though in later periods they were returned to the body. the body was packed with stuffing and covered in natron for forty days to dry out, becoming darker in colour and 75% lighter. The temporary stuffing was them removed and the body washed out, dried, and stuffed with linen soaked in resin. In the later period, bodies were entirely filled with resin.

The bodies were anointed again with juniper oil, beeswax, natron, spices, milk and wine. The abdominal incision was covered up and protected with an Eye of Horus amulet. The nose, mouth and ears were plugged with wax or sometimes onion bulbs. The whole body was coated in resin. Te soles of the feet might be hennad and the cheeks rouged, lips and eyebrows painted. The bodies were dressed in robes, sandals and jewellery before the bandaging began. The body was shrouded and a mummy mask fitted over the head and shoulders. The mask was usually made of stiffened papyrus, though royal masks were sometimes made of gold. The whole process took seventy days, the same length of time the Dog Star Sothis was missing from the sky before it began its heliacal rising.


Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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