Egyptian Book of the Dead

You have awaken me

Whispers by the sycamore tree

Transparent veil, remotest beckoning

You have spoken

From the path beyond

Reaching out toward infinite stars


Flung from eternity

Of the departed

You have awaken me

Whispers by the sycamore tree

The path is clearer now

You have awaken me..

What a journey I have made, the things I have seen. I am but one of you. In my hand I grasp the sailing mast, while my left hand trails in the water. The trees are heavy with figs and olives. A coconut drops to the ground. I have separated myself from myself to sail again on the green Nile waters. I sail to the temple where the gods have gathered to gaze at their faces in deep pools. In my boat the souls of the years sail with me. The hair stands on my head in the wind. I hear the splashing of oars like the cracking of a thin blue shell. Horus keeps one hand on the rudder. What a journey I have made, the things I have seen. We glide to the middle of the lake. Give me a cup of milk and cake or bread. Give me a jug of water and human flesh. Give me air to breathe and a strong sailing wind when I rise from the underworld. A sycamore rises white from the river, filling itself with water and air. Fill me with water and air. I am the blue egg of the Great Cackler and I sniff the air. I grow and live. I breathe and live. On the banks of the Nile, the sky fills with birds and the sails of boats swell like lungs.

While the above extracts differ in their expression they perhaps share similar inspiration. The first is an anonymous Western poem inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead while the other is an actual translation from Normandi Ellis’ translation, Giving Breath to Osiris, Phanes Press, 1991.

Egyptian civilisation had an extremely complex set of beliefs and rituals relating to the afterlife but it was the social elite that could afford the scribes to write the elaborate texts, spells & instructions to prepare their deceased. These were written on papyrus scrolls and placed in the burial chamber of the tomb.

The first modern edition (facsimile) of Egyptian funerary text was published in 1805 in Europe after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt but it wasn’t until 1842 that Karl Richard Lepsius published a translation of a series of funerary texts of the Ptolemaic era that they were formally deciphered. The German anthropologist called them The Book of the Dead and identified a spell numbering system to decipher at least 165 different spells. The number has since increased to 192 spells relating to mystical knowledge and the protection of the deceased from unforeseen and hostile forces. They include elaborate illustrations and instructions.


judging the dead


The illustration taken from the Egyptian Book of the Dead shows the weighing of the heart of the deceased in the underworld so as to judge their worth. The heart was seen as the most important organ. (C. 1550 – 50 BC).