In Mummy's Ka

I recently had the pleasure of watching the great Boris Karloff play Imhotep in The Mummy of 1932. Back in ancient Egypt, Imhotep was executed for attempting to resurrect his dead lover using forbidden magic. Modern-day archaeologists find his tomb three millennia later and manage to awaken his accursed mummy. Imhotep disguises himself as Ardeth Bey and searches for Ankh-esen-Amun, his three-thousand-year-old sweetheart. Like Hollywood's Dracula and Frankenstein's monster, a bandaged mummy continues to be a Halloween staple, secured within the popular imagination. Many of these depictions of ancient tales are historically inaccurate but stylistically interesting. Nevertheless, the plot of The Mummy would have been appreciated by most ancient Egyptians. The reason we have so many artefacts and tomb clutter surviving to this day was their fear of death and obsession with gaining a life beyond it.

At Bristol’s main Museum and Art Gallery is the usual room dedicated to that desert kingdom. Mummies, colourful sarcophagi and shabtis lined the display cabinets. Their makers believed that each person was made up from five elements. These were the physical body, the soul (ba), the spirit (ka), the name (ren), and the shadow (shwt). When people died, their bo, ka, ren and shwt hopefully survived.

Mummification and all the burial rituals were devoted to preserving these elements for eternity. The ba and the ka were often shown as a bird with a human head. They believed that the ba could travel outside of the body, but it had to return each night. The ka came into being when a person was conceived, but lived on after death. It needed food to survive, so offerings were made for this, and the Egyptians provided a statue for the ka to live in. The ren or name was important as it was the main way of telling people apart and was an actual part of them. Because people would live as long as their name continued to exist on earth, their names were inscribed on their tombs and coffins, along with other objects such as a stela (inscribed slabs of stone or wood). The ba and ko left the body at death, but if they could be reunited, then the physical body was transformed into the akh. This was the form in which the dead continued to live after death.

All rather complicated! Suffice to say, they were as obsessed with the afterlife just as much as secular, modern Britons are neglectful of it. Thankfully, the simple Christian can leave such details to Christ who asks us to trust and believe His gospel, not frantically perform vital funerary rituals without which we may not survive our burial. You may do what you want with my body, and sing what you wish at my funeral; such details matter little to me now and shall matter even little when I’m gone. Furthermore, we have no need to attempt the resurrection of our loved ones like the hapless Imhotep; the resurrection of the dead is compulsory.

For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Romans 5:10