I will first relay to you the story of a man I met during a stay at a psychiatric facilty. In these days, you won’t get burned at the stake as a heretic for expressing non-mainstream ideas about life and death, but you will get admitted to a mental hospital. During my stay at the facility I met a man named Dave. He was an overweight man, a devout Christian, who was consumed by his faith. He told me that he had gone on a fast for Jesus, and that since then strange things had been happening. I asked him, “when you had your experience, did people places and things in the world change?” “Yes,” he replied. I could not help but think that he had died and been reborn, but I did not have the heart to tell him. “I had a vision of walking up a path on a hillside, and at the top I saw a feather on a stone,” he said. Dave, as a Christian attributed this to his Christian beliefs, but to me it sounded like an old Egyptian story: The deceased, after having traveled down the river of the dead, will have their heart weighed against the feather of truth. If it is lighter than the feather, they will pass on to the next stage.
Dave had an even more profound rebirth experience than I had, he had seen the feather of truth! The Egyptians, in my view are the first people to describe rebirth. They are the ancient source religion that all the world’s religions are founded on. The following contains excerpts from the article, Egyptian Afterlife – The Field of Reeds, by Joshua J Mark:
The ancient Egyptians believed that life on earth was only one part of an eternal journey which ended, not in death, but in everlasting joy. One was born on earth through the benevolence of the gods and the deities known as The Seven Hathors then decreed one’s fate after birth; the soul then went on to live as good a life as it could in the body it had been given for a time. When death came, it was only a transition to another realm where, if one were justified by the gods, one would live eternally in a paradise known as The Field of Reeds. The Field of Reeds (sometimes called The Field of Offerings), known to the Egyptians as A’aru, was a mirror image of one’s life on earth. The aim of every ancient Egyptian was to make that life worth living eternally and, as far as the records indicate, they did their very best at that.
FROM LIFE TO LIFE
Death was only a transition, not a completion, and opened the way to the possibility of eternal happiness. When a person died, the soul was thought to be trapped in the body because it was used to this mortal home. Spells and images painted on tomb walls (known as the Coffin Texts, The Pyramid Texts, and The Egyptian Book of the Dead) and amulets attached to the body, were provided to remind the soul of its continued journey and to calm and direct it to leave the body and proceed on.
The soul would make its way toward the Hall of Truth (also known as The Hall of Two Truths) in the company of Anubis, the guide of the dead, where it would wait in line with others for judgment by Osiris. There are different versions of what would happen next but, in the most popular story, the soul would make the Negative Confessions in front of Osiris, Thoth, Anubis, and the Forty-Two Judges.
The Negative Confessions are a list of 42 sins against one’s self, others, or the gods which one could honestly say one had never engaged in. Historian Margaret Bunson notes how “the Confessions were to be recited to establish the moral virtue of the deceased and his or her right to eternal bliss” (187). The Confessions would include statements such as: “I have not stolen, I have not stolen the property of a god, I have not said lies, I have not caused anyone to weep, I have not gossiped, I have not made anyone hungry” and many others. It may seem exceptionally harsh to expect a soul to go through life and never “cause anyone to weep” but it is thought that lines like this one or “I have not made anyone angry” are meant to be understood with qualification; as in “I have not caused anyone to weep unjustly” or “I have not made anyone angry without reason“.
After the Negative Confessions were made, Osiris, Thoth, Anubis, and the Forty-Two Judges would confer. If one’s confession was found acceptable then the soul would present its heart to Osiris to be weighed in the golden scales against the white feather of truth. If one’s heart was found to be lighter than the feather, one moved on to the next phase but, if the heart was heavier, it was thrown to the floor where it was eaten by Ammut “the female devourer of the dead”. This resulted in “the Great Death” which was non-existence. There was no ‘hell’ in the Egyptian afterlife; non-existence was a far worse fate than any kind eternal damnation.
THE FIELD OF REEDS
If the soul passed through the Weighing of the Heart it moved on to a path which led to Lily Lake (also known as the Lake of Flowers). There are, again, a number of versions of what could happen on this path where, in some, one finds dangers to be avoided and gods to help and guide while, in others, it is an easy walk down the kind of path one would have known back home. At the shore of Lily Lake the soul would meet the Divine Ferryman, Hraf-hef (He-Who-Looks-Behind-Him) who was perpetually unpleasant. The soul would have to find some way to be courteous to Hraf-hef, no matter what unkind or cruel remarks he made, and show one’s self worthy of continuing the journey.
Having passed this test, the soul was brought across the waters to the Field of Reeds. Here one would find those loved ones who had passed on before, one’s favorite dogs or cats, gazelles or monkeys, or whatever cherished pet one had lost. One’s home would be there, right down to the lawn the way it had been left, one’s favorite tree, even the stream that ran behind the house. Here one could enjoy an eternity of the life one had left behind on earth in the presence of one’s favorite people, animals, and most loved possessions; and all of this in the immediate presence of the gods. Spell 110 of The Egyptian Book of the Dead is to be spoken by the deceased to claim the right to enter this paradise. The ‘Lady of the Air’ referenced is most likely Ma’at but could be Hathor:
I acquire this field of yours which you love, O Lady of the Air. I eat and carouse in it, I drink and plough in it, I reap in it, I copulate in it, I make love in it, I do not perish in it, for my magic is powerful in it.
Versions of this view changed over time with some details added and others omitted but the near-constant vision was of an afterlife that directly reflected the life one had known on earth. Bunson explains:
Eternity itself was not some vague concept. The Egyptians, pragmatic and determined to have all things explained in concrete terms, believed that they would dwell in paradise in areas graced by lakes and gardens. There they would eat the “cakes of Osiris” and float on the Lake of Flowers. The eternal kingdoms varied according to era and cultic belief, but all were located beside flowing water and blessed with breezes, an attribute deemed necessary for comfort. The Garden of A’aru was one such oasis of eternal bliss. Another was Ma’ati, an eternal land where the deceased buried a flame of fire and a scepter of crystal – rituals whose meanings are lost. The goddess Ma’at, the personification of cosmic order, justice, goodness, and faith was the protector of the deceased in this enchanted realm, called Hehtt in some eras. Only the pure of heart, the uabt, could see Ma’at (86-87).