The Papyrus of Ani

The Papyrus of Ani was discovered in Thebes and purchased by Sir Wallis Budge for the British Museum, where it is currently housed. This particular papyrus was chosen because it is possibly the finest example of the Theban recension of “The Book of the Dead” and consequently, has been studied in great detail, starting with Budge. This exhibit will attempt to reconstruct the journey of the deceased to the “Field of Reeds”- the aim of all souls in the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt, and in aid of which the Book of the Dead was written.


Sekhet Aru (Field of Reeds) was the name given to the islands where beatified souls of the deceased went to “live”. This region was believed to be a part of the larger Sekhet Hetepet (Field of Offerings) and the abode of Osiris. The souls in the Sekhet Aru indulged in agricultural activities and feasted upon the food given to them by Osiris. In the New Kingdom, the ultimate goal of the dead person was to reach this region of the Duat.


Step 1: Passing the 7 Arits (gates of the Kingdom of Osiris).

The Egyptians believed that the Kingdom of Osiris was divided into seven (sometimes 10, 14, 16 or even 21, depending upon the papyrus) districts, the boundary of each of which was marked by a gate. All 7 gates were protected by three gods- a doorkeeper,a watcher and a herald who interviewed the visiting soul. The deceased had to know the names of all three deities as well as a spell to convince them of his/her good faith.

The first Arit: doorkeeper Sekhetherashtaru(rabbit headed); watcher Metiheh(snake headed); herald Hakheru(crocodile headed)

The second Arit: doorkeeper Unhat(lion headed); watcher Seqether; herald Uset(dog headed)

The third Arit: doorkeeper Unemhauentpentai;(jackal headed) watcher Seresher(dog headed); herald Aa(snake headed)

The fourth Arit: doorkeeper Khesefherashtkheru; watcher Serestepu(hawk headed); herald Khesefat(lion headed)

The fifth Arit: doorkeeper Ankhfemfet(hawk headed); watcher Shabu; herald Tebherkehakheft(snake headed)

The sixth Arit: doorkeeper Atektaukehaqkheru(jackal headed); watcher Anher(crocodile headed); herald Atesher(jackal headed)

The seventh Arit: doorkeeper Sekhemmetenusen(rabbit headed); watcher Aamaakheru(lion headed); herald Khesefkhemi

In the 147th chapter of the Papyrus of Ani, the a prayer is added to the vignette of each Arit.

Step 2: Passing through the 21 pylons of the House of Osiris.

Plates 11 and 12 depict Ani and his wife Tutu advancing towards the pylons of the House of Osiris, their hands raised in adoration of the god guarding each pylon. As the travelling soul approached each pylon, he/she was supposed to make an address consisting of the name of the pylon, the name of the guardian deity. A general address would go : “I have made the way, I know you, I know the name of thy warder

Step 3: The Hall of Ma’at

Plates 31 and 32 of the Papyrus of Ani describe the Hall of Ma’at and the 42 “Negative confessions” the soul was required to make. In order that the soul be separated from every sin which he/she may have committed, the deceased was required to address each of the 42 gods present in the Hall of Ma’at by their name and state that they had not committed the sin associated with each god. These were essentially declarations of innocence that would allow the deceased to pass the Weighing of the Heart and progress safely to the realm of Osiris.

For example, From Chapter 125:

“Hail Am-khaibat, who comes forth from Qernet, I have not slain men and women “

“Hail Set-qesu, who comes forth from Hensu, I have not carried away food”

“Hail Unemset, who comes forth from the execution chamber, I am not a man of deceit “

Step 4: The Weighing of the Heart

Once the deceased had completed the negative confessions, his heart was weighed against the feather of Ma’at to see if it was heavy with guilt or not. Spell 30B was supposed to be uttered at this time, to ensure that the heart of the deceased did not betray its owner by revealing any guilty acts that may have been committed.

“O my heart of my mother! O my heart of my mother! O my heart of my different forms! Do not stand up as a witness against me, do not be opposed to me in the tribunal, do not be hostile to me in the presence of the Keeper of the Balance, for you are my ka which was in my body, the protector who made my members hale. Go forth to the happy place whereto we speed, do not make my name stink to the Entourage who make men. Do not tell lies about me in the present of the god. It is indeed well that you should hear!

If the deceased was declared truthful and righteous, he was declared victorious by Thoth and allowed by Osiris to enter the Sekhet Aru. Less fortunate souls were devoured by the crocodile headed monster Ammett.

In Spell 30B, Ani and his wife are also shown to successfully pass the Weighing of the Heart (no surprises there!) and their virtue is declared by Thoth to the assembled gods (Osiris in particular).

“Heart of Osiris hath in very truth been weighed and his Heart-Soul hath borne testimony on his behalf; his heart hath been found right by the trial in the Great Balance. There hath not been found any wickedness in him;he hath not wasted the offerings made in the temples; he hath not committed any evil act; and he hath not set his mouth in motion with words of evil whilst he was upon earth”

In the Papyrus of Ani, the Weighing of the Heart scene is out of order, placed before all other spells. Ani’s version of the Book of the Dead opens with a hymn to Ra ad Osiris, followed by description of Ani passing the Weighing of the Heart.

Beside the dangers and challenges mentioned above, there were numerous Spirit souls waiting to do harm, slaughterers with butchers knives waiting to shred any passing soul to pieces unless it knew their names. There was also the possibility of going upside down and eating faeces, from losing one’s heart and having your magic stolen by a crocodile. The Duat was a dangerous place and every soul required a vast array of spells at his/her command.The Book of the Dead explains the need for a “Book of the Dead” and the several protective amulets that the deceased was buried with.

Sir Budge takes a cognitive perspective in analysing the Papyrus of Ani. From Budge’s perspective, one is restricted to drawing conclusions only about the afterlife and associated beliefs- a useful source for information regarding the religious beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians, but not so much in a socioeconomic or political sense.

According to John Taylor (of the British Museum), however, the Book of the Dead is the culmination of a series of political and social developments in ancient Egypt.The Book of the Dead reveals the beliefs of a far larger spectrum of the populace and not just the aristocracy. For the first time, souls are judged based on their conduct-revealing a new notion of just behavior. From the functionalist perspective, therefore, the Book of the Dead marks a key development in the notion of ethics in ancient Egypt as well as democritization through which resources that were once accessible to the monarchs became available to the common (albeit wealthy) citizen.