A Fun Guide To Egyptian Mummification – Part 1: Clean, Cut and Dry
Imagine this; you live in Ancient Egypt and your Pharaoh just died. Of course you’ll need some time to grieve the loss of your almighty leader (or to celebrate, if it turns out your Pharaoh is a big ol’ butt head and you’re totally glad they’re gone). But don’t let the memorials and dedications get in the way of the most important job now that they’re departed. It’s time to do some mummification!
Luckily for our recently-deceased Pharaoh, they were proper rich. So they’ll receive the best of the best when it comes to the embalming process. Of course there were other options for those who had dead relatives and were less wealthy. But just a word of warning; best not to economise when it comes to embalming. If your dead relative felt that you were scrimping on their burial rituals, they were totally allowed to come and haunt you afterwards! No joke.
But that shouldn’t be the case with our supremely powerful (and supremely rich) Pharaoh. Though if we want to make sure you definitely don’t get a visit from beyond the grave by a super grumpy Pharaoh-ghost, it’s very important we get the embalming right. After all, the Pharaoh’s spirit, or life force, will need to return to their physical body every night to receive “new life” (I know, a strange phrase considering they’re very dead at this point). In short, the Pharaoh can’t achieve eternal life in the afterlife if we make a mess of their dead body! So let’s make sure you know what to do when it comes to Egyptian Mummification.
Step 1 – Looking the Part & Washing the Body:
When it comes to embalming, the chief embalmer (I guess that’s you!), would wear a mask in the shape of the head of Anubis. Anubis was the god of death and mummification and his head was shaped like a jackal. So if you’re going to look the part, you’ll need to pop one of these cool masks on your head before we start.
Good. Now that’s sorted, grab your Pharaoh’s dead body and pop it on a table. No, not your kitchen table. This table will need to be set up in a special tent of purification called an “Ibu”. Then you’ll need to give that dead body a good wash. This could be done with some nice palm wine or with water from the Nile. Or even better, wash it with both! Nile water is considered sacred to Ancient Egyptians because, without it, the crops won’t grow.
Step 2 – Removing the Brain:
Next, we’ve got to take all of the organs out of the body before they start to decay. But remember, the Pharaoh still has to look like the Pharaoh after we’ve done this. Otherwise, their spirit won’t recognise their body and won’t know where to go for sustenance. So we need to take the organs out of the body without hacking it to pieces and making it look like the poor Pharaoh got mauled to death by a lion. (Unless this is actually how they died, in which case, go to town! A few more slashes won’t hurt!).
This is particularly tricky when it comes to removing the brain. The best way to do this is to poke a long metal hook up the nose and pull all that gloopy grey matter out through the nostrils. Try to avoid breaking the Pharaoh’s nose when you do this. After all, we don’t want to upset Khenti-Khas, the Egyptian god of dead noses. The brain isn’t important. So after you’ve scraped every last bit of it out of the skull, feel free to get rid of it however you see fit; bin it, feed it to your enemies, blast it into space, it’s your call.
Step 3 – Removing the Other Squishy Bits:
Next you’ll want to make a small cut down the right side of the Pharaoh’s torso. Not too big! They don’t want to look like they’ve been in a slasher movie when they get to the afterlife. Just big enough so you can reach in and pull out all of the organs.
Gently! Pull them out gently! These bits are important (not like that bogey brain goop from earlier).
Take out the stomach, intestines, lungs and liver and pop them to one side for now. Make sure you remember where you put them because you’ll need them later on.
At this point, you may wish to take the heart out too. If you do decide to take it out of the body, keep the heart extra safe (definitely keep it out of reach of the cat!). The heart has a very important role in getting to the afterlife and will need to be returned to the body after it’s been dried. More on this in Part 2.
Step 4 – Clean and Dry:
Now that the important bits have been placed to one side, you can focus on cleaning out the rest of the torso. Grab some more of that nice palm wine from step 1 and give the Pharaoh’s insides a good scrubbing. You could also use some spices to make the body smell nicer (it’s probably getting pretty whiffy by now).
Once cleaned, you’ll need to pack out the insides of the body to give it a normal human shape again. Taking out all of the organs has left it looking flat like a human pancake. You’ll need lots of dry stuff to pack out the body with. Think sand, salt, sawdust, linen rags, spices like myrrh and cassia, that kind of thing.
Okay, last thing to do before you get a seventy-day break (that’s like getting a 10 week summer holiday!). You need to cover the whole body in salt. No, not like a thin layer of the stuff. We’re talking fully dunked into a bath of salt. Natron salt to be specific. Natron is a divine salt that occurs naturally in ancient Egypt. Which is good, because we’re going to need a lot of it to cover the whole body. Now we leave the Pharaoh like this for seventy days and the Natron will remove all of the moisture and fat in the body to completely dry it out.
Meanwhile, we can go have a cup of tea and wait for seventy days to be over.
Need something to do in that time? Let’s have a look at what to do with the organs of our dead Pharaoh in Part 2 of our Fun Guide to Egyptian Mummification. (Coming 18th September 2023).