The Duat

Just a correction from last week! I said that the ROM library had no catalog look up! NOT true! Thank you Leah for emailing me! You can go to and look up their books there!

I’ve consumed a lot of sugar in the last half hour, so let’s get started! On today’s Library Friday, we had ourselves a studio field trip to the ROM!


I asked Megan (of Beauty and the Beast fame) what I should look up, and she suggested the Underworld! Which is great! It’s something I’m genuinely interested in, had been wanting to look up, and there’s a lot of books about it! Like… a lot a lot.


Like, a lot.

The Underworld, Netherworld, Farworld– whatever YOU wanna call it, was called the Duat by the Ancient Egyptians. Believed to be a magical land, it was where souls traveled to after death. A land of giant (not too giant) barley and tall (not too tall) corn stalks. You lived in the kingdom of Osiris and helped Ra defeat Apep on his Sun Barque. Yep, that was the afterlife. Which is exactly what they believed. You never died in Ancient Egypt, you’d simply begun your life among the gods.

Once you died, your body was prepared for its spiritual journey. Great care was taken to preserve your body, and priests performed a ritual called the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. They would touch your eyes, nose, ears and mouth- an act that reanimated your senses and faculties.

Your loved ones packed all the things you’d need in your next life: clothes, cosmetics, your dog (mummified as well), books, games, organ- it all comes with! You’re placed in your tomb with your things, and then the fun starts. Said quite eloquently by John H. Taylor in ‘Spells for Eternity’

‘…regarded the person as a composite of physical and spiritual parts, which separated at death.’

At death, you began your journey through the underworld– which could be taken a number of ways. You can go by foot, or by Ra’s Sun Barque. There are several spells in the Book of Going by Day (a book of prepared for the deceased) that transform you into an animal to help you through this process.

The Duat itself is… inconsistent. Often it was described as real life, but not. When you die you want something familiar! You want something you can relate to! So it’s basically ancient Egypt. You got your Nile, your Delta, your lakes of fire, trees of turquoise, giant walls of iron. You know, the important stuff. Apparently, the Duat was constantly evolving in every version of the Book of Going by Day, Book of Gates, Book of Caverns, Amduat– and, much like the rest of the stories in Egyptian Religion, the priests kept it all as canon. Famous hot spots included:

The Field of Reeds
Mound of Wenet, Destroyer of Souls
River of Flaming Fire
Mound of Kheraha
Mound of Transfigured Spirits
and the River Urnes that ran through the entire Duat.

It was also filthy with snake monsters

Much like greek mythology, monsters were often regular animals with either more body parts or a different animal's body parts. You had snakes with wings, snakes with feet, snakes that were actually three snakes. Even Ammut, the devourer of hearts, is a crocodile, hippo and lion mashed together to make the most beautiful creature you've ever seen.

Often described as a series of gates, the Book of the Going by Day divided the Duat into 12 sections. One section for each hour of the night. And each hour was protected by a goddess with an amazing name

Hour one: Smiter of the Heads of the Enemies of Ra
Hour two: The Wise Protector of Her Lord
Hour three: She who Slices Souls
Hour four: Great in her Powers
Hour five: She who is in her Boat
Hour six: Proficient Leader
Hour seven: She who Repels the Forces of Chaos and Decapitates the Savage-Faced (if you don’t think that’s the tightest shit etc etc)
Hour eight: The Coffer of her Deities
Hour nine: Protector of Her Eye
Hour ten: Raging One, who Boils the Rebel Alive
Hour eleven: Instructor, Lady of the Sacred Boat, At Whose Emergence the Rebels are Punished
Hour twelve: Who sees the Beauty of Ra

These gates acted not only as transitions for the dead, but a challenge. If you approached a gate, you had to recite the goddess’ name, demonstrating you had power over them enough to travel on. The Book of Going by Day is a book of spells that helped you pass through the gates and access the Kingdom of Osiris at the centre. Other books might describe it as a series of chambers, a different god inside each one that you must answer a question to. Be it a river of gates or halls or chambers, the Duat was a set of trials the deceased had to defeat in order to achieve eternal life.

That’s it for this week, friends!