Afterlife: The Navajos and Ancient Egyptians

Imagine an unordinary afterlife afterlife being not the ordinary. For example, imagine that you live in a custom Mastaba tomb and have the royal spa treatment that aims at embalming the organs, rinsing them with palm wine, and dusting them with aromatic powered. Afterwards, everything is put in canopic jars singing songs and following religious rituals of the Navajo Medicine Men. The ancient Egyptians and the Native America tribe, the Navajos had completely different afterlives. As a rule, afterlife is represented in accordance with a specific religion and beliefs. Hence, Coward states that “death is not always the last stage of life.”. In the afterlife of the Ancient Egyptians and the Navajo, life continued after death. Although they had the same concept, they did not pursue the same traditions.

According to the Navajo beliefs, there was a superior leader with a spiritual force to provide the life source. However, the Navajos did not believe in the precious God as they were convinced that the almighty was a formless object that resided in the whole universe. They believed in the almighty power of the sun; however, they did not worship it. The tribe “worshipped the winds and the watercourses and multiple gods who believed to intervene occasionally in human affairs”. Dwyer claimed that its worshipping was expressed through the ceremonial dances with masks and paintings. 

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The burial customs of the Navajo tribe indicate they people found death to be something that should be accepted rather than feared. The Navajos believed that the deceased would once return from the afterlife to visit the earth life. However, this seemed to be scaring to almost all tribe representatives. The afterlife concept dates back to the old legend that told about the route the tribe sought to follow and explained the real reasons for death. The people of Navajo were convinced that if the put an animal into water and it did not sink, no one would experience death. However, in other case, death would definitely be inevitable. Later, they put an animal into water and did not have a look at it, keeping their eyes closed. During it, “a coyote threw some rocks on top of the hide”. And it explained why the animal sank. It initiated the appearance of the belief that people should die as there will be no place for them to live. Hence, death was imminent.

Also, the tribe believed that as soon as people die, they immediately go to the underworld. Therefore, they followed a number of burial procedures to make sure that the dead person will never return. The Nabajos were convinced that long looking and observation of a dead body enables the person to visit the earth life. However, only some people had the right to have a close contact with the deceased.

Coward found that the ceremonial blessing way of the Navajo people clearly represented the way in which the tribe envisioned “how thought and sounds of a yatt (speaker) becomes manifest in the creation of the world and in the sustaining life”. The death process was not considered to be simple. If a person was in a close contact with a person who was deceasing, both people were taken to a separate room or place until the death of the second. Afterwards, the man who had relation to medicine informed the family about the decease. According to the Navajo beliefs, the spirit of a dead person continued on the journey to either the good or bad hunting ground. They believed that the process lasted for many days and even months.

Some tribe representatives were convinced that killing a master’s dog would help his in the journey. Sometimes, they also killed a horse to make the transportation on the long journey easier. In some cases, they offered a drink, food, and even clothes to the deceased. As soon as the village gets information that anyone has died, the people went to the house of the deceased and began a solace. When a person is dead, the relatives erect something like a cabin that is in the coffin shape opposite the door. It is located six feet from the ground and is placed on six stakes surrounded by a mud wall. Also, it is roofed with bark. The body of the deceased person is dressed and covered with a blanket.

The tribe used the cabin to protect the body from birds and animals as they can eat it. Relatives and acquaintance come to the ceremony and stand in a circle that always remains closed. When people in the circle were tired, they changed as the ceremony tended to continue for several days and nights. They did not touch the body until it is decayed. Close relatives cried, and this indicated that the dead person was important for them, and they missed him or her. Once the flesh was decayed, a bone picker trimmed the nails to make them sharp. Other parts of the flesh, including nerves, muscles, etc., were ripped from the skeleton and put in the cabin corner. Later, everything was burned, and the ashes were thrown in the open space, for example, field. However, the head of the dead person was painted and trimmed with a head piece. Then, it was placed in a box that contained the nails and the bones. Everything was put in the structure that aimed at housing the bones of the dead person. When the structure was completely filled with the bones and heads, the Navajo people took it apart and burned it with the stuff. It happened rarely, only once or twice a year.

The Navajo people believed in a dual afterlife. Hence, they were convinced that a deceased has two souls. One of them was the shilombish that was referred to as an outside shadow that used to follow a person in life. It remained in the area and frightened the survivors. The second soul was shilup and it was the spirit that accompanied the body until it was ready to start the journey of the afterlife. However, according to the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians, spirits were excluded from the afterlife.

In general, each religion has certain beliefs and theories related to the afterlife function. The representatives of the ancient Egyptian civilization were sure that people were reborn after death. Funeral practices were considered to be the basic driving force. The death was treated as a life interruption. Mummification was the only way of ensuring a functional afterlife. The jackal headed God Anubis was closely associated with mummification. There was a belief that when a body dies, the soul went to the Fields of Aaru. They placed the statues in the tombs as they were substitutes for the dead people.

The funeral was treated as a reward received in the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians used the canopic jars to store the internal organs of the deceased. As a rule, the jars were made of the stone of clay. As soon as they were filled, they were closed with special tops made in the form of a head, representing the four spirits known as the Four Sons of Horus. The representatives of the ancient Egyptian civilization removed the heart and weighted against a feather, representing the Ma’at that indicated the moral righteousness. The brain was considered to be useless. Therefore, the ancient Egyptians threw it away after it was taken out of the cranial cavity. All personal belonging of the deceased were put in the tomb to make the person feel more comfortable. There was a belief that it would help in the afterlife. The tombs aimed at protecting the dead as the next life was believed to be based on the tomb details. Hence, the tomb was a representation of an afterlife artwork of the person. However, mummies were put in the wooden coffins that were painted in bright colors. Also, a band that crossed the coffin represented the rebirth. The afterlife was depicted in all details to show whether the person was royal or not. Therefore, if a person was non-royal, his or her afterlife would consist of the things that were best available in the life of ancient Egyptians. However, a poor person would get an opportunity to get a wealthy status in the afterlife.

Thus, the religions of the Navajo people and the ancient Egyptians had many differences as they presupposed different rituals. However, the concepts the used were similar. The representatives of both religions believed that there was life after death. They used different rituals after decease. The belief in the afterlife represented the transition to another life. There are many sources that investigate the above-mentioned religions and they enable us to get as much information about the rituals and customs as possible. Both religions suggested accepting death that something inevitable and people followed the rules to ensure the deceased a good afterlife.

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Jul 24, 2020 in History
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