Saturday, July 24, 2010


The ‘Spirit Door’ is the threshold between the mortal world and the eternal space where the spirits of those who have died go to enjoy the pleasures of their afterlife. Because it was not a real door, archaeologists have chosen to call this spiritual access a “False Door”, a rather unfortunate choice of name that tends to demean its important role.

In ancient Egypt it was believed that a person was formed from clay on the wheel of Khnum the divine potter. At the same time Khnum also fashioned a duplicate of the person. The duplicate or copy was indistinguishable from the person except that it was contained within the person’s body and it was immortal. When a person died and was mummified, this spiritual copy called the person’s Ka was released in ceremony called “the opening of the mouth”. The Ka drew its energy from the memories of mortals and it was invigorated each time the deceased’s name was spoken with love or reverence.

Ancient Egyptians understood the need to demarcate the supernatural access through which the Ka could pass between the worlds of the living and the dead. A newly released Ka, unfamiliar with the ways of eternity, would be directed by spells on the walls to the spirit door. The door frame was often decorated with portraits of the deceased mortal. It was inscribed with the deceased name and the offices held and honours bestowed on the dead individual. In some instances a figure of the deceased was erected in the doorway as if emerging from the spirit world. The Ka passing through the spirit door was able to read the achievements of which it should be proud; statements that could be made to the assessor gods to justify its position in the afterlife.

The access doors to the world of gods and spirits were usually made of stone. The ideal stone would have been granite from Aswan, the stone used to line the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid, but this stone was difficult to work and not easily obtained. Many doors were made of limestone painted to look like granite. Occasionally false doors were made from wood such as the one on the left.

Spirit doors were not confined to the inside of tombs, but could also be found on the exterior of the walls of some temples where they represented a channel of communication between the god of the temple and the mortal world. A spirit door might also be associated with “the hearing ear” chapel of a temple. The god to whom the temple was dedicated resided in the temple and the general public did not have access to the interior of the temple. The spirit door was on the outside wall of the temple so that a plea or prayer meant for “the hearing ear” of the divinity would be heard by the god within the temple. Offering tables or slabs were placed at the spirit door for the petitioner to leave offerings for the god who could use the spirit door to access and partake of the offerings. Naturally it was the priests who benefitted from this arrangement.

What did the Ka expect to find when it went through the spirit door? The first task for the Ka was to take the heart (called the Ib) of the deceased to the home of the gods to be weighed in the balance against a feather. The feather was the symbol of Ma’at, the goddess of justice and order. If the heart was filled with the lightness of good deeds and if the Ka proclaimed its innocence of any evil acts, the life of the deceased was judged by the assessor gods to have been justified and the Ka was recommended to Osiris, the god of the dead for a place in eternity. Thereafter the Ka would return to the tomb and whenever it wished to go through the spirit door it would find fields of plenty, a feast-laden table and a life of pleasure, meeting those who had gone before while awaiting the arrival of those yet to die. Heaven to the ancient Egyptians was a perfect and eternal version of their life on earth in the land of their birth.

The spirit door or false door was a concept that enabled the spirits to access their vision of a perfect afterlife. Without this gate to the spirit world, the Ka might forever be denied the pleasures of eternity.

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