Judgement: The Weighing of the Heart

Judgement: the weighing of the heart

Anubis weighing the heart of Hunefer

In that hazy moment before I blacked out, I swear I saw something other than some mere trick of the light: the figure of a boy, who looked not unlike Aashiq, standing on a podium with his back to me. Above him sat forty-or-so people in masks. At the boy’s side there was a man wearing a jackal’s head, clutching a set of scales in his hand. Snuffling about at his feet was the ugliest dog I’d ever seen—at least I thought it was a dog; it was very hard to tell. The beast watched intently as his master placed a feather in the opposite scale-pan, and amazingly the two bronze dishes came to rest in perfect balance.

The scene that Lizzie imagines she sees in The Scarab Heart is of course Smenkh-ka-re’s judgement, witnessed by forty-two gods from the Egyptian pantheon, in Osiris’s Hall of Ma’at (meaning “truth”, and pronounced “maa-(ch)-haat”, where the “ch” is like a quick, very soft clucking of the tongue while clearing the throat). The man “wearing a jackal’s head” is Anubis, Lord of Mummy Wrapping, who presides over the embalming of the dead, and who, along with fellow god Wepwawet, leads the deceased to the Judgement Hall. In early myths Anubis was originally considered to be the son of Ra, the sun god, but by the late 18th dynasty he was instead seen as the son of Osiris and Nephthys (Set’s sister-wife), who was raised by Isis in a bid to protect him from the cuckolded Set.

While mummification was reserved for pharaohs and for those who could afford such luxury, in death every believer had access to judgement before Osiris. It’s here in the Hall of Ma’at that the person’s heart (which contained all their thoughts and memories) assumed chief importance. When weighed in a set of scales by Anubis, would it be found to be as light as the ostrich feather it was weighed against, or would it be heavy with evil? If light, the deceased would be presented to Osiris; if heavy, the heart would be thrown to Ammit—Lizzie’s “ugly dog”—to devour. Ammit was a female demon with the head of a crocodile, the torso of a lion, and the flanks of a hippopotamus, rather similar in appearance and temperament to the goddess Tauret when she wore her lion’s head—to whom Kiya appeals during the course of my novel.

Anubis attending the mummy of Sennedjem

Anubis attending the mummy of Sennedjem

In the papyrus above you can see the heart, in a terracotta jar on the left, being weighed against the feather on the right. The Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for truth, balance and justice is “Ma’at”, and its shape is a feather. Both Anubis and Ammit watch carefully as the ibis-headed god Thoth records the results in a scroll. Ammit looks as if she’s just been cheated out of a really tasty treat, and Anubis holds out his hand to calm her. It seems that Hunefer, the deceased in this papyrus, has proven himself worthy of meeting Osiris.