My thanks to Cicada Books and Edelweiss for a review copy of this book
The Unofficial Guide to the Ancient Egyptian Afterlife is a simple, informative, entertaining and colourful picture book, introducing readers to Ancient Egyptian beliefs regarding death and what followed in terms of rituals and observances.
Our ‘guide’ is a cat, Bastet—a pharaoh’s cat and not the cat goddess Bastet, her namesake. After acquainting readers briefly with the relevance of cats in Ancient Egypt, the broad period and the major gods and goddesses (Bastet, Sekhbet, Ra, Osiris, Isis, and so on), she explains what happens once a person dies. After Bastet the cat’s master, the Pharaoh dies, she too is killed and mummified to accompany him for luck. With her we learn all that follows death—from mummification to the funeral and burial rituals, pyramids and how they evolved, to the journey the soul is supposed to make once all the rituals in the human realm have been completed, all the way to the realm of the gods. (I assume since we are talking of pyramids and more lavish rituals, all of these would be more applicable to the upper echelons of society).
For a little picture book—the text and pictures are a little over 30 pages—this book manages to put across a surprising amount of information. From background on Ancient Egypt to the mummification process, amulets and symbols, beliefs about the afterlife to hieroglyphics, one gets a look into a number of aspects. I too learnt a lot that I didn’t know about from the number of characters or symbols in hieroglyphics to the different coffins that mummies are placed in to information about the gods. (It was interesting to spot similarities between the goddess Bastet, and Ma Shashti who is worshiped in India also as the benefactor of children and like Bastet, is associated with a cat). Everything is put across simply and so, would be easy to understand for its intended readership.
I really loved the artwork in the book. The book uses vibrant colours and attractive pictures which really stand out and combines it with small chunks of text to put across what it’s saying effectively. I found myself spending time looking at all the artwork, despite having to manoeuvre around a bit in the e-version I was reading but the physical book will be a pleasure to spend time with.
I also liked that the author didn’t gloss over the more macabre or grotesque aspects of things, whether it was Osiris having been cut into bits, or poor Bastet the cat being killed and mummified to accompany her master or the removal and preservation of entrails in the mummification process, all is told in a straightforward way (somewhat like in the Horrible Histories books)—adults will probably squirm more than children at this.
This was a great deal of fun to read and I know I’d have enjoyed it a lot as a child as well. I certainly did as an adult.
p.s. There’s also a cute little hieroglyph puzzle to work out.
Image sources: both images from the book are from Edelweiss Plus; the cover image is from Waterstones
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