By Judy Aitken, Curator of the Cuming Museum
At this time of year the heart is everywhere: on a card, represented in chocolate or even on your sleeve. The Ancient Egyptians, however, saw the heart not as a romantic symbol but as the key to getting into heaven.
Egyptian death rituals demanded that most organs were removed from the deceased and preserved in jars along with the mummified body so that they would serve a function in the Afterlife.
The heart and the brain were treated differently. The brain was thrown away, as it wasn’t thought useful (some days I’m sure we can all sympathise with that). But the heart was preserved and put back inside the body cavity. In some cases an amulet in the shape of a heart or other important symbol would serve if the real heart was damaged or decayed.
Ancient Egyptians regarded the heart as the most important organ of all. For them, it was the seat of memory, intelligence and emotion. But, crucially, the heart was also the passport to the Afterlife.
After death the souls of the dead would be judged and the successful were admitted into heaven. The unsuccessful would be erased from memory, a terrible fate.
The judgement took place through the “weighing of the heart” ceremony.
First of all the dead soul, on arrival at the entrance to the Afterlife, would have to undertake rituals and state their case for acceptance. Then the god Anubis would take them to the Hall of Maat and weigh their heart against the weight of a feather.
If the heart and feather balanced then the dead person was judged to be good and passed into a happy eternity.
If the heart outweighed the feather then it was judged to be heavy with guilt due to all the bad deeds the person had committed in life.
That soul was then cast away to oblivion. The god Thoth recorded the verdict in his book and the heart of the bad person would then be eaten by Ammit, the “gobbler” goddess. Part crocodile, part lion, part hippo, she sat by Thoth ready for a meal.
So whether this Valentine’s day finds you with a light or heavy heart just think: Anubis might be watching and Ammit might be smacking her lips for a chance of a snack!