The God Atum, or Ra, Lord of the Universe, was the first of a divine line that produced two couples: Osiris and Isis, and Seth and Nephthys. Isis and her brother-husband ruled Egypt during a golden age, taking humanity under their protection. Seth, their brother, married to their sister Nephthys, became insanely jealous of Osiris and sought to destroy him. He lured Osiris into an open coffin, nailed it shut, and cast it into the Nile. Distraught, Isis searched everywhere for the coffin, finally finding it hidden in a sycamore tree in Phoenicia. When she returned with the coffin to Egypt, Seth seized the body of Osiris, cut it up into 14 pieces, and scattered the fragments. Isis, however, found them and, with the help of Anubis, the jackal God, put them back together, thus creating the first mummy.
Osiris’s posthumous son, Horus, was hidden from Seth by Isis. After he grew up, he avenged the death of his father by emasculating Seth but lost an eye in the struggle. Thoth, the ibis-headed God of wisdom and writing, intervened to heal both opponents, who were then summoned before a tribunal of Gods to determine their guilt or innocence. The deities found Horus in the right and ordered Seth to return his eye. Horus gave the eye to Osiris, who was then magically restored to life. Osiris, the first being to undergo death and resurrection, bequeathed the crown of Egypt to Horus and retired to the underworld, Amenthe, to rule over the dead. Spirits of the dead, who have been mummified after the example of Osiris, also may live eternally beyond the grave of Amenthe. The entrance lies in the extreme west beyond the sea where the sun descends over the earth.
Before arriving at Amenthe, the soul must successfully complete a perilous journey. The Book of the Dead, which relatives leave in the tomb along with food and other necessities, will guide the soul and ward off evil. With its help the deceased may elude demons and monstrous monkeys that lie in wait with nets to catch traveling souls. The dead must cross snake-infested plains and a body of water stretching to Amenthe. To reach Amenthe she must ask the taciturn ferryman Face-Behind (so called because he always faces backwards) to row her across the water.
At Amenthe’s gate sits a hybrid monster, part crocodile, part lion, part hippopotamus, who warns that he will tear out the heart of sinful travelers. Inside the gates, the soul wanders through magnificent halls until it comes to a place where there are 42 assessors, who initially hear its case. To them the soul must make the Declaration of Innocence, saying, "I have not blasphemed, I have not killed a human, I have not robed, I am pure," etc. Then comes the awesome final trial in the Hall of the Two Truths (approving and condemning) before Osiris and a tribunal of deities. Here three deities, Horus, Anubis, and Thoth, supervise the weighing of the heart of the deceased on a scale balanced against a feather, symbol of Maat, Goddess of truth. Anubis adjusts the balance carefully while Thoth, inventor of writing, sits ready to record the result. If the heart and Maat exactly balance, it proves the sincerity of the dead person’s Declaration of Innocence. Thoth’s report is then given to the divine tribunal, and the deceased advances to the throne of Osiris to receive the verdict and sentence.
If the soul is condemned, it is either scourged back to earth to be reincarnated as a vile animal or plunged into the tortures of fire and devils. Alternatively, it might be driven up into the atmosphere to be tossed by violent storms until its sins are expiated. The ruler of this zone is Pooh, overseer of souls in penance. After their purgation in this region, the souls are granted probation through another life in human form.
The blessed soul lives eternally with the Gods in Amenthe, where it may encounter its parents, offspring, friends, and lovers. The blessed hunts and fishes, plows and sows, reaps and gathers in the Field of the Sun on the banks of the Heavenly Nile. She will receive her reward in inexhaustible crops of beans and wheat, with bread from divine granaries and figs and grapes to eat.