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The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead contained a selection of magical and religious texts known as spells. The spells are meant to help the dead progress through the many challenges in the Duat, or underworld, to the afterlife. Spells to protect the dead from harm are mixed with those ensuring the different parts of their being would be preserved, along with copies of religious myths and ritual texts, for instance at a funeral. Many spells were illustrated with drawings known as vignettes, which in some manuscripts are very lavish.
Some 200 spells are known from the Book of the Dead. The combination of spells used in an particular papyrus varied, very likely depending on the texts the scribe had access to, as well as the inclinations and wealth of the owner. Some spells were developed during the 1500-year period the Book of the Dead was used, while others fell into disuse. Some of the spells derive from earlier funerary texts, for instance the Coffin Texts. From the Late Period of Ancient Egypt onward, the spells were arranged in a standard order.
Here the spells are presented according to the modern numbering system used by Egyptologists. This derives from the work of Karl Richard Lepsius, who published the first translation of a Book of the Dead papyrus, and accords with the Late Period ordering of spells.
1–20: Funerary and mythological textsEdit
- 1. For the day of burial. Often accompanied with a lavish vignette showing a funerary procession.
- 1B. Recitation for the day of burial.
- 6. A shabti spell. First attested as Spell 472 of the Coffin Texts. The text of the spell reads:
Spell for causing a shabti to do work for a man in the realm of the dead: O shabti, allotted to me, if I be summoned or if I be detailed to do any work which has to be done in the realm of the dead, if indeed any obstacles are implanted for you therewith as a man at his duties, you shall detail yourself for me on every occasion of making arable the fields, of flooding the banks or of conveying sand from east to west; 'Here I am', you shall say.—Book of the Dead, spell 6.
- 7. Protection from animals 
- 9. Identifies the owner with the god Horus, son of Osiris; and affirming that Osiris will triumph over his enemy Set, and asks for the gods to open a path for him. In the Papyrus of Ani this spell reads:
Words spoken by Ani: 'O you Soul [ba], greatly majestic, behold, I have come that I may see you; I open the Netherworld that I may see my father Osiris and drive away darkness, for I am beloved of him. I have come that I may see my father Osiris and that I may cut out the heart of Seth who has harmed my father Osiris. I have opened up every path which is in the sky and on earth, for I am the well-beloved son of my father Osiris. I am noble, I am a spirit [akh], I am equipped; O all you gods and all you spirits [akhu], prepare a path for me.—Book of the Dead, spell 9.
- 15 A hymn to the sun-god. Not a standard text; any one of a number of hymns might be used.
- 16 Not a text but a large vignette depicting the sunrise, referring to the daily rebirth of Ra
- 17 A text about the nature of the creator-god Atum. This is one of the longest, most complex, and most frequently included spells; the text is often so obscure that it incorporates comments or glosses explaining the meaning of the words or offering alternatives. The purpose of this spell was to ensure the owner could demonstrate his knowledge of religious secrets if challenged in the afterlife. It is first known as Spell 335 of the Coffin Texts. Part of the spell, as found in the Papyrus of Ani, reads:
All the evil which was on me has been removed.
What dos that mean? It means that I was cleansed on the day of my birth in the two great and noble marshes which are in Heracleopolis on the day when the common folk make offerings to the Great God who is therein.
What are they? 'Eternity' is the name of one; 'sea' is the name of the other. They are the Lake of Natron and the Lake of Maat.
Otherwise said: 'Eternity governs' is the name of one; 'Sea' is the name of the other.
Otherwise said: 'Seed of Eternity' is the name of one; 'sea' is the name of the other. As for that Great God who is therein, he is Ra himself—Book of the Dead, spell 17.
- 18 Often paired with Spell 17
- 19 Enables the dead to wear a 'wreath of vindication', a floral garland bestowed after the completion of the Weighing of the Heart.
21–30: Preservation of the parts of beingEdit
- 21 Concerned with the Opening of the Mouth ritual, which enabled the coffin to support life and take in nourishment.
- 22 Concerned with the Opening of the Mouth ritual; opening the mouth to enable the deceased to speak out in the Weighing of the Heart judgement. The words include:
My mouth has been given to me that I may speak with it in the presence of the Great God—Book of the Dead, spell 22
- 23 Concerned with the Opening of the Mouth ritual. The words include:
My mouth is opened, by mouth is split open by Shu with that iron harpoon of his with which he split open the mouths of the gods—Book of the Dead, spell 23
- 24 Secured some essential ability for the deceased.
- 25 Caused the decease to remember his name after death. The name was regarded as a vital part of being. It begins:
I have put my name in the Upper Egyptian shrine, I [have] made my name to be remembered in the Lower Egyptian shrine, on this night of counting the years and of numbering the months...—Book of the Dead, spell 25
- 26 Helped to preserve the dead person's heart, and the heart's role in re-unifying the dead person's body and soul. It is sometimes illustrated with a vignette showing the god Anubis handing the deceased their own heart.
- 27 Guarding against the theft or corruption of the deceased's heart by a group of gods, called 'those who steal hearts', and preventing the heart from betraying its owner at the Weighing of the Heart ritual
- 28 Guarding against the loss of the heart.
- 29 Guarding against the loss of the heart.
- 29A Guarding against the loss of the heart.
- 29B Guarding against the loss of the heart, by means of a heart amulet. This spell is found in manuscripts and also inscribed on heart-shaped amulets buried with the dead. Reads "I am the benu, the soul of Ra, who guides gods to the Netherworld when they go forth. The souls on earth will do what they desire, and the soul of [the deceased] will go forth at his desire".}}
- 30 A heart spell.
- 30B An appeal to the heart not to betray its owner in the Weighing of the Heart ritual (later described in Spell 125. Often inscribed on heart scarab amulets as well as on a manuscript. This spell also claims to have been found by a Prince Hordejef of the 4th dynasty; perhaps unlikely as the spell is first attested many years later, in the Second Intermediate Period. The spell includes this section about its own provenance
This spell was found in Hermopolis, under the feet of this god. It was written on a block of mineral of Upper Egypt in the writings of the god himself, and was discovered in the time of [King] Menkaure. It ws the king's son Hodjedef who found it while hwe was going around making an inspection of the temples.—Book of the Dead, spell 30B
The section imploring the heart reads:
O my heart of my mother! O my heart of my mother! O my heart of my different forms! Do not stand up as a witness against me, do not be opposed to me in the tribunal, do not be hostile to me in the presence of the Keeper of the Balance, for you are my ka which was in my body, the protector who made my members hale. Go forth to the happy place whereto we speed, do not make my name stink to the Entourage who make men. Do not tell lies about me in the present of the god, it is indeed well that you should hear!—Book of the Dead, spell 30B
31–53: Protection from perilEdit
- 31 To stop the dead being harmed by crocodiles in the afterlife.
Get back! Retreat! Get back, you dangerous one! Do not come against me, do not live by my magic; may I not have to tell this name of yours to the Great God who sent you; 'Messenger' is the name of one, and Bedty is the name of the other. The crocodile speaks: 'Your face belongs to righteousness. The sky encloses the stars, magic encloses its settlements, and my mouth encloses the magic which is in it. My teeth are a knife, my tusks are the Viper Mountain. The deceased replied: 'O you with a spine who would work your mouth against this magic of mine, no crocodile which lives by magic shall take it away'—Book of the Dead, spell 31
- 32 The deceased takes on the identity of Ra and drives back eight crocodiles with a spear.
Get back you crocodile of the West, who lives on the Unwearying Stars!
Detestation of you is in my belly, for I have absorbed the power of Osiris, and I am Seth.Get back, you crocodile of the West! The nau-snake is in my belly, and I have not given myself to you, your flame will not be on me.—Book of the Dead, spell 32
- 33 Protection against snakes: "O rerek-snake, take yourself off, for Geb protects me, get up, for you have eaten a mouse, which Ra detests, and you have chewed the bones of a putrid cat" This is the first of five spells which protect the deceased from falling victim to snakes in the afterlife.
- 34 Protection against snakebite.
- 35 Protection against being eaten by snakes.
- 36 Protection against the apshai-insect: "Begone from me, O Crooked-lips! I am Khnum, Lord of Shen, who despatches the words of the gods to Ra, and I report affairs to their master." 
- 37 Protection against 'songstress snakes'.
- 38 Protection against hostile animals.
- 39 Protection against snakes.
- 40 Protection against "him who swallowed an ass", a snake who is shown eating an ass.
- 41 Prevents the deceased from being slaughtered by demonic servants of Osiris.
- 42 Served the same purpose as 41, but also contains a list of all the essential parts of the body and their divine parallels.
My hair is Nun; my face is Ra; my eyes are Hathor; my ears are Wepwawet; my nose is She who presides over her lotus leaf; my lips are Anubis; my molars are Selkis; my incisors are Isis the goddess; my arms are the Ram, the Lord of mendes; my breast is Neith, Lady of Sais; my back is Seth; my phallus is Osiris; my muscles are the Lords of Kheraha; my chest is he who is greatly majestic; my belly and my spine are Sekhmet; my buttocks are the Eye of Horus; my thighs and my cavles are Nut; my feet are Ptah; my toes are living falcons; there is no member of mine devoid of a god, and Thoth is the protection of all my flesh.—Book of the Dead, spell 42
- 43 Prevents decapitation in the afterlife and identifies the deceased with Osiris. "I am a flame, the son of a flame, to whom was given his head after it had been cut off. the head of Osiris shall not be taken from him, and my head hall not be taken from me."
- 44 For 'Not dying a second time in the realm of the dead'.
- 45 To prevent putrefaction.
- 46 To prevent perishing.
- 47 To prevent the deceased's place being taken.
- 50 To escape from the slaughter-place.
- 53 Stops the dead from the fate of walking upside-down in the afterlife.
54–63 :Empowering to breathe and drinkEdit
- 54 Giving the deceased power over air or water 
- 55 'For giving breath', that is allowing the deceased to breathe once more 
- 56 Giving the deceased power over air or water 
- 57 Giving the deceased the power to breathe air and to have power over water.
- 58 Giving the deceased the power to breathe air and to have power over water.
- 59 Giving the deceased the power to breathe air and to have power over water. It is addressed to the sycomore fig tree, symbol of the sky-goddess Nut, and reads:
'O you sycomore of the sky, may there be given to me the air which is in it, for I am he who sought out that throne in the midst of Wenu [Hermopolis]. I have guarded this egg of the Great Cackler. If it grows, I grow; if it lives, I life; if it breathes air, I breathe air.
- 60 Giving the deceased the power to breathe air and to have power over water.
- 61 'For not letting a man's soul be taken away.' 
- 62 'For drinking water in the realm of the dead.' 
- 63A 'For drinking water and not being burnt by fire.' 
- 63B Prevents the owner from being scalded.
64–89 :Coming Forth by DayEdit
- 65 For 'coming forth by day' and having power over enemies.
- 68 For 'coming forth by day' and ensuring power. Part reads:
May I have power in my heart, may I have power in my arms, may I have power in my legs, may I have power in my mouth, may I have power in all my members may I have power over invocation-offerings, may I have power over water ... air ... the waters ... streams ... riparian lands ... men who would harm me ... women who would harm me in the realm of the dead ... those who would give orders to harm me upon earth.—'Book of the Dead, spell 68.
- 71 For 'coming forth by day'.
- 76 Enables transformation into any form desired. This is the first of a group of 'transformation spells', 76–88, which are about giving the deceased the power to take a number of different forms, enabling them to travel the world of the living during the day and returning to the underworld at night.
- 89 Allowed the ba-spirit of the deceased to rejoin the deceased. Typically with a vignette showing the ba, represented as a bird with a human head, flying over a mummy. Reads:
Come for my soul, O you wardens of the sky! If you delay letting my soul see my corpse, you will find the eye of Horus standing up thus against you ... The sacred barque will be joyful and the great god will proceed in peace when you allow this soul of mine to ascend vindicated to the gods... May it see my corpse, may it rest on my mummy, which will never be destroyed or perish.—Book of the Dead, spell 89.
- 98–9 Allowed the deceased to use ferryboats in the Underworld.
- 100–2 Regarding the deceased's journey on the barque of Ra.
- 105 To satisfy the ka. The ka required offerings of food, water, natron, and incense; these were shown being supplied in the vignette to this spell. These offerings also help to cleanse the ka of any wrongdoing.
- 108–9 Ensures the deceased knows the souls of West and East. 109 also refers to the paradisical 'Field of Reeds'.
- 110 A depiction of the 'Field of Reeds', an afterlife in a land of plenty largely similar to the land of the living. Typically illustrated with a large vignette.
- 112–6 Names of the souls of sacred locations in Egypt; Pe, Nekhen, Hermopolis, and Heliopolis.
- 125 This spell describes the Weighing of the Heart judgement ritual. The deceased is led by Anubis into the presence of Osiris, and there makes a 'negative confession', saying that he is innocent of a list of 42 crimes, in front of 42 judges. His heart is then weighed against a feather, representing truth, justice, and the goddess Ma'at. If he is innocent, he is led to Osiris; a demon called Ammut, the Devourer, stands by to eat the heart of the guilty.
- 126 An additional judgement ritual, sometimes also depicted in the vignette to spell 125. The deceased approaches a lake of fire guarded by four baboons. If the deceased was evil, they would be burned by the flames; however, the blessed dead received nourishment from it.
127–137: Journeys in the Duat and on the Barque of RaEdit
- 127 'Worshipping the gods of the caverns'; instructions on how to deal with supernatural entities who the deceased had to pass on his way. Part reads: "O you door-keepers who guard your portals, who swallow souls and who gulp down the corpses of the dead who pass you by when they are allotted to the House of Destruction... May you guide [the deceased], may you open the portals for him, may the earth open its caverns to him, may you make him triumphant over his enemies".
- 129 Refers to the barque of Ra.
- 130 Made the disparate parts of the deceased's being into an effective akh with an eternal ba. 130–136 (including 136A and 136B) all illustrate the journey of the deceased in the solar barque, and could be illustrated with the same vignette, perhaps indicating some repetition.
- 134 'For making a spirit worthy'; a funerary spell, to be pronounced by the living, to help the deceased triumph over their enemies. Reads:
To be spoken over a falcon standing with the White Crown on his head; Atum, Shu and Tefnut, Geb and Nut, Osiris and Isis, Seth and Nepthys being drawn in ochre on a new bowl placed in the sacred barque, together with an image of this spirit (ba) whom you wish to be made worthy, it being anointed with oil. Offer to them incense on the fire and roasted ducks, and worship Ra. It means that he for whom this is done will voyage and be with Ra every day in every place he desires to travel, and it means that the enemies of Ra will be driven off in very deed. A matter a million times true.—Book of the Dead, spell 134.
- 137A Like Spell 30B, this spell was allegedly first said to have been found by Prince Horjedef of the 4th Dynasty.
- 137B The birth-goddess Ipet drives off Set using a flaming torch.
144–150: Gates, caverns, mounds, and guardiansEdit
- 144 Lists the names of the creatures serving as keeper, guard, and announcer at each of seven gates. their names are fairly terrifying, for instance "He who lives on snakes", or "Hippopotamus-faced, raging of power". By knowing these gates, the deceased can persuade them to let him through. to the guardians the deceased says:
O you gates, you who keep the gates because of Osiris, O you who guard them and who report the affairs of the Two Lands to Osiris every day; I know you and I know your names.—Book of the Dead, spell 144
If uttered correctly, this spell ensures "he will not be driven off or turned away at the portals of the Netherworld".
- 145 An alternative form of 146.
- 146 Describes twenty-one 'portals of the House of Osiris in the Field of Reeds', each with a deity and a door-keeper. The names and descriptions of these entities are more elaborate and just as terrifying as those in 144.
- 147 A gate spell.
- 148 'For making provision for a spirit in the realm of the dead'. This spell provided the names of the Bull of Heaven and his seven cows, providing an eternal supply of food and beer. Their names are:
The names of the cattle are:
Mansion of Kas, Mistress of All.
Silent One who dwells in her place
She of Chemmis whom the god ennobled
The Much Beloved, red of hair
She who protects in life, the particoloured.
She whose name has power in her craft.
Storm in the sky which wafts the god aloftThe bull, husband of the cows.—Book of the Dead, Spell 148.
- 149 A lengthy spell which lists fourteen mounds which the deceased would have to pass in the underworld. As with the gates of spells 144–7, these mounds are guarded by gods and monsters.
- 150 Has no text, but is a pictorial summary of the mounds in the Underworld. However, in this spell there are fifteen mounds, while in 149 there are only fourteen.
151–189: Amuletic and protective spellsEdit
- 151 Regarding the protection of the deceased in their tomb. This spell consists of a very large illustration, made up of a number of smaller images and texts, many of which derive from the older Coffin Texts. The purpose of this spell is to collect together the magical aids which were required for a burial, and also to perpetuate the protective funerary rituals. Some of these texts were also used on coffins, or on mud bricks placed in niches in the walls of a high-status funeral chamber.
- 153A and 153B both deal with the risk of being caught in a trap, a giant net which stretches between heaven and earth.
- 154 'For not letting the corpse perish'; this spell describes the decomposition of the body, but assures the deceased that they will triumph over it.
- 155 For a djed pillar amulet.
- 156 For an Isis knot amulet.
- 157 For an amuletic golden vulture collar.
- 158 For an amuletic golden falcon collar.
- 159 For a papyrus column amulet.
- 160 For a papyrus column amulet.
- 161 Describes how the four winds are released through openings in the sky to give the dead person the breath of life. Often combined with passages from spell 151
- 182 A rare spell titled 'Book for the permanence of Osiris, giving breath to the inert One in the present of Thoth, and repelling the enemy of Osiris'. This spell invokes the power of Thoth in order to ensure the mummy of the deceased is protected by a large number of gods and spirits, ho are similar in appearance to the fearsome guardians of the gates, caverns and mounds mentioned in earlier spells.
- 185 A hymn to Osiris.
- 189 For not eating faeces or drinking urine.
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.13
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.289
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.93
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Taylor 2010, p.88
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Taylor 2010, p.43
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Taylor 2010, p.184
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Taylor 2010, p.89
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.89, p.246 9
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Taylor 2010, p. 35
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.51
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.53
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 Taylor 2010, p.272
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.215
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.163
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.161, 172
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.162
- ↑ 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Taylor 2010, p.161
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.174
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.234
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.209
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.185
- ↑ 22.0 22.1 Taylor 2010, p.194
- ↑ 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 23.5 Taylor 2010, p.186
- ↑ 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 Taylor 2010, p.188
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.162&ndash3
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.75, 161
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.161, 188
- ↑ 28.0 28.1 Taylor 2010, p.190
- ↑ 29.0 29.1 29.2 Taylor 2010, p.165
- ↑ 30.0 30.1 30.2 Taylor 2010, p.175
- ↑ 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 Taylor 2010, p.171
- ↑ 32.0 32.1 Taylor 2010, p.164
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.176
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.75
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.166
- ↑ 36.0 36.1 Taylor 2010, p.189
- ↑ 37.0 37.1 Taylor 2010, p.57
- ↑ 38.0 38.1 Taylor 2010, p.140
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.259, 266
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.206–9
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.217
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.132, 136
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.240
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p. 165
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p. 273
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p. 48
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.35
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p. 252
- ↑ 49.0 49.1 Taylor 2010, p. 136
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p. 143
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p. 137
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p. 134
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p. 140, 152–3
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.138, p.146
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.146
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.147–8
- ↑ 57.0 57.1 Taylor 2010, p.128
- ↑ 58.0 58.1 58.2 58.3 Taylor 2010, p.131
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.116
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.190,199
- ↑ Taylor 2010, p.252
Taylor, John H. (Editor), Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: Journey through the afterlife. British Museum Press, London, 2010. ISBN 978-0-7141-1993-9