A few years ago I remember people worrying about Tamagotchis and similar digital pets. The concern was that, since a creature could be re-animated following it’s virtual death, children would develop a false understanding of the finality of pets or relatives actually expiring in physical reality. To anyone who has glanced even briefly at the belief systems of humanity regarding our inevitable passing on, it is quite obvious that that particular black barge sailed a very long time ago.
Pretty much all religions and cultures assume that death is only a temporary state and is followed by a continued or re-established existence of one form or another. In the Philippines a large percentage of funerary practices serve to prevent the spirits of the dead from following you home. Despite this, it is the custom to place the deceased in their coffin without shoes so when they do start wandering around your house they don’t make too much noise.
The ancient Egyptians were famously obsessed with Life 2.0. They believed everyone would re-animate in their pre-used body. It would appear that this belief came from the tendency of corpses, buried in shallow, sandy graves, to dry out and naturally mummify. Later, when rich people started building cool, stone tombs, they found that more elaborate means were necessary to preserve the cadaver. Many interments were accompanied by a little statue, about 60-80 cm (2 and a bit feet) tall. This was a failsafe. If the original body was damaged then the “Ka”, or soul could not re-enter and would have to find a replacement vessel. Presumably the Fields of Yalu (the Egyptian hereafter) were filled with these back up bodies since the artificial mummification practices involved removing the internal organs and putting them in jars. It’s hard to see how having your brain liquified and pulled out through your nose wouldn’t qualify as damage. Ironically the poor, unable to afford tombs, were still getting their whole, un-eviscerated bodies naturally preserved for them in the desert sands, so it would mainly be the rich who were rebooting in the afterlife as short, wooden people.
Unlike the Greeks, whose Elysian Fields are an eternal sunny picnic with your loved ones, an unprepared Ancient Egyptian would find themselves working for their after living. Much like earthly life, Life EternalTM required food, shelter and constant toil on public works. As with most negative aspects of extinction there was a work around. Amongst the various tools, crockery, foodstuffs, jewellery and clothing that one obviously needed to take on the not-so-final journey, many people, rich and poor, were buried with a bag or box of tiny figurines called “Shabti Dolls”. These models, ranging from coarse plaster about 5cm tall to finely carved stone around 45cm in height, could be sent to answer the call whenever there was work to be done, allowing an immortality of leisure to whoever brought them.
When life is generally considered to not only carry on after death but be improved by it, I have to wonder why we put so much effort into staying alive. Thinking about it though, the Egyptian afterlife must be very stressful: walking down the street with posh, child-sized mannequins trying to boss you around whilst having to avoid stepping on all the fragile, miniature labourers trotting about their business (or indeed, someone else’s business). What if there is only one afterlife and we all end up in the same place? Imagine arriving in the Great Beyond with bare feet while two dimensional virtual pets keep winking in and out of existence amongst a moving carpet of fragile Egyptian micro workers tooled up with scythes and chisels!