Blog #12 – The Weighing of the Living Heart: Ancient Egyptian Symbolism of Consciousness

It is well recognized that the Ancient Egyptians had connections with higher energies: that they developed a symbolism that was metaphorically sensitive and that their cosmology was extremely advanced. But above all else they had a highly developed sense of spirituality and knew about alerted states of consciousness. With all of this acceptance of their higher knowledge, why do people still interpret the famous “Weighing of the Heart” symbolism as a story about the dead?

 

We accept the Egyptian’s use of metaphor in their representations of their neter/gods as a mix of both human and animal forms. The Sphinx is the best-known representation of a form that is a mix of animals: lion and human (Figure 1). It is never suggested that the Ancient Egyptians witnessed such a literal beast prowling around their settlements. This is just one example of the many available metaphors found in the writings, carvings and images of Ancient Egypt.

Figure 1. The Great Sphinx of Giza created with human and lion characteristics.

Figure 1. The Great Sphinx of Giza created with human and lion characteristics.

When we examine the famous image of the” Weighing of the Heart” (Figure 2) with our normal lazy worldview, it can be viewed as a fanciful image of an elaborate set of scales balancing the weight of the heart against that of a feather, attended by strange creatures. 

Figure 2. An image of the Weighing of the Heart theme from a Ptolemaic Tomb, Deir el Medinah, Egypt.  From left to right are the neters/gods Maat, Horus, Anubis and Djehuty/Thoth. Sitting onto of the scales is a Hamadryas baboon representing Djehuty as A'an the principle of equilibrium.

Figure 2. An image of the Weighing of the Heart theme from a Ptolemaic Tomb, Deir el Medinah, Egypt.  From left to right are the neters/gods Maat, Horus, Anubis and Djehuty/Thoth. Sitting onto of the scales is a Hamadryas baboon representing Djehuty as A'an the principle of equilibrium.

Modern-day references to this prominently displayed theme interpret it as representing the weighing of a dead person’s heart after they die. The neters/gods in the image have been said to be acting after the person is dead.  

But why would anyone expect a literal heart, either dead or alive, to weight the same as a feather? Why is this theme not seen for its symbolism, as similar in intent to the many other images created in the course of the rituals, practices and teachings valued by the Ancient Egyptians? 

This makes no sense at all.  Clearly we need to be more alert to the nature of the symbolism. We argue that in keeping with the well-accepted symbolic foundation of Ancient Egyptian teachings, this image is certainly a metaphorical reference pertaining to our living conscious being.  

To the Ancient Egyptians the heart is the location of our emotion, thought, will and intention (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_concept_of_the_soul). The feather is related to the great neter Maat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maat) who is seen in Figure 2 standing to the left of the scales. Maat is associated with concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice. Maat is the rational in us; the heart is the irrational. The Weighing of the Heart image is drawing our attention to the necessary recognition and resolution of opposite influences within us. Consistent with what we say in our book “Awakening Higher Consciousness” (Dickie and Boudreau, 2015) this resolution of opposites needs to be appreciated on a higher level.

Based on our personal direct experiences, we see the Weighing of the Heart as a metaphor for the living individual’s work on developing consciousness.  The effort required to find a balance and resolution between our irrational sides represented as the heart, and our rational sides represented as the feather, is consistent with an awareness of the need for seeing the contrasting higher energies within ourselves. 

Consistent with the Pyramid Texts where the Pharaoh “has departed alive” (Naydler 2004), the image of the Weighing of the Heart is not about a dead and lifeless heart, but is a representation of what a living person needs to be doing each and every moment of a life: developing the awareness of our own being, and constantly weighing our different internal functions in relation to this objective.

References:

Dickie, L.M. and P.R. Boudreau. 2015. Awakening Higher Consciousness: Guidance from Ancient Egypt and Sumer. Inner Traditions. Vermont.

Naydler, J. 2014. Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt. Inner Traditions. Vermont.