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Salima Ikram lecturing at UC Berkeley.

Salima Ikram is shown here before a projected image, lecturing today at UC Berkeley, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, about Egyptian animal mummies. There was a belief among the Ancient Egyptians that the spirit could be maintained forever if the physical body, and the name could be recognized. Thus they preserved the physical body of the deceased person, and wrapped them in linen with their names, and incantations to present to the gods when they entered their realm. These people had various symbolic linkages with various animals, and these animals could communicate with the gods in specific ways to help with these people’s reception into the afterlife. For them this afterlife was just as real as the present life, and would be much better than the current one if the proper procedures were followed when entering this spiritual realm. The procedures were rigorous, and complex, and therefore required a priest to perform them properly. This cost a great deal of time, and effort, and, of course, of money.

This was an informative lecture filled with a great many detailed slides showing various embalmed animals. They were mummified for several different specific reasons. Some were to be used as companions in the afterlife just as these particular animals were pets in the physical life of the person. Some photos were shown of mummified people with their mummified companion dogs at their feet in much the same relationship in death that they would have had in physical life. Another kind of mummified animal was in the form of food, and these animals were prepared in such a way that the human mummy would have mummified animal food for their consumption in the afterlife. There were some special sacred animals who were sacred in themselves such as the singular living Apis Bull which — like the modern Dalai Lama — filled a living place central to the whole religious system. When this special animal died it was necessary to mummify him, and to find his spirit, through special symbolic marks, in a new calf which then became the new living Apis Bull. There was another type of mummified animal she called ex votos which functioned rather like a votive candle in a church which represented you to the higher powers for a while while you were still alive. This practice represented saying to these powers that you were here and willing to honor them with a present of one of these mummified animals — there were many different types for different occasions — and this was proof of your fealty.

This was an enjoyable lecture and it gave an insight into another people’s very different relationship with the problems of existence, and of that acknowledged briefness of existence with the deep time that preceded that existence, and that deep time which will follow it. It seems like a desperate plea spoken out into the darkness by an emerging human consciousness which was grasping futilely at a potential meaning of it all. A search for something that was somehow greater than the obvious temporariness of the world about them.

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