Tag Archives: Ancient Egypt; Pyramids; Cultural Differentiation

Pyramid Culture

The mortuary practices in antiquity are quite interesting to study.  It amazes me how different the observances are between ancient Egyptian culture and modern Western culture, or even my culture (Eastern).  The variety in social, philosophical, religious, and economic circumstances is as relevant in discussing the deviations as location or era.  But another factor to consider is the psychological.  The grieving process in Ancient Egypt after a leader has passed, I would assume is a shorter time because their entire reign is spend preparing a monumental feat.  A stark reminder of their existence on this earth (and subsequent passing) is showcased to all, even before they have died.  But how much could citizens mourn for a demi-god, especially if he was so aloof and disconnected from plebeian life?  How could they simply accept his many accomplishments that line the walls of his tomb?

In my culture, we cremate the departed and morn for 13 days.  But life is thought as cyclical (birth -> death -> reincarnation) until nirvana is reached.  The soul’s judgement is not based on one life’s judgement, but rather the karma that computes over several lifetimes.  Since one has had so many lifetimes, a single particular existence commonplace.  The rites given to a king are the exact same as the rites given to a scholar or a warrior or merchant, and ashes are indistinguishable.  Furthermore, there is little variance between where the final resting place for the ashes: scattered in a wind, rivers, mountains (a particular corner of the world is not reserved for “the Greats”).  Another part of the lecture (or lack of) that caught my attention was women.  They are rarely mentioned yet they are one of the most noteworthy portions of the population.  Where are the pyramids for women?  Where are the female pharaohs?  When did the concept of a patriarchal society develop.  Even in the mortuary practices of my culture, there is no variance with what happens with women versus men.  The grieving process is another detail that deviates.  It seems to me that the grieving process family of pharaohs and nomarchs experienced is notably shorter than the cathartic 13 days most Hindu family undergo.

Personally, the erection of a monument during your lifetime (planning, allocating human/monetary capital, and presiding over construction) that will one day be your final resting place is the most macabre undertaking.  I want to argue that the ego of the pharaoh’s is proportional to the size of their pyramids, but that prove me to be culturally insensitive.  Yet, I sympathize with their need for posterity to remember their importance.  It was common belief that building monolithic structures was the only mechanism by which one could be recalled.  But there is also a grain of altruism here: pyramid and funerary texts.  It is fantastic how they preserve their religious and historical teachings through mortuary practices.  Pyramids were a useful forum for priests to review/record the past decades, kings, and vague hymns that can be passed down to newer scholars.  But with this much cultural conservation, how could such a powerful  civilization fade?