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Death cults

by Micha F. Lindemans
The veneration of the dead plays an important role in mythology and (nature) religions. It is inspired by fear for wrath of the deceased, and by obtaining their council and favors. A large part of the religious life concentrated therefore around the death cults, a/o. in Egypt and the peoples in Asia Minor. This led to the erection of huge monuments (mastabas, pyramids, grave-temples, and rock-graves) in Egypt. But also in ancient China, Mesopotamia, and India the dead were honored by impressive monuments and elaborate rituals.

Although the death cults and burial rituals may be different among the nature religions, the reasons are the same; either affection towards the deceased or else fear for the soul wandering in the vicinity of the corpse and which must be appeased (with offerings, prayers, incantations). Some of those rituals have as purpose to mislead the soul by having the body disappear (for instance, through a hole in the wall or in the roof). Common is also a form of cannibalism where the body is eaten in order to obtain some of the strength of the deceased.

The mummification of the dead, which originated in the belief of life after death, was an important part of the death cults too. The dead were often accompanied by tools, food and drink, and money to ensure them of a good after-life. Some rulers had their servants killed in advance, so they could prepare their master's arrival and continue to serve them, even after death.


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