Many religions believe that when our physical body dies our soul moves on to an afterlife. Each culture has a different concept of what this dimension may be, and the events that take place within it. Almost all of them, however, believe that where you go and what you do in the afterlife, are determined by your actions in this one.
Kemet (Ancient Egypt)
The pyramids located in modern day Egypt are known as elaborate burial tombs for the society’s most revered pharaohs. They spent a major part of this life preparing for the next, and massive ceremonies took place upon an individual’s passing. The deceased moved into the realm of the dead, Duat, where the soul began an arduous journey to be judged, which they hoped would eventually lead to a life of paradise beyond.
Duat was the realm of the god Osiris, and contained burial chambers which served as portals between the human world and the underworld. Through these spirits controlled by the gods would pass to do their bidding. Duat’s layout was like the world above with hills, valleys and rivers. The terrain was quite different, however, because of the lakes of fire, turquoise trees and walls of iron that were scattered throughout it.
The Book of the Dead was written to guide souls through the halls of Duat, and those who qualified would traverse the dangerous layout to a life of paradise beyond. It laid out the rites of passage that these souls would have to pass through to make their journey successful, and those which did not pass the judging were destined to remain in Duat for an eternity.
Mortals weren’t the only ones who travelled the halls of this underworld, however, as it was the residence of many of the gods. It also served as a significant part of the journey which the sun god, Ra, undertook each night. The challenges he faced, and surpassed, resulted in the sun being transformed from its aged form into its new one in time for each dawn.
The Ancient Roman religion had many similarities to that of the Greeks, and this included their belief in an underworld. Contained within a volcanic crater, its entrance was known as Avernus which was derived from the Greek work aornos meaning ‘without birds.’ This was because many of the birds which flew over Avernus would perish, due to the toxic fumes which the crater released.
One of the ancient Mesoamerican cultures, the Aztec civilization was in central Mexico. After death, they believed that they passed into Mictlan, ruled by King Mictecacihuatl and his wife. Here there were nine levels which took more than four years to get through. The souls were assisted in many challenges during this time including: crossing a mountainous range where the mountains crashed into each other, a river of blood which had ferocious jaguars guarding it and a field in which flesh scraping knives flew.