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My Lil' Shabti


The ancient Egyptians believed that the hereafter was not a place totally devoid of hardship. The deceased, whether peasant or king, would be called upon to provide agricultural labor in the afterlife. Those who could afford it would take to the grave one or more funerary statuettes to carry out the farming duties for them. These small statuettes were known as shabti, shawabti or ushabti -- literally, "answerer". The inscriptions on many of the statuettes quoted Chapter 6 from the Egyptian Book of the Dead:

O shabti, allotted to me, if I be summoned or if I be detailed to do any work which has to be done in the realm of the dead; if indeed obstacles are implanted for you therewith as a man at his duties, you shall detail yourself for me on every occasion of making arable the fields, of flooding the banks or of conveying sand from east to west; "Here am I," you shall say.

Most shabti were made of faience, a glazed ceramic material composed of finely crushed quartz sand with small amounts of lime and natron or plant ash. Water was added to the mixture to make a paste, and this was pressed into a mold. The molded body was then coated with a soda lime & silica glaze including, most commonly, copper. The heiroglyphics were stamped into it, and when fired, the quartz body developed its typical blue-green glassy surface.

Well, my mama didnt raise any dummies. Just to be on the safe side, I obtained an authentic shabti figure a few years ago. It is shown on at the top of this page. It is about 4 inches tall, and was made in the Late Kingdom, 26th Dynasty between 663 and 525 B.C.E. Many thousands of these articles were made from the Middle Kingdom on, so theyre quite plentiful and not all that expensive I paid about $140 for mine from the Sadigh Gallery in NYC. Assuming I can successfully have it buried with me, I should be in duck soup in the afterlife so long as the god Thoth properly weighs my heart, as presented to him by Anubis, and it is judged to be lighter than the Feather of Maat. Im not seeing any problemos on that score. That old ibis-headed rascal and I go way back together, and Im sure hell cut me some slack if need be.

To me, this little shabti fellow looks mighty happy.  And why shouldn't he be?  He's been given a break after 2500 years of continuous hard labor!  I haven't the heart to tell him that it's only temporary...

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