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 didn’t 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 they’re 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
Ma’at. I’m not seeing any problemos on that score. That old ibis-headed
rascal and I go way back together, and I’m sure he’ll cut me some slack if
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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