The Ancient Egypians looked upon the world as a well ordered heirarcal structure loaded with hidden meaning. Their artistic references to the universe tend to be metephorical concepts of balance and division as seen in nature. The Egyptian culture was big on symbolic representations of just about any aspect of reality it perceived and not all of its symbols were necessarily literal translations. For instance, the animal-headed deities were given representative characteristics of the beast they thought most closely fit the behavior of the god.
The metaphorical representation of the world shows an understanding of the earth and sky being separated by air.
Here the reclining figure of Geb, a fertility god representing the Earth, looks up in hope of connecting with the sky. Above is the goddess Nut, who has streched out well beyond Geb's reach. Shu, the god of air, holds up the sky and keeps Geb from copulating with Nut. The solar disks and stars are shown passing through Nut as she devours and gives birth to them every day. Some interpretations indictate that the body of Nut is a representation of the Milky Way.
For the ancient Egyptians the afterlife was a place where everyday existance was much like life among the living. Work, play, eating, sleeping... but all under the very best circumstances and with a new youthful body that never grows old. However, entering into the afterlife was a perilous affair for the new arrival who must face a barrage of bureaucratic tests, and to fail means oblivion. To some extent it is like trying to get a job with a major corporation. To demonstrate (at great personal risk) I shall put myself through the gauntlet:
As I enter the underworld I am greeted by Maat the goddess of truth at the entrance of the underworld. Maat represents the unseen guiding force that tips the balance of the world toward justice and harmony. She is the receptionist of the afterlife and deems whether the newly arrived spirits are open and honest enough to prove worthy of an interview with Osiris. Without her approval the spirit is doomed to wander endlessly unemployed, without any hope of entering the underworld.
Beer was a common libation offered to the gods as I am doing here with Maat.
Having passed Maat I encounter Horus and Anubis, who act as the Human Resource department. It is their job to do a background check by weighing out the many parts of the prospective empolyee.
According to the Egyptians, human consciousness is composed of many elements, among them are the Ka (spirit), Ba (soul), and the heart (which is said to hold the mind, emotions, and will). While being processed for the afterlife it is important to have all your constituant parts acting in unison or you will not pass their physical exam. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, which acts as a guidebook to the afterlife, is filled with prayers asking the many aspects of yourself not to betray you.
The best known test is the weighing of the heart against the feather of truth.
Horus oversees the process of the weighing of the new arrivals heart. Anubis checks the scale to make sure it is level. While they are going through this procedure I offer them both a beer and recite a prayer: "O my heart of my mother, my heart of my mother, my heart of different ages: stand not up against me as witness, create no trouble for me as a witness, create no trouble for me as a witness, create no trouble for me among the judges. Do not weigh heavy against me in front of the keeper of the scales. You are my spirit (Ka) which is my body, the Khnum (creator-god) who sustains my limbs."
Ammut anxiously awaits the chance to eat my heart if I fail the test.
Having passed the weighing of the heart, Thoth, the scribe of the gods, reviews the events of the new arrivals life. Here Thoth is checking my application and resume after which I offer him a beer.
On the throne sits Osiris, lord of the dead, to give final judgement. He is much like the CEO of the afterlife and assigns the position you will hold for the rest of eternity. After reviewing my qualifications, I am offered a job as an artisan with some scribe work on the side. I gladly accept the position and offer him a beer.
The goddess Isis looks on with approval of his choice.
Here again we see Nut and Geb portraying the world. Above the sun god Ra sails over the back of the the sky goddess. On the wheel in the background is a procession of eighteen deities or constellations, but only twelve are seen on any given night. These twelve hours of night shift every ten days, creating a calendar that can track the flooding of the Nile.
The ancient Egyptians maintained their civilization through following the annual flood cycle of the Nile River and defined their three seasons as the flood season, the planting season, and the harvest season. This harmonious balance allowed for much down time for many holiday feasts and artistic persuits.
Osiris manifests himself as the moon on his nightly journey across the sky. Below in the underworld is a wheel showing the ten day week with Anubis and Osiris to either side.
According to the Fon of Dahomey world was created by the primordial mother, Nana Buluku, who was the godess of the sky. It was from her the first twins were born: one male (Lisa) who was the Sun and one female (Mawu) who was the moon.
As Lisa and Mawu moved across the sky over the years they eventually came together as an ecplise (which was their way of making love). From their union was born a set of twins, also male and female.
Over the years Lisa and Mawu eclipsed several more times and each time they gave birth to another set of twins, each set being male and female. Until at last they had seven sets of twins.
Then one day Lisa and Mawu called their children together and told them they were to take charge of the world. To the firstborn twins they gave control of the earth and were allowed to take whatever they wished from heaven. The second born twins were to stay in the sky and rule over the thunder and lightning. The third set of twins were given power over iron so the land could be cleared for cultivation. They were the ones to give tools and weapons to man. The fourth set of twins were to rule over the waters and the fishes. The fifth set of twins were the hunters and were to rule over the birds. The sixth set of twins were the hunters that to ruled over the beasts. And finally the seventh set of twins were to rule over the trees. So the world was divided up among the gods to do with as they pleased.