in our e-book
by H. Peter Aleff
Volume 1: its siblings Senet and Snake Game,
and its surviving sequel the Royal Game of the Goose
Let us now look at Senet’s parallel with the "bald head" fields on the Disk. Some of the squares on Senet boards were often embellished with special signs, as some fields still are on many modern gameboards. The signs on the first 25 Senet squares varied or were often absent, but on most of the Senet boards with any decoration at all, the last five bore the same or equivalent marks:
Senet’s death square 26 is twice the even then unlucky thirteen. The bad luck of that field matches also the ancient Egyptian fortune-telling calendars which all agreed that the 26th of the month was a wicked day of evil and unfit for doing anything. It was the worst of all dates because on the 26th of the month of Thoth the twin gods Horus and Seth had waged their decisive battle in which Horus temporarily lost his eye and light until Thoth repaired it106.
The "danger" sign in the field right after death is easy to understand: In many religions, from the ancient Near East to the South Sea islands, the way to the afterworld went through a dark and dangerous maze107. The analytical psychologist Erich Neumann describes this belief and its widely shared features in his analysis of the archetype "The Great Mother":
"The labyrinthine way is always the first part of the night sea voyage, the descent of the male following the sun into the devouring underworld, into the deathly womb of the Terrible Mother. This labyrinthine way leads to the center of the danger, where at the midnight hour, in the land of the dead, in the middle of the night sea voyage, the decision falls; [it] occurs in the judgment of the dead in Egypt, in the mysteries both classical and primitive, and in the corresponding processes of psychic development in modern man. Because of its dangerous character, the labyrinth is also frequently symbolized by a net, its center as a spider."108
In the Egyptian descriptions of that maze, the deceased had to recite at each gate the proper passwords and the good deeds s/he had performed. The guardians were unfriendly monsters with long teeth or knives and with scary names, but if they were satisfied with these ritual declarations, they let the soul go to the "Hall of Judgment" where it would pass the final test, the weighing of the heart against the Feather of Truth. Then it was admitted to eternal life.
But if the guardians did not like the answers, they barred the soul’s passage so that it remained in the limbo of the maze. And if the heart was found heavy with sin, a nasty composite beast with a vicious- looking crocodile snout would devour it. The danger and difficulty in this place of fright clearly corresponds to the "X" in that Senet square after death.
The water lines which replaced that "X" on many gameboards were the water the mummy had to cross to get to its tomb west of the Nile, and they also represented the dangerous night sea journey which could be included in the maze after death or form an alternate to it. A river was in many early religions a symbol for the barrier to be crossed before reaching the next world109, as illustrated by the well- known river Styx that prevented unburied Greek corpses from reaching their Hades. The water lines in that Senet square also conveyed the same meaning of danger as the "X" in accounts of the game where one player’s pieces throw those of the opponent into the water to make them drown.
Kendall reconstructed from those accounts that this square 27 probably set back the pieces that landed on it, most likely by twelve fields to square 15 at the center of the gameboard which had often also special markings.
For instance, one field 28 said "You mount the staircase of the spirits from Heliopolis", and 29 on the same board assured the player that the goddesses "Isis and Nephtys unite with you in peace".
The omen calendars agreed again: the 28th of the month was so lucky that "what you see on that day is good", and the favorable fortune of this perfect day continued for the rest of most months.
4.6.1. The gamepieces’ journey through death
As some accounts of games in progress clearly indicate, the gamepieces represented the lives and passages into the afterlife of the players themselves. They had to reach the embalmer’s House of Death with an exact count of the two-sided dice because they had first to get mummified before they could continue their journey towards the afterlife.
Once there, the so prepared players tried then to avoid the hazards of the water square right after death which represented the initial obstacles and difficulties of the soul’s postmortem travels.
If the players were able to jump over this place of jeopardy and progressed to the last square, they were "justified". That was the expression used for the souls of the deceased who had been judged and found worthy "to go forth by day upon the earth again as a living soul" or to be reborn into eternal life, to join the sun god whom they would then accompany in his sky-boat for millions upon millions of years. Accordingly, the gamepieces which reached that last square were taken off the board.
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