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The demoness Ammut
Image © Edna R. Russmann

Ammut, Great of Death, Eater of Hearts, The Devourer

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: November 29, 2012

 

`m`mskin determinative Ammut, lighting a Fire from the Book of the Dead

Ammut (Ammit, Ahemait, Ammemet) was an Egyptian demoness. She was known as the 'Eater of Hearts', 'The Devourer' and 'Great of Death' because she was a demoness of punishment. She was a netherworld dweller who waited by the scales of judgement to consume the hearts of those who did evil during their lives. She was not worshipped, and was never regarded as a goddess. Instead she embodied creatures that the Egyptians feared, threatening to eat them if they did not follow the principals of Ma'at.

She had the head of a crocodile, the body of a leopard and the backside of a hippopotamus - all fierce creatures to the Egyptians. All man-eaters. It's no wonder that she was depicted as one who consumed the unworthy dead!

Of Ammut, an Egyptian papyrus (No. 9901) states: Ammut, hoping to gobble up the heart of the deceased, if the heart didn't weigh the same as the feather of Ma'at

hat en emsuh; pehu-s em tebt her-ab-set em ma.
the fore-part of a crocodile; her hind-quarters are those of a hippopotamus; her middle part [is that] of a lion.

-- Wallis Budge, E.A., The Book of the Dead

In The Book of the Dead, Ammut sat at the judgement of the dead in The Hall of Double Ma'at (when the deceased's heart was weighed on the scales against Ma'at), ready to devour the souls of the unworthy - the final death for an Egyptian! It has even been suggested that she was also a protector of Osiris, because of her position at the Judgement.

Ammut, Crouching by a Lake of Fire

Image © Insecula

In later times in particular, it was believed that instead of swallowing the deceased or his heart, Ammut would punish him with a knife; other versions turn the animal into a fire-spitting being.

-- Global Egyptian Museum, Ammut

She was also known as the 'Dweller in Amenty' or the 'Devourer of Amenty', the place where the sun sets. Amenty, as used by the Egyptians, was applied to the west bank of the Nile - Egyptian cemeteries and funerary places were all on the west. To the Egyptians, west was a direction linked to death. Amenty was also the name of the underworld - the place where Ra travelled during the night. Ammut, therefore, was not only a demoness of death, but a demoness of the underworld. In at least one papyrus, Ammut was depicted as crouching beside the lake of fire in the infernal regions of the underworld!

Ammut, waiting to eat the heart of the dead, with Anubis weighing the heart on the scales The Book of the Dead is a selection of spells, designed to assist the deceased through the trials of the underworld. This also, of course, assists the dead to not get eaten by Ammut. The papyrus of Ani, in a speech made by the gods to Thoth, says:

The Osiris [the scribe Ani], whose word is true, is holy and righteous. He has not committed any sin, and he has done no evil against us. The devourer Ammut shall not be permitted to prevail over him.

-- Wallis Budge, E.A., The Book of the Dead

Interestingly, one of the treasures of Tutankhamen's tomb is a funerary bed in the form of Ammut: Tutankahmen's funerary couch with the head of the demoness Ammut

The sides of this bed, made of gilded wood, are composed of parts of three animals: the heads are those of hippopotami, the bodies those of crocodiles, and the legs those of lions. An inscription on the mattress describes Tutankhamun as "beloved of Ammut," from which it may be inferred that the bed has some connection with Ammut.

-- Iorwerth Eiddon Stephen Edwards (1976), Tutankhamun, His Tomb and Its Treasures, pp. 45-46.

In the form of Egyptian's fiercest man-eaters, Ammut was a terrifying demon who was to eat those wrongdoers who had not followed ma'at. She stayed by the judgement scales in the underworld, the one who lived in Amenty - the Land of the West. She might have be fooled by spells, but what the Egyptians really wanted was to be judged as worthy and holy, as one who was fit to stay with the gods in the Field of Reeds.


Further Information about Ammut


Video of Ammut

A '3D' representation of Ammut using an amalgamation of real animals (though the lion and hippo parts are transposed) by gingerandrust:


© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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