In my search for knowledge across my lifespan, I have discarded many earlier beliefs, including the majority of the Judeo-Christian tradition that I was raised in. However, I never stopped seeking an understanding of causation, and how that affected the way people treat one another, both globally and, more importantly, individually.
The illustration is taken from the (so-called) Egyptian Book of the Dead, and depicts a scene seen on hundreds of funerary papyri, the weighing of the heart. It is approximately 3,500 years old.
The ancient Egyptians believed that in order to achieve an afterlife, certain conditions must be met, and this scene represents one of them.
After death, the deceased is brought before Osiris, the god of the dead. His heart is measured against ma’at, which is that nebulous concept represented by the words: truth, right-doing, righteousness, justice.
In the illustration it is symbolized by the feather of truth on one scale.
The heart of the deceased is on the other scale.
If the heart of the deceased is too heavy [from “bad” behavior, “sinning”, etc.], he does not enter into the afterlife, but his heart is thrown to “the devourer,” represented by the tripartite beast with the head of a crocodile, fore-part of a lion, and rear-part of a hippopotamus.
Only if the deceased’s heart passes the test of truth does the deceased enter into the richness of the afterlife, and so live eternally.
This belief from a culture long dead is remarkable for several reasons.
First of all, we still believe today that the heart is the seat of the emotions, even though we have known for several centuries that this is not physically true. We still speak of “a good-hearted man or woman,” we speak of having “a sweetheart,” we speak of “being brokenhearted,” etc. All of this, which ties intangible emotions to the physical organ of the heart, and is immediately understood between people today, is from the singular beliefs of ancient Egypt.
Secondly, we still believe today in the morality which this scene represents. Christianized, it is good people go to Heaven, bad people go to Hell. But this is just window dressing on an already existent belief more than 1500 years old.
And this ancient concept from another time and another culture is so intuitive to grasp. The image of the scale, the heart, the feather of truth, is at once understandable and quickly useful as a guide to behavior. And what is at stake is your afterlife [your immortal soul].
This is one of the differences between religion and morality. In a person’s life it does not matter if one worships Ra more than Osiris, or is Christian or Jewish or Islamic. What matters are the deeds of your moments, and their causation, and their result. And this easy to understand image from 3500 years ago makes that clear