Marc Spector is dead. Steven Grant is too. However, they did not ascend to the Astral or Ancestral Plane. They didn’t even visit the Soulworld of the Soul Stone. The pair went to a different afterlife in the MCU. Because, as the nice hippopotamus goddess Taweret explained, “many intersectional planes of untethered consciousness exist.” The two found themselves in the realm of the dead Ancient Egyptians believed in. However, while Moon Knight‘s fifth episode featured both the Duat and the Field of Reeds, the show’s version of that journey differed in meaningful ways from the path Egyptians expected to travel when they died. That doesn’t mean the Disney+ series tipped the scales too much, though.
Let’s look at how Moon Knight‘s depiction of Duat and the weighing of the hearts ceremony compares to history.
Ancient Egypt and the Duat
Ancient Egyptians did not believe existence ended with death. Life was simply the beginning of what would hopefully be an eternal journey. Before you could reach everlasting paradise, you traveled the realm of the dead known as the Duat. It might sound equivalent to the concept of purgatory, but it was not a holding place. It was a bridge between life and the ultimate afterlife souls had to survive.
While some aspects of the Duat looked the same as Earth, it also had magical locations like lakes of fire and walls of iron. Gods, dangerous monsters, and evil demons also called this realm home. And travelers had to avoid all of them and the many pitfalls that awaited them during their trip.
At the end of the Duat a soul would encounter 42 god judges. The deceased would then have to convince each assessor they had lived a good life by making “declarations of innocence” for sins they claimed to have never committed. Convincing 42 god judges you lived a worthy life was easy compared to what awaited next.
The Weighing of the Heart
Those who successfully navigated the Duat’s many perils and convinced the judges to let them pass then came to their final judgment in the the Hall of Truth. There either Osiris or Anubis would pull the dead’s heart from their chest and place it on a scale. On the other side rested a feather from Maat, the goddess of truth, justice, and order in the universe. Ancient Egyptians believed the heart was home to the soul.
If your heart weighed less than Maat’s feather and the scales tipped in your favor you earned passage to paradise. If they tipped against you, deeming you unworthy of everlasting life, a fate worse than Hell awaited.
The Field of Reeds
Those who passed the weighing of the scales departed the Duat and entered A’aru, also known as the Field of Reeds. (Different eras of Ancient Egypt believed one final test still awaited at this point to earn physical passage to A’aru, but judgment of the soul ended with the scales.)
In this paradise, ruled by Osiris, one would find eternal happiness with the things that had made them happiest in life. For this realm served as the ideal version of life. Those who earned their place in the Fields of Reeds felt no pain as they lived alongside the gods and all the other souls who dwelt there for all eternity. Meanwhile, those who failed the weighing of the heart simply vanished from the universe altogether.
A Fate Worse Than Eternal Damnation
If your heart did not prove lighter than Maat’s feather, Osiris or Anubis threw it to the ground. Then the horrible crocodile headed goddess Ammit devoured it. Hell did not necessarily await you. Ancient Egyptians believed there was something. You either simply ceased to exist entirely, or the gods cast you outside the normal order and harmony of the universe. (Ancient Egypt stood for thousands and thousands of years. Ideas and concepts about death and the afterlife changed and evolved, so depending on the era the specifics might change.)
Despite the belief that non-existence was the worst fate imaginable, if you got to choose, you’d likely prefer not existing to an eternity outside order. Maat’s counterpart, the demonic god Isfet, ruled over evil, disorder, and injustice. His realm would have meant eternal terror and pain. In that way, Moon Knight‘s version of the bad afterlife, frozen in sand, was less terrible. Not that Steven Grant would necessarily agree.
Moon Knight‘s Boat Ride Through Its Duat
For as much as the MCU pulled from the real concept of the Duat, Moon Knight‘s version also featured some major differences. Taweret doesn’t play a role in the realm of the dead in Ancient Egypt. It’s easy to understand why the series chose her as Marc and Steven’s guide. The goddess of fertility and childbirth was fiercely protective. Considering the pair’s mother was anything but, having a loving maternal figure attend them on their journey to A’aru was both thematically relevant and emotionally resonant.
Ancient Egyptians did bury the dead with model boats, believing they could help with a soul’s journey through the afterlife. But if they took one they would not ride across desert sands like Marc and Steven. “Egyptians saw death as a boat journey” across the Nile. And they thought the Duat contained islands and lakes both of water and fire. Sand did not rule the lives of Ancient Egyptians, nor did it dominate their iconography and religious beliefs. Water was sacred, which is why their paradise was full of reeds like those that grew near the Nile. Their Duat was not a desert.
The hippo goddess also led the weighing of the heart, not Osiris or Anubis. It also happened throughout Marc/Steven’s journey through the Duat, not at the end. And rather than Ammit eating the hearts for those who fail the weighing before they vanished from existence, that unfortunate lot became trapped in the MCU realm. They remain in the Duat “forever frozen in sand,” except when they rise to drag the unbalanced down with them.
The type of demons or monsters Egyptians thought existed in the Duat did not populate Moon Knight‘s version. The MCU’s realm only has doomed souls made of sand. Nor did the MCU’s realm contain 42 judges waiting to hear your declarations. Marc and Steven’s trip was much shorter. They battled themselves and their own memories rather than magical serpents and creatures. And they rode until they either froze in the Duat’s sands or moved on to the Field of Reeds.
Moon Knight‘s Duat did offer one other possibility, however. The Gates of Osiris could allow a dead person to return to the realm of the living. And with Ammit sending unbalanced souls to the Duat before their judgment, the king of gods might have no choice but to let Marc/Steven pass through his gates.
Afterlife in the MCU
Even beyond its own story and the subsequent history lessons it has given us, Moon Knight‘s fifth episode also provided new context for understanding death in the MCU. Taweret said a soul had not passed through the Duat in a long time. Like in our world, within the MCU no culture has mass worshipped Ancient Egyptian gods for millennia. Marc’s connection to Khonshu, combined with Steven’s obsession with Egyptian gods, seemingly brought them to that intersectional plane of untethered consciousness.
Those who die in the Marvel Cinematic Universe encounter an afterlife connected to what they believed in life. That’s why Wakandans enter the Ancestral Plane instead of the Duat. Though Taweret herself is familiar with that gorgeous realm.
Despite the clarity this episode provided about afterlife in the MCU, it raises even more questions. What happens to those who believe nothing? Do all who reach paradise live eternal in the A’aru? Is the Field of Reeds one place known by many names across many religions? Is it also Heaven, Eden, and the Fields of Elysium? If so who rules over it? Osiris alone? Many gods? Or a supreme being we don’t know about?
Whatever the truth, we know one thing: someone must stop Ammit before she makes it impossible for anyone to attain everlasting life in paradise.
Originally published on April 27, 2022.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.