The fascinating tale of Mummies


The human cycle of life and death is a universal truth and that death is inevitable. But our romance with defying death has possibly opened all the doors to restore the body yet failing miserably with the soul.

The word ‘Mummy’ is quite a usual word in Asian countries. People use to refer to their mothers, but interestingly this word also symbolizes the un-decayed dead. Chances are you already knew what a mummy is, a dead human whose soft tissues and organs have been preserved by the use of chemicals and in some conditions, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air, so that the dead body does not decay with time if kept under the right circumstances. 

Some may believe that these mummies come complete with mazes and maybe a curse or two but in reality, it is just a product of human’s unending allure with the dead. Let’s take a look at the intriguing history of the mummies.

The Chronicles of mummies

The concept of mummies comes directly from ancient Egypt. The fascination with preserving the dead has resulted in the Mummies. But other cultures in history like Incan, Australian aboriginal, Aztec and African have also tried to preserve the bodies of the dead, though none was as successful as the Egyptians. The process of mummification was a common practice in some places whereas a luxury in others. In many Egyptian nations, the process of mummification was reserved only for royalties or the important citizens whereas for a common person this process wasn’t much authentic.

To attain the correct procedure of mummification; the ancient Egyptians went through a lot of trouble. While living cells have the capability of rebuilding the new cells, the dead cells on the other hand lose this ability to renew themselves thus ultimately get decomposed by the specialized enzymes of the body itself. The neurons of the brain die very quickly so getting rid of the brain at the first, was considered most important. The ancient mummifiers perform hammering a spike in the skull to mash up the brain, shove it out from the nose, and pouring the ancient resins into the skull to prevent any decomposition. Further, they remove all their organs from the body including guts and liver, however, the heart was left untouched. Then these organs were placed separately into a glass jar comprising natural salt called NATRON. The Natron kills the bacteria and also prohibits the body’s natural enzymes from working; ultimately stop the process of decomposition from inside. This natron was made by the mixture of two alkaline salts- baking soda and soda ash to preserve decaying. The body is then cleansed and the mummifiers, stuff the body with more natrons and stack it outside the body for 35 days so that it preserves the outer flesh. These natrons suck all the fluids from the body. Then the body was massaged with tree resins to get rid of the foul smell that may attract insects towards it. After this long procedure, the body was readied to bury. The body was bandaged with the linen and placed inside the well packet coffins. Thus, it can be concluded that ancient Egyptian mummies are definitely not intact human bodies but just a structure packed with tons of salts and resins.    


Additionally, there are several cases where the process of mummification happens by accident. For instance the case of mummies found in Guanajuato where over 100 mummified bodies were found. These bodies weren’t mummified of purpose instead were the product of either extreme heat or the areas of rich geological stores of sulfur. In some places, the Buddhist monks too wander through the lanes of mummification in search of finding their spiritual selves in Tusita. They spent years of starvation by only eating the substances that promote decay of the body. After the body fat gets dissolved, they only drink poisonous sap and vomit out all the fluids from their body. This body now becomes an unsavory host of insects and bacteria’s thus preventing decomposition. These monks are then buried alive in the state of meditation.

However, this isn’t the only way monks attain mummification. The practice of mummifying oneself became very popular in Japan between 1081 and 1903. The Japanese monks would eat a diet called mokujikigyō meaning “tree-eating training.” This diet helps them in getting rid of bodily fluids, fat, and muscles. After completing the thousand-day diet they enter the state of nyūjō and only drink salinized water for the next 100 days. After the 100 day cycle, they starve themselves and wait for death. When the monk feels that his death is approaching, his student would put him inside a sealed coffin stacking a bamboo pipe from one corner to maintain ventilation. The monks would be buried alive in the meditative state and would wait for his death. The days he would spend inside the coffin alive, he would ring a bell to inform his student that he is still alive. Once the ringing stops, the student would remove the bamboo pipe, seal pack the container and bury it.


This process of self-mummification is now banned in Japan considering it violent and a mad act.

Mummies on Cinema

The concept of mummies was globalized with Bram Stoker’s novel, The Jewel of the Seven Stars which portrays mummies as supervillains. However, it was the 1932 movie ‘The Mummy’ that bought fame to the un-decayed corpse. It was around this time when the most modern mummy of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Russian revolutionist was found. He died in 1924, soon after the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, and his mummy is now displayed at the Kremlin. There are several superstitions surrounding the mystery of mummies that suggests- a person would die if he disturbs a mummy’s tomb.


Later, several movies like Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Shroud, or The Mummy’s curse adapted the similar concept and received huge appreciation from the critics as well the audience. Perhaps, real or fictional, anything creepy serves the best plot for supervillains in the world of Cinema. 


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