The ancient Egyptian pantheon is full of strange and wonderful creatures – gods with the heads of birds, mysterious cat goddesses and giant serpents. One of the more unusual – and fearsome – is Ammit (or Ammut).

With the head of a crocodile, neck, mane and foreparts of a lion, and the rear quarters of a hippo, this goddess represented everything the Egyptians feared. More demon than deity, Ammit lived in the underworld in the Hall of Two Truths where the dead would face their final judgement. In Ancient Egyptian, her name, ꜥm-mwt, means literally “devourer of the dead.”

Book of the Dead, Papyrus of Ani (sheet 3) Ani's Judgment in the Hall of Judgment. (Photo by British Museum)
Book of the Dead, Papyrus of Ani (sheet 3) Ani’s Judgment in the Hall of Judgment. (Photo by British Museum)

In her role as “eater of hearts,” Ammit would wait below the Scales of Truth as the hearts of the deceased were weighed against the feather of Ma’at. This ritual, presided over by Anubis, the god of death, embalming and mummification, ensured that only those who had lived a good and truthful life were permitted to pass through to the Field of Reeds, and enjoy eternal life. If the individual had not lived a good life Ammit would consume their heart (the seat of all thoughts and emotions), thus denying the person entry into paradise.

While not worshiped like other gods and goddesses, Ammit would have been known to most Egyptians. We see her almost exclusively in funerary papyri, especially in illustrations of Chapter 125 in the Book of the Dead.

Source: Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003), 218