The intent of the traditional ritual was to animate an inert body, to transfigure it, to glorify
it as the living Osiris or, more accurately, make it share the God's destiny, to assimilate it
to his trials; like Osiris, it shall know the shadow of death; much as Osiris, its body shall
be dismembered by the forces of Evil, and the guardian goddesses, Isis and Nephthys, both wives
and sisters, shall gather its scattered members and reassemble its ill-treated body as they did
for Osiris, then purify it; then during a long ceremony, they shall give it back to the day, to
light; assisted by Anubis, sometimes by Sokar, and by Horus' four sons, Imsety, Hapi, Duamutef
and Qebehsenuef, by other deities and spirits, they unite their forces in order to open the god's
eye, to animate his gaze.
Tirelessly, for centuries, the priests repeated for each person and over each person, this mystery, each phrase, each formula, each gesture, each offering, each balm, each amulet contributing to the advent of a god "resplendent with life". It is more than a little striking to note the importance accorded to the head, the face or its substitute, the mask, while the ritual is carried out; it would seem that the priests considered the eyes, nostrils and the mouth as the very links which unite man to the cosmic forces, to the gods which are their manifestation; for this also transfigures the deceased while incorporating it into these animated forces which drive the universe to help it reach Duat.
For each person, the ceremony of the return to life unfolded in two stages: the mummification itself and the entombment, and in two locations, the Pure Place and the tomb's forecourt. The corpse was first "prepared" by the embalmers; at this point, the head was already subjected to extreme attention, requiring the priests to have perfect knowledge of the ritual. Before even treating the body, they anointed the face to purify it.
Once the body had been emptied and treated with natron, and after the first shroud had been applied and gold finger stalls had been put on the hands and feet, the bandages were then applied, the head being wrapped first. After a stay of some seventy days in the Pure Place, the deceased, now a mummy, was carried to the tomb; once there, before being placed inside, a last ritual was celebrated, perhaps even more important than the preceding one, as it was meant to "animate" the mummy, to give it back, sense by sense, all the powers of a living being. The swaddled body, enclosed in an anthropoid coffin, was set on a sand platform (which explains the singular size of the foot boxes of the Late Period and New Kingdom sarcophagi); after the mourners had lamented for a lengthy period of time at its feet, as though to retain him on earth, after the large and small djerets had been detached from the group as a symbol of Isis' and Nephthys' pain and anguish, the leaders of the ceremony stepped forward, led by the priest-sem, wearing a panther skin, who directed the "play". The sarcophagus, purified by repeated glazings and incense fumigations, was then finally delivered to the priests.
The mask was then anointed with sacred oils and the all-powerful wedjat, Horus' eye was affixed to its forehead; brought to life, the deceased opened its eyes, its entire body released.