This one is a twofer, because I stumbled over two crazy stories about mummies.
Firstly: did you know that you don’t have to make arrangements in your will to become a mummy? You can diy yourself right into mummification right now.
At least, you could if you wanted to practice an extreme diet for 10 years. The end result isn’t guaranteed. And even if it succeeds, you wouldn’t have the amazing powers of Imhotep from The Mummy.
Buddhist monks in northern Japan from the 11th century to the 19th century undertook the process, known as Sokushinbutsu as a means of achieving greater enlightenment.
Monks who wanted to become Mummies started with 1,000 days of living only on nuts and seeds while exercising to eliminate all body fat.
Next came another 1,000 days of eating only bark and roots.
In the final stage of mummification, practitioners would drink poisonous tree sap. This would cause vomiting that removed fluids from the body, while making the tissues poisonous to maggots.
When the self-made mummy was ready, he would seal himself into a stone tomb barely larger than his own body while sitting in a lotus position. A breathing tube would bring in air. Each day he would ring a bell to let his fellow Monks know that he was still alive.
When the bell stopped ringing, the monks would remove the breathing tube, then wait another 1,000 days to see if the mummification worked.
If the priests found a mummy in the tomb, they venerated the remains. If not, they still honored the monk for his efforts.
Before Japan outlawed the practice, officials believe that hundreds of monks attempted to mummify themselves. Only somewhere between 16 and 24 were successful.
On to something more cheerful: a story about a princess. The kind of princess story that would curdle Micky Mouse’s blood.
Once Upon a time, there was a princess of Amun-Re. (The story specifically calls her a princess, not a priestess.)
When the princess died, her priests mummified her, placed the body in an elaborate coffin and put it to rest in Luxor, where it stayed until the 1890’s.
When it was discovered, an Englishman purchased it for his manor house, as one does when one is stupid rich and English and in the grip of Egypt mania.
So the story goes, the Englishman never made it home, but the princess mummy did. While it resided in the manor, three members of the house were injured in an auto accident, and the house caught on fire.
To get rid of the mummy, the members of the house donated it to the British Museum.
The Princess Mummy must not have liked her new home any more than the last one, because night watchmen swore that they could hear banging and crying from the mummy’s case.
The museum eventually tried to get rid of the Princess, but no one would take her. Finally an American Archaeologist took the mummy and had it shipped aboard the Titanic, where the legend says she caused the ship to strike an iceberg.
Is the legend true? There is no record of a mummy on the Titanic’s very detailed shipping manifests. As for the Princess of Amun-Ra, the British Museum does display the coffin lid belonging to a priestess (not a princess) of Amun. But all they have is a lid.
The story was probably made up by a journalist named William Stead and a friend named Douglas Murray. At the time, tall tales about Mummy curses were as popular as Mummy unwrapping parties. It’s likely that Stead and Murray made up the story after seeing the Priestess’s coffin lid on display in the museum.
The story became linked to the Titanic when Stead joined the maiden voyage. During the trip, the Journalist repeated his favorite tall tale to some of the other passengers. Although Stead didn’t survive the crossing, his story made it’s way into the papers when some survivors recalled it.
These days, you can see artifacts from the Titanic at Titanic museums all across the country. But the Princess of Amun-Ra isn’t among them. If you want to see the coffin lid of the Priestess of Amun, that is still on display in the British Museum.