In modern society, we need a license for practically everything. Whether it’s buying alcohol or tobacco to fishing, licenses are just a fact of life. If you thought it was a pain in the neck to get your license when you were younger take a look at this: Archaeologists have uncovered ancient golden tablets that served as identification for their owners. The ornate texts weren’t exactly designed for crossing national borders. Instead, they were intended to help the bearer get into paradise and didn’t become necessary until after death.
According to Conservative Tribune:
“What’s the best way to ensure a spot in paradise? To some ancient Greeks, the answer was burying themselves with golden tablets engraved with ritual texts,” explained Atlas Obscura.
Early archaeologists associated these “passports to the afterlife” with Orpheus, a mythical hero closely associated with the Underworld, but these tablets don’t actually reference Orpheus. Rather, the texts provided instructions for how to properly behave in paradise and acted as amulets protecting the people with whom they were buried.
The plethora of ancient mystery cults promised devotees a special place in the afterlife through initiation and participation in ritual; the particular cult that created these passports was never named. Unlike others, this cult wasn’t centered in any single location. Its beliefs were spread by itinerant preachers who traveled the Greek-speaking world; these bear some similarities to the practices of “Orpheus initiators” referenced by Plato, so-called “priest-poets” who went from town to town, selling purification rites and a place in paradise to willing initiates. Plato associated these preachers with Orpheus, who went to the Underworld and came back alive, perhaps fueling modern associations with “Orphism,” a movement that may not have even existed in the ancient world.
“These served as passports by confirming the initiates’ identity and purity and allowing them to move easily between the mortal and divine realms, protecting the dead from any evils that might haunt them along the way.”
The ancient Greeks made it a pretty steep challenge to get into their mythical paradise. The Greek underworld was a labyrinth of different areas, and mortals certainly didn’t want to get lost.
That’s where the golden tablets came in handy. Part “passport” and part guidebook, they promised to help bring the deceased to the paradise known as Elysium after death came.
“The golden tablets designed to ease the path to Elysium were called lamellae in Latin,” reported Atlas Obscura.
“They are small pieces of foil inscribed with guides to paradise, written from the perspective of the deceased. Dating from the fourth and third centuries BC, they have most often been discovered in gravesites. About 30 to 40 of them have been found across the Greek-speaking Mediterranean.”
Have you ever received vague directions to somewhere you’ve never been before? You know the kind: “Turn left at the blue sign, then go right at the big tree. Can’t miss it.” The lamellae tablets weren’t far from that.
“Surviving text on a lamella from Petelia in southern Italy provides a roadmap to paradise,” explained Obscura. “It instructs the deceased to bypass a spring and a white cypress, then proceed to the Lake of Memory.”
After that the bearer — ignoring the fact that they were, well, dead — was instructed to recite a complicated message in order to be accepted into paradise.
It makes customs checkpoints at the airport seem downright mundane. At least the TSA doesn’t demand that passengers memorize Greek just to get aboard (yet).
From the Mayans in Central America to the Egyptians in the Middle East and the Greeks in Europe, ancient cultures all over the world have consistently been obsessed with death.
It’s interesting and informative to learn from their superstitions and rituals, while certainly not having to adopt them.
Discoveries like this are an archaeologists dream come true. Through this information, we are able to learn more about our ancestors who lived so long ago.
H/T Conservative Tribune