Totenpass, or “passport of the dead,” refers to small inscribed tablets or metal leaves that were found buried with those thought to have been of Orphic, Dionysiac, and some ancient Egyptian and Semitic religions. The gold inscriptions on the tablets or leaves instructed the deceased on how to navigate the afterlife and included directions for avoiding hazards as well as the responses one should provide to the underworld judges. The Totenpass was often placed in the hands of the deceased, but this was only the case when the tablet wasn’t folded into a capsule. If the tablet was folded, it was usually worn around the neck as an amulet or placed inside the deceased person’s mouth.
The best-known example of a Totenpass are the so-called Orphic gold tablets. The term “Orphic” refers to the Orphic religion or mystery cult that was supposedly popular among the ancient Greeks and Thracians and which involved performing secret rites and sharing hidden knowledge of the afterlife. Only a limited number of these tablets have been found, which confirms the belief that they were used by a minority group. Nevertheless, the geographical area in which these tablets were discovered is quite large, stretching from Macedonia to the Greek islands to Rome. They also differ in date: Almost 600 years stretches between the oldest and the most recent tablets.