In Egyptian mythology,
the human soul is made up of five parts:
the Ka, the Ba, the Akh, the Sheut, and
the Ren. During life, the soul, including
those of animals, and of gods, was thought
to inhabit a body (named the Ha, meaning
A person's name (rn in Egyptian) was given to them at birth
and would live for as long as that name was spoken, which
explains why efforts were made to protect it, placing it in
large amounts of writings. For example, part of the Græco-Roman
Book of Breathings, a descendant of the Book
of the Dead, was for ensuring the survival of the name.
A cartouche (magical rope) was often used to surround the
name and protect it for eternity. Conversely, the names of
deceased enemies of the state, such as Akhenaten, were studiously
hacked out of monuments.
A person's shadow (wt in Egyptian) was always present.
A person could not exist without a shadow, nor the shadow
without the person. The shadow was represented as a small
human figure painted completely black.
Ka (corporal presence/life force)
The Ka (k3) was the concept of life force, the difference
between a living and a dead person, death occurring when the
ka left the body. The Ka was thought to be created by Khnum
on a potter's wheel, or passed on to children via their father's
The Egyptians also believed that the ka was sustained through
food and drink. For this reason food and drink offerings were
presented to the dead, though it was the kau (k3w) within
the offerings (also known as kau) that was consumed, not the
physical aspect. The ka was often represented in Egyptian
iconography as a second image of the individual, leading earlier
works to attempt to translate ka as double.
The Ba (b3) is in some regards the closest to the Western notion
of the soul, but it also was everything that makes an individual
unique, similar to the notion of personality. (In this sense,
inanimate objects could also have a ba, a unique character,
and indeed Old Kingdom pyramids were often called the ba of
their owner). Like a soul, the ba is a part of a person that
lives after the body dies, and it is sometimes depicted as a
human-headed bird flying out of the tomb to join with the ka
in the afterlife.
As with humans, deities could also have bas, but in the case
of divine beings, it was even more associated with their impressiveness,
power, and reputation. When a god intervened in human affairs,
it was said that the bau (plural of Ba) of the god where at
work [Borghouts 1982]. In this regard, the king was regarded
as a ba of a god, or one god was believed to be the ba of
Akh (Alternative: Khu)
The Akh (meaning shiner), was a concept that varied over the
long history of egyptian belief. It was, at first, the unchanging
unification of Ka and Ba, which united after the death of the
physical body. In this sense, it was a sort of ghost. The Akh
was then a part of the Akh-Akh, the panoply of Akhs from other
people, gods and animals. In this system, it was the aspect
of a person that would join the gods in the underworld being
immortal and unchangeable.
In later belief, the Ka was considered to change into the
Akh and Ba after death, rather than uniting with the Ba to
become the Akh. At this stage, it was believed that the Akh
spent some time dwelling in the underworld before returning
and being reincarnated as a Ka, gaining a new Ba.
The separation of Akh / unification of Ka and Ba was created
after death, by having the proper offerings made and knowing
the proper efficacious spell, but there was an attendant risk
of dying again. Egyptian funerary literature (such as the
Coffin Texts and the Book of
the Dead) were intended to aid the deceased in "not
dying a second time" and becoming an akh.
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