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The Ancient Egyptian Soul

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 flesh).

Ren (name)
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.

Sheut (shadow)
A person's shadow (šwt 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 semen.

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.

Ba (soul/personality)
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 another.

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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This article is copied from an article on - the free encyclopedia created and edited by online user community. Although the vast majority of the wikipedia encyclopedia articles provide accurate and timely information please do not assume the accuracy of any particular article. This article is distributed under the terms of GNU Free Documentation License.


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