Anatomy of the Ancient Egyptian Soul
As the title of the page suggests, the ancient Egyptians believed the soul had different components that worked together in life, death and the afterlife.
First, of course, is the physical body of a child, called the Ha or Kha. It was sculpted by the god Khnum on his potter’s wheel, and inserted into the mother’s womb.
Within the body was the person’s heart, called the Ib, which was so important that it was the only internal organ not removed during the mummification process.
It was given to the child at conception from a drop of blood from the mother’s heart, and was thought to be the seat of human emotion, intellect, will and morality.
In the ancient Egyptian underworld, the heart is what was weighed against Maat’s feather of truth during the weighing of the heart ceremony.
Components of the Ancient Egyptian Soul – Ka
The physical body had its life force, the Ka, breathed into it during the moment of birth, usually by one of the childbirth goddesses Heket or Meskhenet. The Ka is what gave the physical body life, and is what left the body at death.
Like the body, the Ka also needed sustenance, though it didn’t consume the actual food and drink, but just their life-giving energies. It was immortal as long as it was nourished. That is why offerings of food and drink were put into the tomb, and why false doors were created as well.
False doors were what looked like doors to the tombs but didn’t actually open and close like real doors did. They were inscribed with incantations and spells so that they would provide a way for the Ka of the deceased to move freely in and out and receive symbolic offerings of food and drink.
Death was sometimes called “going to one’s Ka” and although the Ka left the body at death and returned to its source, it stayed in close proximity. Inside the tomb, it would reside within the statue of the deceased.
And because it resembled the deceased and inhabited the body as well as the statue, it is called “the double” in some translations.
Components of the Ancient Egyptian Soul – Ren
Next we have the Ren was a person’s name. The ancient Egyptians really believed in the power of words and names. A person’s soul could live on as long as their name was perpetuated in speech, inscriptions or prayer.
In fact, a practice of some pharaohs was to destroy the names of their enemies from the monuments as a way to endanger their souls (photo7) – as Thutmosis III tried to do to Hatshepsuts name after she died (photo8)
Because it was believed that a name could be used against someone, in black magic for example, the “secret” or true names of gods and people alike remained hidden.
Components of the Ancient Egyptian Soul – Sheut
Now we get to something a bit obscure: a person’s shadow, called Sheut. Unlike the actual shadow of a person while they were alive, the Sheut was part of the soul and could move around separately from the deceased’s body. Statues of gods and humans were sometimes referred to as their shadows.
Components of the Ancient Egyptian Soul – Ba
Next we have a very important component of the ancient Egyptian soul called the Ba. The Ba can be considered the sum of forces that make up a person’s personality, both in its unique aspects as well as the primordial instincts of eating, drinking and copulation.
It was usually depicted as a bird, or a bird with a human head.
Although the Ba could move separately from the body, it returned to it every night. The Opening of the Mouth ceremony was performed on the body of the deceased as a way to release the Ba from the body and let it be united with the Ka, creating the Akh of the person.
Components of the Ancient Egyptian Soul – Akh
So finally, we get to the Akh, which can be translated as “the effective one”, or “the shining one” was what ascended to the sky after death, while the body was buried in the ground. It is sometimes thought of as a person’s ghost and had the ability to act in the world of the living.
On ascending to the sky and becoming an imperishable star, it is understood to be the most spiritual and immortal part of the deceased.
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Till next time, take care!