The Souls of the Egyptians


for Mayu

The Egyptians believed that a soul (ka/ba) was made up of many parts; in addition to the body itself, known by a term which translates as the sum of the bodily parts. Another version is remains.

Because the world was made by magic, it was magic, and so was every living thing upon it. When humans were made, that magic took the form of soul, an eternal force inside every person.

The parts of the soul: physical body (ht), spiritual body (sh), name or identity (rin), double (ka), personality (ba), heart (jb), shadow (swt), power or form (shm); the re-combined all of these in the afterlife (akh).

1. ht, physical body

The ht had to keep on existing if the soul was to have a chance of being judged. So the body had to be preserved, lying in state alongside scenes or triumphs from the life. Mostly daily life.

Herodotus says grieving families were given a choice as to the type of mummification preferred: The best and most expensive kind is said to represent [Osiris], the next best is somewhat inferior and cheaper, while the third is cheapest of all.

Because the state of the body was tied to the quality of life after death, there were small figurines, shabti, of servants, slaves, guards (and, in some cases pets) included in the tombs, to be with the deceased in the afterlife.

Eternal existence was not assured. Before a person could be judged by the gods, they had to be awakened through a series of funerary rites designed to reanimate their remains.

The opening of the mouth, performed during interment, woke up each section of the body, bit by bit: brain, head, limbs, so that the spiritual body, sh, would manifest.

2. sh, spiritual body

If all rites, ceremonies, and preservation rituals for the ẖt were observed, and the deceased was worthy of passing through, the sh, a representation of the physical body, formed.

This body could interact with other entities in the afterlife.

3. rin, name

A person’s name was given them at birth; Egyptians believe we live as long as our name is spoken. The greater the number of places a name was used, the greater the possibility it would survive.

Your rin is your identity, experiences, life’s worth of memories.

4. ka, double

The ka was the difference between a living and a dead person; death happened when your ka left the body. It had been breathed into you at birth by one of the gods.

The ka was sustained by food and drink and for this reason offerings were presented to the dead; although it was the ka within the offerings that was consumed, not the physical things.

5. ba, personality

The ba was everything that makes a person who they were. Inanimate objects also had a ba, a character, and Old Kingdom pyramids were called the ba of their owner.

The ba is the aspect of a person that lives on after the body has died, depicted as a human-headed bird flying out of the tomb to join with the ka in the afterlife.

The ba is sometimes depicted eating and drinking and carousing outside the tomb during the day, before returning at night to the mummy.

The word baw, plural of ba, meant something like mana. When a god intervened in human affairs, it was the baw of the deity at work.

6. jb, heart

The jb was formed out of a drop of blood from the heart of the child’s mother, given at conception. When Egyptians said jb they meant the real, not the metaphorical, heart.

The heart was key to the afterlife. It was essential to surviving death in the nether world, where it gave evidence for, or against, its bodily capsule.

It was preserved and stored within the mummy, with a scarab secured to the body to prevent it from telling tales.

It was weighed. If it was heavier than the feather of Maat, it would be consumed by the monster Ammit, and extinguished.

7. šwt, shadow

Your shadow is always there: it has you in it. Statues of people were called their shadows.

The shadow, a servant of Anubis, was depicted as a black sillouette.

Sometimes ppharaohs had a box in their tomb in which their šwt was stored.

8. sḫm, form

Scholars define sḫm as the life-force of the soul, which exists in the afterlife, after all judgement has been passed.

sḫm is called in The Book of the Dead ‘power’ and as a place within which Horus and Osiris dwell in the underworld.

9. akh, ‘magically effective one’

The akh was soul as living entity. Following the death of the ẖt (physical body), ba and ka reunited to form the akh. The ritual was said ‘to make a dead person into a living akh’.


Death occurs when a person’s ka leaves the body. Ceremonies conducted by priests after death aimed to release a ba‘s attachment to the body. This allowed the ba to be united with the ka, creating the akḫ.

The afterlife was the journey like the Sun. At night the Sun descended into the Duat or underworld. There it met the Dead; they re-energized each other; and the dead, and the Sun, lived another day.

For this to work, bodily preservation was required, to allow the ba something to return to during the night, and from whence to rise to new life in the morning. The completed akḫs were also thought to appear as stars.

Spells guarded against ‘not dying a second time in the underworld’; and endevoured to ‘grant memory always’ to a person.

Your life happening again, without your ba being kept away from your divine corpse, with your ba being together with the akh . . . You shall emerge each day and return each evening.

 A lamp will be lit for you in the night until the sunlight shines forth on your breast. You shall be told: ‘Welcome, welcome, into this your house of the living!’

Nefertari’s Tomb|Nefertari playing Senet; Nefertari with her Ba

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s