A Typical Depiction of "ba" with a bird's body and human head
|Symbols||Heart, Shadow, Birds|
The most notable translation of a soul in Ancient Egypt would be "ba", one of the five forms of a spirit that wanders at night to places that you are not supposed to see. When a person's "ba" was allegedly "traveling" at night, it can was believed to be very dangerous, because malevolent spirits could potentially see and kill your "ba", resulting in instantaneous death in their sleep.
In Egyptian Mythology, a being's spirit is made up of five collective entities, such as personality, or "ba", name ("ren"), shadow ("Sheut", heart ("Ib") and life ("ka").
The most notable aspect of a soul in Egyptian Mythology was the ba. The 'Ba' (bꜣ), or power, 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 often were called the 'Ba' of their owner. The 'Ba' is an aspect of a person that the Egyptians believed would live after the body died, and it is sometimes depicted as a human-headed bird flying out of the tomb to join with the 'Ka' in the afterlife. In another mode of existence the Ba of the deceased is depicted in the Book of Going Forth by Day returning to the mummy and participating in life outside the tomb in non-corporeal form, echoing the solar theology of Re (or Ra) uniting with Osiris each night.
The word 'bau' (bꜣw), plural of the word ba, meant something similar to 'impressiveness', 'power', and 'reputation', particularly of a deity. When a deity intervened in human affairs, it was said that the 'Bau' of the deity were at work [Borghouts 1982].
The Ka (kꜣ) was the Egyptian concept of vital essence, that which distinguishes the difference between a living and a dead person, with death occurring when the ka left the body. The Egyptians believed that Khnum created the bodies of children on a potter's wheel and inserted them into their mothers' bodies. Depending on the region, Egyptians believed that Heket or Meskhenet was the creator of each person's Ka, breathing it into them at the instant of their birth as the part of their soul that made them be alive. This resembles the concept of spirit in other religions.
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, although it was the kau (kꜣw) within the offerings that was consumed, not the physical aspect. The ka was often represented in Egyptian iconography as a second image of the king, leading earlier works to attempt to translate ka as double.
As a part of the soul, a person's ren (rn 'name') was given to them at birth and the Egyptians believed that it would live for as long as that name was spoken, which explains why efforts were made to protect it and the practice of placing it in numerous writings. For example, part of the Book of Breathings, a derivative of the Book of the Dead, was a means to ensure the survival of the name. A cartouche (magical rope) often was used to surround the name and protect it. Conversely, the names of deceased enemies of the state, such as Akhenaten, were hacked out of monuments in a form of damnatio memoriae. Sometimes, however, they were removed in order to make room for the economical insertion of the name of a successor, without having to build another monument. The greater the number of places a name was used, the greater the possibility it would survive to be read and spoken.
A person's shadow or silhouette, Sheut (šwt in Egyptian), is always present. Because of this, Egyptians surmised that a shadow contains something of the person it represents. Through this association, statues of people and deities were sometimes referred to as shadows.
The shadow was also representative to Egyptians of a figure of death, or servant of Anubis, and was depicted graphically as a small human figure painted completely black. Sometimes people (usually pharaohs) had a shadow box in which part of their Sheut was stored.
An important part of the Egyptian soul was thought to be the Ib (jb), or heart. The Ib or metaphysical heart was believed to be formed from one drop of blood from the child's mother's heart, taken at conception. To ancient Egyptians, the heart was the seat of emotion, thought, will and intention. This is evidenced by the many expressions in the Egyptian language which incorporate the word ib, Awt-ib: happiness (literally, wideness of heart), Xak-ib: estranged (literally, truncated of heart). This word was transcribed by Wallis Budge as Ab.
In Egyptian religion, the heart was the key to the afterlife. It was conceived as surviving death in the nether world, where it gave evidence for, or against, its possessor. It was thought that the heart was examined by Anubis and the deities during the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. If the heart weighed more than the feather of Maat, it was immediately consumed by the monster Ammut.