To understand the kemetic aspects of the soul it is helpful to forget the common “body/spirit model” for a moment. This dualistic view mainly goes back on René Descartes, but has its origins already in Platon’s teachings, who thus explains his theory of the transmigration of souls. A contrast to these theories is stated by the Neoplatonists who assume a “oneness” which generates aspects like the spirit, the soul, the body etc. Since the kemetic creation myths presume a disorderly “something” that is put into order through creation rather than a “nothing” that gives birth to a “something”, the neoplatonistic approach appears to be quite useful to explore the ancient egyptian soul concept.
In the kemetic view this sharp distinction between body and mind are neither valid in connection with the individual nor with the whole creation in general. Much more applicable, therefore, seems to be the idea of ensouled and living matter in which the process of creation is constantly repeating in cycles. The process of creation is to be understood as a constant creation of (dynamic) order which refers to the concept of Ma’at. Surely the animistic traits can’t be ignored here which is not surprising since the kemetic religion ultimately emerged from the shamanistic traditions of the predynastic desert peoples.
The kemetic tradition knows no “unified concept” of one soul just like it does not know a unified concept of creation. Various creations myths are equally valid and can be regarded as different models explaining the actual process. At this point the difference between mythology based traditions and confessional religions appears clearly and needs to be considered. Or to quote Jan Assmann: “Creation images state human images.”
In summary, it can be said that some of the soul aspects are closer to what is commonly known as “matter”, others, however, are more of an airy/ghost-like quality. Some are more like a condition; others in turn are very close to the idea of an independent entity. Some relate primarily to the social sphere, others to the individual sphere.
The Ka names mainly what can be described as the social identity or personality of an individual and refers as such to the individual acting of a person as his expression of identity in a social environment. Thus the Ka is also closely connected to concepts such as “honor”, dignity” or “reputation”, which all had a great importance in Egypt. It was not always so much about what a person actually did – after all ancient Egyptians were well aware of human weaknesses – but the image that a person carries out together with the basic intention to comply with the ethical rules of Ma’at.
After death the Ka leaves the body and exist autonomously acting as a guardian spirit of the mummified body. Guarding means, above all, protection of the aforementioned dignity. In the opinion of the ancient Egyptians the spoken as well as written the word was able to seriously threaten the Ka. This “power of word” could fairly be described as “magical”. Just by backbiting the Ka can be damaged already. A particularly aggressive curse was to wish someone that the Ka should be completely moved away from him.
This gets even clearer considering the fact that Ka also means “life force” – both of humans and gods. Since “life force” for Kemetics is synonymous with process-like, continually anew devolving connectivity, the concept of Ka is very similar to the concept of Ma’at itself and therefore connected. So Ka can very much be understood as “Ma’at of the body.” If something harms the Ka, such as malicious contemporaries, slander, envy, greed, but also burning longing or heartache, it also endangers the health of the body. This demonstrates once more the kemetic awareness about the vital importance of a positive and benevolent community.
Gods as well as kings were assumed to have several “Kau” (plural of Ka), especially after death, the Ka was regarded as replicable. The Ka inhabited the countless portraits, which were created for the deceased person. This is why the kemetic tradition – in contrast to the semitic/christian one – maintains an explicit imageDEMAND in memory of a person as well as a deity to ensure the immortality of the Ka. The community as a livelihood does not lose its importance after death. In this need of images the assumption of ensouled matter is expressed once more. As a consequence death itself becomes a very worldly aspect.
The specific interaction of a deity is also expressed by Ka like e.g. the wind would be the Ka of the air god Shu or the waters of the Nile and its fertile silt would be the Ka of Osiris etc.
The motile individual soul Ba is depicted as a falcon with a human head. Ba, in contrast to Ka has an inseparable relation to the body Chet. Especially after the rites of the funerary cult the Ba needs the body to return to it repeatedly to rejuvenate. Despite to many modern New Age assumptions this process is NOT a reinCARNation but a reJUVENation which is a completely different thing and refers to the concept of the journey of the sun rather than a wheel of reincarnation as known by asian traditions. The sun god Ra travels with his boat through the underworld at night and thus rises rejuvenated on the eastern sky the following morning. It was regarded as highly desireable for the dead to obtain a place on Ra’s sun boat in order to participate in this process and by that enter the cycle of perpetual rejuvenation to maintain eternal life.
In the myths this process is expressed through two complementary deities, namely Osiris the justified one, the judge over the dead, lord of the underworld, but also god of fertility and Ra, the Sun God as the personified power of creation. These deified concepts are interdependent and are necessary to bring forth life as well as obtain the continuum of the life cycles of birth and decay. This process is maintained by the relationship Ba/Chet even beyond death. Eternal life is therefore primarily a question of upholding live-giving processes – as seen on the example of nature itself – and not regarded as a static condition.
“The divine splendor” or ancestral spirit who has undergone the transfiguration by the funerary cult is called Akh. The plural “Akhu” also refers also the ancestors who have passed away. It is an induced state of Ba, which at the same time also has its own essentiality and makes the deceased a supernatural being – a god, a netjer. The difference between the understanding of the monotheistic concept of god and concept of the ancient gods (netjeru) appears herein. The ancient gods are therefore significantly closer to the human sphere, and may in some respects even be regarded as a kind of ancestor. This can also be reasoned mythologically, as the gods themselves are considered to once have inhabited earth before they gave it to humans at their disposal. So it is also not surprising that even ancestors could be announced to be gods. This was not only valid for the Pharaoh himself – who was considered to be a netjer – but also for persons like e.g. the famous architect and scientist under King Djoser, namely Imhotep.
The body is known as Chet. In the kemetic tradition there is actually no difference whether the body is dead or alive. The body is first and foremost nothing more than an image. So Chet is basically the perfect “amulet” of a person. By preserving the body (=mummification), a perfect monument is being created which enters a close relationship with the Ba (see above). To ensure this relationship even if the mummy gets destroyed statues have been provided for the dead to serve as surrogate chets in the afterlife.
The Chet itself is ensouled and vitalized by Ba and Ka, which in turn also need the Chet to live a physical life. The dead were even wished to stay sexually active – maintained by the association of the Ba with Chet – which of course requires a physical a body (and not only from a kemetic point of view). The fact that Isis conceives her son Horus with her dead and mummified spouse Osiris shows that sexuality beyond death is absolutely not regarded as uncommon.
The importance and sanctity of the body is sometimes strange and difficult to comprehend to non-Kemetics. Many religions and cultures reject worshipping of the body and physicality or regard it at least as nothing of extraordinary importance. The fact that the body is mortal, leads to a particular appreciation of the body within Kemeticism rather than its rejection as a “mortal apparel”. Apart from this there is nothing “evil” about the body, all phenomena and needs of the body are not at all regarded as “unclean” or as reprehensible, but as completely normal parts of life and vitality. One could even dare to speak of a “body cult”, which ultimately expresses itself in a quite ingenious attitude to sexuality, the love of aesthetics, visual arts, a sense of fashion and beauty and last but not least the mummification itself as part of the funerary cult.
Chet becomes sah by undergoing the process of mummification. This process can also be described as receiving the “mummy nobility.” So Sah is not so much the mummy itself, but a state of honor or “ennoblement” of the body which was cleansed of all worldly “pollution” and thus becomes a residence of a deified ancestor soul. So just like Ba turns into Akh, the Chet turns into Sah and becomes a physical evident of the deification process.
The mythological parallel to this is the restoring and revitalizing of murdered Osiris by Isis, his wife and his sister Nephthys and of course particularly Anubis. Once again, the quality of life or life force appears to be an inversion of fragmentation and disunity. The mummy bandages can therefore be seen as a metaphor for the binding material connecting the single limbs of the body.
The heart is regarded as the seat of the mind and the center of the connective principle that holds together all the single aspects of the soul matrix. An amsusing fact about the brain from the perspective of ancient Egyptian medicine in contrast to it’s meaning in the modern world at the tip of the physiological hierarchy: it was merely responsible for the production of nose mucus and thus dispensable. It was removed through the nose.
The Ib may be regarded as the “black box” of a person, which includes all emotional and mental movements of his life. During the judgment of the dead the heart is being weighed against the feather of Ma’at and acts as a kind of lie detector while the deceased has to justify himself for all the acts of his life in front of the court of gods. If the deceased passes this test his Ib will be returned to him and he is ready to enter into eternal life as “a god among gods”. In parallel, the return of the heart is ritually performed on the mummy during the mouth opening ceremony. The preserved heart is layed back into the body. Later in time the heart would be kept separate from the mummy in canopic jars, but still buried together with it.
Insight, wisdom and mind are summarized under the term “Sia”. The interesting thing is that the kemetic religion does not regard insight and wisdom (in a context of divinity) as something separate from people but actually as an aspect of their soul matrix. At the same time Sia is also an independent deity and thus joins a special kind of a personification deities such as Shai (fate, lifespan) or Hu (the Divine utterance). Sia very often appears in connection with Hu.
The name of a person named “Ren”. According to the kemetic view no one is able to enter life fully without a name. It was common to have two names in Ancient Egypt. The first would only be known by the mother, which was of great importance as magical acts which were related to a person were only effective if it contained this first name. The second name, however, was the general nickname. Isis is also known as the goddess “who knows all the names.” One myth says that she even knows the secret name of the sun god Re, and has therefore magical power over him.
Many Ancient Egyptian names include a reference to certain deities who by that turn into a kind of life companions. Such names are for example Sat Amun (“Daughter of Amun”), Sahure (“Ra come to me”), Amenhotep (“Amun is satisfied”), Heqa-Ptah (“Ptah is my ruler”). Other names do not refer to deities, but they can make a statement about the owner, such as Hatshepsut (“The first of the noble ladies”) or Nechetnebef (“The strong one of his Lord”), Djoser (“The Noble One”)
Shut is the living shadow and is certainly one of the most incomprehensible soul aspects. In a way it could be regarded as substantiation of existence. Something that exists casts shadows. An interesting fact is also that the mummy was associated with the Shut due to it’s dark color after the mummification process. The shut was threatened to be eaten by demons which basically refers to the highly feared destruction of the mummy. So a parallel between the Chet and the Shut is likely.
In the tombs of the New Kingdom we find an image of a shadow leaving the Mastaba, accompanied by Ba in the shape of the Ba bird. The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions “But you demons who imprison Osiris in the dungeon, you shall perish by tumbling into the darkness! My shadow shall not be given to you! My soul shall not be caught by you! ”
The human image
This soul matrix reflects the kemetic conception of humanity in all its various facets. It regards humans inbetween an ongoing dynamic development between individuality and collectivity, movement and stillness, materiality and spirit, life and death. It does not intend to create a balance in a sense of duality in order to unite opposites, but to depict the entire spectrum of human existence, structure it and thus realize the complexity of human nature in its entirety.
Jan Assmann, Tod und Jenseits im Alten Ägypten
Hans Bonnet, Lexikon der ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte
Eberhard Kusber, Dissertation: Der altägyptische Ka – Seele oder Persönlichkeit?