Body and soul
According to Reshafim, the ancient Egyptian view of what made up a person is confusing. The main constituents were the body, its ka, and its name which remained always in close proximity to each other even in the tomb, and the shadow, the ba, sahu and akh which were more mobile and independent. Some of the terms below were at times (at least in our eyes) almost interchangeable, and they acquired new aspects during the three millennia of their use, changing their meanings. As a result, there are no proper unequivocal translations for them, though attempts have been made to equate them with modern psychological terms: The akh is referred to as the Id, the name as the Ego and the ka as the Super-ego. Only, they are nothing like it.
Khnum, the sculptor who gives lives, created a child’s body, the khat, ( MdC transliteration X.t) together with its twin, the ka – on his potter’s wheel and inserted them with the sperm into the mother’s womb. The Egyptian view of the body was, from its conception to its death, mostly magical. The biological aspects of the body’s functions, apart from the obvious ones everybody can discern, were largely unknown, instead it was populated and surrounded with spiritual and demonic entities whose evil influence caused the diseases and ailments people suffered from.
A special part of the body was the heart, (MdC transliteration jb), the essence of life, seat of the mind with its emotions, intelligence, and moral sense.
The name ( rn )
The name, (MdC transliteration rn), is the foundation of a being as an individual. Only when it has a name, when it can be addressed and related to, does it begin its proper existence—with its name as its essence. The various aspects of the being are reflected in the different names it is given: In the Book of the Dead, chapter 142, Osiris had one hundred different names. Names were closely bound up with magic. Knowledge of somebody’s names gave one insight into his being and power over him, but speaking out a name could also be dangerous.
The ka ( kA )
Unfortunately the ancient Egyptians never defined clearly what was meant by the ka, (MdC transliteration kA), or its female complementary, the hemset (Hms.t). The concepts may well have undergone changes over the millennia or had different meanings according to the social settings. kA has been variously translated as soul, life-force, will etc. but no single western concept is anything like it. Being written kA like the word for ‘bull’, a symbol of potency, the closest to it in English may be a ‘life-creating force’.
The ka was a constant close companion of the body in life and death, depicted throughout the pharaonic period following the king and bearing the royal Horus name.
The shadow ( Sw.t )
In a hot country like Egypt shadows were a blessing for those who could rest in them. Metaphorically, gods threw shadows too, shadows of protection: Kings were described as being in the shadow of the god. The holy sites at Amarna were called Shadow of Re. We can easily understand the divine shadow and its effects, but it is unclear what the function of the human shut, (MdC transliteration Sw.t), was.
In the light of the life-giving sun body and shadow are inseparable. But the pitch-black Sw.t was not an ordinary shadow of a body, it rather belonged to the world of the ‘soul’, moving independently of its body and partaking of the funerary offerings.
The ba ( bA )
Originally, gods who manifested themselves anonymously were called ba, later it became also the visible form a god assumed, thus the Phoenix was the ba of Re. From the end of the Old Kingdom onwards the ba, (MdC transliteration bA), was the sum of the immortal forces inherent in human beings which made up his personality. It has been called a person’s psyche and is generally translated as soul. But it was also in a way a corporeal, sexual being, which needed food and drink. The ba was mostly represented in the form of a bird, generally with a human head and, according to grave images, often perching on trees planted by the tomb. It moved about, sometimes in the company of the shadow, but did not stray far. Every evening it returned to the body, reuniting with it and thus ensuring the body’s continued existence in the afterlife.
The akh ( Ax )
According to the Pyramid Text #474 the akh, (MdC transliteration Ax), belongs to the heaven, the corpse to the earth. The body is buried while the akh, the Shining One, ascends to the sky, becoming a star. It comes into being when ba and ka unite and is the part of the person least bound to the rest, leaving it behind in the quest for immortality.