Monday, January 28, 2019

The nine parts of the human soul according to ancient Egypt

According to ancient Egyptian creation myths, the god Atum created the world out of chaos, utilizing his own magic. Because the earth was created with magic, Egyptians believed that the world was imbued with magic and so was every living thing upon it. When humans were created, that magic took the form of the soul, an eternal force which resided in and with every human being. 

The ancient Egyptians were convinced that the human soul was composed of nine main parts.

The concept of the soul and the parts which encompass it has varied from the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom. In some eras, the soul was thought to be comprised of five parts and in others seven, but, generally, it was nine. 

Ab (The heart) was an extremely important part of the Egyptian soul. It was believed to form from one drop of blood from the child’s mother’s heart, taken at conception. In ancient Egyptian mythology, the heart was the key to the afterlife. The Ab was the heart, the source of good and evil, which defined a person's character. This was the spiritual heart which rose from the physical heart (hat) which was left in the mummified body of the deceased for this reason: it was the seat of the person's individuality and the record of their thoughts and deeds during their time on earth. It was the ab which was weighed in the balances against the white feather of truth by Osiris and, if found heavier than the feather, it was dropped to the floor where it was devoured by the monster Amut. Once the heart was eaten, the soul ceased to exist. If the heart was found lighter than the feather, the soul was justified and could proceed on toward paradise. 

Shuyet (The Shadow) was the shadow self which means it was essentially the shadow of the soul. The shadow in Egypt represented comfort and protection, and the sacred sites at Amarna were known as Shadow of Ra for this reason. Exactly how the shuyet functioned is not clear, but it was considered extremely important and operated as a protective and guiding entity for the soul in the afterlife. The Egyptian Book of the Dead includes a spell where the soul claims, "My shadow will not be defeated" in stating its ability to traverse the afterlife toward paradise.

Ren (The name) was another crucial part of the soul. A person’s Ren was given to them at birth and the Egyptians believed that it would live for as long as that name was spoken.

Bâ is most often translated as 'soul' and was a human-headed bird aspect which could speed between earth and the heavens and, specifically, between the afterlife and one's corpse. Each ba was linked to a particular body, and the ba would hover over the corpse after death but could also travel to the afterlife, visit with the gods, or return to earth to those places the person had loved in life. The corpse had to reunite with the ka each night in order for the ka to receive sustenance, and it was the job of the ba to accomplish this. The gods had a ba as well as a ka. Examples of this are the Apis bull which was the ba of Osiris and the Phoenix, the ba of Ra.

Ka (The vital spark) According to the Ancient Egyptians the Ka was a vital concept in the soul as it distinguishes the difference between a living and a dead person. The Ka was one’s double-form or astral self and corresponds to what most people in the present day consider a 'soul.' This was the vital source that enabled a person to continue to receive offerings in the next world. The ka was created at the moment of one's birth for the individual and so reflected one's personality, but the essence had always existed and was passed across the successive generations, carrying the spiritual force of the first creation. The ka was not only one's personality but also a guide and protector, imbued with the spark of the divine. It was the ka which would absorb the power from the food offerings left in the tomb, and these would sustain it in the afterlife. All living things had a ka - from plants to animals and on up to the gods - which was evident in that they were, simply, alive.

Khat (The Body) was the physical body which, when it became a corpse, provided the link between one's soul and one's earthly life. The soul would need to be nourished after death just as it had to be while on earth, and so food and drink offerings were brought to the tomb and laid on an offerings table. The dead body was not thought to actually eat this food but to absorb its nutrients supernaturally. Paintings and statues of the dead person were also placed in the tomb so that, if something should happen to damage the body, the statue or painting would assume its role.

Akh (The Immortal Self) according to ancient Egyptians, the Akh was the transformed immortal self which offered a magical union of the Ba and Ka. Once the akh had been created by this union, it survived as an 'enlightened spirit,' enduring and unchanged for eternity. Akh is usually translated as 'spirit' and was the higher form of the soul. Spell 474 of the Pyramid Texts states, "the akh belongs to heaven, the corpse to earth," and it was the akh which would enjoy eternity among the stars with the gods. The akh could return to earth, however, and it was an aspect of the akh which would come back as a ghost to haunt the living if some wrong had been done or would return in dreams to help someone they cared for.

Sahu (The Judge) The Sahu was the aspect of Akh which would come to a person as a ghost or while asleep in dreams. The Sahu was the aspect of the Akh which would appear as a ghost or in dreams. It separated from the other aspects of the soul once the individual was justified by Osiris and judged worthy of eternal existence.

Sechem was another aspect of the Akh which allowed it mastery of circumstances. It was considered the vital life energy of the person which manifested itself as the power to control one's surroundings and outcomes.


  1. If someone changes their name in life, adopts a nickname, or is otherwise assigned a new identifier as sometimes happens when joining religious societies, how does this affect Ren.