Ancient Egyptian conception of the soul

Fragment from Egyptian Book of the Dead

The ancient Egyptians believed that a soul (kꜣ/bꜣ; Egypt. pron. ka/ba) was made up of many parts. In addition to these components of the soul, there was the human body (called the ḥꜥ, occasionally a plural ḥꜥw, meaning approximately "sum of bodily parts").

According to ancient Egyptian creation myths, the god Atum created the world out of chaos, utilizing his own magic (ḥkꜣ).[1] 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 concept of the soul and the parts which encompass it has varied from the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom, at times changing from one dynasty to another, from five parts to more. Most ancient Egyptian funerary texts reference numerous parts of the soul: the ẖt (Middle Egyptian /ˈçuːwaʔ/, Coptic ϩⲏ) "physical body", the sꜥḥ "spiritual body", the rn (/ɾin/, Coptic ⲣⲁⲛ or ⲗⲉⲛ) "name, identity", the bꜣ "personality", the kꜣ (/kuʔ/, Old Egyptian /kuʀ/) "double", the jb (/jib/, Coptic ⲉⲡ) "heart", the šwt "shadow", the sḫm (/saːχam/) "power, form", and the ꜣḫ (the combined spirits of a dead person that has successfully completed its transition to the afterlife).[2] Rosalie David, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester, explains the many facets of the soul as follows:

The Egyptians believed that the human personality had many facets - a concept that was probably developed early in the Old Kingdom. In life, the person was a complete entity, but if he had led a virtuous life, he could also have access to a multiplicity of forms that could be used in the next world. In some instances, these forms could be employed to help those whom the deceased wished to support or, alternately, to take revenge on his enemies.[3]

ẖt (physical)

An ushabti box, Ptolemaic Period. On display at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California. RC 623

The ẖt, or physical form, had to exist for the soul (kꜣ/bꜣ) to have intelligence or the chance to be judged by the guardians of the underworld. Therefore, it was necessary for the body to be preserved as efficiently and completely as possible and for the burial chamber to be as personalized as it could be, with paintings and statuary showing scenes and triumphs from the deceased's life. In the Old Kingdom, only the pharaoh was granted mummification and, thus, a chance at an eternal and fulfilling afterlife. However, by the Middle Kingdom, all dead were afforded the opportunity.[4] Herodotus, an ancient Greek scholar, observed that grieving families were given a choice as to the type and or quality of the mummification they 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."[5]

Because the state of the body was tied so closely with the quality of the afterlife, by the time of the Middle Kingdom, not only were the burial chambers painted with depictions of favourite pastimes and great accomplishments of the dead, but there were also small figurines (ushabtis) of servants, slaves, and guards (and, in some cases beloved pets) included in the tombs, to serve the deceased in the afterlife.[6] However, an eternal existence in the afterlife was, by no means, 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 mummified remains in the afterlife. The main ceremony, the opening of the mouth ceremony, is best depicted within Pharaoh Sety I's tomb. All along the walls and statuary inside the tomb are reliefs and paintings of priests performing the sacred rituals and, below the painted images, the text of the liturgy for opening of the mouth can be found.[7] This ritual which, presumably, would have been performed during internment, was meant to reanimate each section of the body: brain, head, limbs, etc. so that the spiritual body would be able to move in the afterlife.