Ancient Egypt / Religion / Concepts and Symbols /
In Ancient Egyptian religion, one of the principal aspects of the soul for humans together with akh and ka. Ba also applied to the gods, but for them it was the quality that makes the god able to appear in the world. "Ba" can be translated into "to come alive" or "manifestation."
To a larger extent than for akh and ka, ba is the closest concept in Ancient Egyptian religion to the Western religious understanding of "soul."
According to some ideas, ba was not a part of humans during their life. At other times we learn that ba was released from the body at death. In both of these theories, however, it is correct to say, to a great degree, ba was the entire person in the afterlife. Ba is hence the embodiment of human earthly vital forces which achieve immortality apart from the need for any rituals.
From the Coffin Texts we learn that ba is separated from the body upon a person's death. The ba "comes out of the discharges of his flesh and the perspiration of his head...[whereupon] the god Nepri is to take it away." Following this, the ba sees the primeval god Atum and can accompany him on his journey in the sun-barque. In other texts we learn that the dead human being received the ba of the god Horus.
One of the main aspects of ba was its ability to let humans transcend the boundaries between the dead and the living. Together with ba, the deceased could leave the grave, but not disengage permanently.
Ba was originally thought of as a bird, more specifically a jabiru. Later on, the bird became a hawk with the head of a man. In representations, ba is often depicted above the mummy, and graves frequently had narrow passages to let ba enter and leave.
In connection with the importance of the body there are once again contradictory ideas. In some contexts, we learn that the ba belongs to the heavens, while the body to the nether world. Yet there is a link between the ba and the body, and the preservation (hence mummies) of the body is a necessary condition for ascent to heaven. As a matter of fact, the sarcophagus and the burial chamber were often interpreted as heaven.
Ba was also an important characteristic of the gods. When a god descends from heaven and enters an image, this is usually in the form of the ba. Often gods are referred to as ba alone. This is often in relation to the earthly representations of a god. The phoenix, for example, is the ba for Osiris, the ram for Re, Shu and (once again) Osiris, the crocodile for Sobek and so on.
There are many levels of ba; the sun-god, Re, has the highest ba there is.
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