Discourse of a Man with his Ba

the chaotic heart and the just ways of the living soul
in Ancient Egyptian didactical literature & funerary anthropology

by Wim van den Dungen


the soul released from the mummy

The translation of Discourse of a Man with his Ba is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at maat.sofiatopia.org. These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.


1 From patriarchy to the individualism of the "Classical Age"

  • 1.1 the centralized power of Pharaoh in the Old Kingdom

  • 1.2 literature in the Old Kingdom

  • 1.3 the patriarchy of the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period

  • 1.4 the salvation of the non-royals

2 Personal piety in Ancient Egypt before the New Kingdom

  • 2.1 the indwelling of the deities

  • 2.2 the paradox of Pharaoh in the Old Kingdom

  • 2.3 the rise of Amun in Thebes in the First Intermediate Period

  • 2.4 the afterlife of the commoners in the Middle Kingdom & Osiris

3 Didactical Literature before the New Kingdom

  • 3.1 the didactical literature of the Old Kingdom : Hardjedef, Kagemni & Ptahhotep

  • 3.2 the didactical literature of the Middle Kingdom : Neferti, Khahkheperre-sonb, Ipuwer & the Eloquent Peasant

4 Components of Ancient Egyptian Funerary Anthropology

  • 4.1 hylic pluralism

  • 4.2 the physical body ("khat") and mummification 

  • 4.3 the double ("ka") : vital force and vehicle of personified desire

  • 4.4 the heart ("ab") : its thought ("kat") and "ka" 

  • 4.5 the soul ("ba") : the true "Horus" in each one of us

  • 4.6 the body of the soul ("sahw") and its shadow ("khaibit")

  • 4.7 the spirit ("akh") : its body ("khab"), power ("sekhem") and name ("ren")

  • 4.8 the bi-modality of living human beings and psychic topology in Ancient Egypt



This famous work is preserved in a single manuscript from the XIIth Dynasty. In 1843, the egyptologist Lepsius puchased this nameless hieratic papyrus and brought it to Berlin were it became "Berlin Papyrus 3024". In 1859, he published the text without translation. The first transcription & translation was by Adolf Erman in 1896, under the title : Das Gespräch eines Lebensmüden mit seiner Seele. The Egyptian text can also (partly) be found in Sethe's Aegyptische Lesestücke (1928). Faulkner published his translation as : "The Man who was tired of Life" (in JEA, n°42, 1956, pp.21 - 40). His work was based on more recent philological insights. In 1969, Wilfrid Barta studied the work. He took 37 translations into account. He stressed the difficulties posed by the text, understood by him as unparalleled among the texts of Ancient Egypt. In 1970, Goedicke published his translation in The Report about the Dispute of a Man with his Ba. In 1973, Miriam Lichtheim (who described this text as exceedingly difficult and intriguing) proposed a new translation, but she acknowledged that a great variety of interpretations are possible. In 1978, Bika Reed translated the text from the perspective of the initiatic experience. Another translation in French was done by Claire Lalouette in 1984. The present translation owes much to the translations of Faulkner, Lichtheim, Reed, Lalouette and made also use of the Egyptian texts published by Faulkner, Sethe & Reed.

According to Assmann in his Maat (1999), this highly remarkable work belongs to what he calls "discourses on Maat" or "sapiental literature", consisting of teachings & complaints. In the Old Kingdom, the Maxims of Ptahhotep and the shorter instructions of Prince Hordedef and those addressed to Kagemni and in the Middle Kingdom the Eloquent Peasant, the Prophecies of Neferti and the Complaints of Khakheperre-sonb also dealt with Maat. According to Hornung in his Idea and Image (1992), the text is from the First Intermediate Period (while the manuscript is from the XIIth Dynasty).

It is clear that in the Discourse of a Man with his Ba, Maat is spoken of "a contrario", namely as auto-destruction, dispute, rebelion, ungratefulness, egoism etc. Here death instead of life is glorified. 

What is the plot of the text ? 

Section 1 : the Ba speaks

We know the dialogue is already going on for some time. The broken sentences of the first section indicate that between the man and his Ba an advanced state of argument prevails. The man wants to end his life. His Ba tries to dissuade him. The Ba threatens to leave the man and probably cries out the man will have to answer for the offense of taking his own life. Payment will be asked for by those who are unpartial, namely the 42 judges of Osiris. In fact, at the beginning of the extant text, the Ba seems, from the perspective of the man, to have left him ...

Section 2 : the man speaks

His Ba does not talk anymore, which is like deserting the man. This is a crime. In fact, it is the reflection of the man's confused and split state of being. The Ba seems to have left the physical body while the man is still alive on earth ! The man knows his Ba will be there on the day of judgment. Leaving him now would only hasten what the Ba wants to avoid : the unnatural death of the man. On the other hand, when it is around, the Ba nurses the pain of life for the man and tries to bring him to other thoughts.

Apparently, the man does not wish to end his life without the approval of his Ba. He realizes that without his Ba he will be lost in the afterlife (total annihilation) and so he tries to persuade his Ba to participate in his auto-destructive sacrificial act, for he does envisage immortal bliss & resurrection ! So this is a man who knows about the afterlife and the deities and who nevertheless wants to end his life himself but not without the help of his own Ba ! Because his Ba does not want to cooperate, he reminds it that it is obliged to assist him. Moreover, he knows his Ba will witness the weighing of the man's heart on the day of judgment. Instead of stilling the pain of life, he asks to sweeten the West (i.e. to make death easy for him). But it will not be sweetened and even if the Ba could do it (for it has incredible powers) it will not. This state of affairs triggers desperate reactions in the man. He is totally carried away and pleads his case before the deities. He ends by saying life is too painful for him and invites the gods to begin with their work (the funerary rituals allowing the "sah" to be released from the body).

Section 3 : the Ba speaks

The Ba succinctly replies that the man should be ashamed of himself and stop complaining. Who is he to utter these words and think these thoughts ? Is he not of modest origins ?

Section 4 : the man speaks

This admonition was of no help at all. But the man is reluctant to die if his Ba is left behind. For if left on earth, his Ba would die too and this would imply total annihilation (physical as well as spiritual). This the man does not seek. He needs his Ba to rise so as to become a god in the afterlife. He wants his Ba to assist him and pleads to it by saying he will make a splendid mortuary temple and his children will present offerings. He turns the argument around, and tries to reason his Ba by saying it will not find peace if it accepts the man should die without it being around ... He is very aware all his efforts are in vain, for his Ba will never help him with anything else than the just course of events. To die before death comes is rejected by the Ba. 

Section 5 : the Ba speaks

The Ba again questions the attitude of the man. The tombs & monuments become, after their owners have ascended, as desolate as those who die abandoned. The Ba urges the man to listen and to follow the day of his jubilee (namely his birth, the beginning of life) instead of worry. The Ba strikes two simulitudes to offer comfort to the man but with no avail.

Section 6 : the man speaks (poetically)

The man denies his name, the others & life. He glorifies death and reverses the highest values !

Section 7 : the Ba speaks

The Ba is not impressed at all and suggests the man to throw away his complaints and to set aside his longing for death. As long as he is alife, the natural course of events will not be hampered with and his Ba will surely enlighten him after the appropriate moment arrives for the physical body to die and nothing should change that. It is unknown whether the man decides in favor for his Ba ...

1 From patriarchy to the individualism of the "classical age"

1.1 the centralized power of Pharaoh 

The thinkers of the "age of the pyramids" envisaged the order of society as a mirror-image of the order that supposedly governed the cosmos. In this picture, the Sun-god Re and his son on earth, i.e. Pharaoh, the "great house", were the two fundamental points of reference. The never failing circuit of the Sun (as well as the annual flooding of the Nile) ruled the world in the same way as Pharaoh & the royal dynasties guaranteed the human order. This harmony between "macro" and "micro" (between "above" and "below") was conceived as a cosmic order of universal value, a "justice" imbeded in the nature of being which encompassed both the realms of "being" and "obligation" ("sein und sollen"). These ideas were brought together in the concept of Maat, which was the great creation of the Old Kingdom.

"The sky is at peace, the earth is in joy, for they have heard that Pharaoh Neferkare will set Maat in the place of Isefet."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 627 (§ 1775). 

To realize a centralized sovereignty with supralocal dimensions, i.e. to erect a state, was the great achievement of the Old Kingdom. Pharaoh, the son of Re, "said Maat", "realized Maat" or replaced "Isefet" (sins, faults, transgressions, i.e. the negation by an act of free will of what is necessary by nature) by "Maat". In the Old Kingdom, the pharaonic institution was the center of gravity of the country. In fact, one could say that "Maat" was the will of Pharaoh. Every initiative emanated from him.

"... c'est d'abord le dieu qui veut que la Maat soit réalisée, et que la Maat soit accomplie. Et, en dernière instance, c'est la Maat qui veut ou plutôt exige que l'homme parle et agisse de façon solidaire. Cela implique naturellement que le roi soit obéi, que sa volonté s'accomplisse. Mais c'est la Maat qui détermine la volonté du roi, le roi ne peut vouloir autre chose que la Maat."
Assmann, 1999, p.127.

So, in a way Pharaoh incarnated cosmic harmony and order. Never did these two notions conflict. Pharaoh was the divine institution par excellence and he guaranteed the continuity of both the cosmic as well as the social, political realm.

1.2 literature in the Old Kingdom

At the very beginning of the Dynastic Age, writing, considered to be a gift of the gods, and hence sacred, was limited to brief notations, identifying Pharaoh, an important event or a crucial possession (like a tomb). A distinction should be made between, on the one hand, texts on vessels and monuments and on the other hand, short notices carved on tablets of wood or ivory that accompanied jars of oil, to indicate their vintage year, like : "Smiting the Land of Nubia." or "fashioning" a divine statue, "visiting" a sanctuary of the goddess Neith. At this early date (although cursive script and papyrus were attested in the Predynastic period), there were no continuous texts or arrangements of hieroglyphs into rows, no sentences. The hieroglyphs were used to record short information, like names of persons, places and products. Here are some examples :

  • from a fragment of a large, globular, green faience vessel or vase inlaid with the name of Pharaoh Aha in brown-coloured faience (Ith Dynasty, ca. 3000 - 2800 BCE, in British Museum) we learn about the sophistication of the combination of faience technology and artistic talent in the Early Dynastic period ; 

  • the Palette of Narmer (Dynasty 0, ca. 3050, in Cairo Museum JE 32169) commemorates a victory, probably the final one, ending the struggle for the unification of the entire Nile Valley (or Delta of Lower Egypt), for by this time Hierakonpolis was a powerful political and religious center in Upper Egypt. Narmer or Menes was the legendary or historical Pharaoh who united the Two Lands, initiating the end of the Predynastic era (ca. 3050 BCE). The Palette has his name on it ; 

  • the tomb stela of Pharaoh Djet (Djer, Wadj, Uenephes, "serpent" - Ith Dynasty, ca. 2920 BCE - Louvre E 11007) has his Horus name inscribed on it ; 

  • the tomb stela of Pharaoh Reneb (Saqqara, IIth Dynasty, in Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York) was also the focal point of the royal mortuary cult (it represents the falcon Horus surmounting a paneled facade, the "serekh", with the hieroglyphs "Ra" and "neb", meaning "Ra is my Lord.") ; 

  • the statuette of Pharaoh Ninetjer in festival Sed-garb (IIth Dynasty, ca. 2760 - 2715 BCE, little over 5 inches in height) has his royal name on it ; 

  • the gods Geb and Seth have been identified on a fragmentary relief of Pharaoh Djoser (IIIth Dynasty, ca. 2654 - 2635 BCE, in Turin Museum) ; the mortuary temples at Maidum & Dahshur of Snofru (IVth Dynasty, ca. 2600 - 2571 BCE) were simple (an altar with two tall stelæ bearing the royal titulary) but the valley temple of the Bent Pyramid was provided with statues & relief decorations (processions of the royal estates in the various nomes) and columns (with ceremonies like foundation rituals, scenes of the Sed festival, scenes of Pharaoh being kissed by the deity) ...

The first major literary application was the so-called Offering List which contained a list of foods, ointments & fabrics. It probably already existed in the IIIth & IVth Dynasties. It was carved on the walls of the private tombs of high officials. The written word gave special identity to the pictoral representations, and named the tomb-owner, his family, his ranks & titles and the offerings the deceased was about to receive. We have to wait for Pharoah Wenis or Unas (end of the Vth Dynasty, ca. 2378 - 2348 BCE) to read what had probably been recited for at least since the beginning of the Dynastic Age, i.e. the spells of the Pyramid Texts.

"(...) one cannot help suspecting that a fundamental revision of the ritual coincided with the decision to immortalize these spells, previously handed down on perishable papyrus, by carving them in stone and thereby also endowing them with greater magical power." -
Hornung, 1999, p.36.

So in this early period, the priests drew up an Offering List which contained that which was thought right to offer to the dead, together with formulæ repeated when the offerings were made (and possessing a sacred force "sui generis"). This list, together with the rituals, was handed down from generation to generation, and was extant in the Roman Period. So we see that the Old Kingdom list of offerings made to Unas or Wenis (5th Dynasty), is repeated without too many variations in the Late Period tomb of Peta-Amenapt (XXVIth Dynasty), i.e. 27 centuries later !

"It must also be remembered that the nature of the material offerings presented to the dead was changed during the act of offering by the sacred formulæ which the Kerh heb recited over them. The bread and meat, and wine and beer, were transmuted into the essence and substance of Horus, the great god of heaven." -
Budge, 1994, p.99.

For example, to cleanse & purify the statue so that it might become a suitable and permanent dwelling-place for the "ka", the "Sem" priest (who performed the ceremonies) took up a vessel filled with clean water, in which salt or soda had been dissolved, and poured it into a bowl held by his assistant. He walked around the statue four times, sprinkling the salted water on it from all sides. Meanwhile, the "Kher heb" priest (who held a roll of papyrus in his hands and directed the assistant) recited (after Budge, E.A.W., Ibidem, p.43) :

"O Osiris, take away all those who hate Pharaoh Unis and who speak evilly against his name. O Thoth, hasten, take away him who is harmful to Osiris, and carry off him who speak evilly against Pharaoh Unis ; put him in your hand ! (Recite four times) 'Do not let go of him ! Beware lest you let go of him !' (Pour water)."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 23 (§ 16). 

This ritual was performed in the Tuat-chamber of the tomb. Before it began, the altar (table of offerings) was purified for the "ka" of the deceased. The "sa" ("sA") was a protective energy existing in the gods, represented by rolled up papyrus (V17), also used as an amulet with the same meaning. As "sA n anx" it was the magical fluid of life, which could be transferred by "magnetic passes" along the back, over the nape of the neck or the spinal column. In the context of this ritual, we may suppose that the transfer of the Sa was properly executed by the purification of the statue by salted water by the "Sem" priest and the invocation of Osiris by the "Kher heb".

However, the divinity of Pharaoah defined the distinction between royal and private burials. Although there was common ground between them (interchange & adaptation of certain scriptoral practices) the difference was very important and placed its stamp on writing. 

In the Pyramid Texts, exclusively used to adorn the tombs of the kings, the divinity of Pharaoh is clearly attested. Many ascension-texts clarify that after he had died, he travelled to the sky and (being a god) returned to the realm of the gods. Only Pharaoh had that privilege. The pyramids themselves were magificent monuments evidencing the divine status of the king who utilized this mortuary house of fire to return to the heavenly world of the stars where the gods abided. Osiris (in the constellation of Orion), the god of resurrection, was the prototype of the dead Pharaoh, son of Re.

Other royal inscriptions appeared in rudimentary form :
(1) record of a single event ;
(2) the annalistic record ;
(3) the royal decree.

The inscriptions made in private tombs became the stepping-stone to literature, for in their "house of eternity", the high officials of Pharaoh used the written word to identify pictoral representations and to name the tomb-owner and his family, listing his ranks, titles and offerings. These first texts focus on the tomb (especially its protection) and not on the deceased. The status of tomb-owner implied : 
(1) a function allowing one to use artisans to make and to adorn the tomb (this was a state monopoly) ;
(2) a family organizing the funerary cult & 
(3) a place in the collective memory of society (public approbation).

"The elder Judge of the Hall, Hetep-her-akhet, says : 'I made this tomb on the west side of a pure place, in which there was no tomb of anyone, in order to protect the possession of one who has gone to his ka. As for any people who would enter this tomb unclean and do something evil to it, there will be judgement against them by the great god. I made this tomb because I was honored by the king, who brought me a sarcophagus."

Inscription of Hetep-Her-Akhet (Lichtheim, 1975, vol.1, p.16. The inscription of Hetep-Her-Akhet is in the Leiden Museum and was carved in vertical columns on the two sides of the entrance leading into the tomb-chapel. It dates from the Vth Dynasty).

The long offering list became a short Prayer for Offerings and to the ever lenghthening lists of ranks and titles, narration was added, giving birth to the Autobiography (cf. the autobiographies of Weni & Harkhuf, both of the VIth Dynasty). Hence, the Egyptian autobiography was derived from the epitaph.

Three fundamental components of the Egyptian autobiography appeared side by side in prominent non-royal tombs : 

  1. a commentary on the tomb-owner, sketching an impersonal portait of the deceased in an ideal biography. This aimed at showing that the deceased had been integrated in the cosmos & society (the pharaonic state) and thus that s/he had accomplished & spoken as Maat. It did this in general terms ;

  2. a catalogue of virtues, implying a serious commitment to ethical values which were also helpful in the afterlife (namely in the "Hall of Maat" on the Day of Judgment) ; 

  3. the distinguishing marks of the individual, in flamboyant and particular wording, i.e. a personal description of the individual career (the professional biography) of the departed.

These two elements, Maat & career, determined who one was in the Old Kingdom, both from the perspectives of cosmic (divine) justice and of social status (defined as a function of Pharaoh's goodwill towards the individual, directly -the court- or indirectly -the local temples-).

"The quest for immortality had a magical as well as a moral side. Statues, food offerings, and other rituals would magically ensure revivification and eternal life. But a good character, a life lived in harmony with the divine order (maat) was equally essential." -
Lichtheim, 1975, vol.1, p.4.

During the Vth Dynasty, prayer and autobiography acquired their fundamental shape. The prayers focused on the request for offerings and a good reception in the West. The Prayer for Offerings became a standardized formula, invoking Anubis and the power from whom the desired goods would come. The rise of a noble class of administrators was the result of an increasingly complex system of government. Through their wealth and the beneficence of Pharoah, they fashioned for themselves more elaborate tombs to provide for the afterlife. At the end of the Vth Dynasty, the first Pyramid Texts were carved on the walls of the pyramids of Pharaoh Wenis (Unis or Unas).
In the VIth Dynasty, the autobiography (unfettered by the cult) became prominent & attained its full length. Its aim being to sum up the features of the person in terms of positive worth in the face of eternity and in terms of what s/he had done or received by Pharaoh. However, as the person was supposed to live eternally in a transfigured body of the resurrected dead, so that his or her name would live on forever, personal shortcomings and the details of his or her life were unsuitable for the autobiography. Hence it remained a blend of the real with the ideal (as does a portrait sculpture). 

The self-laudatory traits of the autobiography have to be viewed in the context of the epitaph and the quest for immortality. The epitaph is not a confession, and the faulty & ephemeral features of the deceased were stripped off. In these Old Kingdom autobiographies, Pharaoh always comes first (cf. the Autobiography of Weni of the VIth Dynasty).

Along with the autobiography, the catalogue of virtues expanded. It was written in a strict formalized, symmetrically structured sentences (midway between prose and poetry). This catalogue contrasted with the free proze of the narrative components of the autobiography but provided the monumental, official proof that life had been lived consistent with the precepts demanded by the sapiental instructions. These wisdom discourses or didactic literature were literary works on papyrus, calling for a life in accordance with Maat, universal justice & truth (symbolized by a feather).

In the middle of the VIth Dynasty, royal power diminished progressively to the advantage of the provincial governors, the nomarchs. Maat had been identified with the will of Pharaoh (the ultimate divine source of the unity of the Two Lands). By serving society one had served the state and its core, Pharaoh. The decay of the unity of the land triggered questions about Maat, for the equation had been disrupted. Were was the general standard to be found if the gods had forsaken Egypt ?

1.3 the patriarchy of the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period

At the end of the Old Kingdom, the stable pharaonic system slowly broke down. During the nine decades of the reign of the last Pharaoh of the VIth Dynasty, Pepi II (ca.2246 - 2152) -the longest reign in history- the way was paved for the collapse of the Old Kingdom under the pressure of internal weakening. A folk tale of the New Kingdom depicts Pepi II as a weak personality with abnormal tendencies ... No serious dangers threatened Egypt from western Asia or Nubia, although attacks on Egyptian expeditions seems to have been more frequent. One important factor was the increase in the number of cults freed by royal decree from taxes and other obligations, placing a burden on the royal treasury, diminishing is power and majesty (cf. the number of buildings built). Low Nile floods are also to be noted, as well as a climate change ca. 2200 BCE (probably a world-wide small ice age). 

"But the decisive factor was that the archaic, patriarchal structure of the adminstration was no longer adequate to meet the more specialized demands of the era and thus not suited in all respects to the tenor of the times."
Hornung, 1999, p.41.

The weak administration was no longer able to run the country as a whole and the consequences were economical difficulties, famine and struggle for life itself (while Pharaoh made enormous gifts to the temples). Economic need occupied the center of attention in biographical inscriptions which emerged in this period. This situation triggered two important phenomena :

  1. (objective) local potentates acquired the necessary goods for themselves and their subjects. Raids on neighboring regions and the peasants were common. The latter therefore formed armed bands. Safety was lost. Art sank to a provincial level. In the walled homes of the rulers of the nomes (the nomarchs) an urban middle class was formed, focused on the accumulation of private property. These "nedjes" (a pejorative word for "small") designated these new "bourgeois" who made the cities into political centers.

  2. (inter-subjective) the struggle against the terrible experience of returning to the banished chaos triggered a flowering of literature such as Egypt had never produced before. With the decline of the monarchy, the identification of Maat with the will of Pharaoh broke up. So the questions : What is good ? What is evil ? became all important. For the intellectual elite of the First Intermediate, the divine shepherd had forsaken his human flock. Even the blessed afterlife was questioned. New ways of formulating their thoughts were sought, especially to break away from the formulaic & archaic literary style of the mortuary cults. The power of the individual was found ...

After Pepi II, the construction of pyramids stopped and in rapid successions at least a dozen Pharaoahs resided in Memphis and nominally ruled the entire land. What exactely happened is unknown (for this period is obscure), but at the end Egypt was divided between the "kings" of two major nomes : Heracleopolis (IXth & Xth Dynasty) & Thebes (XIth Dynasty). The unity broke up and no great monuments were erected to consolidate the power of the state. The Theban ruling family assumed the royal titulary at about the same time as the nomarchs of Herakleopolis. This fact initiates the First Intermediate Period, which would last for about a century.

"Statues of the Theban rulers were set up in the temple of Heqaib on the island of Elephantine, and we must assume that because of this tie with the south, the Thebans had at their disposal, from the very beginning, seasoned Nubian soldiers who would lend considerable combat strength to the Theban army in the warfare that ensued to reunite the land." -
Hornung, 1999, p.45.

Hornung situates the Discourse of a Man with his Ba in this First Intermediate Period. The vivid images used by the man to describe the incurable degeneration of solidarity, justice and goodwill in society, could thus be suggestive of a disrupted and divided Egypt, returning to geosentimental barbarism (from the unity of the Two Lands to the war between the nomes). However, although unity was lost and conflicts did happen, no general anarchy prevailed during the First Intermediate Period. 

So the poetical enunciations of the man are proof of the author's refined literary abilities, combining "real" events with subjective imagination & fiction to describe what happens in the heart (the mind) of the man. In the narrative, as well as in the poetry, the method "a contrario" is used. The negation of these negative statements produces a remarkably refined subjective reflection of Maat and the ways of the just life. It also allows us to understand the relationship between a living human being and his soul.

In our text, kingship is mentioned only once, an this in the context of nome-politics ("the town of a king") and treason. It is interesting to note that although his moral depravity is complete, the man has not relinquished the deities nor eternal life. In fact, the discourse oscillates between a dispute and a reconciliation. The outcome remains unknown. 

The Ba-soul or guardian of the man remains focused on justice and life. The man (his heart) is split between a total rejection of this life on Earth (because of its chaos) and his knowledge that he will be judged (although the Two Lands had no Pharaoh, the celestial Pantheon remained). His higher, true individuality is called in to act against its own laws. The reply is a radical refusal : life on Earth must be lived in happy and enjoyable ways whatever happens. When physical death arrives, the Ba will assist the man to attain immortality. Meanwhile, he should stop worrying, for his soul will nurse his pains anyway ... 

1.4 the salvation of the non-royals

The inscriptions of the First Intermediate provide us with ample proof of the fact that individualism was on the rise. Although the society remained organized in a hierarchical fashion, the leaders were not divine kings but local chiefs, ruling the country's ancient districts (the nomes), called "nomarchs". These nobles (princes) and high officials displayed a proud individualism which was taken over by the commoners.

"An offering which the king gives and Anubis, who is upon his mountain and in the place of embalming, the Lord of the necropolis : an offering for the Count, Royal Seal-bearer, Sole Companion, Lector-priest, the revered Indi, who says :
I was a citizen excellent in combat, a companion of excitement.
I was one loved by his father, praised by his mother,
Loved by his brothers, liked by his relations.
Raised from the back of his father's house by the might of Onuris ; ruler of This with a will to excell, with a will to act for the best. One who spoke with his mouth, one who acted with his arm. No man will be found who would speak against the revered Indi.
A thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, a thousand of oxen, a thousand of fowl, a thousand of ointment jars, a thousand of clothing, a thousand of everything good, for the revered Indi. His beloved wife, Sole Royal Ornament, Priestess of Hathor, honored by the gods of This, Mut-muti."

Stela of Count Indi of This (Lichtheim, 1975, pp.84-85. The inscription was found on a rectangular, painted limestone, carved in sunk relief. Metropolitan Museum 25.2.3, VIIIth Dynasty).

Hence, the two families of nomarchs (at Heracleopolis and at Thebes) amassed sufficient power to claim the kingship. Again : although these inner conflicts are clear, the First Intermediate Period is not decadent or anarchic. 

"An offering which the king gives and Osiris : an offering of a thousand of bread and beer, a thousand of ointment jars and clothing, a thousand of everything good, to one honored by Re-Atum in his evenings, honored by Hathor who nurses the dawn. He says : 

Will you depart, father Re, before you commend me ?
Will sky conceal you before you commend me ?
Commend me to night and those dwelling in it.
So as to find me among your adorers, O Re !
Who worships you at your risings.
Who lament at your settings.
May night embrace me, midnight shelter me.
By your command, O Re !
I am your deputy, you made me lord of life, undying.
Commend me to night's early hours.
May they place their guard upon me.
Commend me to early dawn.
May he put his guard about me.
I am the nursling of early dawn.
I am the nursling of night's early hours.
Born at night, whose life is made in darkness.
Whose fear besets the herds with back-turned horns.
With your eye's red glow as my protection.
You find me hailing your approach !"

A Stela of Pharaoh Intef II (Lichtheim, 1975, pp.94-95. The inscription was found on a finely carved limestone stela in his Theban tomb. Metropolitan Museum 13.182.3, XIth Dynasty).

The crude artwork found evidences that quite ordinary people made funerary monuments for themselves, which beforehand had been the privilege of the wealthy high officials only. It was not court art but work done by local craftsmen or perhaps even by their owners themselves. Mostly the stelæ survived.

At the end of the Old Kingdom, the two main components of the autobiography (ideal biography & professional biography) which had never merged will do so and form a new genre which has been called the "apogee" of Ancient Egyptian autobiography, namely that of the First Intermediate Period. In this period and thereafter the stela became the carrier of a short autobiography. In the autobiography of the period, no royal service (career) is mentioned. 

"The Prince, Count, Royal Seal-bearer, Sole Companion, Lector-priest, General, Chief of scouts, Chief of foreign regions, Great Chief of the nomes of Edfu and Hieraconpolis, Ankhtifi, says :
Horus brought me to the nome of Edfu for life, prosperity, health, to reestablish it, and I did it. For Horus wished it to be reestablished, because he brought me to it to reestablish it.
I found the House of Khuu inundated like a marsh, abandoned by him who belonged to it, in the grip of a rebel, under the control of a wretch. I made a man embrace the slayer of his father, the slayer of his brother, so as to reestablish the nome of Edfu. Now happy was the day on which I found well-being in this nome ! No power in whom there is the heat of strife will be accepted, now that all forms of evil which people hate have been suppressed.
I am the vanguard of men and the rearguard of men. One who finds the solution where it is lacking. A leader of the land through active conduct. Strong in speech, collected in thought, on the day of joining the three nomes. For I am a champion without peer, who spoke out when the people were silent, on the day of fear when Upper Egypt was silent.
As to everyone on whom I placed my hand, no misfortune ever befell him, because my heart was sealed and my counsel excellent. But as to any fool, any wretch, who stands up in opposition I shall give according as he gives. 'O woe !' will be said of one who is accused by me. His w'r will take water like a boat. For I am a champion without peer !"

Autobiography of Ankhtifi (Lichtheim, 1975, pp.85-86. From his tomb at Hefat (Mo'alla) - last decades of the 22th century B.C).

Two other facts reflect this important change of attitude : the Instruction to Pharaoh Merikare (the first treatise on kingship) and, what Assmann (1999) called, "the advent of virtue". The instruction proves the changed attitude towards kingship : textualization of the royal tradition (the testament of a departing king to his son & successor) in the context of the division of the land and the absence of a unifying political power. 

The fact that in the autobiography excellence in royal service is no longer mentioned, indicates that Maat alone is needed to attain immortality. The accomplishment of a supra-individual rule or norm coupled with individual merits became the two determining elements of who one was in the First Intermediate Period and in the Middle Kingdom. With the "invention of virtue" (beauty, goodness, good nature, quality, character, grace, kindness, patience, etc.) a new view on justice and truth emerged. Moral behavior and professional activity merged. In the First Intermediate Period, the autobiographies make no mention of Maat as such. This because Maat had been associated with the pharaonic state which had collapsed. Hence, only individual merit remained : 

"Kindness is a man's memorial for the years after the function."
Maximes of Ptahhotep, maxim 34.

"Good nature is a man's heaven."
Instruction to Pharaoh Merikare (Lichtheim, 1975, p.99. Three fragmented papyri of the XVIIIth Dynasty - the work is dated Xth Dynasty or perhaps XIIth Dynasty)

"The monument of man is his virtue."
Stela of Mentuhotpe (Schenkel, 1964, p.11. - dated XIth Dynasty)

In the Middle Kingdom this new view was again directly associated with Maat :

Speak Maat, do Maat.
For she is mighty.
She is great, she endures.
Her worth is tried,
She leads one to the state of reveredness."

The Eloquent Peasant (Lichtheim, 1975, p.181. Four copies on papyrus dating Middle Kingdom, also Assmann, J. : Op.cit., 1999, p.70 - dated XIIth Dynasty).

Around ca.1980 BCE, after a century of disunity, Herakleopolis fell and all of Egypt was again under the rule of a single Theban Pharaoh, namely Mentuhotpe III (ca. 1945 - 1938 BCE). The apprenticeship period of Egyptian literature lay behind. The Middle Kingdom produced a vast number of works in a variety of genres and with full control over a vast number of forms. Hence, it is called the "classical age" of Egyptian literature, which saw the consolidation of Middle Egyptian.

The Coffin Texts superseded the Pyramid Texts as early as the VIIIth Dynasty, but their principal sources are the later cemeteries of the nomarchs of Middle Egypt in the XIIth Dynasty. The largest number of spells of this textual tradition was found in Deir el-Bersha, the cemetery of Hermopolis, the city of the god of writing, Thoth. These spells (1.185 of them) appear mainly on coffins of officials and their subordinates, but also on tomb walls, stelæ, canoptic chests, mummy masks and papyri. However, they are attested in only one place. This local element distinguishes the Coffin Texts from other corpora. The deceased was almost always spoken of in the first person singular. Red ink was used for emphasis and to indicate divisions. Important spells were entirely in red. 

The Coffin Texts eliminated the royal exclusivity of ascension. Every deceased was an "Osiris NN", although the principal group of people to make use of them were the nomarchs and their families of the Middle Kingdom. The tradition of these Coffin Texts came to an end at the end of the Middle Kingdom. They were transformed into the new Book of the Dead in the XVIIth Dynasty. Some important spells survived and were used in the New Kingdom (cf. burial chamber of Minnakhte TT87).

"Going out from the tomb in the necropolis. The cavern of those who are in the Abyss is opened, the movements of those who are in the sunshine are extensive, the tomb of the Sole One is opened. When he went out, I went out from the tomb, I went forth from the Great Lake, I descended into the lustral basins. My foot is on the (...), my hand is raised aloft, I have laid hold of his lashing which belongs to (...), I row in my seat which is in the Bark of God, I do go down into my seat which is in the Bark of God, I have taken control without neglect of my seat which is in the Bark of the Controller, my seat which is in the Bark of God did not leave me stranded."
Coffin Texts, spell 151, popular in the New Kingdom.

Besides these Coffin Texts, major works were the private autobiographies of officials, artists as well. They combined narration, the catalogue of virtues & elaborate prayers and also contained hymns to the gods and praises to Pharaoh. Royal monumental inscriptions, erected as a result of historical circumstances (like war, peace, new temples, to set boundaries, to mark festivals or special occurences) developed and came into their own. Pharaoh was described as leader of the state in war and in the service of the gods. His divinity was given ornate expression. 

2 Personal piety in Ancient Egypt before the New Kingdom

2.1 the indwelling of the deities

For the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom, the deities withdrew to the sky and were separated from humanity. The cohabitation had been a primordial state which was lost. The withdrawal of the deities to the sky went hand in hand with the founding of the pharaonic state (ca. 3000 BCE). Direct contact between humanity and the gods did no longer exist, except for the mediation between the state and the divine Pharaoh (the heart of the state). Between the human and the divine a sacred signification, a "transcendent function" bridged the gap. This was provided for by the temples, the state agencies, who represented Pharaoh. The gods were resident on earth as lords of a particular temple. Although their essences (or spirit or "akh") existed in the sky, their "kingdom" was "of this world" (through their "doubles", the "Ka's").

The temples of the nomes owned the land of Egypt and the local deity of the temple embodied the concept of "city", which was always the city of a particular deity. To belong to a city meant to be under the rule of the god of that city. A city was thus a temple situated on the primordial hill, home and domain of an independent deity. The temple was the center of municipal administration and those who lived in the city were automatically "hour-priests" serving in the temples in a monthly rotation under the authority of full-time priests (under the charge of a royal official representing Pharaoh). Hence, the Residence of Pharaoh determined which nome was dominant. Sedentariness was a principle and those who fleed were severely punished for desertion. In the "intermediate periods", wanderlust and internal migration happened as a result of famine and civil war.

The deities did not "dwell" on earth but they installed themselves "in their images". The "installation" of Pharoah during coronation (and his jubilees, the Sed-festivals) may have served as a model. The deities of the old pantheon were in the sky as "spirits" and "souls" ("ba's"), but their physical images existed on earth. This physical double or "Ka" could embrace or fraternize with the world if and only if the proper rituals of "installation" were daily performed by the priests who were functionaries of Pharaoh, for he was the state and the state was the unity of the temples of the Two Lands. In the cult, the divine brought itself near the realm of human activity. Through the rituals,  the deity "installed" itself in its earthly image & function and in the mystery play, the divine drama was executed (the priests did not act as mediators but interacted as players in the ongoing divine plot). Without these rituals, only the inanimate, physical image would remain, emptied of its power of presence in this world (as if the gods had stopped living in Egypt and only graves remained). So the priest never responded to the occurring process of "indwelling" (cf. Junker's "Einwohnung") but rather accompanied and confirmed it. He never "spoke" to the deity, but narrated (assuming a particular god-form) his alloted part of the divine drama.

2.2 the paradox of Pharaoh in the Old Kingdom

This ongoing personal service to the lord of the temple was modeled on the daily morning ceremony of clothing Pharaoh, for he was (as son of Re) a direct divine source and hence he alone had a soul ("ba") and was the ultimate high priest. Pharaoh was a god and also the only god who was actually physically present in Egypt (he was not in the same way in need of ceremonial installation as the images & statues). This exclusivity of the divine king, who united & sustained the Two Lands, was absolute. 

All of this points to his paradoxical nature, for although being a god he was the only god to dwell on earth, i.e. his "divine ba" was on earth ... He alone ascended to the sky, and for this he used a special door ("rhy.t"), translated as "the door which keep out the plebs" (cf. Pyramid Text §§ 655, 876, 1726, 1934). These commoners continued their existence too, but not vertically by ascending but by means of a horizontal passage toward the sacred, isolated and terrestial afterlife ("ta djsr"), put aside as the "Beautiful West", enlightened by the Sun of the night ...

There is a correspondence to be found between, on the one hand, the notion that the gods abided as "ba's" in the sky while installing themselves in their statues & images through magical means, and on the other hand, the idea that the "ba" was gratified by the offerings made to the double (cf. the "ka"), even if the latter were only representations of these offerings in the "sacred" language of the gods (hieroglyphs).

2.3 the rise of Amun in Thebes in the First Intermediate Period

This First Intermediate Period was a turning point in the history of Thebes, the fourth nome of Upper Egypt (opposite Karnak), "she of the sceptre". In the Old Kingdom, Thebes offers no clear evidence for royal activity. Substantial evidence for statuary data of this type does not exist outside of the Memphite region.

When the Old Kingdom had collapsed, the rulers of Herakleopolis (IXth & Xth Dynasties) may at first have ruled Egypt nominally, but it was not for long before many of the Southern nomarchs started to build their provincial empires. Military campaigns to conquer their neighbors were frequent, and at the end of the story, Thebes triumphed ! Pharaoh Inyotef I, initiating the Theban XIth Dynasty (ca. 2081 - 2065 BCE), assumed pharaonic titles and wrote his name in a cartouche, as did his successors.

Pharaoh Amenemhet I ("Amun is pre-eminent" - ca. 1938 - 1909 BCE), who initiated the XIIth Dynasty and with it the Middle Kingdom, moved the Residence away from Thebes to the North, thus removing the centre of activity (Pharaoh) elsewhere. Thebes lost much of its political power. Simultaneously, however, one of the local gods worshipped in the region, namely Amun, was promoted to be the pre-eminent dynastic and national deity. Thebes became the city of Amun. Pharaoh donated statues and a granite altar to the temple of Amun. However, he attended Ptah of Memphis too. Ptah had not been very prominent in the Old Kingdom. Re, Amun, Ptah and Osiris (who received special attention as an enduring focus of belief touching the afterlife) now formed a constellation of leading deities.

"La suprématie d'Amon s'affirmera à Thèbes de la XIe à la XXVIe dynastie, malgré l'intermède d'Hyksos et surtout son effacement temporaire lors de la crise armanienne." -
Barucq & Daumas, 1980, p.182.

2.4 the afterlife of the commoners in the Middle Kingdom & Osiris

In the Old Kingdom, only Pharaoh had a "ba", i.e. a "soul". He alone would operate the transition from earthly existence to divine immortality. While on earth he had been a living god, after death he would ascend into the sky to return to the abode of the deities. The "ba" is represented by the hieroglyph of a bird that flies away, suggestive of the rise towards another world, considered to be fully part of the created order but transcending the gross plane of physical existence of life on earth. The commoners were supposed to "hide" in their tombs of the Beautiful West (the abode of the dead). Ascension was not for them, but exclusively for Pharaoh. The common people might survive death as "revered ones", but they could not ascend.

"To say : 'Nu has commened Pharaoh Teti to Atum. The Open-armed has commended the Pharaoh Teti to Shu, (so) that he may cause yonder doors of the sky to be opened for Phraoh Teti, barring ordinary folk who have no name. Grasp Pharaoh Teti by his hand and take Pharaoh Teti to the sky, that he may not die on earth among men.'"
Pyramid Texts, utterance 361 (§ 604). 

Festivals were, besides the service payed in the temples to the local deity, the way to express the might of Pharaoh and the gods in a public way (the holy parts of the temples were forbidden to commoners). These festivals organized personal piety, for during a procession everybody could worship the deity "face to face" and present their offerings & prayers.

The inscriptions on the mastaba tombs and other monuments of the Old Kingdom give us the names of these festivals. On the sarcophagus of Khufu-ankh (IVth Dynasty) the following festivals are mentioned : Festival of the New Year, Festival of Thoth, Festival of the beginning of the year, Festival of Uak, Great Festival, Heat Festival, Appearance of Menu Festival, Festival of Uah-akh, Festival of Satch, Festival of the beginning of the month, Festival of the beginning of the half month, Every festival on every day for ever ... In later Middle Kingdom tombs (like that of Khnemu-hetep of the XII Dynasty) the list is longer, including Festivals of the 1th, 6th, 15th and one other day in each month, Festivals of the Five Epagomenal Days, ... in total 73 festivals, allowing for the conclusion that on average every fifth day was a day of festival ! In later periods several other festivals were mentioned, and in the most flourishing periods the sepulchral offerings in the tombs of Pharaoh and the wealthy people were renewed daily.

The collapse of the pharaonic Old Kingdom of the pyramids (from Djoser to Pepi II, i.e. ca. 450 years) and the subsequent decentralization which eventuated, put Egyptian culture in a state of crisis which triggered the re-equilibration of the nation & the state by the formation of an internal "prise de conscience" touching good, evil and the importance of the individual in the state. The Old Kingdom had been construed around Pharaoh and his temples. From the First Intermediate Period onwards and especially in the Classical Age, this new awareness moved the intellectual & spiritual forces of the Two Lands to understand that Pharaoh was no longer an absolute justification, for it was not one's service to Pharaoh which was weighed at the judgment, but the very heart of the deceased. And a heavy heart only invited the remainder to be eaten after the judgment by the monster, the Devouress (emerging as an iconographical element after the Amarna period) ...

After the fall of the Old Kingdom, the whole constellation of interrelated concepts about survival and immortality were democratized, although the distinction between survival and immortality remained. Although a human longed for immortality he would never attain it as a human being. A revered person ("imakhou") was a moral being surviving in the tomb in the Beautiful West. A living god was an immortal being. In the case of Pharaoh, this had only implied a transition, not a change in essence, for he was already a god on earth and he alone would ascend to reach the abode of his soul and the souls of all the other deities of the old pantheon. After the collapse of the Old kingdom, the commoners also aspired immortality and could attain it, not as a human being, but as a living god too ! Hence, a change of essence had to happen, for a mortal human had to be changed into an immortal god ! This deification called for new ideas. 

The transition was conceptualized in the funerary literature (Coffin Texts in the Middle Kingdom & Book of the Dead from the New Kingdom onward) in the form of a series of initiatoric events post mortem, starting with purification, then judgment and finally admission as a god. In this "scala perfectionis" (cf. the Christian "purificatio, illuminatio & deificatio"), purification (called "the baptisal of Pharaoh") implied that the deceased separated him or herself from all sins. It called for the recital of the "declaration of innocense" which is precisely the fact that the deceased had said and accomplished Maat. What one had not done was deemed more important than what one had done ! Not to eat the forbiden fruit was considered far more closer to doing the right thing than a series of obligatory actions. The list shows that a lot of sins were directly related to what one had said or to how one had listened. The cognitive element predominated, suggestive of the association of Maat with mental states and the notion of "logos" (also found in the Memphis Theology and the teachings on the accomplished discourse).

No other god in Ancient Egypt was more intimately related with the afterlife than Osiris. The original home of Osiris was the temple city Per-Asar-neb-Tetu (the Greek Busiris), situated in the 9th nome of Lower Egypt. Here was preserved the backbone of Osiris, the  "tet", and grew the sacred acacia etc. As his cult extended, Osiris assumed & assimilated the forms of the gods of the dead of other nomes and cities like Memphis (Ptah-Seker) and Abydos (Khenti-Amenti). Before Osiris had arrived at Abydos from the North, Khenti-Amenti ("Foremost of those of the West") had been one of the oldest gods of Abydos ...

The Pyramid Texts evidence the assimilation of the Khenti-Amenti by Osiris. The oldest form of the name of Osiris had two hieroglyphs : a seat, throne, place and an eye, i.e. the seat maker, he who takes his throne. His important role in the funerary rituals is testified by the ceremony of "Opening the Mouth" found in the Pyramid Texts, intended to "balance the mouth", enabling the deceased to speak etc. in the afterlife.

In the Old Kingdom, Osiris was intimately related with the individual spiritual process of transformation happening after Pharaoh's physical body had died. For Osiris was the proto-type of a godman who had lived on the earth, had been dismembered but who nevertheless remained everlasting in a fine condition, alife after natural death ... immortal. Later, Osiris was called "Lord of the Living" (i.e. of those living their afterlife). Osiris was the god of the dead because he gave eternal life to the dead as a result of his own permanent state of divine existence in the afterlife.

In the classical account on Osiris, namely in Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride, we are not told whether Osiris returned from the Other World in his natural body or in a subtle body. The latter had power of speech, thought and an posture recognizable by his son Horus. The core of the message being that his natural body was only a sheet put on by the divine part of Osiris, able to take on all forms (at first of all the Kings of Egypt and eventually of all justified humans).  

"A ladder is knotted together by Re before Osiris, a ladder is knotted together by Horus before his father Osiris when he goes to his spirit, one of them being on this side and one of them being on that side, while I am between them."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 305 (§ 472).

Hence, the nexus of paramount importance between the monarchy and Osiris consisted in the fact that once the king of Egypt had died, he became Osiris, king of the netherworld. At death, the divinity of Pharaoh, embodied in the forms of (a) Horus the elder sky god and (b) the son of Re, took on a new divine manifestation. Pharaoh became the monarch of the underworld & the afterlife : Osiris. Consequently, in the Pyramid Texts, the dead Pharaoh is sometimes referred to under the name of Osiris (cf. Osiris Wenis or Osiris Pepi). However, this was done with some reluctance and dread of the ruler of the dead. Osiris also reigned over the hidden, unknown & forbidden regions of the Duat (namely those touching the primordial chaos of pre-creation), associated with evil & the demonical. Osiris also gloried in slaughter and in the Coffin Texts he utters malignant spells against a dead person and is the head of "Osiris's Butcherers Painful of Fingers" ...

It seems that there is only one Great Hymn to Osiris which mentions the "top secret" regarding this unique and sole god of the dead, namely the narrative concerning his dismemberment by his evil brother Seth when he was king of Egypt. At no time in Ancient Egypt is this murder of Osiris at the hands of Seth pictorally represented ! According to Plutarch, the story of Osiris' death was a "mystery" veiled by silence. Indeed, the story as such is not mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts or in the Book of the Dead, whereas the story of Horus (his posthumous son) as the defender & avenger of his father are oft repeated themes. Indeed, to write down the most terrible event in history would cause it to happen again ...

"We have delivered to the son of Isis his enemy, who succumbed to his force. We have done evil to the adversary. He who attacks the strong will see his misfortune reach him. The son of Isis has defended his father. His name becomes sacred and beneficial. Respect rests in its place and reveredness is established according to its own laws. The road is free, the paths are open. How joyous have the Double Banks become ! Evil dissipates and the accusor moves away. The land is pacified under the authority of its Lord. Justice is established for its Lord. Backs are turned towards injustice !"
Great Hymn to Osiris (translated to the French by Barucq & Daumas, 1980, pp.96-97. Preserved on Stela C 286 of the Louvre, dating from the early New Kingdom, XVIIIth Dynasty).

Seth is in many ways the outsider of the pantheon. He killed his brother Osiris and dismembered him. After the unfoldment of the complete drama (including Isis, Thoth, Re and Horus), Osiris returned from the abode of the dead (resurrection) to encourage Horus to battle Seth, who looses. At the end of this story, told in many versions, Osiris is the sole judge & king of the dead, the ruler of the underworld, he who could bestow immortal life on the dead ... but also cast the unfit into oblivion.

"Seth is one of the gods composing the Ennead of Heliopolos : Atum, Shu and Tefnut, Geb and Nut, Osiris and Isis, Seth and Nephthys. Primaeval time may be described as the time before duality had arisen in the land. The one primaeval god Atum, the lord of all, as the first act of creation brought forth a male-female twin by self-fecundation : the god Shu and the goddess Tefnut. This twin brought forth another twin : the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut, who in turn produced Osiris and Isis. The duality so far is that of man and woman and is complementary. However, Geb and Nut dit not bring forth only one male-female twin, but also Seth and Nephthys. This disturbs the harmonious development of creation, wherein each pair only produced on other pair. Thus the birthday of Seth is the beginning of confusion. Seth is the one who caused disorder before his name existed." -
Te Velde, 1977, p.27.

Seth is one of the gods of the Ennead who actively embodies the force of chaos. The primordial Ogdoad was completely inert and represented the potential of evil present in pre-creation. It must be assumed that some part of this latent, hidden evil manifests when Atum differentiates and creation unfolds. Seth being the deification of the most powerful part of these disruptive, destructive, corrosive, dark & deadly power of chaos, emerging out of the inert matrix of dark pre-creation itself and actively engaged in moral & natural evil. Fratricide (of Osiris), anal intercourse (with Horus) and the destruction of Re (by Apophis, ruled by Seth helping Re) being particularly symbolic of the sinful states of mind of Seth, anthropologically as well as cosmically. 

But the assassination of Osiris (evil par excellence) was of no avail ! In order to obtain his resurrection, Isis and Horus performed ceremonies on the body of his father, helped by Anubis, the embalmer, while Thoth recited sacred words. Thus was Osiris raised from the dead to life immortal in a new body. If Pharaoh was a living paradox (a god abiding on earth), then Osiris was a dead paradox (a man alive after death). In both worlds, they represented the exceptions :

The divine Ba of Pharaoh lives in his body and may return to the sky when the king dies.
Osiris natural body is mummified but he was raised from the dead to eternal life in the afterlife

Osiris became the great prototype of all dead men, to start with Pharaoh in the Old Kingdom. From the Middle Kingdom onward, everybody who was just and able to pay for the rituals could find a set of spells which would be helpful to him or her in the afterlife ...

3 Didactical Literature

3.1 the didactical literature of the Old Kingdom : Hordedef, Kagemni & Ptahhotep

The wisdom teachings (or, as the Egyptians called them, "instructions") were the second major literary genre in the Old Kingdom. The great order (Maat) combined with speculative thought gave rise to brief teachings or maxims. The narrative frame of a father instructing his son were the literary device used to put these teachings together. These instructions teach how humans can be made perfect and summarize the deposit of wisdom of Ancient Egypt. Whereas all other works are anonymous, the wisdom instructions are attributed to a famous sage (genuine or pseudo-epigraphic).

The instruction was primarily aristocratic. It became "middle class" in the New Kingdom. The Old Kingdom instructions have the ambiance of the Old Kingdom and reflect a state which is unified, serene, orderly & optimistic. The state (Pharaoh & the temple services) is in harmony with itself, and the instructions embody the pragmatical wisdom of the upper-class Egyptian. They promote the code of the Old Kingdom nobleman, belonging to the wealthy class, (partly) initiated in the rituals of the temple service payed to the deities, able to read & write hieroglyphics, and a member of the administration of Pharaoh, like local governors, high priests, members of court or members of the family of the king.

Of the Instructions of Kagemni (serving under Huni & Snefru, IIIth to IVth Dynasty, but dated VIth Dynasty) only a final portion is preserved and the name of the sage is lost. The text is part of the Papyrus Prisse of the Bibliothèque Nationale and (after a blank stretch) it is followed by the Maxims of Ptahhotep. The latter is also written in the VIth Dynasty and both are stylistically resemblant. 

If a good example is set by him who leads,
he will be beneficient for ever,
(and) his wisdom will be for all time.
He who knows, feeds his Ba with what endures,
so that it is happy with him on earth.
He who knows is known by his wisdom,
(and) the great by his good actions.
(That) his heart twines his tongue,
(and) his lips (be) precise when he speaks.
That his eyes see !
That his ears be pleased to hear what profits his son.
(For) acting with Maat, he is free of falsehood."

Maxims of Ptahhotep, epilogue.

In fact, both instructions embody teachings on justice & truth (Maat) which must have existed long before the VIth Dynasty. On the walls of the pyramids of Pharaoh Unis (Vth Dynasty, the first one to cover the walls of his tombs with hieroglyphs) and the rulers of the VIth, we also find : 

"To say : 'May you shine as Re, repress wrongdoing, cause Maat to stand behind Re, shine every day for him who is in the horizon of the sky. Open the gates which are in the Abyss.'"
Pyramid Texts, utterance 586 (§ 1582). 

"Collect what belongs to Maat, for Maat is what the King says."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 758 (§ 2290), translated by Faulkner, 1969, p.318. 

It is difficult to say how far these wisdom teachings go back. For example, in the early days of research, egyptologists dated the Pyramid Texts as early as possible. For Sethe they were Predynastic. Contemporary egyptologists mostly go to the other extreme, and generally date the origin of texts close to the time of their textualization. Personally, I reject both positions. The advent of a unified, pharaonic, dynastic Egypt (cf. Palette of Narmer - ca. 3050 BCE) was the starting-point of a particular Egyptian culture, the foundations of which would scarcely change.

Moreover, the invention of writing (phonogram + ideogram) immediately preceded the Ith Dynasty. From the very beginning the Egyptians developed cursive signs for use in everyday life, to record data which could not be expressed by means of a picture, suggestive of symbolized cognitive activity. Predynastic and Early Dynastic evidence does not make it likely that the first Dynasties were devoid of religious ceremony, ritual, sacred texts and oral wisdom teachings. Hence, from a hermeneutical perspective, exemplaric textualization like the Prayer for Offerings, the Pyramid Texts or the wisdom teachings must very probably have been part of the cultural tradition of the dynastic Egyptians since Djoser (ca. 2654 - 2635 BCE, IIIth Dynasty), if not earlier (Aha ? - ca. 3000 BCE, Ith Dynasty), i.e. ca. 750 years earlier than the reign of Pepi I (ca. 2316 - 2284 BCE, middle of Vth Dynasty), when Pharaoh had to start dealing with the growing importance of the provinces.

The wisdom teachings offer the "summum bonum" of the Old Kingdom : to be a man of peace & justice, to speak and to do Maat, i.e. the will of Pharaoh. Did these magisterial textualizations, by teaching what the wise considered to be the best, intent to avoid the progressive decline of the unity of the Two Lands, apparent from the middle of the VIth Dynasty ?

The collapse of the Old Kingdom brought about the disruption of the identity between the unified pharaonic state and the just and true state of affairs (Maat). Maat could not be the same anymore as what Pharaoh said ... the "sollen" required the heart (mind) of the individual.

"While art sank to a provincial level for lack of support from a central Residence, the intellectual elite of the land took pen in hand and even held the creator and sustainer of the world, now called 'God' responsible for the collapse." -
Hornung, 1999, p.42.

3.2 the didactical literature of the Middle Kingdom : Neferti, Ipuwer & the Eloquent Peasant

After the collapse of the Old Kingdom, three major changes were taking place : 

  1. climate changes & low Nile floods : the equatorial African climate, hot and humid with abundant rainfalls, which down through the Neolithic Period had never changed, became the dry, desert climate of today. This must have had a tremendous impact on the naturalistic religiosity of the Egyptians and may well be one of the factors explaining why the Age of Pyramids was over (cf. the reduction of the size of the tomb and the influence of moisture on the conservation of the mummy) ;

  2. the disruption of the state of union : the Two Lands were ruled by two kings ! The divine order was broken. Pharaoh, Lord of the Two Lands, was no longer and so justice, truth & the good could no longer be projected outwardly upon the institutions (a central "great house" and the temple services of the nomes, the functionaries of Pharaoh). Social unrest, famine, provincial anarchy, internal division, strife & the downfall of a central economy ensued ;

  3. the rise of the urban class : at first local potentates, the former rulers of the nomes, go for self-help. Raids on neighboring nomes are common. The law of the strongest prevailed. Over time, the residences of the nomarchs were walled and an urban middle class was formed, focused on the accumulation of private wealth. Two major nomes ruled, in Upper Egypt, Thebes, and in the Delta, Heracleopolis.

These physical, political, economical & sociological changes affected Egyptian society deeply. Instead of disappearing altogether, the collective consciousness of Egyptian civilization was able to interiorize itself to deal with this crisis. New mental operators emerged (cf. Piaget). This proves the creative flexibility of the Egyptian way of life, always coupled with an incredible inner, hidden strength. Is it a coincidence that the reunification of Egypt was realized by the nomarchs of the Theban nome, the city of Amun : One, Millions and Hidden ?

How to characterize the novelty ? The explosion of intellectual activity in the Classical Age, as well as the finalization of the language itself, may be explained by the "Renaissance" brought about by the need of every individual to consolidate him or herself as a source of truth & justice. The individual had to make his or her free choices and these would be weighed against the feather of truth. Nobody escaped judgment and the importance of a good place in the West was no longer a royal privilege. The wisdom teachings evidence this change too.

The instructions appear in three forms : the didactical speech of a father to his son (like the Instruction of King Amenemhet I for His Son Sesostris I), prophetic & other speeches (containing lamentations and insights regarding the problematic nature of human life, like the Complaints of Khakheperre-sonb) and dialogue, with contrasting points of view (like in the present Discourse). This didactical literature still understood Pharaoh as the guardian of order, but then mostly in circumstances when kingship is weak and chaos ("isefet") had overtaken the land to the disadvantage of justice & truth ("maât"). 

Indeed, the main topic of the wisdom teachings was order versus chaos. The latter appeared -not in a cosmological -Nu- or theological sense -Seth-, but in a moral one, formulated as a general disruption of the Two Lands because of an extreme loss of solidarity and humanity between its people, fratricide, regicide & suicide. In fact, this topic was also literary, for -at the time of their composition- no "national distress" was at hand. Except for civil disorders that broke out periodically, peace & prosperity were the rule between the XIth and XIIIth Dynasties. It is clear that the foundation of the new sense of individuality (hand in hand with the democratization of ascension or deification) had also called for a more individualized, well-composed, deliberate, thematical approach of the fundamental opposition between "isefet" and "maât". A common rhetorical device often used was the reversal of something into its opposite : the poor becomes wealthy, the master a slave and a slave a master ...

"I show you the land in turmoil : the weak-armed is strong-armed, one salutes him who saluted. I show you the undermost uppermost : what was turned on the back turns the belly, man will live in the graveyard, the beggar will gain riches, the great will rob to live, the poor will eat bread, the slaves will be exalted. Gone from the earth is the nome of On, the birthplace of every god."
The Prophecies of Neferti (Lichtheim, 1975, p.143. Preserved in a single manuscript, the Papyrus Leningrad 1116B, from the VIIIth Dynasty - dated two decades after the Instruction of Amenemhet I, i.e. early XIIth Dynasty).

According to Lichtheim and others, neither the "long past" First Intermediate Period nor any other historical situation has influenced the contents of this literature. 

"... the Admonitions of Ipuwer is inherently contradictory, hence historically impossible : on the one hand the land is said to suffer from total want ; on the other hand the poor are described as having become rich, of wearing fine clothes, and generally of disposing of all that once belonged to their masters." -
Lichtheim, 1975, p.150.

Others, including myself, conjecture that the author's memory of the historical events of the First Intermediate Period (the loss of unity and the subsequent collapse of the state), which were less than two centuries old, was used as a literary background. The "new rich" mentioned, may well be the nomarchs who, being proud individualists, displayed the titles, customs & wealth which previously had exclusively belonged to Pharaoh and his court. The general loss of harmony, order & truth described, may express the lost paradise of the serene Old Kingdom. Moreover, our author adds that because of the evil impulses within certain individuals, things are not well in Egypt. Indeed, with individualism came egoism and also the lack of respect for others, leading to the downfall of the fundamental feeling of justice, intimately related with how one heard, listened, spoke and acted. So our authors use past horrors to make a point when reflecting on "la condition humaine" in the context of the Middle Kingdom.

"Each man's heart is for himself. (...) One gives only with hatred to silence the mouth that speaks. To answer a speech, the arms thrusts a stick, one speaks by killing him. Speech falls on the heart like fire, one cannot endure the word of mouth."
The Prophecies of Neferti (Lichtheim, 1975, p.142)

The order of the state was no longer, the land was shrunk and the rulers were many. In this situation, chaos rules and order is not. Re withdraws from humanity and no face will be dazzled by seeing him in Pharaoh. At the end of his prophecy, the political intentions of Neferti become clear. He writes that a king (called "son of man") will come, who will make order return to its seat while chaos is driven away and make those who attend him rejoice again ...

On the theme of loss of justice and this time without any political motives, we read in the Complaints of Khakheperre-sonb (closely related to the Prophecies of Neferti and the Admonitions of Ipuwer) :

"It is pain to be silent to what one hears, it is futile to answer the ignorant. To reject a speech makes enmity ; the heart does not accept the truth, one cannot bear a statement of fact. A man loves only his own words. Everyone builds on crookedness, right-speaking is abandoned. I spoke to you, my heart, answer you me. A heart addressed must not be silent. Lo, servant and master fare alike, there is much that weighs upon you."
Complaints of Khakheperre-sonb (Lichtheim, 1975, p.148. Preserved on a writing board, British Museum 5645, - dated to the reign of Sesostris II, i.e. XIIth Dynasty).

People's voices are crooked and even children dislike their existence ! Joy has gone.

"Lo, merriment has ceased, is made no more. Groaning is throughout the land, mingled with laments. Lo, every have-not is one who has, those who were people are strangers whom one shows the way. Lo, everyone's hair has fallen out. One can't distinguish the son of man from the pauper. Lo, one is numb from noise. No voice is straight in years of shouting. No end of shouting ! Lo, great and small say : 'I wish I were dead.'. Little children say : 'He should not have made me live !' Lo, children of nobles are dashed against walls, infants are put out on high ground. Lo, those who were entombed are cast on high ground, embalmers' secrets are thrown away. (...) If only this were the end of man, no more conceiving, no births ! Then the land would cease to shout, tumult would be no more !"
Admonitions of Ipuwer (Lichtheim, 1975, pp.152-153 & 154. Papyrus Leiden 344recto, which dates from the XIXth Dynasty although the work itself dates from the XIIth Dynasty).

In the Eloquent Peasant, a long work consisting of a narrative frame and nine poetical speeches, the need for justice coupled with the utility of fine, acomplished speech are also the dominant themes :

"When you go down to the sea of justice, and sail on it with a fair wind, no squall shall strip away your sail, nor will your boat be idle. (...)
Is it not wrong, a balance that tilts, a plummet that strays, the straight becoming crooked ? (...)
Straighten your tongue, let it not stray, a serpent is this limb of man. (...)
Earth's rightness lies in justice ! Speak not falsely - you are great. Act not lightly - you are weighty. Speak not falsely - you are the balance, do not swerve - you are the norm ! You are one with the balance, if it tilts you may tilt. (...)
When the secret of truth is found, falsehood is thrown on its back on the ground. (...)
None light of heart is weighty in conduct. Be patient so as to learn justice. Restrain your anger for the good of the humble seeker. No hasty man attains excellence, no impatient man is leaned upon. (...)
Do justice for the Lord of Justice. The justice of whose justice is real ! Pen, papyrus, palette of Thoth, keep away from wrongdoing ! When goodness is good it is truly good, for justice is for eternity. It enters the graveyard with its doer. When he is buried and earth enfolds him, his name does not pass from the earth ; he is remembered because of his goodness, that is the rule of god's command. (...)
Speak justice, do justice. For it is mighty. It is great, it endures. Its worth is tried, it leads to reveredness."

The Eloquent Peasant (Lichtheim, 1975, pp.169-182. Preserved on four papyrus copies from the Middle Kingdom).

The study of Egypt's wisdom texts is dealt with separately.

4 Components of Ancient Egyptian Funerary Anthropology

The Ancient Egyptians had a complex anthropology, called in to explain the processes which assured one's existence after the physical body had died. Egyptologists have had a very difficult time explaining the various components of this view on man, especially because it seems the Ancient Egyptians themselves did not always understand them, but also because most contemporary sciences have embraced the materialist and realist fallacies, and have hence blinded themselves of seeing ... As a result, when the actual meaning of the fundamental concepts of Egyptian (African) anthropology, such as "ka" (double), "ba" (soul), "ab" (heart), "khaibit" (shadow), "akh" (spirit), "khab" (spirit-body), "ren" (name), "sah" (spiritual body), should be given, silence or a muddled explanation ensues. This is not surprising. Today, egyptology is still in the process of specializing, and a generalist approach has not yet emerged, mostly because the methodology of a multi-disciplinary approach is still lacking and the academia have time nor money to persue a free study, the mother of all scientific exploration and advance.

"The ideas and beliefs which the Egyptian held in reference to a future existence are not readily to be defined, owing to the many difficulties in translating religious texts and in harmonizing the statements made in different works of different periods. Some confusion of details also seem to have existed in the minds of the Egyptians themselves ..." -
Budge, 1967, p.lv.

"Unlike ancient artists who concentrated on a person's individuality or beauty, Egyptian artists wished to present the enduring, suprapersonal part of the human being that, removed from time, lives on in the hereafter. While not ignoring the physical side of existence, the Egyptians realized that the human being had a variety of spiritual or mental components as well." -
Hornung, 1992, pp.174-175.

Evidence points to :
(a) subtle bodies and 
(b) different foci of conscious identity existing in these bodies. 

In Neoplatonism, Christian Gnosticism, the Qabalah (Jewish mysticism) as well as in Eastern Yoga identical views are heard. Can a comparative analysis provide us with enough hermeneutical keys to conjecture the meaning of the different components of Egyptian funerary anthropology ?

4.1 hylic pluralism

How to name the view that matter is subdivided in gross & subtle strata, allowing for different aggregates on different material layers or sheets ? In his Ochêma of 1954, Poortman suggested the term "hylic pluralism" in order :

"(...) to give expression to the fact that it is not in the first place a question of matter as a philosophical point of view, as in 'materialism', but rather a question of several forms or subdivisions of matter. (...) The view that the soul does not possess one ochêma or vehicle, but several ochêmata or vehicles of matter, of decreasing density, is sometimes encountered, for example, in the case of the neo-Platonist Proclus." -
Poortman, 1954, p.8.

Hylic pluralism can be found in many ancient cultures all around the globe. It is also operative in Jewish qabalah, in Hindu yoga as well as -more recently- in European theosophy (cf. Golden Dawn). The following table of correspondences makes this quite clear. This model is used as the general (mathematical) guideline regulating my comparative investigations, measuring the operational levels of the phenomenology of the infinite. By comparing the different anthropologies of these traditions, one is able to contextualize the diverse components of Egyptian funerary anthropology with more ease. 

It is limited to 7 dimensions because the additional 3 addessed to analyze pre-creation have no bearing on the subject of the different components of man (they belong to mystical theology and are studied in Sufism).

So let me try to, on the basis of the available Egyptian sources, assess the meaning of these elusive Ancient Egyptian words, which describe the various components of man. This is speculative, but it is better for the advancement of knowledge to speculate than to remain silent. At the end of this analysis a comprehensive picture may emerge. Also, this tentative sketch is made with the warning that these reconstructive distinctions do not fit in the proto-rational approach of the Egyptians. Their definitions and functional understanding was less well-defined and always contextual. It is amazing to see what humanity was still able to do without abstraction !
4.2 the physical body ("khat") & mummification : or

The word "khat", written with hieroglyphs : "kh" (pronounced "ch" as in the German "ich" - representing an animal's belly showing treats & tail) and 't' (a loaf of bread) + the determinative for "one" (a stroke), is translated as "body, belly". 

These glyphs summarize the function of the living physical vehicle quite well ("belly" being a metaphor for all substances taken in by the living body). Add to this the determinative of the seated man, and "khat" means a "man". This can be expanded again to include "body of people, generation, humanity". Humanity abiding on earth and living there in a physical body being part of the connotative field (or total semantic range) of the word.

However, "khat" written with the ideograms of the oxyrhynchus fish for "kh" (and "t") + the determinative of a gland in a morbid conditions, is translated as a dead body, a corpse, which decomposes rapidly and stinks as rotting fish. The determinative also suggests (from the Vth Dynasty onward) bandages and embalming, allowing funerary connotations. These become explicit when the determinative of the recumbent mummy (or a mummy lying on a bed) is used instead of the gland. 

In wat follows, the word "khat" implies the physical body when it is alive. When the mummy has been created, what was called "khat" has been transformed into a magical instrument used by the subtle conscious states and their co-relative bodies. The living body is called to become a corpse but ends as a mummy. The physical components which are left over as a rotting corpse, end up being consecrated for the higher purposes of the subtle components, hovering around corpse and eventually mummy with four Canopic jars. These subtle components exist in the "khat" untill its dies as a living, vital whole. This physical body, when dead, is to be transformed into a subtle, magical (symbolical) whole : a mummified landmark for the powerfull & eternal beings of the afterlife, an anchor in the "physical world", a "false door" enabling the transference from this side to the other side (and vice versa).

At birth, the "khat" becomes the abode of a spiritual being. This spiritual spark (the "akh") assumes vehicles of various densities. The "khat" has the highest density. During life on earth, the identities or foci of consciousness ("akh", "ba", "ab") and their vehicles ("khab", "sah", "khaibit" and "ka") all live in the "khat". This makes the "khat" more than just an aggregate of matter, for both its vitality, creativity & indwelling divinity, suggest the presence of "more", namely the higher states of consciousness with their co-relative fine material aggregates.

vehicles foci of awareness stages of 
the initatic process
parallels in comparative
very subtle
khab (a)kh deification : thanks to Re ferried over the Lake to the Island of the Just station of no station
cosmic : ego + self + creator
ba illumination : by Osiris after the Hall of Judgment gatlut (higher state)
elliptical : ego + Self
(5 ... 1)
ab purification : Sacred Lake & Judgment katnut (lower state)
circular : ego

There is no indication the natural, physical body resurrected, neither of reincarnation (the return of the same soul in a different physical vehicle). After death, the essence of Pharaoh went to heaven while his "khat" remained on Earth (as a mummy). 

"The spirit is bound for the sky, the corpse is bound for the earth, and what men receive when they are buried is its thousand of bread and its thousand of beer upon the altar of the Foremost of the Westeners. Poor is the heir who has no document, so he writes with a big finger and does not write with a little finger."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 305 (§ 472).

As Pharaoh was a god, his conscious awareness embraced all states and bodies. Contrary to the other deities, Pharaoh's soul abided in his "khat" while he was alife on earth. The other deities lived in the sky and were present on earth through their "ka" in and through ritual speech and/or hieroglyphic presence.

The process of mummification was a great mystery. In fact, what we know about the procedure proves that the physical body was conceived as a vehicle, for during mummification organs were removed and prepared in a particular way. This process was modelled on what had happened to Osiris, for his dismembered body had been mummified.

In Chapter 152 of the Book of the Dead we read these words about the body of Osiris :

" ... the great divine body which goes to rest in Heliopolis ..."
Egyptian text in Budge, E.A.W. : Op.cit., p.lix. (refering to Lepsius : Todtenbuch)

The dead body (the first three hieroglyphs) of Osiris is given the determinative for "god". It is also qualified as "great". The determinative shows the deity seated, as in the name of Ptah or Mont. The divinity of the dead body of Osiris refers to the fact that Osiris was seen after his physical death. Osiris rose in an incorruptible, lasting soul-body which was powerful, glorious & noble. This "Osirification" (or deification of Osiris) became the proto-type of Egyptian salvation, i.e. everlasting existence in an Osirified body. Dismemberment (passion - Osiris Slain) and mummification (death - Isis Mourning) of the god-man Osiris had released the mythical "sah" out of the "net" of his physical body (resurrection - Osiris Risen). The fact that this body "rests" in Heliopolis is suggestive of the important link between this soul-body and the mummy in the tomb (to which the "ka" and "ba" returned).

At the end of the process, a mummy with four jars remained. It should not be forgotten that before, during and after these procedures ritual ceremonies took place, containing prayers, hymns, spells etc. and that the divine wrapping themselves contained amulets, papyri and sometimes complete texts. So if the deceased did not expect to be raised in his "khat", then why take the trouble of mummification ?

In the process of mummification we see three magical techniques simultaneously at work :

  1. the creation of a subtle link : as death implies the departure of the subtle from the dense, the dense is used to create subtle landmarks for the higher vehicles and states of consciousness to return to. Physical procedures symbolical of certain conscious intentions (rituals) accompanied by magical words ("hekau") created the passage-ways between the planes. In fact, as both the "ka" and the "ba" are not immortal, the "khat" is given an ultimate use : a place to abide in, move away from and return to for the "ka" & the "ba". The mummy in its tomb became a "door" between the dense and the subtle layers of being of the deceased. The Ritual of the Opening of the Mouth (the "aun-ra", used to animate statues - cf. Book of the Statue) was used to activate the mummy (the "khat" as statue), i.e. to establish the first link between the mummy and the higher planes. It was primordial that the "ka" and the "ba" could continue to visit the mummy, so that offerings made by the heir of the deceased to the "ka" may continue to gratify the "ba" ;

  2. the making of a talisman : the process of charging a physical object with a particular conscious intent powerful enough to affect its (possibly unconscious) wearer. A mummy has become a magical object charged with a particular intent, namely a means to guarantee the survival of the subtle bodies and co-relative higher, more subtle foci of consciousness : the "ka" and the "ba" through offerings, the first being the "khat" itself (i.e. mummification itself) ;

  3. the liberation of the "sah" : the priests alone knew how to raise from the "khat" by means of magical words & ceremonies the "sah", the revivified soul-body which (as the body of Osiris) obtained freedom from the "khat", incorruptible and everlasting as the Restored (left, lunar) eye of Horus. It had the power to appear on earth and to journey everywhere ! This soul-body was the final abode of the "ba" and could be inhabited by the "akh" at pleasure. It was fully restituted by the Ritual of Coming Forth by Day.

"Point capital : le sarcophage n'est pas un tombeau ni un lieu clos. Il est considéré comme un navire et comme le ventre du ciel. Au Moyen Empire, on peint sur ses parois extérieures de fausses portes et deux yeux à la hauteur de ceux du visage de la momie. L'esprit du 'mort' entre dans la sarcophage et en sort. La tombe, de même, est un lieu de passage. La fausse porte, d'abord placée au mileu du côté est du mastaba, fait communiquer l'ici-bas et l'au-delà. L'esprit passe à travers la matière." - Jacq, 1983, p.69, my italics.

4.3 the double ("ka") : vital force and vehicle of personified desire :

One of the subtle bodies "in" the "khat" is the "ka" (plural : "kau"). The deceased speaks of :

"you {the heart} are my Ka within my body which joins and makes strong
my limbs."
The Papyrus of Ani (30B - Plate 3 - Egyptian text in Budge, 1967, my italics).

The word "ka", written with a single hieroglyph representing two human arms extending at right angles to the breast (to embrace) + the determinative for "one" (a stroke) means : image, vital power, double, character, disposition, person, genius (cf. the Coptic "ka", meaning "idol" or "statue" and the Greek "eidolon"), sometimes even "name".

In the context of temple ritualism, as in : "the ka of Re", the "ka" was said to dwell in and around the statues of the deities, being invited to do so (not compelled) through ritual offerings ("kaa" or "bringer of offerings") and mystery plays between the gods themselves (not between priests and the gods). The "ka" of a god left when these offerings ended, for its "ba" and "akh" were essentially in the sky. 

The "ka" could also function as an impersonal power, as in : "the ka of all gods". Then it is associated with the general pool of vitality in creation

So functionally, the "ka" understood as a life-force corresponds with the etheric double of theosophy (cf. "chi" in Taoism, "prâna" in Hinduism, "entelechy" in Greek thought and "vital force" in classical homeopathy). It was associated with vitality (strong immunity), beauty (good looks at every age) & health (a wholesome physical body). It could be moulded in certain forms (like statues), by forcing it by magical words & proceedings (the word for "magic" is "heka" + det).

In the context of funerary anthropology, as in : "the ka in my body", the "ka" was a personified life-force shared by all living beings, a subtle copy of the original as in : "the ka of the King". So as a personified life-force, the "ka" was the sum total of affects, which are rooted in the vitality of the living being and, in the case of man, in animal & vegetal drives (cf. the "nephesh" or "animal soul" in qabalah). It is the lunar component : instinctual, imaginal, contextual, associative, emotional, anticipational and prone to exaggerations (cf. "sôma psychicon", the sidereal, astral body, the "kama" of Hinduism, the imaginal world of Sufism). In this interpretation, the "ka" -besides being a vital force which may be personified- is also a subtle vehicle, in which emotions, passions, desires and feelings are expressed. In that sense, the "ka" works as a medium or bridge between the "khat" and the mind (or "ab"). 

However, the functions of the "ka" reveal themselves "par excellence" in the process of dying. This starts when the "ka" starts to withdraw its vital force from the "khat" into itself. The moment of death occurs when the "khat" becomes separated from the "ka". This process is complete when the connection with the "khat" is finally broken (in qabalah this happens around the third day after physical death). Separated and disconnected from the "khat", the "ka" hovers around the dead "khat" or corpse, which decomposes back into its original elements. In the climate of Egypt, decomposition sets in immediately after death, affecting the internal organs first. So any delay in beginning the embalming process could have cancelled the possibility of succesful magical procedures (consider also these other elements : price of the rituals, availability of the priests, quality of the rituals). In chapters 105 to 109 of the Book of the Dead, Osiris NN presents offerings to his "ka" in order to assist him when he will be judged by Osiris himself. It seems that feeding the "ka" with everything it desired was the appropriate way to keep it around and happy ...

The Egyptians did not wish the "ka" to die soon after the "khat". They tried to prolong its subtle existence, so that the personal feelings of the deceased would remain in the tomb with its mummy. This consecrated corpse was the talisman representing every important physical item of the deceased, composed of physical, textual & symbolical physical evidence. It was also the guarantee (through the funerary rituals) that the mummified "khat" would be visited by the "ka" and the "ba". 

If the "ka" is provided with a statue in which to dwell (in a well protected ka-chapel in the tomb) and is regularly attended by sufficient offerings, then the available "etheric power" (sum of the "kau" in the tomb) is constant and the "ka" would never perish. By means of magical prayers, food could be secured for the "ka" of the deceased. This proves that the offerings could also be purely symbolical. These continued throughout the history of Ancient Egypt, till the Egyptians embraced Christianity and the offerings to the dead stopped.

As the "ba" is gratified by the offerings made to the "ka", the "ka" is also seen as the vital strength of the "ba". The historical fact that tombs were destroyed by natural causes, robbers or usurped by strangers (the last one being the tomb of Tutankhamun in the 20th century CE) did not escape the Egyptians. 

"To say : 'If  you wish to live, O Horus in charge of your staff of justice, then you shall not close the doors of the sky. You shall not slam shut its door-leaves before you have taken Pharaoh Pepi's double to the sky, to the nobles of the god, to those whom the god loves, who lean on their staffs, the guardians of Upper Egypt, clad in red linen, who live on figs, who drink wine, who are anointed with unguent. He shall speak on behalf of Pharaoh Pepi to the great god, he shall conduct Pharaoh Pepi to the great god.'"
Pyramid Texts, utterance 440 (§ 815), my italics.

Pharaoh was buried with the most elaborate rites and ceremonies which conferred upon him the privileges of the gods who lived for ever. He was more than an "imakhu", but a living god on earth. This meant that the "ka" of Pharaoh ascended to heaven with him. The same is said of the other vehicles and states. Pharaoh embodied the perfect man on earth, and became Osiris in the afterlife, the one raised from the dead after being assassinated. His bodies are always aligned and his awareness of himself and his states complete. Hence, the deities and the kings of Egypt are truly and "sui generis" eternal. 

For Pharaoh, this eternal life was guaranteed on all planes of being in the afterlife. Nothing of Pharaoh perished. His mummified "khat" and its glorious tomb became the magical landmarks visited by his eternal "ka". However, even the destruction of the mummy, the tomb or both did not affect the vitality of his "ka". His "ka" (like the "sah", the "akh" and the "khab") had no need for offerings. It could return to the gross material plane as long as there remained something to be visited. We know that from the very beginning writing was sacralized. Was the name in a cartouche not a pictoral expression of a sacred enclosure analogous with the mummy in its magical boat crossing the celestial Nile ? As long as his name somehow persisted, Pharaoh existed !

"À l'écriture est attribuée la capacité d'abolir les limitations temporelles de la parole et de l'étendre à l'infini."
Assmann, 2000, p.53.

From the Middle Kingdom onwards the "ka" of Pharaoh's family, nobles and intimate friends could be deified too. Maybe because Pharaoh's "ka" was not satisfied without having the "kau" of the latter around in heaven ... Later, the rich, who could pay the price and had pharaonic approval, could also become "Osiris NN". The middle class and the poor would receive a different ritual treatment and if their "kau" were unprovided, they could altogether perish, threatening the life of the "ba", which could also be lost, together with a person's "name".

4.4 the heart ("ab") : its thought ("kat") and "ka" :

The "ab" is lodged in the "khat" too. The word "ab", written with a single hieroglyph representing a mammal heart + the determinative for "one" (a stroke), means : middle, interior, intelligence, thought, attentions, intentions, disposition, will, wish, mind, ego. It occurs in heart-expressions like : "heart of the soul", "the dictates of the heart", "heart's desire", "heart of my heart", "to eat the heart" (to be sorry), etc.

"O my heart which I had from my mother ! O my heart which I had upon Earth ..."
The Papyrus of Ani (30A - translated by Faulkner, R.O. in Wasserman, 1998, p.103 - British Museum n° 10.470 - Thebes, New Kingdom, XIXth Dynasty, around 1250 BC).

One could say that the "ab" is the state, quality or "mental" condition which the Egyptians associated with the physical heart (cf. "hâti"). This "ab" is a product of maternal education. The word "hât" means a member, the flesh of the physical body, the person in bodily form, a product of earth. See also the expressions : "hâ", to rejoice, to be glad, glad ; "hââ", to rejoice, exult, to be glad ;"hââut", rejoicing, gladness ; "hâiu", those who rejoice and "hâa-t ha-t", the joy of heart ...

The "ab" is contrary to the "khat" and the "ka" more a self-identical state of consciousness than a vehicle or component of man. Its conservation is deemed necessary for the general mastery & steering (of the bark of life) seated in the heart. In this reading, the "ka" is the desire-vehicle of the "ab". The latter covers the main characteristics of what today is called "ego-consciousness", namely intention, mind, free will & ego, associated with cognitive capacity, speech and the power of the word directed towards "body & belly". Many centuries later, depth-psychology described the coordinating influence of this personal center of consciousness. 

"Le coeur-conscience conçoit, pense, donne des ordres aux nerfs, aux muscles, aux membres. C'est lui qui permet aux sens de fonctionner correctement. Tout part du coeur et dout lui revient, il émet et il reçoit." -
Jacq, 1983, p.16.

In the 26th chapter of the Book of the Dead is said that : 

"I will be in the sky, a command shall be made for my benefit in Memphis, I shall be aware in my heart, I shall have power in my heart, I shall have power in my arms, I shall have power in my legs, I shall have power to do whatsever my ka pleases, and my ba will not be fettered at the gates of the West when I go in or out in peace."
The Papyrus of Ani (26 - translated by Faulkner, R.O. in Wasserman, 1998, Plate 15).

The "ab" appears as the place of awareness, coordination and mental control. The "ab" is the mind. This cognitive feature is explicit, as in : "thought of the heart", the "kat", meaning thought or meditation (cf. "kai", to think, to think out, to say).

The "ab" is the seat of free will and hence responsible for a person's evil deeds, which cause the heart to become heavy and dull (for everything said & done is recorded). In a good will, the heart steers the concert of physical, vital and emotional (imaginal) forces at work in the common human being well, and remains ever as light as a plume : flexible, strong but of nearly no weight. In a sick heart, coordination is lost and so consciousness has no strong focal point. The will is weak and one's expectations are spoiled by fear.

In the Book of the Dead, the heart appears in the context of being without blame (i.e. in harmony with Maat). The deceased did not wish to loose his or her heart after judgment, for the "ab" was the seat of the "ba" (before it entered its "sah" ?). Judgment came after the mummy had been reactivated and adapted to its new environment and it was decisive in order to enter heaven to have passed the trial of the balance. A heart found to be heavier than the plume of truth was devoured and with it the prospect of eternal life. Hence, the heart was also a "moral" center (cf. "conscience" or "super-ego" in depth-psychology). During life, the heart was closely related with the "ka" and represented the cognitive aspect of personalized existence (i.e. the mind). 

In the chapters on the heart of the Book of the Dead, the deceased addressed the "ab" and identified it with the "ka" :

"O my heart which I had from my mother ! O my heart which I had from my mother ! O my heart of my different ages ! Do not stand up as a witness against me, do not be opposed to me in the tribunal, do not be hostile to me in the presence of the Keeper of the Balance, for you are my Ka which was in my body ..."
The Papyrus of Ani (30B - translated by Faulkner, R.O. in Wasserman, 1998, Plate 3, my italics).

The heart is receptive and receives its influences from two sides : from the "ka" joined with the physical body and from the "ba". When the physical body dies, the heart is weighed against the Plume of Maat. The process of embalming has been completed with success and Anubis checks the plummet while Thoth records the outcome. A monster waits near the scales to eat the heart as soon as the Plume is found to be lighter. In that case the whole ritual proceedings were in vain ... 

The heart had to be restituted so that the deceased received his memory and personal identity back, for perpetual existence also implied personal continuity :

"O my heart, raise yourself on your base that you may recall what is in you."
Coffin Texts, spell 657.

"... my heart is not ignorant of its place, and it is firm on its base. I know my name, I am not ignorant of it, I will be among those that follow after Osiris ..."
Coffin Texts, spell 572.
4.5 the soul ("ba") : 

The "ba" (plural : "bau") too is somewhere in the "khat", the living physical body. The word "ba", written with a single hieroglyph representing the Jabiru stork, means "soul". Later, this bird was given a human head with a ritual beard, pointing to the fact that it belonged to the spiritual world and the realm of pharaonic ceremonialism (Pharaoh and Osiris had "postiche" beards). Two hieroglyphs were added : namely a bowl with incense rising from it and the Horus falcon on the standard, the latter being a determinative often used for gods (like Amun) and of Pharoah ("nsw", "king").

"A further distinction is made between ka and ba : the former embodies the causal principle and the protective power behind a person, while the ba signals one thing emerging from another." -
Hornung, 1992, p.183.

In the Old Kingdom, the "ba" was part of the funerary ceremonialism set in place for the return of Pharaoh to heaven. It had a rather higher, more subtle function than the double. In this funerary context, it was Pharaoh as the luminous one, after he had flown up as "ba" to the sky. Only Pharaoh had a "ba". But the "bau" of the deities could live in the "khat" of Pharaoh, who could have more than just one "ba". Pharaoh could transfer this "higher" "ba"-force to his son, etc. The "ba" was gratified by the offerings made to its "ka", so the latter acted as its "vital force". It could enter and leave the tomb to converse with the other souls of heaven. It descended the shaft of the pit of the tomb leading to the mummy chamber and is seen bearing water and air to give to the "ka" (cf. Papyrus of Neb-qet). It must be repeated that this is an idealized account. The texts are much more confusing, as if the writers themselves did not clearly distinguished between "ka" and "ba". Nevertheless, the "higher" function of the "ba" is evidenced in the texts of the Vth Dynasty. Later, when the non-royal middle classes emerged, and non-royals could also become immortal, everybody had a "ba", but not everybody could pay the priests ...

In the present Discourse of a Man with his Ba, we read how intimate the living "man" and his "ba" were. The fact that there is a dialogue between the "man" and his "ba" is in itself interesting, for it implies a direct knowledge & communication with the "ba" while the "man" is still living on earth (in a morbid state of mind), which begs the question : who is the "unnu", the living human being ? This brings us to the fundamental distinction made in all major spiritual anthropologies, namely that between "lower" and "higher" bodies & co-relative states of consciousness. In contemporary psychology, the latter are called "transpersonal" and associated with peak-experiences (cf. Maslow) & altered states of consciousness (cf. Tart) associated with telepathy, telekinesis, psychometry and remote viewing (cf. the so-called "epiphenomena" of mystical experience - cf. Woods, Underhill, Stace, Wilber, etc.).

It would seem then that the ordinary, common, nominal, living human being was understood as an organic unity with its "motoric" conscious center of awareness, intention, will and conscience in the heart, at work with and through the double and existing in the physical body, as it were caught in its "net". The "higher" transpersonal components were associated with the "ba" (its body and the shadow of the latter) and the "akh", or divine spark. This soul was the hidden dweller, caught as a prey like fish in a net. The physical body is closely connected with the double, and the "ba" was thought ethereal, i.e. less gross than the lower bodies (the double, but especially the physical body). In their proto-rational hylic pluralism, the Egyptians saw body and co-relative state as an organic whole (cf. infra). 

caught in the net of the khat (the living physical body) :


akh (spirit), khab (star-body), ba (soul)


ab (ego), ka (double)

The task of the "ba" (or true individuality) was to guide the person (product of nature and nurture) during life and to fly with the deceased to the sky, to the heaven of the stars. The "ba" dwelt in the heart, indicating the "heart" was also the receptacle of the higher components. I suppose the "ba" dwelt only in the heart of those who spoke and did Maat. 

Those who established themselves in their humanity would see their heart to be the permanent abode of the soul. They are "in their middle", have established themselves in their true nature and master the passions that reach the heart by means of the double. Those who have a sick heart carry their sins with them as a load of heavy stones. The words of their soul does not reach them. Hence, they lack rejuvenation and settle in grooves. However, the soul is a trustworthy guide who remains at the side of the greatest sinner. For only if the latter returns to the middle in time, may judgment be mild and annihilation of the heart (the coordinating center) avoided. Does such a destruction inevitably imply the death of the "ba", which will never be a "ba" living for all of eternity (on the power of the stars) ? The sources evidence it does.

In the Discourse we learn about the freedom of the personality (the ego), rebelling against its true nature (the Self or individuality). Although the soul communicates with the ego or personality of the man, the latter does not want to hear what the soul has to say and persists in his wish to end his existence in his physical body. Moreover, the person explains to his soul that it is not allowed to leave him behind. It is summoned to assist him in this matter ! If it would leave him, it would call judgment upon itself ! In a sence, both this man and his soul seem desperate being together, but they are so interconnected that final separation would hurt both. And both are aware of this.

For the soul does not wish to speak about suicide and does not want to make a mistake, for it indeed knows that it will be a present during the ritual of the balance, witnessing how Thoth will record the true moral weight of the deceased. The man does no longer care. His burden is so painful that he raises his voice and invokes the deities to support his case ! Is he hallucinating and having delusions of priestly status ? Short episodes of psychotic collapse ?

At some point, the soul seems about to leave the man. How is this possible, if the hidden dweller is caught in the net of the physical body ? Could the soul be liberated out of this net before physical death ensued ? Likely not.
4.6 the body of the soul ("sah") and its shadow ("khaibit") :

the sah

The meaning of the word "sah" is not straightforward. Four phonograms prevail : "s", "a" and "H", respectively a bolt (or a folded cloth), a forearm and a wick of twisted flax. Usually one of two determinatives are added : a goat with a collar carrying a cylinder seal, indicating rank, dignity or a cylinder-seal attached to bead-necklace, indicating a seal. "Sah + det." then means : to be noble, a nobleman, worthy. Add to this the determinative of "to lie" (a mummy lying on a bier) and the word refers to the noble dead, the "form" of the human being that exists in heaven after being released out of the "net" of the physical vehicle during the latter's mummification and ritual preparation.

"O Pharaoh Unis, you have not departed dead, you have departed alive."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 213 (§ 134)

In the 89th Chapter of the Book of the Dead (plate 17 in the Papyrus of Ani) we read :

"... O you gods who dragged in the bark of the lord of millions of years, who bring the upper sky to the netherworld and raise up the lower sky, who make approach the souls toward their sahu."

"Hail gods (...) who make souls enter their sahu ..."
The Papyrus of Ani (89 - Plate 17 - hieroglyphic text in Budge, E.A.W. : Op.cit., p.113).

In this text, the determinative of king is added to the phonogram for "sah". Faulkner (who systematically translates "sah" as "dignitiy", "noble", etc.) translated the word as : "noble dead", although the determinative does not suggest this. Instead, as is the case with the determinatives for rank and seal, Pharaonic connotations are indicated. Moreover, instead of the Jabiru bird for soul, a human-headed bird with ritual beard to which incense is offered, indicating the beatified soul. Hence, this approach is of a beatified soul toward its own "sah".

The "sah" (the imperishable) is liberated through the "Osirification" of the decaying corps. The highest is drawn out (escapes from) the lowest (cf. the qabalah's "Kether in Malkuth"). Without the proper rituals of mummification such could not take place. In all Egyptian rituals, verbalization was very important. By saying the "words of power" in the proper way, the priest invited the deities to send their doubles to participate and facilitate the effects of the rituals. Hence, the better the priest performed the rituals, the more effective the procedures were.

" ... You are adorned with this your sah which is among the souls."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 419 (§ 743c).

The "sah" was "received" during the rituals (in the Theban edition of the Book of the Dead by Osiris) and these alone granted the deceased a vehicle which would last for ever, being incorruptible. With this "sah", he was limited by nothing, and could freely move in the heavens and on earth. 

" ... Pharaoh Wenis' lifetime is eternity, his limit is everlastingness in his sah."
Pyramid Texts, utterance 273-4 (§ 412), Cannibal Hymn.

The "sah" is the spiritual body of the soul. Released from the net of the body, it can enter its spiritual body and abide there. The spiritual body "germinates" as does living things. It "exists" and "lives". The unity between the soul-body and its soul is explicit, as in : "I am (...) a soul-body with his soul." (Chapter 78).

In theosophy, the "causal body" has identical features :

"At its inception, the causal body, or form-aspect of the true man, is described as a delicate film of subtlest matter, just visible, marking where the individual begins his separate life. (...) The causal body, as said, is the receptacle of all that is enduring - i.e. only that which is noble and harmonious, and in accordance with the law of the spirit ; for every great and noble thought, every pure and lofty emotion, is carried up, and its essence worked into the substance of the causal body."
Powell, A.E. : The Causal Body, The Theosophical Publishing House - London, 1978, p.90

The "form-aspect" refers to the material operator, co-relative with lower and higher states of consciousness (nominal and meta-nominal). The "sah" is the vehicle of the higher state, the "true" Self, individuality or "soul" of man, guiding his heart (while on earth), witnessing his judgment (when deceased), gratified by the offerings to the double ("ka") and communing with the spiritual essence ("akh").
the shadow ("khaibit")   

Besides the body of the soul, the Egyptians also reckoned with its shadow, shade or "khaibit". It had the ability to separate itself from the physical body when the latter died. Although the shadow is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, its function is not at all clear. In the Book of the Dead, the shadow was believed to be always near the soul, suggesting that this shade is the "umbra" of the soul-body. In Chapter 92 of the Book of the Dead, the deceased says : 

"May I look upon my soul and my shadow."
hieroglyphic text in Budge, E.A.W. : Op.cit., p.lxvii. (refering to Naville : Todtenbuch)

It is certain that the resurrection of the soul-body was not complete unless the deceased was in possession of his shadow. It had the power to move about and to go where it liked.

"Two main attributes characterize the shadow : it is able to carry and transfer power, and to move with uncanny agility and speed. In contrast to the equally mobile ba, however, the shadow does not take to the sky ; it remains closely attached to the earth and the physical world." -
Hornung, 1992, p.179.

4.7 the spirit ("akh") : its body ("khabs"), power ("sekhem") and name ("ren")

We now arrive at the "top" of the anthropological model. The soul-body was the incorruptible result of the ceremonial activities involved with and after mummification. It had to be released from the corpse. Without the proper rituals, the soul would not be able to enter its soul-body and become a "living soul". The "akh" on the other hand, possessed a star-body which sparkled like a star and shone forever.

the spirit in its star-body : "akh" in "khab" 

The crested Ibis stands for the blessed spirit of man, glorified in heaven. The spirit is therefore the eternal state abiding in every human being (cf. cosmic consciousness). This state is also a "divine spark", a "shining one" abiding in a shining, translucent and intangible casing or covering, namely the body of a star. Hence, all men and women are essentially starlike. The origin and goal of humanity is the stars, in particular the circumpolar stars, which never set or rise. The highest state and co-relative body were self-existent. Nothing could destroy it and no activity could influence it. It was always "living" and needed no offerings to sustain itself. It fed from the power of the stars itself. Of course, the "akh" had to be liberated from the corpse and from the tomb too. But as soon as this had happened, it immediately ascended to heaven and was greeted by the glorious spirits. The deified human abided in a glorified soul-body visited by the spirit as it pleased. 

the spirit : its power and name : "sekhem" and "ren"

Two other parts of man also existed in heaven : the "power" and the "name". The former is also mentioned in connection with the soul and seems to indicate the super-natural powers associated with the beatified soul and the glorified spirit. The "name" on the other hand, proves that deification did not do away with all personal & individual features (which was also the case on the plane of the soul - cf. the restitution of the heart). Even in the spiritual world, some part of the ideosyncratic make-up of each deceased survived. That this part was the "name" is not surprising if we realize that most ancient peoples believed that to know the name of a human implied to touch his or her essence. It also gave one the ability to have power over that individual ... The name was eternal as were the beings of light existing in heaven. It was the "word of power" or "magical word" par excellence ... Destroy the name and one annihilates the existence of its bearer.

"Le plus grave, pour un être, est de voir son nom détruit. Aussi la magie prend-elle toutes ses précautions pour que le nom dure éternellement. Les éléments du nom, les lettres qui le composent, sont des sons porteurs d'énergie. Quand le magicien parle rituellement, il utilise ces sons comme une matière animée, agit sur le monde extérieur, le modifie si besoin est." -
Jacq, 1983, pp.69-70.

4.8 the bi-modality of living human beings and psychic topology  

Egyptologists have argued that according to the Egyptians, the living human being ("unnu") had several souls. I would like to suggest instead their anthropology was a proto-rational understanding of human nature in which a bi-modality between "higher" and "lower" states of consciousness was given shape hand in hand with a hylic pluralistic view on matter.

the living humans


the akh (spirit) in the khab (star-body) is only operational in Pharaoh who as sole "god on earth" is conscious of his spirit

ba (soul) is the guide of the living, directing word & action towards "maât", assuring an enduring testimony of a good life


ab (ego) in ka (double) represent the vital operations of actions, emotions and thoughtsl

caught in the net of the living physical body

This understanding implied that there was one focus for "nominal" (common) man (the heart) and two for the initiated and/or deified individual (the soul and the spirit). This psychic topology knows three levels (realms) of existence :

  • common existence : a physical body housing a vitality sheet and a body of emotions which are all mastered by the mind or the lower state of consciousness associated with the empirical ego ;

  • initiated existence : besides the nominal bodies ("khat" and "ka") and their conscious focus ("ab"), the "khat" had a "hidden dweller", namely the soul ("ba"). The latter guided the ego of the spiritual commoner, able to realize its presence (through knowledge & conversations). The task of the soul was to assure that the ego was just. In that sense, it represented the "ideal" of the "true" individuality of a living person ;

  • deified existence : besided the (ego) and its guide (ba), every human was starlike, i.e. a glorified, immortal and a perfectly pure being of light, spirit or essence. The essence of man was beyond any possible decay and corruption (as the body of the soul) but moreover was self-subsistent (independent of offerings). The essence fed of the light of the stars itself !

Physical death changed this topology dramatically. The organic unity which characterized the physical body was lost. The forces of decay and corruption (associated with the primordial state of things - cf. "Nun") set in and a new organic whole had to be realized. This was done through the power of words. The most important operation being the creation of a soul-body or "sah" for the Ba, which, thanks to physical death, could escape the "net" of the living physical body.

the mummified corpse : a place to return

realm of Re &
the Ennead


the essence is luminous, divine and abides in the soul-body as it pleases
the light of the stars is perpetual and house of the essence of man
realm of the beatified souls
and Osiris
witness at judgement, beatified by Osiris, freely existing in its own body gratified by the offerings to the double
liberated as the result of funerary rituals and mummification

the unity of the Two Lands

restored and weighed - only the truth is light enough
free to move the double remains near the mummy fed by offerings
the mummy does not decay - mummy and tomb are a magico-spiritual symbolization of eternal existence
primordial inertness : Nun and the Chaos-gods (Ogdoad)

The importance of the spoken word can not be stressed enough. The Egyptians liberated the central component of their funerary anthropology -the body of the soul- by means of mummification and grand funerary ritualism. This had a result "ex opere operato". The ceremony always idealized the deceased. There is no extant funerary text in which the deceased admits a sin. So much confidence was placed in the presence of exact words of power that a correct articulation (and ritualization) of the good "words of god" was deemed powerful enough to guarantee the deceased a blessed afterlife. The words and the inscriptions (even the representations of offerings) were all "charged" by the rituals and hence "loci" for the deities to dwell in.

In the living physical body, the human being was focused in his or her heart or mind. It was the mind that received influences from above (higher mental, ideal-ego or soul) and from below (emotional and lower mental or ego). The "good heart" conceptualized the two sides of anything into a unity. In the sick heart, this unity was lost and dissociated, so partial substates of consciousness occur which tend to undermine one's motoric cohesion and behavioral control, leading to dispersion, despair and chaos.

When the soul had entered its soul-body (beatification), ascension (glorification) was sure to follow. In its soul-body, the soul represented the "middle" between the physical and the divine. The plane of the soul is a transitional realm, mediating between heaven and earth. The soul perished if the heart (mind) of man was unjust and sick of sin. Hence, the relationship between the divine realm (the sky) and humanity (the earth) was a moral one (the "weight of the heart" decided whether a soul survived).

The beatified soul was rejuvenated and replenished by the spirit, entering the "sah" at pleasure and giving it the imperishable protection ("sa") and power ("sekhem") of its starlike body of most subtle luminous matter.

 Discourse of a Man with his Ba

probably Middle Kingdom, i.e. the XIIth Dynasty (ca.1938 - 1759 BCE)

the hieroglyphic text is also available

The translation of Discourse of a Man with his Ba is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at maat.sofiatopia.org. These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.

initiated : 12 VIII 2001 - last update : 06 I 2016 - version n°4

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2005 - 2016.