Yesterday, I attended a wake for the first time since I started down this rambling ole path o’ mine. I tried desperately to pray on the dead person’s behalf, to no avail. I tried desperately to figure out exactly where the soul had gone and found myself stumped. I thought about how he had made odd choices (in my eyes) about what The Soul wanted to learn in this life. But, that didn’t feel quite right. So, then, I started thinking about the Weighing of the Heart ceremony that his akh must have been going through at that moment, but that didn’t work out either. It was then that it really dawned on me that I had to crystallize exactly what my funerary beliefs and practices are.
I have always had a deep belief in reincarnation. From the moment that I discovered it, I found that it worked far better for me than a belief in Heaven or Hell. While either of those places may or may not exist, it felt … truer to me to think of myself as having lived numerous lives. I’ve always felt that I was an old soul. Perhaps this is merely the fact that I don’t want just this one life and the myriad of mistakes made to be the one, the only, the Alpha and Omega. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. All I know is that when I first heard about reincarnation and started studying about it, it really made sense to me.
More than one life.
I don’t think of it, though, in the same reference point as a Hindu or a Buddhist. I don’t think of each life in relation to karma or fate or nirvana or what have you. These words have little to no meaning in the reincarnation that I have crafted for myself. For me, reincarnation is an adventure for the soul (more later). It is the soul that takes a break for a while and decides when and where and how to be reborn into a body. They craft out the principles of the life that they wish to live so that They may learn from it.
What does a soul want to learn? I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet and I don’t think that I’m supposed to. But in similarity to the crafting life after life to attain spiritual oneness or awesomeness or what have you, the soul plots out what it needs to know to move on. It makes mistakes in the lives that it leads and must repeat lessons, kind of like a child having to repeat a test or grade. It makes the right choices and learns something very important from the decision made, although we as conscious people don’t know or realize it. It wasn’t to the physical result that the lesson had to be learn but to the spiritual result.
For example, I’ve been sexually assaulted a lot in my life. For whatever reason, I believe, my soul crafted that aspect of my life for me. Why? I don’t know. Does that piss me off? You bet ya! Is there anything I can do about it? No. I can only hope that my soul learned the lesson(s) needed from those experiences.
So. Me? I like reincarnation. I have a whole doctrine, so to speak, about reincarnation.
However, I don’t think that that is the be-all, end-all. A part of me still likes the concept of the ancient Egyptian soul as well as the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. It was at this point that I realized that I had to forge all of this together to come up with one funerary liturgy that fit with the polytheistic path that I’m on.
First, the ancient Egyptian concept of the soul is one of the most convoluted and confusing things I can possibly incorporate into my practice. A lot of aspects of the ancient Egyptian belief system are odd and frightening and confusing at times, but I think the concept of the soul is one of the most difficult. The reason, of course, stems from the fact that instead of just having a soul, the soul, that soul over there, the ancient Egyptians believed that the soul was made up of five separate components: ib (heart), ren (name), sheut (shadow), ba (soul), ka (vital spark).
The ib was the key to the afterlife. It was conceived as surviving death in the nether world, where it gave evidence for, or against, its possessor. It was thought that the heart was examined by Anubis and the deities during the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. If the heart weighed more than the feather of Maat, it was immediately consumed by the monster Ammit. The sheut was always present. It was believed that a person could not exist without a shadow, nor a shadow without a person, therefore, Egyptians surmised that a shadow contained something of the person it represents. For this reason statues of people and deities were sometimes referred to as their shadows. The ren was given at birth and the Egyptians believed that it would live for as long as that name was spoken, which explains why efforts were made to protect it. The ba was everything that makes an individual unique, similar to the notion of ‘personality’ (In this sense, inanimate objects could also have a ‘Ba’, a unique character). Like a soul, the ‘Ba’ is an aspect of a person that the Egyptians believed would live after the body died, and it is sometimes depicted as a human-headed bird flying out of the tomb to join with the ‘Ka’ in the afterlife. The ka was the Egyptian concept of vital essence, that which distinguishes the difference between a living and a dead person, with death occurring when the ka left the body. (The Egyptians believed that Khnum created the bodies of children on a potter’s wheel and inserted them into their mothers’ bodies.) The Egyptians also believed that the ka was sustained through food and drink. For this reason food and drink offerings were presented to the dead.
Another aspect that is confusing is that there is also the akh, which is the specific reference to the dead person. After much morphology, it seems to be a reference to a ghost, so to speak, of a dead person. However, if that’s the case, then I would think that the akh and the ba are one in the same. Honestly, I’m not sure how all of this works into one another. All I do know is that it’s confusing as fuck.
So, okay. Instead of just having a soul, a thing that moves forward at some distant point to plan out the next life, you have THE SOUL™ according to ancient Egyptians. THE SOUL™ fractures out after death into the five parts, most of which are incredibly important for the next aspect of my funerary practice: the Weighing of the Heart ceremony and then, Aaru.
The Weighing of the Heart is a ceremony that takes place after death. Everyone’s seen the scene time and again: Anpu looks down while a heart is weighed on a scale (often depicted as a red water jug like thing) against a feather (THE FEATHER!!!). Sometimes Djehuti is somewhere recording all of this and sometimes, the depiction also has Wesir presiding over the judgement. Personally, I think the only people who have anything to do with this are Anpu, the feather, Ammut, and the person whose heart is being weighed. So, the dead person has to go and make their case before Anpu for access to Aaru (the field of reeds). That’s the extent of it (there’s more but I’m tired).
So, how does THE SOUL™ correlate with the Weighing of the Heart and reincarnation?
I don’t quite know yet.