What Is A Soul?

So, over on Tumblr, Environmint asked what the soul was. I told him some very generalized answer before I realized that I had pretty much just said something that wasn’t entirely accurate. The general response was correct, but unfortunately, 250 characters isn’t really enough to describe exactly what the soul is and its various parts. While I have discussed what the soul is to me and it’s compartmentalization in the ancient Egyptian belief system, I haven’t actually discussed it for a while. After my general response to E happened, I began to realize that I had just solidified a bit more about my soul beliefs. He asked me to explain and I promised this post. So, ta-da! While I may not do things in a timely manner, I at least do manage to get it done… at some point.

Before we go further, I need to give a little history lesson. It will be brief because I just don’t have the class and finesse to go on a long lecture, here. First of all, in ancient Egypt, they believed that the soul consisted of five separate parts. This is why there was such a furor of activity after someone died; those five parts had to be dealt with accordingly. I know; I know. What am I talking about? The soul went to the Duat and that was that, they passed judgement or they were eaten by Ammit. However, that’s not quite accurate. That’s one of those misnomers we get when generalized historical lessons are in play instead of specific lesson plans for people specifically interested in a time and a place.

Now, after death, as I said, we had seventy days of mummification to go through and then, we had spells, incantations, and precious other items to put into the burial places to see that the soul aspects were able to get through the trials and tribulations set until they could pass through to the other side. Now, those parts of the soul were the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Shut and the Ib. Each of those five parts comprised one entire structure within a living person – from the metaphysical to the physical, from the good stuff to the bad stuff – but as I said, each part broke off after death. Generally speaking, the ib was the heart, shut was the shadow, ka was the vital spark, ba was the soul, and the ren was the name.

All right. Are we ready for me to get into the gist of this and explain what I think about when I hear “soul”?


Part of the reason for the history lesson is because this is my belief when it comes to the basic components of the soul. One of those things you never realize about being a hard polytheistic recon is that you don’t technically have to do much thinking about how things manifest, what they are, and what their names should be. Flip side of that coin, of course, is that one of the hard parts is that you, then, have to try and explain it in a way that others will understand (enter the hair pulling) and also that makes sense with any other preconceived or post-conceived notions you want to add to your basic theology (enter the vodka shots). So, when it comes to the soul, the ancient Egyptian belief is where I stand. I have, of course, made modifications in all this time because I do have other beliefs that are very strong and that I felt deserved a portion of my build-on, so to speak, of the ancient Egyptian theology and belief system.

Now, I’ll be completely frank here and tell you that not all aspects of the soul has been thoroughly plotted, planned out, preconceived or post-conceived in any way. Some parts, I feel, are very self explanatory and I’ll be sure to point out the parts that are more recon than anything else. Other parts, I’ve added to over time and will admit where my UPG comes in.

To get started, let’s talk about the shut first. This part, as I said above, was the ancient Egyptian belief in the shadow. In their theological conception, they believed that a person could go nowhere and would be nothing without a shadow. To their belief, the shut was an INTEGRAL part to the soul. Without that part, who knew what you would have? Considering the climate that this country was, it really isn’t too far of a stretch to understand where this belief and ideal came from. In a land that lived, breathed, and survived by the sun as well as was surrounded by desert on all sides… well, the shut was pretty important. Most often, in ancient Egyptian relief, we will see the shut represented by a human outline colored entirely in black.

After death, the shut could go off and do what it would, when it would. Unlike other parts of the soul, it was not attached to the body. However, one of the dangers that a shadow could face was an ancient Egyptian demon by the name of Devourer of Shadows. What would have happened in the theologies regarding the shadow and the Devourer meeting up are not spelled out, but one could assume that the shut and the soul would meet its oblivion.

In regards to the shut and my soul theology, I will admit that I haven’t given it much thought prior to now. Aside from acknowledging that I have a shadow and that it follows me around when the sun is high, I haven’t really decided how this part of my soul has anything to do with the other parts. At this juncture, I’ll have to stick to the ancient Egyptian theology on this and go with “this is recon in my practice.” However, I, of course, allow that this could change at any point in the future. One never knows what new and exciting ideas may pervade my mind at some point or another. I will admit that I wonder if any of the shut running around have anything to do with the muuet that I’ll be writing about at some future point (we can associate the ancient Egyptian word muuet with demons, for now).

The next part that we will discuss is the ib, or the actual heart of the dead person. Now, one of the things that we’ve seen is how, in ancient Egyptian belief, the ib was considered to be the seat of what we would deem the brain nowadays. However, it also did hold dominion over the emotions. All in all, the ib was a pretty busy functioning part of the soul. It was the seat of morality and ethics, emotions and intelligence. This is, also, the part of the soul that would be placed upon the scales to see if it weighed more or equivalent to the feather of Ma’at. This was done because it was the ib that was a sort of record keeper for all of the deeds of the deceased. And of course, if the heart was too heavy then it would be devoured by Ammit and this would, also, mean oblivion for the soul, in question. An interesting fact about burial and the heart, itself, are that the heart was not removed from the body. Instead, a heart scarab was placed over it to stop it from speaking out against its owner.

As far as I’ve thought, again, the ib isn’t a main piece to my personal soul theology, as of yet. Considering some of the portions of the soul theology that I have, I will admit that I have some more in-depth belief and ideals to sort through. As a kind of testing of UPG in this arena, I will admit that I have a general belief that it is the ib, as record keeper of the soul itself, that may be the portions that are retrieved when people do things called soul retrievals. Considering my knowledge of this practice is extremely limited – excluding the one that was done on my behalf some months back – I haven’t solidified this thought as part of my belief… yet. So, on the face of it, my thoughts on the ib are very intently focused on a recon aspect, but with the possibility of UPG in the near future.

Now, when I spoke with Environmint about what the soul was when he asked, I did mention that it had to do with emotions. It came out that emotionally speaking, the two of us are very low-key. I don’t want to quite say that we are detached from our emotions, but you know, that does happen. Who wants to be an emotional blob all day long? At some point, people, I think, have to form a kind of thick skin between themselves and their ib. This is done to keep sanity and possibly, even, to maintain other aspects of the soul. There are moments where it’s possible for humans to “feel too much,” though I will admit how much I fucking despise that particular turn of phrase. However, when pains are deep and unhealed properly, then the emotions associated with that – and thereby, the records of these pains on the ib, itself – can be too much for a human, its soul, and relations can handle. So, on that part, just because the ib and its emotional base are functional and integral parts of the soul that doesn’t mean that having a distance from those emotions makes your soul dysfunction or incomplete.

Next stop, the ren, also known as the name, of the soul. According to Reshafim, the “name is the foundation of a being as an individual. Only when it has a name, when it can be addressed and related to, does it begin its proper existence—with its name as its essence.” Names were very serious ju-ju in ancient Egypt. If you knew the name of a person, you had control over that person. This is born out in the myth in which Aset successfully received Re’s secret name. Some names, however, were too dangerous to know as is shown in the following line, “It is the king who will judge the dead, accompanied by Hell’s chief executioner He-who-must-not-be-named, on the day the revered gods are slaughtered.” (PT 273-4) One of the big parts about the name, however, was that in the continued utterance of this name, then the soul continued to live. This is why, when I grave-tend those older cemeteries, I try to use as many of their names as possible. When names were etched in stone, it was given permanence. However, by destroying that etching, you were, in effect, assigning the person to oblivion.

What it comes down to is a name forgotten means a soul that is forgotten.

So, I’ll give you a quick UPG alert before going on here. One of the things that I’ve often thought about is how we have lots of Deadz roaming around, attached to various items or their graves, but there doesn’t seem to be, uh, as many as their could be. Let’s face it. The human race proliferates and there have been so many deaths from the dawning of civilization up until now. It seems to me (and as someone who only senses spirits but doesn’t actually do much interacting) that there should be more of them around. I often wonder how many of them have been assigned to oblivion because their names were forgotten. Case in point, one of the cemeteries I tended to recently only had about thirty gravestones in it when it had been in use for an extended period of time: there should have been more. The thing is that the rest of the stones had been destroyed or had sunken into the ground. When I was in that cemetery, it didn’t feel as full as it should have been considering the size of the property. How many of those Deadz had been sent to oblivion for lack of care?

Aside from that aspect, my belief in the ren and ancient Egyptian belief go very much hand-in-hand. While I know that names are important and remembering them doubly so, I haven’t really decided what, if anything, the ren has to do with my own personal theology on the subject.

The ba has been mostly translated as soul in recent years, but in effect, this definition is vastly incorrect. What the ba is equates more along the lines of personality than a mere concept of the soul. Considering the theological beliefs behind the soul in ancient Egypt conflating the ba with soul is circumspect and misleading, at best. What it comes down to is that the ba appears to be the actual personality behind the person in question, as well as the psyche itself, and is, also, the part of the soul most twined with the body.

The ba is often shown as a bird with a human’s head. Occasionally, imagery appears with it nearby the shut, as well. The ba, as I said above, is the part of the soul that is most closely associated with the deceased’s body. It is this part of the soul that allows the soul to be continuously fed in the afterlife, for it is the ba that takes in the nourishment presented to the deceased. Every evening, the ba returned to the body to feed.

As far as I am concerned, the ba is exactly what it is in ancient Egyptian belief as it is in my belief. It is to the ba that I speak with and talk to when I grave-tend. It is to the ba that I leave my offerings when I go grave-tending. To me, however, the ba is less tied to the body nowadays. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of course, over time, from age or if it’s because a lot of souls (in my opinion) tend to be more attached to their loved ones than they are to their body. It could also have to do with the fact that times have changed and mummification, spells, and refreshments are no longer the in thing to do after someone passes. For whatever the reason, I do associate the ba in similar thought forms as is found in ancient Egypt with a few modernized tweaks.

As for the ka, this is generally defined in various arenas as “vital spark,” “life force,” and “soul.” What the exact definition, from an ancient Egyptian perspective, is incredibly elusive. It was never clearly defined as much as other aspects of the soul. From what I’ve read and what I think, it tends – to me – to see like the glue that keeps the different aspects together in a cohesive unit. This is, of course, UPG so take it with however large a grain of salt you feel is necessary. Essentially, it appears that this part of the soul came into being upon the birth of the person in question.

The ka is often shown as a kind of twin or double to the living body. However, the ka is an immortal aspect of the soul unlike the body, itself. To maintain its immortality, the ka needed to be fed regularly. However, unlike the ba aspect, it appears that the ka took the life-sustaining force from the food and water offerings, whether they were real live offerings or symbolic offerings, in order to maintain its immortality. After death, the ka rejoined its maker, but it also stayed close to the body. The false doors depicted in Egyptian tombs are known as ka doors so that the ka could come and go as it pleased.

Now, one of the parts of belief that have stuck with me from an early age happens to be reincarnation. So, I always had a feeling that this was a part of what my religious practice would one day look like. It just took a matter of figuring out a religious practice that appealed to me and then warping it to fit a belief that I’ve held since I was pretty damn young. In the form of the ka, I feel I found the answer to the reincarnation question. I feel that its immortality has more to do with the longevity of lives lived and less to do with the amount of nourishment offered at any given time. In this part, the ka to me is the actual aspect of ourselves known as the “subconscious” mind. It is this aspect, I feel, that can head to the astral. It is this aspect, too, that allows some of us to tap into our past lives.

It is the ka, as well, that chooses what life we shall next lead. While I won’t go into specifics here, I will point out that I have an entry specifically dedicated to my thoughts on reincarnation linked below.

  1. Reincarnation Cementation.
  2. On Choice by L – a conflicting point-of-view regarding reincarnation.

2 thoughts on “What Is A Soul?

  1. Pingback: Kemetic Round Table: The Afterlife | Mystical Bewilderment

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