The Ancient Egyptian Concept of the Soul

By Dr. Ethan Watrall / 10.27.2014
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Michigan State University

To the Ancient Egyptians, the soul was the most important part of a person and it was separated into different parts making up it’s vehicle (the human, it this case).  There was one physical form and eight semi-divine parts which made up one’s soul. As far as archaeologists and egyptologists know, these parts are labeled as follows:


A Book of the Dead found in a tomb, one of the oldest to be discovered / Egyptian Museum, Cairo

The physical body of the human which decayed after death, according to the Egyptians, only if it was not mummified and persevered properly.


Ka Statue of Auibre Hor / Egyptian Museum, Cairo

The double that lingered on in the tomb inhabiting the body or even statues of the dead, but was also independent of the deceased body and could move, eat and drink at will.  Kind of like a doppelganger but not evil.


From Book of the Dead of Hunefer, Akhu spirits / Egyptian Museum, Cairo

This was the immortal part, the radiant and shining being that lived on in the Sahu, the intellect, will and intentions of the deceased that transfigured death and ascended to the heavens to live with the gods.


Scenes of the sun’s journey through the Duat in Ramesside royal tombs / Wikimedia Commons

The incorruptible spiritual body of man that could exist in the heavens, appearing from the physical body after the judgement of the dead was passed (if successful) with all of the mental and spiritual abilities of a living body.


Sekhem means the Power of Powers and it is connected with our own empowerment for both, from a Book of the Dead / Egyptian Museum, Cairo

This was the incorporeal personification of the life force of man, which lived in heaven with the Akhu, after death.


The khaibit of Irinufer, tomb painting / Wikimedia Commons

The shadow of a man, it could partake of funerary offerings and was able to detach itself from the body and travel at will, though it always was thought to stay near the Ba.


Tomb painting of Nefertari as a Ba / Wikimedia Commons

The human headed bird flitted around in the tomb during the day bringing air and and food to the deceased, but traveled with Ra on the Solar Barque during the evenings.


Meskhenet at the weighing of the heart ceremony, from a Book of the Dead / Egyptian Museum, Cairo

The heart, this was the source of good and evil within a person, the moral awareness and center of thought that could leave the body at will, and live with the gods after death, or be eaten by Ammut as the final death if it failed to weigh equally against Ma’at.


Ancient Egyptian Wepet Renpet, tomb relief / Wikimedia Commons

The true name, a vital part to man on his journey through life and the afterlife, a magical part that could destroy a man if his name was obliterated or could give power of the man if someone knew his Ren.