Ka is the essence that makes the difference between the living and the dead. The concept of ka had undergone changes over the millennia and had different meanings depending on the social settings. Various translations include soul, life-force, and will. The closest translation in English is “life-creating force.” It was portrayed in several ways: a person’s identical twin, a shadowy figure, or the person with two upraised arms on their head. These statuses and images were often the depiction of the person in an idealized state of youth, vigor, and beauty.
Representing several concepts, ka was considered to be: 1) the life powers of each person from the gods, 2) the source of these life powers, and 3) the spiritual double that resides in each person. It was also considered to be a conscious or guide, urging kindness, quietude, honor, and compassion.
According to depictions from the 18th dynasty, a person’s ka came into being when the person was born, shown as a twin or double. However, unlike the body, the ka is immortal, provided that it receives nourishment. The ka can extract the life-sustaining forces from offerings, whether they be real or symbolic. After death, it was said that the ka would rejoin its divine origin with Osiris, then emerged from the afterlife to remain in close proximity of the mummy. The ka was considered to possess the tomb statues and use them as their proxies for their real body. However, if the original body decomposed, the ka would die, and the deceased would lose their chance for an eternal life.
Egyptians often appease the kas of the gods as well as the deceased. Their priests awaken the gods’ kas with a morning ritual that included the washing and clothing the representative statue and placing an offering of food before it.
- David, R. (2002) Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt. London, England: Penguin Books.
- Egyptian Myth. (2014) Ka (ka). http://www.egyptianmyths.net/ka.htm
- Reshafim, K. (2003) Body and Soul. http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/religion/body_and_soul.htm
- Rogerson, B. (2013) 5: Components of the soul in ancient Egypt. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/dec/05/books-advent-calendar-5-soul-ancient-egypt
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