You are here

Lecture 3: The Imperishable Part of Man and the Other World

IT has sometimes been asserted by travellers and ethnologists, that tribes exist who are absolutely without any idea of God. It will usually be found that such assertions mean little more than that they are without any idea of what we mean by God: even the Zulus, who saw in a reed the creator of the world,1 nevertheless believed that the world had been created by a power outside themselves. Modern research goes to show that no race of man, so far as is known, has been without a belief in a power of the kind, or in a world which is separate from the visible world around us; statements to the contrary generally rest on ignorance or misconception. The very fact that the savage dreams, and gives to his dreams the reality of his waking moments, brings with it a belief in what, for the want of a better term, I will call “another world.”

This other world, it must be remembered, is material, as material as the “heavenly Jerusalem” to which so many good Christians have looked forward even in our own day. The savage has no experience of anything else than material existence, and he cannot, therefore, rise to the conception of what we mean by the spiritual, even if he were capable of forming so abstract an idea. His spiritual world is necessarily materialistic, not only to be interpreted and apprehended through sensuous symbols, but identical with those sensuous symbols themselves. The Latin anima meant “breath” before it meant “the soul.”

This sensuous materialistic conception of the spiritual has lingered long in the human mind; indeed, it is questionable whether, as long as we are human, we shall ever shake ourselves wholly free from it. The greater is naturally its dominance the further we recede in history. There is “another world,” but it is a world strangely like our own.

Closely connected with this conception of “another world” is the conception which man forms concerning his own nature. There are few races of mankind among whom we do not find in one shape or another the belief in a second self. Sometimes this second self is in all respects a reflection and image of the living self, like the images of those we see in our dreams; and it is more than probable that dreams first suggested it. Sometimes it is a mere speck of grey vapour, which may owe its origin to the breath which issues from the mouth and seems to forsake it at death, or to the misty forms seen after nightfall by the savage in the gloom of the forest and by the edge of the morass. At times it is conceived of as a sort of luminous gas or a phosphorescent flash of light, such as is emitted by decaying vegetation in a damp soil. Or, again, it may be likened to the bird that flies to heaven, to the butterfly which hovers from flower to flower, or even to insects like the grasshopper which hop along the ground. But however it may be envisaged, it is at once impalpable and material, something that can be perceived by the senses and yet eludes the grasp.

The Egyptian theory of the nature of man in the historical age of the nation was very complicated. Man was made up of many parts, each of which was capable of living eternally. The belief in his composite character was due to the composite character of the people as described in the last lecture, added to that conservative tendency which prevented them from discarding or even altering any part of the heritage of the past. Some at least of the elements which went “to the making of man” were derived from different elements in the population. They had been absorbed, or rather co-ordinated, in the State religion, with little regard to their mutual compatibility and with little effort to reconcile them. Hence it is somewhat difficult to distinguish them all one from another; indeed, it is a task which no Egyptian theologian even attempted; and when we find the list of them given in full, it is doubtless to secure that no component part of the individual should be omitted, the name of which had been handed down from the generations of old.

There were, however, certain component parts which were clearly defined, and which occupied an important place in the religious ideas of Egypt. Foremost amongst these was the Ka or “Double.” Underneath the conception of the Ka lay a crude philosophy of the universe. The Ka corresponded with the shadow in the visible world. Like the shadow which cannot be detached from the object, so, too, the Ka or Double is the reflection of the object as it is conceived of in the mind. But the Egyptian did not realise that it was only a product of the mind. For him it was as real and material as the shadow itself; indeed, it was much more material, for it had an independent existence of its own. It could be separated from the object of which it was the facsimile and presentment, and represent it elsewhere. Nay, more than this, it was what gave life and form to the object of which it was the image; it constituted, in fact, its essence and personality. Hence it was sometimes interchanged with the “Name” which, in the eyes of the Egyptian, was the essence of the thing itself, without which the thing could not exist. In a sense the Ka was the spiritual reflection of an object, but it was a spiritual reflection which had a concrete form.

The “ideas” of Plato were the last development of the Egyptian doctrine of the Ka. They were the archetypes after which all things have been made, and they are archetypes which are at once abstract and concrete. Modern philosophers have transformed them into the thoughts of God, which realise themselves in concrete shape. But to the ancient Egyptian the concrete side of his conception was alone apparent. That the Ka was a creation of his own mind never once occurred to him. It had a real and substantial existence in the world of gods and men, even though it was not visible to the outward senses. Everything that he knew or thought of had its double, and he never suspected that it was his own act of thought which brought it into being.

It was symbolism again that was to blame. Once more the symbol was confused with that for which it stood, and the abstract was translated into the concrete. The abstract idea of personality became a substantial thing, to which all the attributes of substantial objects were attached. Like the “Name,” which was a force with a concrete individuality of its own, the Ka was as much an individual entity as the angels of Christian belief.

Between it and the object or person to which it belonged, there was the same relation as exists between the conception and the word. The one presupposed the other. Until the person was born, his Ka had no existence; while, on the other hand, it was the Ka to which his existence was owed. But once it had come into being the Ka was immortal, like the word which, once formed, can exist independently of the thought which gave it birth. As soon as it left the body, the body ceased to live, and did not recover life and consciousness until it was reunited with its Ka. But while the body remained thus lifeless and unconscious, the Ka led an independent existence, conscious and alive.

This existence, however, was, in a sense, quite as material as that of the body had been upon earth. The Ka needed to be sustained by food and drink. Hence came the offerings which were made to the dead as well as to the gods, each of whom had his Ka, which, like the human Ka, was dependent on the food that was supplied to it. But it was the Ka of the food and the Ka of the drink upon which the Ka of man or god was necessarily fed. Though at first, therefore, the actual food and drink were furnished by the faithful, the Egyptians were eventually led by the force of logic to hold that models of the food and drink in stone or terra-cotta or wood were as efficacious as the food and drink themselves. Such models were cheaper and more easily procurable, and had, moreover, the advantage of being practically imperishable. Gradually, therefore, they took the place of the meat and bread, the beer and wine, which had once been piled up in the dead man's tomb, and from the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty onwards we find terra-cotta cakes, inscribed with the name and titles of the deceased, substituted for the funerary bread.

The same idea as that which led to the manufacture of these sham offerings had introduced statues and images into the tomb at an early date. In the tombs of the Third and Fourth and following Dynasties, statues have been found of a very high order of art. No effort has been spared to make them speaking likenesses of the men and women in whose tombs they were placed; even the eyes have been made lifelike with inlaid ivory and obsidian. Usually, too, the statues are carved out of the hardest, and therefore the most enduring, of stone, so that, when the corpse of the dead was shrivelled beyond recognition, his counterpart in stone still represented him just as he was in life. But the statue had its Ka like the man it represented, and if the likeness were exact, the Ka of the statue and the Ka of the man would be one and the same. Hence the Ka could find a fitting form in which to clothe itself whenever it wished to revisit the tomb and there nourish itself on the offerings made to the dead by the piety of his descendants. And even if the mummy perished, the statue would remain for the homeless Ka.2

It was probably on this account that we so often find more than one statue of the dead man in the same tomb. The more numerous the statues, the greater chance there was that one at least of them would survive down to the day when the Ka should at last be again united to its body and soul. And the priests of Heliopolis discovered yet a further reason for the practice. From time immemorial Ra the sun-god had been invoked there under the form of his seven birdlike “souls” or spirits, and double this number of Kas was now ascribed to him, each corresponding with a quality or attribute which he could bestow upon his worshippers.3 Symbols already existed in the hieroglyphics for these various qualities, so that it was easy to regard each of them as having a separate and concrete existence, and so being practically a Ka.

The funerary statue and the ideas connected with it seem to have been characteristic of Memphis and the school of theology which existed there. At all events, no similar statues have been discovered at Abydos in the tombs of the first two (Thinite) dynasties; they make their appearance with the rise of Memphite influence under the Third Dynasty. And with the disappearance of the old Memphite empire, they too tend to disappear. The disturbed condition of Egypt after the fall of the Sixth Dynasty was not favourable to art, and it was probably difficult to find artists any longer who could imitate with even approximate accuracy the features of the dead.

But under the Theban dynasties another kind of image becomes prominent. This was the Ushebti or “Respondent,” hundreds of which may be seen in most museums. They are usually small figures of blue or green porcelain, with a mattock painted under each arm, and a basket on the back. The name and titles of the deceased are generally inscribed upon them, and not unfrequently the 6th chapter of the Egyptian funerary ritual or Book of the Dead. The chapter reads as follows: “O these ushebtis, whatever be the work it is decreed the Osirified one must do in the other world, let all hindrances to it there be smitten down for him, even as he desires! Behold me when ye call! See that ye work diligently every moment there, sowing the fields, filling the canals with water, carrying sand from the West to the East. Behold me when ye call!”

The chapter explained what the ushebti-figures were intended for. Before the dead man, justified though he had been by faith in Osiris and his own good deeds, could be admitted to the full enjoyment of thy fields of paradise, it was necessary that he should show that he was worthy of them by the performance of some work. He was therefore called upon to cultivate that portion of them which had been allotted to him, to till the ground and water it from the heavenly Nile. Had he been a peasant while on earth, the task would have been an easy one; had he, on the contrary, belonged to the wealthier classes, or been unaccustomed to agricultural labour, it would have been hard and irksome. Thanks to the doctrine of the Ka, however, means were found for lightening the obligation. The relatives of the dead buried with him a number of ushebti-figures, each of which represented a fellah with mattock and basket, and their Kas, it was believed, would, with the help of the sacred words of the Ritual, assist him in his work. Sometimes, to make assurance doubly sure, the images were broken; thus, as it were, putting an end to their earthly existence, and setting their Kas free.

When once the tomb was closed and the mummy hidden away in the recesses, it was necessary to find a way by which the Ka could enter the abode of the dead, and so eat and drink the food that had been deposited there. For it must be remembered that the Ka from its very nature was subject to the same limitations as the person whom it represented. If there was no door it could not enter. Where it differed from the living person was in its existing in a world in which what are shams and pictures to us were so many concrete realities. Consequently all that was needed in order to allow the Ka free entrance into the tomb was to paint a false door on one of its walls; the Ka could then pass in and out through the Ka of the door, and so rejoin its mummy or its statue when so it wished.

This false door, in front of which the offerings to the dead were originally laid, must go back to a primitive period in Egyptian history. Professor Flinders Petrie has shown that it is presupposed by the so-called Banner name of the Egyptian Pharaohs.4 Ever since the first days of hieroglyphic decipherment, it has been known that besides the name or names given to the Pharaoh at birth, and commonly borne by him in life, he had another name not enclosed in a cartouche, but in something that resembled a banner, and was surmounted by the hawk of the god Horus. It actually represented, however, not a banner, but the panel above the false door of a tomb, and the name written within it was the name of the Ka of the Pharaoh rather than of the Pharaoh himself. It was accordingly the name by which he was known after death, the name inscribed on the objects buried in his tomb, and also the name under which he was worshipped whether in this life or in the next. As the Horus or deified leader who had subjugated the older inhabitants of Egypt and founded the Pharaonic dynasties, it was right and fitting that he should be known by the name of his Ka. It was not so much the Pharaoh that was adored by his subjects, as the Ka of the Pharaoh, and the Pharaoh was god because the blood of Horus flowed in his veins.

The earliest monuments of the Pharaohs yet discovered give almost invariably only the Ka-name of the king. The fact is doubtless due in great measure to their general character. With few exceptions they consist of tombstones and other sepulchral furniture. But the objects found in the foundations of the temple of Nekhen are also examples of the same fact. The fusion was not yet complete, at all events in the south, between the Pharaoh as man and the Pharaoh as god; it was his Ka that was divine, rather than the bodily husk in which it sojourned for a time.

The Ka accordingly occupies a prominent place in the names of the Pharaohs of the Old Empire, while the sacred art of the temples continued the ancient tradition down to the latest times. Horus and the Nile-gods, for instance, present the Ka of Amon-hotep III. along with the infant prince to the god of Thebes; and at Soleb the same Pharaoh is represented as making offerings to his own double.5 Indeed, it is not unfrequent to find the king and his Ka thus separated from one another and set side by side; and at times the Ka becomes a mere symbol, planted like a standard at the monarch's back.

It was the Ka, therefore, which in the early days of Egyptian religious thought was more especially associated with the divine nature of the king. The association of ideas was assisted by the fact that the gods, like men, had each his individual Ka. And in the older period of Egyptian history the Ka of the god and not the god himself was primarily the object of worship. The sacred name of Memphis was Ḥa-ka-Ptaḥ, “the temple of the Ka of Ptaḥ,” which appears as Khikuptakh in the Tel el-Amarna letters, and from which the Greeks derived their Aiguptos, “Egypt.” Even in the last centuries of Egyptian independence the prayers addressed to the bull-god Apis are still made for the most part to his Ka.

The Ka, in fact, was conceived of as the living principle which inspired both gods and men. Its separation from the body meant what we call death, and life could return only when the two were reunited. That reunion could take place only in the other world, after long years had passed and strange experiences had been undergone by the disembodied Ka. The 105th chapter of the Book of the Dead contains the words with which on the day of resurrection the Ka was to be greeted. “Hail,” says the dead man, “to thee who wast my Ka during life! Behold, I come unto thee, I arise resplendent, I labour, I am strong, I am hale, I bring grains of incense, I am purified thereby, and I thereby purify that which goeth forth from thee.” Then follow the magical words by which all evil was to be warded off: “I am that amulet of green felspar, the necklace of the god Ra, which is given unto them that are on the horizon. They nourish, I flourish, my Ka flourishes even as they, my duration of life flourishes even as they, my Ka has abundance of food even as they. The scale of the balance rises, Truth rises high unto the nose of the god Ra on the day on which my Ka is where I am (?). My head and my arm are restored to me where I am (?). I am he whose eye seeth, whose ears hear; I am not a beast of sacrifice. The sacrificial formulæ for the higher ones of heaven are recited where I am.”

As might be expected, the Ka is often represented with the symbol of life in its hands. At the same time, it is important to remember that, though under one aspect the Ka was identical with the principle of life, in the mind of the Egyptian it was separate from the latter, just as it was separate from consciousness and from the divine essence. These were each of them independent entities which were possessed by the Ka just as they were possessed by its human counterpart. Life, consciousness, and relationship to the gods were all attributes of the Ka, but they were attributes, each of which had a concrete and independent existence of its own.

At the outset, doubtless, the Ka was practically identical with the vital principle. Primitive man does not distinguish as we do between the animate and the inanimate. He projects his own personality into the things he sees about him, and ascribes to them the same motive forces as those which move himself. He knows of only one source of movement and activity, and that source is life. The stars which travel through the firmament, the arrow that flies through the air, are either alive or else are directed and animated by some living power. Movement, in fact, implies life, and the moving object, whatever it may be, is a living thing.

The old belief or instinct is still strong in the child. He revenges himself upon the ball or stone that has struck him as though it too were a living being. In the Mosaic law it is laid down that “if an ox gore a man or a woman that they die, then the ox shall be surely stoned”; and similar penalties were enforced against animals which had injured man, not only in the Middle Ages, but even in the eighteenth century. Thus a pig was burned at Fontenay-aux-Roses, in 1266, for having devoured a child; and in 1389 a horse was brought to trial at Dijon for the murder of a man, and condemned to death. In Brazil, in 1713, an action was brought against the ants who had burrowed under the foundations of a monastery, and, after counsel had been heard on both sides, they were solemnly condemned to banishment by the judge; while, in 1685, the bell of the Protestant chapel at La Rochelle was first scourged for having abetted heresy, then catechised and made to recant, and finally baptized.6

The early Egyptians were not more enlightened than the orthodox theologians of La Rochelle. For them, too, action must have implied life, and the distinction between object and subject had not yet been realised. Hence the belief that objects as well as persons had each its Ka, a belief which was strengthened by the fact that they all alike cast shadows before them, as well as the further belief that the nature of the Ka was in either case the same. Hence it was, moreover, that the ushebti-figures and other sepulchral furniture were broken in order that their Kas might be released from them, and so accompany the Ka of the dead man in his wanderings in the other world. As life and the power of movement deserted the corpse of the dead man as soon as his Ka was separated from it, so too the Ka of the ushebti passed out of it when its form was mutilated by breakage. The life that was in it had departed, as it were, into another world.

It is even possible that the very word Ka had originally a connection with a root signifying “to live.” At any rate, it was identical in spelling with a word which denoted “food”; and that the pronunciation of the two words was the same, may be gathered from the fact that the Egyptian bas-reliefs sometimes represent the offerings of food made to the dead or to the gods inside the arms of the symbol of the Ka.7 When we remember that vivande is nothing more than the Latin vivenda, “the things on which we live,” there arises at least the possibility of an etymological connection between the double and the principle of life which it once symbolised.8

Now, in my Hibbert Lectures on the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, I pointed out that the early Sumerian inhabitants of Babylonia held a belief which is almost precisely the same as that of the Egyptians in regard to the Ka. In Babylonia also, everything had its Zi or “double,” and the nature of this Zi is in no way distinguishable from that of the Egyptian Ka. As in Egypt, moreover, the gods had each his Zi as well as men and things, and, as in Egypt, it was the Zi of the god rather than the god himself which was primarily worshipped. So marked is the resemblance between the two conceptions, that in working it out on the Babylonian side, I could not resist the conviction that there must have been some connection between them. That was sixteen years ago. Since then discoveries have been made and facts brought to light which indicate that a connection really did exist between the Babylonia and the Egypt of the so-called prehistoric age, and have led me to believe, with Hommel, de Morgan, and others, that Babylonia was the home and cradle of the Pharaonic Egyptians. In Sumerian the word Zi signified “life,” and was denoted by the picture of a flowering reed. It was the life on which was imprinted the form of the body that was for a time its home, and its separation from the body meant the death of the latter. The Sumerians never advanced to the further stage of making the vital principle itself a separable quality; perhaps the original signification of the word which it never lost would have prevented this. But they did go on to transform the Zi into a spirit or demon, who, in place of being the counterpart of some individual person or thing, could enter at will into any object he chose. Even in Egypt, traces of the same logical progress in ideas may perhaps be found. If Professor Maspero is right in his interpretation of certain passages in the Pyramid texts and Ptolemaic papyri, “The double did not allow its family to forget it, but used all the means at its disposal to remind them of its existence. It entered their houses and their bodies, terrified them, waking and sleeping, by its sudden apparitions, struck them down with disease or madness, and would even suck their blood like the modern vampire.”9 Such a conception of the Ka, however, if ever it existed, must have soon passed away, leaving behind it but few vestiges of itself.

I have dwelt thus long on the doctrine of the Ka or double on account both of its importance and of the difficulties it presents to the modern scholar. Its discovery by Professor Maspero and Sir P. Le Page Renouf cleared away a host of misconceptions, and introduced light into one of the darkest corners of Egyptian religion.10 And however strange it may seem to us, it was in thorough accordance with the simple logic of primitive man. Given the premisses, the conclusion followed. It was only when the Egyptian came to progress in knowledge and culture, and new ideas about his own nature were adopted, that difficulties began to multiply and the theory of the Ka to become complicated.

Among these new ideas was that of the Khu or “luminous” part of man. On the recently discovered monuments of the early period, the Khu holds a place which it lost after the rise of Memphite influence with the Third Dynasty. We find it depicted on the tombstones of Abydos embraced by the down-bent arms of the Ka. The Khu, therefore, was conceived of as comprehended in the human Ka, as forming part of it, though at the same time as a separate entity. It was, in fact, the soul of the human Ka, and was accordingly symbolised by the crested ibis.11 It may be that it was in the beginning nothing more than the phosphorescent light emitted by decaying vegetation which the belated wayfarer took for a ghost; the ginn (jinn) of the modern Egyptian fellah are similar lights which flash up suddenly from the ground. But the earliest examples of its use on the monuments are against such an ignoble origin, and suggest rather that it was the glorified spirit which mounted up like a bird, in the arms of its Ka towards the brilliant vault of heaven. It is not until we come to the decadent days of the Greek and Roman periods that the Khu appears in a degraded form as a malignant ghost which enters the bodies of the living in order to torment them. No traces of such a belief are to be found in older days. The Pyramid texts speak of “the four Khu of Horus,” “who live in Heliopolis,” and were at once male and female, and of the Khu who brandish their arms and form a sort of bodyguard around the god of the dead. They are identified with the fixed stars, and more especially with those of the Great Bear, and in the euhemeristic chronicles of Egyptian history they become the “Manes” of Manetho, the semi-divine dynasty which intervened between the dynasties of the gods and of men.12

The Khu thus forms a link between men and the gods, and participates in the divine nature. It is the soul regarded as a godlike essence, as coming down from heaven rather than as mounting up towards it. It is not only disembodied, but needs the body no longer; it belongs to the Ka, which still lives and moves, and not to the mummified corpse from which the vital spark has fled. It waits on the god of the dead, not on the dead themselves.

It seems probable, therefore, that in the part of Egypt in which the doctrine of the Khu grew up, mummification was not practised; and the probability is strengthened by the fact that, before the rise of the Third Dynasty, embalming was apparently not frequent in Upper Egypt, even in the case of the kings. But, however this may be, one thing is certain. The conception of the Khu cannot have originated in the same part of the country, or perhaps among the same element in the population, as a parallel but wholly inconsistent conception which eventually gained the predominance. According to this conception, the imperishable part of man which, like the Ka, passed after death into the other world, was the Ba or “soul.” Like the Khu, the Ba was pictured as a bird; but the bird is usually given a human head and sometimes human hands.13 But, while the Khu was essentially divine, the Ba was essentially human. It is true that the Ba, as well as the Khu, was assigned to the gods—Ra of Heliopolis was even credited with seven; but whereas man possessed a Khu or luminous soul because he was likened to the gods, the gods possessed a Ba because they were likened to men.

The relation between the two is brought out very clearly in the philosophy of the so-called Hermetic books, which endeavoured to translate the theology of Egypt into Greek thought. There we are told that the Khu is the intelligence (νου̑ς), of which the Ba or soul (ψυχή) is as it were the envelope. As long as the soul is imprisoned, in the earthly tabernacle of the body, the intelligence is deprived of the robe of fire in which it should be clothed, its brightness is dimmed, and its purity is sullied. The death of the body releases it from its prison-house; it once more soars to heaven and becomes a spirit (δαίμων), while the soul is carried to the hall of judgment, there to be awarded punishment or happiness in accordance with its deserts.14 The Khu, in other words, is a spark of that divine intelligence which pervades the world and to which it must return; the Ba is the individual soul which has to answer after death for the deeds committed in the body.

The plover was the bird usually chosen to represent the Ba, but at times the place of the plover is taken by the hawk, the symbol of Horus and the solar gods. That the soul should have been likened to a bird is natural, and we meet with the same or similar symbolism among other peoples. Like the bird, it flew between earth and heaven, untrammelled by the body to which it had once been joined. From time to time it visited its mummy; at other times it dwelt with the gods above. Now and again, so the inscriptions tell us, it alighted on the boughs of the garden it had made for itself in life, cooling itself under the sycamores and eating their fruits. For the Ba was no more immaterial than the Ka; it, too, needed meat and drink for its sustenance, and looked to its relatives and descendants to furnish them.

But, as Professor Maspero15 has pointed out, there was a very real and fundamental difference between the idea of the Ka or double, and that of the Ba or soul. The Ka was originally nourished on the actual offerings that were placed in the tomb of the dead man; it passed into it through the false door and consumed the food that it found there. But the soul had ascended to the gods in heaven; it lived in the light of day, not in the darkness of the tomb; and it is doubtful if it was ever supposed to return there. To the gods accordingly was committed the care of the Ba, and of seeing that it was properly provided for. By the power of prayer and magical incantation, the various articles of food, or, more strictly speaking, their doubles, were identified with the gods, and communicated by the gods to the soul. Long before the days when the Pyramid texts had been compiled, this theory of the nourishment of: the soul was applied also to the nourishment of the Ka, and the older belief in the material eating and drinking of the Ka had passed away. All that remained of it was the habitual offering of the food to the dead, a custom which still lingers among the fellahin of Egypt, both Moslem and Copt.

Besides the double and the two souls, there was yet another immortal element in the human frame. This was the heart, the seat both of the feelings and of the mind. But it was not the material heart, but its immaterial double, which passed after death into the other world. The material heart was carefully removed from the mummy, and with the rest of the intestines was usually cast into the Nile. Porphyry16 tells us that in his time, when the bodies of the wealthier classes were embalmed, the Egyptians “take out the stomach and put it into a coffer, and, holding the coffer to the sun, protest, one of the embalmers making a speech on behalf of the dead. This speech, which Euphantos translated from his native language, is as follows: ‘O Lord the Sun, and all ye gods who give life to man, receive me and make me a companion of the eternal gods. For the gods, whom my parents made known to me, as long as I have lived in this world I have continued to reverence, and those who gave birth to my body I have ever honoured. And as for other men, I have neither slain any, nor defrauded any of anything entrusted to me, nor committed any other wicked act; but if by chance I have committed any sin in my life, by either eating or drinking what was forbidden, not of myself did I sin, but owing to these members,’—at the same time showing the coffer in which the stomach was. And having said this, he throws it into the river, and embalms the rest of the body as being pure. Thus they thought that they needed to excuse themselves to God for what they had eaten and drunken, and therefore so reproach the stomach.”17

Now and then, however, the heart and intestines were replaced in the mummy, but under the protection of wax images of the four genii of the dead—the four Khu of the Book of the Dead. More often they were put into four vases of alabaster or some other material, which were buried with the dead.18 Though the latter practice was not very common, probably on account of its expense, it must go back to the very beginnings of Egyptian history. The hieroglyphic symbol of the heart is just one of these vases, and one of the two names applied to the heart was ḥati, “that which belongs to the vase.” After ages even endeavoured to draw a distinction between ab “the heart” proper, and ḥati “the heart-sack.”19

From the time of the Twelfth Dynasty20 onwards, the place of the material heart in the mummy was taken by an amulet, through the influence of which, it was supposed, the corpse would be secured against all the dangers and inconveniences attending the loss of its heart until the day of resurrection. The amulet was in the form of a beetle or scarab, the emblem of “becoming” or transformation, and on the under side of it there was often inscribed the 30th chapter of the Book of the Dead, to the words of which were ascribed a magical effect. The chapter reads as follows: “O heart (ab) of my mother, O heart (ḥati) of my transformations! Let there be no stoppage to me as regards evidence (before the judges of the dead), no hindrance to me on the part of the Powers, no repulse of me in the presence of the guardian of the scales! Thou art my Ka in my body, the god Khnum who makes strong my limbs. Come thou to the good place to which we are going. Let not our name be overthrown by the lords of Hades who cause men to stand upright! Good unto us, yea good is it to hear that the heart is large (and heavy) when the words (of life) are weighed!21 Let no lies be uttered against me before God. How great art thou!”

Meanwhile the immaterial heart, the “Ka” of it, which is addressed in the words just quoted, had made its way through the region of the other world, until it finally reached the place known as “the Abode of Hearts.” Here in the judgment-hall of Osiris it met the dead man to whom it had formerly belonged, and here, too, it accused him of all the evil words and thoughts he had harboured in his lifetime, or testified to the good thoughts and words of which he had been the author. For the heart, though the organ through which his thoughts and words had acted, was not the cause of them; in its nature it was essentially pure and divine, and it had been an unwilling witness of the sins it had been forced to know. Eventually it was weighed in the balance against the image of Truth, and only if the scales turned in favour of the dead man could it rejoin its former body and live with it for ever in the islands of the Blest.

The scales and judgment-hall, however, belong to the religious conceptions which gathered round the name of Osiris, like the Paradise which the risen mummy looked forward to enjoy. It was only after the worship of Osiris had become universal throughout Egypt, and the older or local ideas of the future life had been accommodated to them, that it was possible for an Egyptian to speak of meeting his disembodied heart, or of the testimony it could give for or against him before the judges of the dead. The fact that the use of the scarab does not seem to extend further back than the age of the Memphite or Theban dynasties, may imply that it was only then that the Osirian beliefs were officially fitted on to earlier forms of faith. However this may be, the worship of Osiris and the beliefs attaching to it must be left to another lecture, and for the present we must pass on to the mummy itself, the last part of man which it was hoped would be immortal.

The mummy or Sâḥu has to be carefully distinguished from the Khat or natural body. The latter was a mere dead shell, seen by the soul but not affording a resting place for it. The mummy, on the other hand, contained within itself the seeds of growth and resurrection. It could be visited by the soul and inspired by it for a few moments with life, and the Egyptian looked forward to a time when it would once more be reunited with both its heart and its soul, and so rise again from the dead.

It is impossible to say how far back in the history of the Egyptian religion this belief in the immortality of the mummy may go. It can hardly have originated in the same circle of ideas as the doctrine of the Ka, though the doctrine of the Ka could easily be reconciled with it. On the one hand, it seems connected, as we shall see, with the cult of Osiris; but, on the other hand, there are no traces of mummification in the prehistoric graves, and it is doubtful whether there are any in the royal tombs of Negada and Abydos which belong to the age of the First and Second Dynasties. At all events, the scarab, which accompanied embalmment, first appears at a much later date, and perhaps had a Memphite origin. There are, however, indications that the process of embalming first arose among the pre-Menic rulers of Nekhen, in the neighbourhood of El-Kab. The soil of El-Kab literally effloresces with the natron, which, it was discovered, preserved the bodies buried in it; and even as late as the time of the Pyramid texts of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, when the northern sources of natron were known, it was still necessary for ceremonial purposes that the materials used by the embalmer should contain some of the natron of El-Kab.22

What was difficult to harmonise with the belief in the resurrection of the mummy was the belief which made the risen man an “Osiris,” identified, that is to say, in substance with the god Osiris, and not his old material self. In the days, therefore, when Greek philosophy took it in hand to systematise and interpret the theology of Egypt, the risen mummy drops out of sight. The Khu, as we have seen, becomes the divine intelligence, which for a time is enshrouded in the human soul; and this again needs the envelope of the spirit, which sends the breath of life through the veins before it can tabernacle in the body of man. The Hermetic books tell us that while body, spirit, and soul are common to man and the beasts, the divine intelligence is his alone to possess, stripped, indeed, of its native covering of ethereal fire, but still the veritable spirit of God. Ever is it seeking to raise the human soul to itself, and so purify it from the passions and desires with which it is inspired by the body. But the flesh wages continual war against it, and endeavours to drag the soul down to its own level. If the soul yields, after death the intelligence returns to its original state, while the soul is arraigned before the judgment-seat of heaven, and there being accused by its conscience, the heart, is condemned to the punishment of the lost. First it is scourged for its sins, and then handed over to the buffetings of the tempests, suspended between earth and sky. At times in the form of an evil demon it seeks alleviation of its torments by entering the body of a man or animal, whom it drives to murder and madness. But at last, after ages of suffering, the end comes; it dies the second death, and is annihilated for ever.

The good soul, on the other hand, which has listened in life to the voice of the divine intelligence, and struggled to overcome the lusts and passions of the flesh, obtains after death its reward. Guided by the intelligence, it traverses space, learning the secrets of the universe, and coming to understand the things that are dark and mysterious to us here. At length its education in the other world is completed, and it is permitted to see God face to face and to lose itself in His ineffable glory.

I need not point out to you how deeply this Hellenised philosophy of Egypt has affected the religious thought of Christian Alexandria, and through Alexandria of Christian Europe. It may be that traces of it may be detected even in the New Testament. At any rate, much of the psychology of Christian theologians is clearly derived from it. We are still under the influence of ideas whose first home was in Egypt, and whose development has been the work of long ages of time. True or false, they are part of the heritage bequeathed to us by the past.

  • 1.

    Callaway, Unkulunkulu; or, the Tradition of the Creation as existing among the Amazulu and other Tribes of South Africa, pt. i. pp. 2, 7, 8.

  • 2.

    Professor Maspero, to whom, along with Sir P. Le Page Renouf, we owe the explanation of what the Egyptians meant by the Ka, first pointed out the meaning of the portrait statues which were buried in the tomb (Recueil de Travaux, i. pp. 152–160).

  • 3.

    Renouf, TSBA. vi. p. 504 sqq.; Lepsius, Denkmäler, iii. 194. 13; Dümichen, Tempelinschriften, i. pl. 29.

  • 4.

    A season in Egypt, 1887, pp. 21, 22.

  • 5.

    Cf. the illustrations in Maspero, Dawn of Civilisation, p. 259; and Lepsins, Denkmäler, iii. 87. In Bonomi and Arundale, Gallery of Antiquities, pt. i. pl. 31, is a picture of Thothmes II. with his Ka standing behind him.

  • 6.

    Baring Gould, Curiosities of Olden Times, 2nd ed., p. 57 sqq.

  • 7.

    It is noticeable that while the Tel el-Amarna letters show that the actual pronunciation of the word Ka was Ku, Ha-ka-Ptah, the sacred name of Memphis, being written Khi-ku-Ptakh (Aiguptos), ku was “food” in the Sumerian of primitive Babylonia.

  • 8.

    In his Études de Mythologie et d' Archéologie égyptiennes, i. p. 61, Professor Maspero gives “cake” as the original sense of Ka, which, however, he explains as “a cake of earth,” and hence “substance.”

  • 9.

    Maspero, Dawn of Civilisation, p. 114. The Ka, however, is here identified with the Khu, and it is questionable whether the passages referred to in the Pyramid texts really embody old ideas which are to be interpreted literally, or whether they are not rather to be taken metaphorically.

  • 10.

    Maspero, Comptes rendus du Congrés provincial des Orientalistes à Lyon, 1878, pp. 235–263; Renouf, Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archæology (1879), vi. pp. 494–508.

  • 11.

    This particular bird was chosen because its name was similar in sound to that of the Khu. For the same reason the plover (ba) denoted the Ba or soul. On objects found by de Morgan in the tomb of Menes at Negada, the “soul” is represented by an ostrich.

  • 12.

    See Chassinat, Recueil, xix. p. 23 sqq.

  • 13.

    From the fifteenth to the eleventh century B.C., it was fashionable to substitute for the bird a beetle with a ram's head, the phonetic value of the hieroglyph of ram being ba, and that of the beetle kheper, “to become.”

  • 14.

    Hermes Trismeg., Pœmandres, ed. Parthey, chs. i. and x.

  • 15.

    Études de Mythologie, i. p. 166.

  • 16.

    De Abst. iv. 10.

  • 17.

    Cf. also Plutarch, De Esu carnium Or. ii. p. 996, and Sept. Sapient. Conviv, p. 159 B.

  • 18.

    The four vases were dedicated to the man-headed Amset (or Smet), the jackal-headed Dua-mut-ef, the ape-headed Hâpi, and the hawk-headed Qebḥ-sonu-f, who are identified with the planets in the Pyramid texts (Maspero, “Pyramided du roi Ounas” in the Recueil de Travaux, iii. p. 205).

  • 19.

    See the Book of the Dead, chs. xxvi. and sqq.

  • 20.

    It is still a moot question whether any scarabs go back to the age of the Old Empire. Personally, I am inclined to agree with Prof. Flinders Petrie in thinking that they do so.

  • 21.

    Or, according to Renouf's translation: “Pleasant unto us, pleasant unto the listener, is the joy of the weighing of the words.”

  • 22.

    Three grains of the natron of the city of Nekheb had to be used, while only two grains of that of the north were required (Maspero, “Pyramide du roi Ounas” in the Recueil de Travaux, iii. p. 182). The Horus of Nekhen, opposite El-Kab, was represented by a mummified hawk (akhem).