“…As watercourse is replaced by watercourse, So no river allows itself to be concealed, It breaks the channel in which it was hidden. So also the ba goes to the place it knows, And strays not from its former path.”- Instruction to King Merekare, as noted in Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume I, Part II, Section 3.
We have a ka, the source of our vital energy that is passed to us from our ancestors. When we die, we return to our ka and become part of our ancestral group. We have a ba, our spiritual manifestation that seeks to return to the Duat even as it is tied to return to our physical body (as can be seen in many examples in tomb art and writing). While the ka contains the life force , the ba contains the essence of what we, as individuals, are. It is our personality; combined with our ren, it is our name. It is our ba that embodies our knowledge and personal abilities.
The most common image of the ba is a bird’s body with the head of a particular individual, which makes sense when we consider the fact that the ba is so personalized and also highly maneuverable. It is this way even with the netjeru – the ba comes down to impart its substance to inanimate images of deity. An example of this that is sometimes noted is the ba of Re as a bird with a ram’s head when depicting the journey of the sun barque across the sky.
(Interestingly, when we consider the duality of Re and Ausir, Ausir is sometimes considered to be the ba of Re at night during journey through the body of Nut…which makes complete sense if you have my brain.)
The ba should not be considered as lesser when examining what makes us us. In fact, according to Morenz, “…great gods are readily referred to as ba and for a king contemplating the hereafter the desire to become a ba outweighs even that to become a god…” It might do us well to consider our ba as frequently as we do our other parts as our ba is able to reach places our physical selves cannot. If we hold our ba close and clutch it to us even as we embrace its ability to travel, the possibilities are endless.
The Traveller’s Guide to the Duat – Kiya Nicoll
Egyptian Religion – Siegfried Morenz
The Twelve Gates – John A. Rush