This essay was originally published at Neo-Paganism.com.
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Summer is well into full-swing this first week of August. In this part of Illinois, August is usually very hot and miserable. Even so, the first slight signs of Autumn can be detected. The sun is setting earlier and sometimes a cool breeze filters through the window at night. First harvests have been happening in actuality for a while The gardens and fields have been planted, fertilized and in way too many cases fumigated with pesticides to keep out the weeds and pests. Wheat has been harvested for over a month and those fields are currently planted in soybeans to get a second harvest before winter hits. Corn is in full tassel which means that the grain is now being formed. In the gardens, tomatoes, peppers, green beans and other summer crops are in full production. Soon, I will be planting a fall garden to get a new supply of greens and other vegetables that prefer the cool nights. Now is the time to go venturing into the uncultivated acres to gather milk thistle seed and goldenrod for the herb cabinet.
This is also the time of year that the weeds in the garden and along the fencerows are coming into full maturity. It becomes obvious that I have not been diligent about keeping the weeds out of the places where I would prefer they do not grow. Well, isn't that the real definition of a weed? A weed is simply a plant growing where you do not want it. I have an overabundance of foxtail grass, lambs quarters and ragweed where the abundance is supposed to be blackberries, tomatoes and melons.
Ka, double, khaibit, ba, sahu - what a confusing complexity of terms for what moderns simply call “soul.” Everything we know about the ancient Egyptian concepts of non-physical being come from writings like the Pyramid Texts, the Book of Going Forth, Coffin Texts, etc. These do not define terms that must have been an accepted part of the culture, but we can derive a sense of their meaning from the context of what they do, where they live, and to what they are attached. Reams and reams have been written about Egyptian ideas of the soul, but I will only give as very brief summary here, as best I understand.
shat - this is the living body; a corpse or mummified body is the khat.
ba - shown in art as a bird with a human head, I think of this as the personal identity, the personality. The ba is restless and longs for the next life, but is attached to and continually drawn back to the shat, then the khat.
ka - source, life force, “higher self,” the group spirit or energy of one’s ancestral group.
akh - the being of light that one becomes as a last step in spiritual development after death, often translated as “shining one,” or “imperishable star.”
sah - a spiritual body, sah is to akh as ka is to ba
Some people also add some more concepts to this group:
ren - one’s true name; to speak the true name of a person or any thing in the world gives one power over it.
ib - the heart, seat of individual existence, conscience, intellect.
sekhem - personal power or will
hau - unified whole of all aspects of one’s existence
Egyptians also located different qualities of the soul in various parts of the body, for example:
heart - seat of being
legs - strength
arms - ability and efficiency
genitals - creative power
mouth - entry and exit point of life
eye - inner strength, protection, knowledge
ears - understanding, compassion
Somehow, western culture began to view existence in a binary or polarized pattern, about the time the Egyptian civilization was dying. Many will not accept the veracity of anything that is not physical; others exalt the non-physical as a superior state. Egyptian cosmology, however, is all about the cycle of life, death, transformation and rebirth. Each aspect of the self is a facet of being, a step along the way of growing.
One thing the current age seems to be getting right is to recognize the hau, the whole self. But I also like the nuances of the Egyptian terms, which honor the parts of our self, defining the underlying purposes of each.
I have passed through the Duat
I have seen my father Osiris,
I have scattered the gloom of the night . . .
I have become a sah,
I have become an akh,
I have become equipped,
Oh, all you gods and akhs,
make a way for me . . . (Book of Going Forth By Day)
Who is this flower above me,
And what is the work of this god?
I would know myself in all my parts.
~ Feri Flower Prayer
My work of late has been focused around surrender, specifically, surrendering to the moment and surrendering to the Gods. And first and foremost, I have to surrender to my Self, specifically, to my Godself.*...
This will be the first in a series of blogs that will focus on contemplative practices in Paganism and their role in developing ourselves, our relationship to the universe, and our communities. I will also be exploring different ideas related to soul, spirit, evolution, and enlightenment. I will be presenting what I believe to be useful and/or true, but with the understanding that my truth need not be your truth. I will be sharing my perspectives and observations with the hope that it will encourage you to do some exploring. The material will be a bit chewy and dense, and will make the assumption that you are already knowledgeable about a variety of topics. I'm asking you to contemplate and to meditate upon these posts; they are not meant to be the quickly read fare that we snack upon as we peruse the internet and social media offerings....
... and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on ...
-- Mary Oliver, "Bone"
This is part two of a two-part blog that tries to move beyond the binary distinction of life and death. Please read the first part if you have not as you will get more out of this post if you do. To break out of the dichotomy of life and death we need to introduce identity as another measure of the attributes of existence. In order to explore how identity helps us to expand our understanding of life and death, let's start with the very large and then move down into the very small....