Ba, as an aspect of the soul, was represented by a human-headed bird in ancient Kemet. The Ba speaks to the oneness and harmony with nature that is such a central theme in African cosmology. In the ancient Kemetic science of the soul, the Ba is the aspect of a person that represents the “soul of breath” dwelling within each human being. The Ba is often depicted as a bearded man, with the head of a hawk representing its simultaneous physical and spiritual/transcendental nature. It is this element of a person's being that represents the “world soul” that permeates the universe, existing within humankind and in the essence of all things.
The Ba is the corporeal element of the soul that represents the interconnected nature of all creations. The concept of the Ba speaks to each person's innate power because the Ba is representative of a person's connection with the creator (Ptah). Naturally endowed with the creator's essence, the Ba allows the person to experience all other elements of the universe because they are all composed of a common creative substance.
The Ba can be literally translated as “to come alive” or “spiritual manifestation.” The Ba is essentially a person's “breath of life,” an invisible source of energy. As the breath of life, the Ba is a person's vital force, the activating life force of their being. A person's Ka, united with their Ba, forms the nonphysical qualities of a person, their unique character/personality, and moral conscience. The Ba is capable of changing its form at will; in fact, the body of the Ba is represented by the body of a hawk to symbolize the Ba's mobility or ability to move between Earth and the heavens, the visible and invisible, and its ability to transmigrate between the realms of the physical and the spiritual.
Although the Ba is a person's Earthly vital force, at the time of death, the Ba is believed to leave the body through the discharges of the flesh and return to the spirit world to meet Atum while the body remains behind. The Ba is believed to return to Earth inhabiting another body (Ka). A person's Ba is also said to return to visit its family, friends, and its Ka. The Ba is responsible for protecting the body of the deceased. It is also the Ba that supplies the Ka with air and food when the body is in its tomb. In fact, many Kemetic tombs were built with narrow passages that were designed to allow the Ba to leave the deceased person's physical body and the tomb. The Ba is believed to be transmitted from the ancestors to their descendents.
The Ba is a principle element of the soul that the people of ancient Kemet believed to be indestructible, eternal, and omnipresent. It is that element of being that always remains divine and immortal. It is often depicted leaving or returning to its body, hovering over the body, and carrying in its claws a sben ring, which represents eternity. It was also believed that God exists on Earth in the form of the Ba. Instances in which a divine aspect of God is manifested in any natural phenomena can be viewed as the presence of Ba. For example, the Sun was believed to be the Ba of Re while Apis the bull was believed to be the Ba of Ausar (Osiris).
- Asante, M. K. (2001). Egyptian Philosophers. Chicago: African American Images.
- Bunson, M. (1991). Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. New York: Facts on File.