The Egyptian's saw the person as comprising a number of entities and one of these was the ka. The ka was represented as a pair of upraised arms in a gesture which may mean an embrace, a greeting or an act of worship.
The ka of a person was derived ultimately from the creative power (Atum or Ra) and was inherited from generation to generation. There is a benign serpent god called "Neheb-kau" whose name means either "Uniter of kas" or "Alloter of kas" depending on whose translation you read. This winged serpent existed in the primeval waters and was later associated with the Nile inundation, it was also believed to have magic powers from eating seven cobras. This Neheb-kau can be best understood as being the continuum of power itself, an aspect of Atum (the complete one) who brought the world into being through his bodily substances. This serpent-power has the kas of all potential beings held within itself. As the process of creation develops, these kas become embodied into actual beings alive on the earth.
So the individual ka of a person comes originally from the power that brought the world into being.
The ka is often translated as 'double' because it was shown on tomb illustrations as being a figure identical to the deceased, sometimes with the ka symbol on their heads but although you will often come across the term 'double' it is undefined and not all that helpful. However it is true to say that the ka was closely connected with the body. After death the deceased is said to "go to his ka", although the physical body has ceased to function the person still 'exists' in the form of the ka. The ka, unlike the ba which is free to move about and leave the tomb, remains close to the mummy. In order to survive it requires food and other offerings. These offerings are sometimes called ka because of this connection.
In life also there are special instances of the ka. Most significantly the Royal Ka which the king receives at coronation. Here the ka is that special power or charisma that authority gives to people. You can, for instance see it operate in politicians, who on achieving high office cease to be the rather forgettable and unattractive figures they formerly were and fed by the worlds attention, seem to take on some extra sparkle (see early and late pics of Margaret Thatcher if you don't believe me). So in life the ka can be enhanced and strengthened, although better through inner working rather than the pursuit of worldly power.
Also in life the association with the body is very strong and this has given rise to the idea of an internal and an external ka. But actually these are the same thing. The heart, which to the Egyptians was seen as the centre of one's being, the mind, character and personality, was called the 'ka in my body".
"...for you are the ka that was in my body, the protector who made my members hale."
(Ch. 30b BoD trans. Faulkner)
We know from the Shabaka Stone (Memphite Cosmogeny) that the heart (together with the tongue) was seen as the 'command and control" centre of the being. And we can say from this that the ka has the same function in a disembodied state. So as well as being a vital energy, the ka had a co-ordinative and forming function. A specific energy field which during life supported and co-ordinated vital functions in the body and after death persisted on a finer level than the gross physical body.
As the ka is passed down through one's parents (although ultimately from the creative power itself) it carries with it a kind of energy signature, that is a specific set of vibrational energies which are specific to the person - which is what makes us each unique in character. This 'spark' is transmitted through sex and you could say the nature and condition of your ka is determined by the sexual chemistry of your parents. However, after being born the ka is affected by interactions with the world and can be boosted or damaged by circumstances. It can be strengthened and enhanced by internal working. Equally it can be damaged by one's own deeds or words.
In the funerary rites it was considered essential to protect, preserve and reenergise the ka following death, in order to attain a successful after life journey. For this reason special priest called hemu-ka (ka servants) made offerings to the blessed dead. This was part of what is known as the reversion of offerings. Food and other offerings were made through a specific formula known as "hotep di nesu" or the king's offering, these were made (usually) to Osiris with the plea that this god made the same 'good things' available to the person's ka in the Netherworld. When this ceremony had been completed the actual offerings were then shared out between priest, ka priests and others so nothing was lost or spoilt, hence the 'reversion'.
Ka priests were able also to contact the kas of particular ancestors such as great kings or figures such as Im-hotep the architect of Step Pyramid to seek advice and so on. But principally the idea was to ensure enough energy was available to the ka in order that it could carry out the tasks and transformations needed after death. Although this energy was provided symbolically by food offerings, obviously it was understood that the ka could not actually eat, as eating is a function of the physical body. So what were they doing? The answer is that the attention of the priests and family fed the ka. In the same way as the attention of people in the worldly situation, feeds the famous, so by remembering the dead their ka is supported and energised.
A clue to this I idea that you energise other beings through remembering them can be found in the tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, although this applies to a god and not to a ka. The sailor in question finds himself marooned on a desert island and encounters a huge serpent. After recovering from his shock he finds that the serpent is the god of the Island and is actually very kindly. The serpent magically produces everything he needs. After a while the sailor is about to be rescued and turns to the serpent and says - how can I repay you, you saved my life and clothed and fed me, but you are a god and have everything you need. The serpent replies that if the sailor wishes to repay him then he should ensure that the serpent is remembered. This remembering of the god is about worship. The serpent is saying that the service men do for gods is remembering them. So while the man has depended on the god/serpent the god/serpent will depend on the man. This reciprocity between man and gods and man and the blessed dead is a hallmark of Egyptian religion. Its a 'you do something for me and I'll do something for you' relationship. Remembering, and particularly remembering a name had a magic significance for the Egyptians.
This reciprocal relationship between men and gods is expressed most clearly in Utterance 269, of the Pyramid Texts - a censing prayer:
"The fire is laid, the fire shines;
The incense is laid on the fire, the incense shines.
Your perfume comes to me, O Incense;
May my perfume come to you, O Incense.
Your perfume comes to me, you gods;
May my perfume come to you, you gods.
May I be with you, you gods;
May you be with me, you gods.
May I live with you, you gods;
May you live with me, you gods.
I love you, you gods;
May you love me, you gods."
(AE PT trans. R.O. Faulkner).
What the Egyptian writers were pointing to here is that the world as we perceive it is drawn out of the continuum of power (Atum). Before the world is drawn into existence all forms of existence are so mutually interpenetrating that they cannot be said to 'exist' in any real sense but lie dormant. However when the forms of existence, men or gods do come into being then they do so in reciprocal relation to each other. Without a man to 'remember' the god, there is no god, but without a god to create him there is no man. This is strikingly illustrated in the mythology around the formation of the Egyptian temple, where it is described how the ancient ancestor spirits climbed out of the primeval waters on to the first hill and then called into existence the god that created them. This paradoxical relation between perceiver and perceived is very important.
In this way we can understand that our ka is produced and maintained by the attention of self and others. So the task for the ka-priests was to maintain the attention on the ka for sufficient time for the transformations to happen. Once the akh had been formed it becomes self sustaining.
The risk to the ka then was that its energy was depleted and that it would be drawn back whence it came into the abysmal waters and reabsorbed into the Neheb-kau. If this happened then it was not possible for the person to complete the task of forming an 'akh' which is an imperishable effective spirit, as this 'akh' is formed by the interaction of the ka, the ba and the body.
The link between the ka and heart extends to the issue of 'evil' or impurity. The heart is weighed in the balance to see if the individual is free from impurities and similarly the ka. In Chapter 105 of the Book of Dead the deceased appeals to the 'ka of his lifetime' and purifies it from all the bad things he has done or said by using the 'amulet on the neck of Ra', this amulet is Maat (Truth or Order).
"Greetings to you, my ka, [of] my lifetime!
Lo, I have come to you,
having appeared and being strong,
ba-mighty, and powerful.
I have brought you natron and incense,
that I may purify you therewith and purify your sweat therewith.
Every evil statement I have made,
every evil deed I have done,
(they) will not be reckoned against me;
for I am that amulet
that is around the throat of Re
and is given to the horizon dwellers.
When they thrive, I also thrive,
and my ka thrives like theirs,
and my ka is fed like theirs."
(Ch. 105 BoD trans. Assmann).
The horizon dwellers are the akhs.
Everything I have said here about what happens after death applies equally to the living. The following is a summary of ka working.
1.Every person receives at conception a 'bundle' of energy which forms their signature energy reflecting their character, personality and being and which protects their body.
2.This ka has been handed down through the ancestral record from the original creative power until now.
3.The ka is affected by the individual's words and deeds, and adversely affected by 'evil' words and deeds.
4.The ka may be enhanced through the attention of self and others, in a worldly sense and through internal working.
5.During life the right food and attention will enhance the ka.
6.On death, or during certain practices the individual will go to their ka, that is exist as a ka and not as a body. After death this is a vulnerable period and there is a risk to the continuation of the ka.
7.The 'ultimate' task is to integrate the ka, ba and 'body' to form the 'akh'. This is the goal of Egyptian Mysticism.
Edited by apepch7, 28 November 2008 - 08:01 AM.