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TitleCerny, Ancient Egyptian Religion
TagsHorus Ancient Egyptian Religion Osiris Ancient Egypt Religion And Belief
File Size8.1 MB
Total Pages172
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Page 87

MEN AND THE GODS 81

the world of the dead. In the north of the country, the Delta,
where the western desert is too distant to be reached without a

long journey, we find a different conception. The vast open
horizons of the Delta seem to have been the original home of
the idea that the world of the dead is in the sky, in which they
have become stars. This conception was later blended with or

superseded by the idea of a realm of the dead in the west, but
clear traces of it come to light again and again.

During the Vth Dynasty, when the sun-religion of Helio-

polis gained predominance, it was naturally the sky theory that
was favoured, and the Pyramid texts offer vivid descriptions of
how the dead king was imagined to reach heaven: now he
ascended to it on a huge ladder, elsewhere he is said to have
seized the tail of a heavenly cow, or again he flew up as a bird
or was lifted up by the smoke of burning incense or by a sand
storm. These details may be nothing more than the imagination
of a poet, but they clearly show that the sky was the eventual
abode of the dead.

The form which primitive imagination attributed to the

supernatural and imperishable part of man, the soul, also points
in the same direction. The soul left the body at the moment
of death and flew away in the form of a bird. The bird was
either bai, jabiru (Mycteria ephippiorhynchus, which is no longer
found in Egypt) or ikh, crested ibis (Ibis comata), though the

soul was able "to take anyform it liked". In the historical period
bai and ikh were used, along with ka which will be dealt with

presently, to designate the spiritual constituent of an individual,
but it is impossible to define their nature exactly, nor was their

precise nature quite clear to the Egyptians themselves. Bai

eventually designates any form (not only that of a bird) which
the soul may choose to take and Egyptologists translate it, there-
fore, either "external manifestation" or simply "soul"; the

plural of the word, bew, is the total of such manifestations

which an individual is able to adopt and thus means "abilities",

"power". Ikh is conveniently translated "spirit" or "shining

spirit". "Shining" is the original meaning of the word applied
to the bird because of the dazzling colouring of its feathers.

The bai-bird has at all times remained a favourite symbol of
the soul and was often even represented with a human head,

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