The populace found its expression of religious feeling in the funerary cults. The great body of mortuary texts has, in fact, provided us with much that we know of ancient Egypt, particularly of belief in the afterlife (see Book of the Dead). The dead were provided with food and drink, weapons, and toiletry articles. Tombs were often visited by the family, who brought new offerings. Proper precautions and care for the dead were mandatory to insure immortality (see mummy). Although the ancient Egyptians strongly believed in life after death, the idea of passing from life on earth to life in the hereafter was somewhat obscure, and the concepts concerning the afterlife were complex.
The ancient Egyptian, however, hoped not only to extend life beyond the grave, but to become part of the perennial life of nature. The two most important concepts concerning the afterlife were the ka and the ba. The ka was a kind of double or other self, not an element of the personality, but a detached part of the self which was sometimes said to guide the fortunes of the individual in life, like the Roman genius, but was clearly most associated with a person's fortunes in the hereafter. When people died they were said to join with their ka. More important perhaps than the ka was the concept of the ba. The ba is perhaps loosely identifiable as the soul of a person. More specifically the ba was the manifestation of an individual after death, usually thought to be represented in the form of a bird. The Egyptians also believed in the concept of akh, which was the transformation of some of the noble dead into eternal objects. The noblest were often conceived of as being transformed into stars, thus joining in the changeless rhythm of the universe.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.