Friday, April 1, 2011
A is for Akh
Today, A is for Akh.
The meadows are satisfied, the canals are inundated for this N. on this day on which his akh has been given to him, on which his power has been given to him. Raise thyself, O N., take for thyself thy water, gather together thy bones, stand upon thy feet. Thou hast become an akh, the foremost among the akhs. Raise thyself for this thy bread which cannot grow moldy, thy beer which cannot become sour, in order that thou mayest become a Ba through it, that thou mayest become sharp through it, that thou mayest become powerful through it, in order that thou mayest give thereof to him who was before thee. O N., thou art an akh, and thy survivor is an akh.
Today's quote is a passage from the Pyramid Texts which I am quoting from Louis B. Zabkar's A Study of the Ba Concept in Ancient Egyptian Texts. It is an offering ritual performed to render the King into a ba after death. But tomorrow we'll talk about bas, today we're talking about akhs.
The akh is an aspect of what we would call the "soul", the eternal part of a person. It is used at times as an adjective:
"Akh" is a father for his son,
"akh" is a son for his father.
In those cases it seems to refer to "effectiveness"or "usefulness". At other times when it refers to a part of the person, Jan Assmann translates it as "transfigured ancestral spirit". And in this sense it is used sometimes as something that a person becomes and sometimes as a separate entity that belongs to the person after death. (That same is true of the Ba as well.)
The Egyptians had a very unique view of "personhood". They did not divide a person into "body and soul" or a set of dual physical and spiritual aspects as western culture does. There were up to 14 different aspects of a person named in some texts including the akh, the ba, the "corpse" and two different kinds of "heart". A natural aspect of death was the dissolution of the connectivity between these different parts and their subsequent reassembly in the afterlife.
We cannot fully understand the Egyptian perspective on this subject since the texts take the understanding of it for granted. Some of it can appear contradictory or contrary to common sense. That was one thing I had to work out for my own fantasy world. My goal was to take those beliefs and try to put them together in a way that made sense within a natural world where they weren't just beliefs but were the true way the world works. I'll go into more detail on my results for tomorrow's B for Ba post.