chapter five

                   Ancient Egypt


Ka the soul is carrying away life from the body.

The Ancient Egyptians believed the soul had three parts,  the ka, the ba, and the akh. 


In ancient Egypt, The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions the travel of the soul Ka into a next world.   Egyptians embalmed the dead because they believed that the body will be required later  for the future life.  The only conclusion we can make is that the soul will one day return in search of its body.   This suggests their belief in resurrection rather than in reincarnation. 



'Ba'  was everything that makes an individual unique, similar to the notion of 'personality'. (In this sense, inanimate objects could also have a 'Ba', a unique character, and indeed Old Kingdom pyramids often were called the 'Ba' of their owner). The 'Ba' is an aspect of a person that the Egyptians believed would live after the body died, and it is sometimes depicted as a human-headed bird flying out of the tomb to join with the 'Ka' in the afterlife.




The Ka  was the Egyptian concept of vital essence, that which distinguishes the difference between a living and a dead person, with death occurring when the ka left the body.  ka was sustained through food and drink. For this reason food and drink offerings were presented to the dead, although it was the kau  within the offerings that was consumed, not the physical aspect. The ka was often represented in Egyptian iconography as a second image of the king, leading earlier works to attempt to translate ka as double.

The Akh ( meaning '(magically) effective one'), was a concept of the dead that varied over the long history of ancient Egyptian belief. It was associated with thought, but not as an action of the mind; rather, it was intellect as a living entity.


The Akh also played a role in the afterlife. Following the death of the Khat (physical body), the Ba and Ka were reunited to reanimate the Akh.The reanimation of the Akh was only possible if the proper funeral rites were executed and followed by constant offerings.  The separation of Akh and the unification of Ka and Ba were brought about after death by having the proper offerings made and knowing the proper, efficacious spell, but there was an attendant risk of dying again. Egyptian funerary literature (such as the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead) were intended to aid the deceased in "not dying a second time" and becoming an akh.


All this suggests that Egyptians did not have any concept of transmigration or reincarnation.  The rituals of mummification and other rituals strongly pronounce a belief in  judgment after death and bodily resurrection.

Herodotus, Histories 2. 123 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) says :

"The Egyptians say that Demeter [Isis] and Dionysos [Osiris] are the rulers of the lower world. The Egyptians were the first who maintained the following doctrine, too, that the human soul is immortal, and at the death of the body enters into some other living thing then coming to birth; and after passing through all creatures of land, sea, and air, it enters once more into a human body at birth, a cycle which it completes in three thousand years. There are Greeks who have used this doctrine [the Orphics], some earlier and some later, as if it were their own; I know their names, but do not record them."



                   Ancient Egyptian Roots of the Principia Hermetica

               Hermeticism, also called Hermetism, is a religious and philosophical tradition based primarily upon pseudepigraphical writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus.  Hermes Trismegistus  means: "Thrice Great" and is most probably a pseudonym .  An account of how Hermes Trismegistus received the name "Thrice Great" is derived from the The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, wherein it is stated that he knew the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe.  The three parts of the wisdom are alchemy, astrology, and theurgy.  Another interpretation is  "They called him Trismegistus because he was the greatest philosopher and the greatest priest and the greatest king."  The Suda (10th century) states that "He was called Trismegistus on account of his praise of the trinity, saying there is one divine nature in the trinity."

                   These writings have greatly influenced the Western esoteric tradition and were considered to be of great importance during both the Renaissance  and the Reformation. The tradition claims descent from a prisca theologia, a doctrine which affirms that a single, true theology exists which is present in all religions and was given by God to man in antiquity.

                   Many Christian writers, including Emerson, Lactantius, Thomas of Aquinas, Augustine, Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Campanella and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola considered Hermes Trismegistus to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity.

                   Much of the importance of Hermeticism arises from its connection with the development of science during the time from 1300 to 1600 A.D. The prominence that it gave to the idea of influencing or controlling nature led many scientists to look to magic and its allied arts (e.g., alchemy, astrology) which, it was thought, could put Nature to the test by means of experiments. Consequently it was the practical aspects of Hermetic writings that attracted the attention of scientists. Isaac Newton placed great faith in the concept of an unadulterated, pure, ancient doctrine, which he studied vigorously to aid his understanding of the physical world.  Many of Newton's manuscripts—most of which are still unpublished —detail his thorough study of the Corpus Hermeticum, writings said to have been transmitted from ancient times, in which the secrets and techniques of influencing the stars and the forces of nature were revealed.

Reincarnation is mentioned in Hermetic texts. Hermes Trismegistus asked:

 "O son, how many bodies have we to pass through, how many bands of demons, through how many series of repetitions and cycles of the stars, before we hasten to the One alone?"

When Hermeticism was no longer endorsed by the Christian church, it was driven underground and several Hermetic societies were formed. The western esoteric tradition is now steeped in Hermeticism. The work of such writers as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who attempted to reconcile Jewish kabbalah and Christian mysticism, brought Hermeticism into a context more easily understood by Europeans during the time of the Renaissance.

A few primarily Hermetic occult orders were founded in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

Hermetic magic underwent a 19th-century revival in Western Europe,   Many Hermetic, or Hermetically influenced, groups exist today. Most of them are derived from Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, or the Golden Dawn.

However all the claims to antiquity  as going back to Egyptian times are open to question.