Ba Symbol of Ancient Egypt – What Was It?

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The Ba is one of the more visually strange Egyptian symbols as well as a less frequently used image. That’s because it had a very specific purpose, compared to other symbols that used to have broad and abstract meanings such as health, prosperity, stability, and so on.

The Ba symbolized an aspect of a deceased person’s soul. The meaning of the Ba can be somewhat complex, so let’s break it down.

Origins, Symbolism, and Meaning of the Ba Symbol

Egyptian ba symbol

Representation of Ba by Jeff Dahl

The Ba is an integral part of the ancient Egyptians’ life-after-death believes. The Egyptians believed in life after death as well as in the deceased being able to interact with the living world after their death. That last part was where the Ba came in.

The Ba’s meaning is more complicated than just calling it “the soul”. A better explanation would be that the Ba is one aspect of the soul together with the Ka. However, there are differences between these concepts:

  • Ka – The Ka is the life given to the person when they’re born – a spiritual essence during life
  • Ba – This refers to the deceased person’s personality left in the world of the living – the physical essence after death

The Ba was traditionally visualized as a falcon with a human head. The idea behind this bird form was the Ba would fly away from the deceased person’s tomb every morning and affect the world of the living throughout the day. Every evening, the Ba would fly back to the tomb and reunite with the deceased person’s body for the night.

In the older myths, the Ba was ascribed only to the Egyptian royalty as pharaohs and their queens were believed to be god-like. Later on, people came to the belief that every person has “a Ba”, including the commoners.

It’s also thought that the Ba was one of the reasons for the practice of mummification. Mummies, their tombs, and often just statues of the deceased when their body couldn’t be recovered, were supposed to help the Ba find the deceased’s remnants every evening.

In many myths, the gods themselves also had Bau (plural of Ba) spirits. And in their case, their Ba was also quite unique than the “standard” human-headed falcon of people. For example, according to the myths of the people in Heliopolis, the Ba of the god Ra was the bennu bird (a mythical bird-like figure similar in description to the Greek Phoenix or the Persian Simurgh). And in Memphis, it was believed that the Apis bull – not even a bird – was the Ba of either the god Osiris or the god creator Ptah.

Nevertheless, the falcon-like Ba with a human head is the most well-known visual representation of the spirit. It was a common belief for Egyptians all throughout their long history and Ba symbols can be seen in any well-preserved tomb. Because the Ba had such a specific meaning, however, the Ba symbol wasn’t really used outside of this context.

The Ba in Art

In ancient Egypt, the Ba’s visual representations were focused entirely on tombs, sarcophagi, funeral urns, and other funeral and mortuary items. In more contemporary art, the Ba is also not used as often as other famous Egyptian symbols. However, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.

If you appreciate its meaning and symbolism, the Ba can make for a beautiful and unique ornamental piece. Tattoos with the Ba symbol can also be particularly eye-catching and powerful as it’s meant to represent one’s spirit and personality. It can also look great as a pendant or earrings and it can work as a brooch, cufflinks, or other clothing accessories.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Ba

What is the difference between the Ba and the Ka?

The Ka is the life given to the person when they’re born and their spiritual essence. The Ba is the spirit that roams as the physical essence of the person once they’re deceased.

What are the other parts of the Egyptian soul?

Ancient Egyptians believed that a person had five parts to their soul – Ren (your name), Ka (spiritual essence), Ib (heart), Ba and Sheut (shadow). This is similar to how we think of the human body as being made up of many parts.

In Brief

The Ba is a uniquely Ancient Egyptian concept and one that doesn’t easily translate outside of this specific context. However, as a symbol of personality, it can be appreciated even in today’s modern world.