In ancient Egyptian beliefs and mythology, Ba was considered to be an individual's distinctive 'manifestation' or 'animation', similar to our concept of personality or soul, in that it comprised of all the non physical attributes which make each human being unique. It was symbolized as a human-headed bird, which departed the body after death and made its way in flight to the realm of Osiris, where its happiness was assured. A closely related word means a divine manifestation.
The "Ba" visited its old body in the tomb (the mummy) every night, for the purposes of comforting it and reassuring it concerning immortality, and also to provide it with necessary substances for surviving the afterlife. One of the aims of embalming the body was to offer the "Ba" a safe haven even after death, otherwise it could get lost.
Closely connected to the physical body, the "Ba" was believed to have the same physical needs as the living body, including earthly pleasures such as food and drink and even copulation! Statuettes of "Ba" birds were placed on the chest of the coffins, or on top of a wooden stela.
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Sources: (1) Pinch, Geraldine, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press; (2) Remler, Pat, Egyptian Mythology A to Z, Facts on File Publishing; (3) Bunson, Margaret R., Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Facts on File Publishing.
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