EGYTOLOGY NOTES #35: On yesterday I spoke about the ciKam (Egyptian) concept of the /kA/ (k-l), which we have defined as “soul, will, self” based on comparative evidence from related languages. Today the same approach will be taken to help us understand another word for “soul” in Egyptian known as the bA. As noted previously, the grapheme transliterated as <A> (or 3) is actually an /l/ or /r/ sound. Therefore, “ba” is more than likely not how you pronounce the term; it would have a b-l consonant root (the Egyptians didn’t write their vowels). So here is the comparative data:
b3 < *b-l, ‘soul’ (Old Kingdom; Wb I, 411; on the identification of /3/ as /l/, see above and Anselin 2007a): West Chadic (Nigeria): Angas-sura: bĕl, ‘reason, sense, to be wise, intelligence, understanding’ (Takács 2004, 31); Central Chadic: Matakam (Cameroon): *bl,‘genius, spirit, mboko’, belbele-hay, ‘genius’; Niger-Congo: Fulfulde (Cameroon): ηbeelu (ηgu), 'vital principle in man - in danger of being devoured by soul eaters' (Noye 1989, 40; see also, Anselin 2007b, 92); Semitic: *bāl, ‘spirit, mind’; Aramaic: bl, ‘spirit, intelligence’; Northern Syriac: bālā, ‘reason, attention’; Arabic: bāl, ‘attention, consciousness, mind’ (Takács 2001, 6).
As we can see here, the concept of the bA (*b-l) has to deal with the “mind.” As I discussed in my book Where is the Love: How Language Can Reorient Us Back to Love’s Purpose (2013), based on the linguistic data, the “spirit” of man is really one’s “mind,” one’s “intelligence” in African ontology. Often in African iconography, the “spirit” is depicted as a “bird.” This is so because one’s imagination is likened to a bird flying off into the cosmos to return from the shores of eternity with solutions for the mundane world. The bA in Egypt follows in this same tradition and it too is depicted as a bird. Often this bird has a human head, which further informs us that it is referring to the “mind.” Paronymony is at work here as well; for the name of the “soul” has the same consonant cluster as the name for the bird (a turtle dove) that depicts the “soul” in Egyptian iconography: e.g., Western Chadic: Bole: mbólé, Mupun, Sura: mbul, Angas, bul, Ankwe: Nice, Karekare: bélawi, oriental Chadic: Gabri: bélu, bird, Bidiya:bálya, dove. PChadic: *mbul, dove.
So, the kA “will” and bA “mind, intelligence, consciousness” are key components of the person that the ancient Egyptians felt were critical for developing a more powerful self. Thus, these ideas weren’t “mystical-magical” concepts. They were down-to-earth, practical aspects of the self for which good character and a good education helped to develop. In this life, one will need a strong will (kA); that is, self-control, self-discipline, diligent purposefulness, determination, the mental faculty by which a person deliberately decides to choose upon a course of action. In order to have that, one must have a highly developed mind (bA); that is to say, intelligence, consciousness, reason, wisdom and understanding.