On the Egyptian Belief Concerning the Shade or Shadow of the Dead

By Samuel Birch

[Extracted from PSBA, 7, 45-9.]


A Paper by Dr. Birch, "On the Egyptian Belief concerning the Shade or Shadow of the Dead," was read by the Secretary.

The Author explained that by the expression shade or shadow there could be no doubt that the actual shade or shadow was meant, for the gods are said to be "refreshed by their shadow;" and again, it is used in the often cited passage where the gods or souls are described as reposing under the shade of the branches of the trees. Again, in the description of the examination of the chamber of Abydos for the body of the god Osiris, it is stated of the body, "not was it found, a shade it was found."

In a scene too of the lamentations of the body of Osiris tall curving are placed over the three figures lamenting, which is explained in the text, " ... their shade with them rest they upon them."

In all these passages the meaning is that of actual shade or shadow, without any spiritual allusion. So also of the serpent who is said to be devourer of shades, and the demon Assessor, who is called eater of the shades, coming out of the Karti, supposed to refer to the tropical well at Syene. But shade or shadows were attached to spiritual existences as gods, spirits, and souls, and partook of the nature of these existences. They appear, however, to be distinct, as they are mentioned separately. Nor could the author find that they ate food off the tables of offerings presented to the dead, like the qas or ghosts, although, like the soul, they could drink the pure water offered to the dead.


This applies to their connection with the qas, ghosts, or bas, souls; but the gods Af and Horus also had shades.

Attached to the soul, and also to the qa or 'Eidolon,' was the shade, which is under the form of a parasol. Phonetically it is written khab, khaibt, or khaibit, and is the Coptic [Coptic], with a meaning similar to that of [Greek]. or umbra of the Greek or Romans. The shade was supposed to be the light envelope of the soul, visible but not tangible, and is often mentioned in connection with the ba or "soul."

The shade was supposed to wander over the earth, going to the tomb, visiting those who belonged to him, enjoying the offerings of his relations, and then disappearing to the body in the grave. In the hieroglyphic texts, however, the shade has no representation beyond the face or mummy, it never appears with the bodily form of the deceased; so that no light is thrown upon the hypothesis of its representing the form of the deceased from the monuments themselves. There also appears to have been only one "shade" to each ghost or soul; the sun is stated to have seven, and fourteen qa or eidola, or phantasms, two attached to each soul; the qa indeed, had a form, as appears from the coffin of Amam.

This shows that qa was the shape of every god. The author's object, however, was not to discuss the qa, which had been already amply done by Mr. Le Page Renouf (Trans. Soc. Bib. Arch., Vol. VI, pp. 494-508) and M. Maspero, but to analyse the nature of the khaibit or "shade" from the monuments.

The shade is mentioned with the soul at the earliest period, for in the inscriptions of the Pyramid of Unas, of the sixth dynasty, at Sakkarah, it states: "Their souls (bau) are under Unas, their shades (khaibitu) are united together, and Unas devours the spirits in a burning hell."

In the coffins of the eleventh dynasty, published by Lepsius, the shade is again mentioned, as in the "bringing the shade (khaibit) with his ghost (qa),"where it is connected with the qa. It is however at the time of the eighteenth to the twentieth dynasty that the shades play the most prominent part in the inscriptions of the Tiau or under world.

In the Ritual the shades also appear: "Walk I in the leading shades (xabit), spirits (khu)." Here it must be either shades of the dead, or souls of spirits, in which cases the shade was something [p.47] appended to the spirit, as in another place the shade was apparently also appended to the soul.

From another chapter, entitled, "The chapter of opening the chamber of the soul and shade coming forth daily sure of food," there can be no doubt that the shade was independent of the soul, although not represented in the vignette, for besides the shade of the gods, of spirits, and souls, there was also the shade of the dead, as in the passage of the Ritual where it says: "Do not let me be imprisoned by the detainers of the limbs of Osiris, the detainers of soul, the khtm khaibit mut, shutters up, the shade of the reprobate dead." Again, "Not prevailing over my shade (the deceased and living off) the shade of the dead." "Their soul," says another passage, "live by words accompanying their going out."

Some shades are called the damned, sebit, in the Hades, while of others it is stated that "they turn back on your shades" (khaibit). Of another of the gods of hell it is said: "he cuts at your bodies, defeating souls your, expelling your shades" (khaibit), and in the passage, "purification twice to eidolon thine, to spirit thine soul thine, to shades thine, to mummy thine."

Here the elements of the dead are the ghost qa, the soul ba, the body tet, the shade khaibit, and the mummy sahu. The same is given from the unedited chapter of the Ritual of Amenhotep in the Louvre: "O ye dividers of souls, O all ye gods, who are lords of life, bring the soul of the Osiris Amenhotep, that it may be united to his soul, his soul being separated from his body. The gods in Heliopohs (hat-ben ben) bring to him (his parts) at Heliopolis, the place of Shu, the son of Tum; his heart, ab, is to him as that of Ra, his other heart, hati, is to him as that of Khepera. Purification to thy qa (eidolon), to thy soul ba, to thy body tet, to thy shade khaibit."

Here it will be observed that although the deceased has only one ba, qa, and sahu, he has shades in the plural, as if shades were attached both to the qa and ba, for they are both mentioned before the sahu or body; and this recalls to mind that the Sun had seven souls but fourteen qa, or two eidola or genii to each soul, and here I would apply the text, "O leaders of souls, directors of shades."

I will now turn to the punishment of the shade. In a kind of caldron, also in the tombs of the kings, are seen the souls, bodies, and shades of the wicked, held up by two hands; and in the burning pits of hell they are seen burning. The explanatory texts say, "that the shades live, they have raised their powers;" from which [p.48] it would appear that they survive the effect of the caldrons; from a papyrus also of the nineteenth or twentieth dynasty. In another section of the hell, the gods of which are obscure, there are also other passages.

In the paintings of the burning hell in the tomb of the kings of the nineteenth dynasty, showing the punishment of the future state, it is said of the shades: "Strangle ye the dead, cut ye the shades strangled."

That is, the shades were cut off the souls of the dead, and so separated from them. Again, in another scene, it says: "Those who live in this section make road. That great god addresses them, they rest."

In another section of the hell, the description is: "The gods in this picture adore the great god, because he is elevated above them, they receive his great disk and shade." In the representation accompanying this scene the shades on the heads of the souls are coloured blue. In another scene souls are seen with shades over their heads.

On the later wooden tablets of the period, ranging from the twenty-second dynasty to the Ptolemies, the procession of the solar boat is hailed by the soul, ba, with upraised hands, and the shade khaibit. Here the shade appears as a companion of the soul. So again, the Sun says: "I, the Sun, manifest what is hidden, throw light upon mysteries, I give life to your souls, sekhen sen her khaibit ten, who alight on your shades;" so in the same scenes of the burning hells of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, the texts state; "Come the wicked dead, from whom I have escaped, my father strikes, after his defeat, your bodies, mutilating your souls, expelling hebt, your shades, your heads are cut off."

Ideas like those I have already given are translated from monuments of the papyri relating to the passage of the Sun through the second hour of the day. "The wicked dead come from ... whom my father strikes after his defeat, your bodies mutilating your souls expelling your shades, your heads are cut off, you no longer have a type, you do not come out, you do not escape the burning of the serpent, devourer of 100,000 (years), the consuming of the mistress of the furnaces, the flames of the mistress of pits, the fires of mistress ot blocks, the mistress of swords cuts you and wounds you, she stabs you. you will never see again those on earth."

In the same hour of the night the souls of the opposers of Osiris [p.49] Haratif are stated to be the jailors of the hole; they live off the cries of the souls of the wicked, suffocating the souls and shades who raise their hands at the burning pit.

Again, it is said, "The serpent Na lives off the cries and roarings of Earth;" those attached to his worship proceed from his mouth daily. Those who are in this picture receive the excellence (nefrit) of the Sun's boat, crossing from those devoted to the serpent called "The life of the gods.'" They love the great god in the heaven, the passage is to the upper distances. They assume the type in heaven of shades, and rest in the wind and water. When ordered to live they do so in the great boat of the Sun in heaven."

This throws some light on the representation of shades in the later tablets, their existence with the souls in the solar boat, and their connection with the souls of men; for "never to see again those on earth," could hardly apply to demons; and when ordered to life under the type or form of shades, they are said to rest in the wind and water, and to participate in the boat of the Sun the eternal passage through the heavens.

Different ideas have prevailed among those who have treated on the soul, such as that the shade represented the obscurity caused by a dark body, and of the soul separated by the body, the radiancy of the sahu or mummy manifested on earth as a shadow, and in heaven, or a radiancy, the type or form produced by the procreator demiurgus; to which the author would add the thin material envelope which protected the soul from the intensity of the solar rays, following the vicissitudes of the soul and ghost.

A number of the original texts were quoted, with explanations of the ideas intended, all of which will be given in a future part of the Transactions, with a series of illustrations.*

* See article in TSBA 8.