One of the major components in the Egyptian concept of an individual was the shadow (shut; šwt), along with the body, the ka (), the ba (), and the name. Like the body, the shadow was seen as a physical entity, and its relationship to light was understood. The Prophecy of Neferti, describing the absence of sunlight, says “no one will distinguish his shadow.” The term šwt is used not only with reference to the shadow of individuals but also for the shade cast by any object, such as trees and buildings: the Sphinx Stela of Thutmose IV describes how the king “rested in the shadow of this great god” at noon. The term is also employed as a metaphor for protection—understandable in Egypt's climate—both from the heat of the sun and in a broader sense, as that extended by a god over the king, by the king's arm over his subjects, or even by the king's sun-shade over bystanders.

In common with the other elements of an individual, the shadow was viewed both as a component of its owner and a separate mode of existence. The image of a god carved on a temple wall could be called the god's shadow, and the temple itself was sometimes known as the shadow of its deity.

Most references to the shadow of a human being occur in funerary texts dealing with the afterlife. The earliest instances appear in the Coffin Texts of the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom, where the shadow is usually mentioned together with the ba. Like the latter, it can be viewed as a mode of existence after death. In some cases, however, the ba and shadow seem to be two parts of a single entity: “Go, my ba and my shadow, that you (singular) may see the sun.” Since the deceased's ba is regularly said to possess physical powers such as eating, drinking, and copulating, the shadow in such cases may have been understood as that of the ba itself.

Other passages in the Coffin Texts present the ba and shadow as distinct entities. Both are closely associated with the body in the tomb: the ba is said to be “in the earth” while the shadow is “in the inaccessible places” (the burial chamber), and the deceased states that “my ba belongs to my body, my shadow belongs to its arm.” Like the ba, the shadow returned to the mummy at night: the Coffin Texts speak of “my ba and my shadow going on their feet to the place where that man [the deceased] is.” In some cases, however, the shadow is more closely allied than the ba to its body. This is reflected in a passage from the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts that describes the deceased's consumption of the gods' bas “while their shadows remain with their owners.”

Unlike the ba, the shadow was rarely depicted, but it occasionally appears in funerary literature as a human silhouette, sometimes with an eye.

See also BA; KA; and NAMES.


  • George, Beate. Zu den altägyptischen Vorstellungen vom Schatten als Seele. Bonn, 1970. This is the only recent work that deals with the shadow in any detail.

James P. Allen