This is the pilot entry in my new series, Heka for Everyone. While I’ve spoken a great deal about heka before on my blog, I feel it necessary to give tips and pointers regarding various articulations in frequent, concise, digestible bites, rather than in long entries that have more than one layer of thought and concept to them. The tips in this series are small but versatile and effective articulations of heka that are easy to understand and implement in the day-to-day lives and rituals of beginners and seasoned practitioners alike.
Some of you are perhaps new to Kemeticism (Egyptian Religion), and might be asking yourselves: What is heka?
Heka translates to “art of the mouth,” or “meaningful speech” in the Modern English tongue, as the Ancient Egyptians had no word or concept that fits our Modern Western words and concepts pertaining to “magic.” The etymology of “magic” and its relative terms and concepts are rooted in Greek and Roman traditions and language. Greek and Roman languages and cultures had an indelible impact on the evolution and understanding of Western European languages and cultures, more than any other.
Heka is a particular kind of power that is inherent in all Created beings and things (“Created” as in “belonging to the domain of Ra’s Creation,” rather than the primaeval universe that existed — and will always exist — before, after, and independently of Ra [or the Creator/Creatrix of your regional Egyptian persuasion] and His creations). This power is not a universal spirit or Supreme Being as, say, Brahman is considered within certain schools of Hinduism. Rather, it is a force all beings, Divine and mortal alike, can tap into and use to influence the world around them — though it ought to be said and understood that the Divine have a more comprehensive, potent understanding and ability to effectively wield heka than you or I do. Heka is one of many potent fibers within the weft and warp of life, in the Egyptian mind. It can bind and loose life. Tug on the thread, and the cloth unravels, or puckers.
Heka can be articulated to garner protection and healing for us, or to help us gain confidence, and to purge us of negative, “heart-eating” feelings. Heka in practical application is very much about the psycho-emotional. It is very much about orienting ourselves into a proper frame of mind to accomplish our goals.
Heka is neither “good” nor “evil”; it is independent of quaint concepts of “morality.” It is a tool, and like any tool, can be used constructively or destructively. Created beings, however, are not independent of “morality,” whatever and however those ethical standards may be defined. Being in possession of conscience, knowledge, free will, and so on, Created beings are entirely responsible for what they use their tools for, and how their actions impact ma’at. Vengeance and violence, in which heka is often employed, are not antithetical to ma’at, and are often employed to enforce and secure ma’at. However, they must be employed wisely and correctly, in full understanding. Vengeance and violence for vengeance and violence’s sake serve only to embolden the presence and strength of isfet in the world (that is, the forces of the Uncreated, independent antitheses of Creation, Created beings, and ma’at), which ultimately does not serve us.
Heka is not limited to speech and the written word, though speech and the written word (including drawings) are considered to be two of the most potent forms. I will attempt to cover most of the forms of heka in this series.
I N S C R I P T I O N S
Inscribing, or the act of writing or carving words and symbols onto an object, is a foundational skill in the art of heka. Writings and drawings were and are considered to be inherently magical within the Egyptian mind. In Antiquity, words, illustrations, and other symbols were thought to “come to life.” To write or speak a name, for instance, is to give that person or thing life. To give life is to endow with power. Creating a likeness of that person or thing accomplishes the same in like kind. To scratch out a name or likeness is to erase that person or thing from existence, to deprive it of life, to destroy a vital component of its soul.
In brief: in Egyptian religion, words are power.
Inscriptions — particularly threat-based inscriptions — are a common formula employed in historical Egyptian heka. Entrances to tombs and other sacred or personal spaces and objects were frequently “decorated” with these, to ward off potential thieves, evil spirits, and other undesirables. One particular Mendesian limestone donation stele dating from the Third Intermediate Period bears such an inscription. It celebrates a donation of land to an Egyptian temple, while placing a curse on anyone who would misuse or appropriate the land from the temple.
I find the use of inscriptions and drawings particularly useful and easy to incorporate into books, though one could certainly create wall plaques with blessings or curses painted or woodburned onto them to safeguard one’s abode, guarded by images of benevolent spirits, or Gods, write/etch them into the underside of treasured objects, and so on. I find it easiest to scare people away from my personal journals by writing spells in Middle Egyptian — hieroglyphs, illustrations, and all — on the loose endpaper at the front of the book.
The language one uses in one’s inscriptions is immaterial — so long as one knows precisely what one is writing. Don’t write phrases in languages you don’t understand! We already should have learned this lesson as Westerners by now, with the unspeakable horrors that are misspelled Chinese character tattoos.
I have recently begun a new journal, which I have set aside for thoughts, prayers, and ritual formulae pertaining to my Kemetic practice. I have drawn on the loose endpaper an image of a Sha with a piercing glare, bearing a knife — a weapon considered to have exorcising qualities and “magical powers” in Egyptian religion — though I have yet to write the spell (which was done with intention for the purpose of this entry, and the inscription is and shall remain a secret to my readers).
Drawing weapons in the hands or paws of the spirit(s) you want to protect your spaces, objects, or loved ones symbolically gives those spirits “longer reach.” Be sure, however, to create your illustrations carefully. Phrase your words with great specificity and authority, to ensure that your inscriptions, and the Gods/spirits you petition through those inscriptions, work for you and not against you.