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T H E   M A G I C   O F   M O T I O N

Pantomime is an often overlooked aspect of many magical disciplines. In historical heka — though heka itself means “art of the mouth” or “meaningful speech” — the importance of movement, gesture, and physical action was central, particularly in regard to apotropaic spells and execrations.

In the following execration spell, the practitioner is instructed to act out the destruction of the demon par excellence, Apep, by cutting an effigy of it with ritual knife and trampling it, and so on, cutting, stabbing, and trampling isfet itself by proxy.

This spell is to be recited over [an image of] Apep drawn on a new sheet of papyrus in green ink, and [over a figure of] Apep in red wax. See, his name is inscribed on it in green ink . . . I have overthrown all the enemies of Pharaoh from all their seats in every place where they are. See, their names written on their breasts, having been made of wax, and also bound with bonds of black rope. Spit upon them! To be trampled with the left foot, to be [felled] with the spear [and] knife; to be placed on the fire in the melting-furnace of the copper-smiths . . . It is a burning in a fire of bryony. Its ashes are placed in a pot of urine, which is pressed firmly into a unique fire. (1)

Such pantomimes both reinforce the intent of the ritual and reflect what is being carried out in the Unseen. Demons like the vile Apep, being Otherworldly and entirely abstract, cannot be physically pursued or killed by literal acts of cutting, stabbing, lancing, and so forth. The ritual pantomime of destroying an effigy serves as an abstract means to abstractly kill an abstract. The cutting and stabbing and trampling of the effigy is a kind of “magical” dance, if you will. The act of spitting was, and is, considered magically hostile, and mimics the venomous spray of some serpents, the injected venom of other snakes and creatures like scorpions, the plasmodium of insects (which can sometimes be toxic, and/or transmit disease), and more. Thus, spitting figures prominently into both recitations and praxis of execrations directed against the forces of isfet. (1) The final immolation of effigies serves as a means of destroying the threatening entity, thing, or force, chasing its influence out of one’s life and annihilating it with fire.

Such motions are not strictly limited to execration rituals. Apotropaic heka often involves specialized gestures, and that heka can be either offensive (as in the case of execrations), or defensive, as in the case of apotropaic heka. The use of “magical wands” or “knives” in apotropaic heka was also common. Made from hippo ivory, heavily decorated with complicated series of symbols, and shaped like throwing sticks used to hunt birds, their main use may have been to establish protective zones, such as those surrounding marriage beds or expecting mothers. (2) Given their shape, it isn’t beyond the realm of all reason that a pantomime throwing motion may have accompanied their use, symbolizing the “casting-out” of demons from a person, object, or space.

Lively ritual dances designed to banish dangerous spirits and protect individuals were also fairly commonplace in historical Ancient Egyptian culture. (2) Ritual dancers sometimes wore masks to represent a particular deity Who possesses exorcising and healing qualities, such as that of the jovial little leonine God, Bes. Bes is one of the deities most strongly associated with heka and protection, as well as passion and merriment, and thus historically featured into many rites (and, honestly, ought to be more frequently incorporated into articulations of heka than is the Modern Kemetic norm).

My friend Devo, who runs The Twisted Rope blogs on WordPress and Tumblr, demonstrates these principles of apotropaic magic, in the creation of wards, or protective spiritual barriers.

As she mentions, the beauty of motion is that one needn’t worry about stumbling over words, and that one may work more animatedly and abstractly. When combined with words, motion can prove to be exceptionally powerful heka. Virtually anyone can create their own gestures and use them effectively, with enough focus, determination, and a lively imagination.

W O R K S   C I T E D

(1) Nine Measures of Magic; Part 3: ‘Overthrowing Apophis’: Egyptian ritual in practice
Ancient Egypt Magazine Issue Nine – November/December 2001

(2) Pinch, Geraldine. Magic in Ancient Egypt. University of Texas Press, 1995. pp.  78-9, 85.