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A Late Period (7th century BCE) stela of the Egyptian God Heka, shown with the features of

A Late Period (7th century BCE) stela of the Egyptian God Heka or Bes Pantheos, shown with the features of “all Gods.” This image is meant to convey the multiversal, all-pervading nature of the power He personifies, which all beings possess. Faience, H:16,3 cm E 10954. Louvre, Departement des Antiquites Egyptiennes, Paris, France. Photo courtesy of the Lessing Photo Archive.

Heka is one of the most difficult concepts to explain within Ancient Egyptian religion. It is a concept that is very hard for Westerners to understand, given that our Modern conceptions (false or otherwise) of the entirety of the Ancient World, and many of the traditions practiced in the West during the Medieval and Modern Periods, are largely derived from linguistic and cultural remnants from Ancient Hellas and Rome. This understanding has only been complicated by the rise of Occult traditions during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, before Egyptologists began to develop more accurate understandings of all things Egyptian. And this is to say nothing of the sheer vastness and ambiguity of heka, and how it permeated virtually every aspect of Ancient Egyptian culture and religion.

Many have tried to explore the topic in its entirety, but each publication, even publications of the highest quality written by the most seasoned of experts in the field of Egyptology, leave much to be desired. I don’t imagine I’ll be able to succeed where so many experienced scholars have failed, much less within one measly survey article. All this having been said, we can at least cover the bare basics here and pave the way toward better, more objective understanding of heka.

This is not an article on how to practice heka. This article, while it won’t be nearly as “complete” as I would like it to be, will be very long and intensive, covering the areas of Etymology, History, and Philosophy that concern what heka is, and what heka is not.


In order to understand what heka truly is, we must first trudge through the historical record. Not simply concerning the history of Egypt in relation to the rest of the Ancient World, but also part of the history of the interdependent sciences of Sociology, Anthropology, and History.

Modern scholars, even those of the 21st century, still have a great deal of trouble reconciling themselves with the Ancient Egyptian concept of heka, as it does not fit the traditional Western socioanthropological definition of what magic is, what types of practices qualify as magic, under what circumstances certain practices qualify as magic, and how magic functions in various contexts.

It should go without saying that old habits die hard, and this is especially true of the interdependent sciences of Sociology, Anthropology, and History. Many scholars over the last century or more have formed much of their understanding on the basis of James G. Frazer’s and Bronislaw Malinowski’s (long since outmoded) theories. Frazer, Malinowski, and many of their contemporaries and successors tended to define magic as being “nonreligious,” and distinguished magic from religion on the basis of magic’s “blasphemous,” threatening attitude; its tendency to be performed beyond the view of the public eye and the State-sanctioned eye; its desire to manipulate external forces rather than “submit to the will of God;” and its immediate, limited, egoistic goals. (Ritner et al., 191-2)

Today’s scholars are only just beginning to break the mold of the old regime of the interdependent sciences of Sociology, Anthropology, and History. Classical Studies professionals are beginning to better grasp how Hellenic and Roman magic worked and how Hellenes and Romans viewed its practice. Less and less personal bias, religious or otherwise, is being factored into and accepted within new / revised interpretations. These new / revised interpretations strive to view Hellenic matters through a Hellenic lens, Roman matters through a Roman lens, and so on — not a Modern Western one. Notwithstanding, heka still tends to elude the understanding of most. Why? Because it is so linguistically, culturally, and religiously alien to Western languages, cultures, and religions. The West has always had a keen fascination with Ancient Egypt since the first moment of exposure, but the West has never really understood anything about it, because so very little of it fits the prevailing patterns found among the many cultures of the Ancient World.

Heka has no definitive English equivalent. It only very roughly translates to “art of the mouth” or “meaningful speech.” (Jackson, 102) It is alternatively literally translated as “articulation of the ka.” “Art of the mouth,” “meaningful speech,” and “articulation of the ka” might not make entirely too much sense to anyone who is not literate in the ins and outs of Ancient Egyptian Theology and Philosophy, and religious, literary, and artistic conventions. Attempting to explain these conventions in their entirety here would be exhausting, burdensome, and above all, impossible. It is up to the reader to acquaint his or herself with the multitudinous facets of Ancient Egyptian culture. That is, if the reader desires fuller rather than cursory understanding.

The closest concept we English-speakers typically liken it to is our understanding of “magic.” However, what spares us a minor headache in the short term comes at the price of understanding in the long term. This equation of unlike concepts falls quite short of the mark for a number of reasons. The word “magic” comes from Latin magia meaning “sorcery, magic,” and from Greek mageia and magike (the latter term in conjunction with tekne, meaning “art” or “craft”). (Ritner et al., 192) The Hellenes and Romans who conceived these words and concepts attached specific values to them which pre-Graeco-Roman influence Egyptians simply did not have. Even when Hellenic and Roman mores were foisted upon Ancient Egyptian society, the Ancient Egyptian view was very difficult to change, and took many centuries for such polarized values to effectively take root. Namely, they would take lasting effect during the lattermost years of Late Antiquity and the dawn of the Early Medieval Period, which within the context of Egyptian History is referred to as the Coptic Period.


Magic in Hellas

The minor Goddess or

The minor Goddess and sorceress, Circe (left). She is skilled in the magical arts of illusion and necromancy. Circe is the daughter of Helios, the God of the Sun, and Perse, an Oceanid. Other accounts state that Circe is the daughter of Hekate. According to myth, Circe murdered her husband, the prince of Colchis. For this she was expelled, and placed on the solitary island of Aeaea by her father. Red-figure pelike, 5th century BCE. Staatliche Kunstammlungen, Dresden.

During the Classical Period in Hellas proper, we see “a range of largely hostile sources [which construct] for us, under such terms as goêtes (“sorcerers”) and magoi (“mages”), an impression of a nebulous group of supposedly fraudulent and beggarly” social undesirables living on the fringes of society engaging in either forbidden, foreign, or malevolent arts. (Ogden, 5 – 6) This might have been a popular cultural view at the time, or perhaps merely the interpretational bias of scholars over the last few centuries, but examples of anything akin to legislation against magic in Classical Period Hellas are few. Much of the little we know of, oddly enough, doesn’t come from Athenian records. What little that does exist addresses malevolent magic almost exclusively, leaving a comfortable amount of room for interpretive play regarding “positive” magic.

Ogden provides two explicit examples. The first is the Dirae Teiorum (circa 479 BCE), a series of curses issued by the State of Teos against any and all people that would transgress against it. Its statutes include condemnations of baneful magics, namely harmful spells and poisons (pharmaka dêlêtêria). It also goes on to warn that anyone who disrupts the commerce of Teos; betrays the State, officials, and people of Teos; and “if anyone in office does not perform this curse at the statue of Dynamis when the games are convened at the Anthesteria or the festival of Herakles or that of Zeus,” the perpetrator “is to be the object of the curse,” and / or “he is to die, himself and his family with him.” (Ogden, 275)  Within the Classical Hellenic worldview, magic was presumably legal and acceptable so long as one did not use magic for nefarious purposes (read: against the State) — much in the same way that pencils are legal, and it’s entirely acceptable to use pencils, but one will be severely punished if one uses pencils to gouge others’ eyes out.

The second example comes from a sacred law of private cult from Philadelphia in Lydia. In these rules for a private cult, members are required to avoid wicked spells and incantations, alongside adultery, murder, robbery, and rape, but they are not asked to avoid spells and incantations in general. More specifically, they are required to avoid love spells, which are classified as baneful magic. Ogden argues that the immediately following prohibitions, against abortifacients and contraceptives, are also to be classified with wicked spells and incantations. (Ogden, 276 – 7)

Magic in Rome

The official Roman attitude toward magic and its practitioners was far more condemning than any views espoused in writing by the Hellenes, and only became worse over time. The Romans certainly had infinitely more legislation against the practice of magic than the Hellenes had. Roman statutes outlawed many different kinds of magic, and not just malevolent magic. In the Roman World, magic was seen as something done in secret by suspicious, law-breaking miscreants bent on disrupting Roman order and harming others. Roman officials, it would seem, were highly suspicious of sorcerous activity. Unexpectedly successful people, particularly newcomers to communities, were highly prone to being accused of sorcery (veneficiis). We see this within Rome’s Archaic law code, the Twelve Tables (circa 451 BCE), which state that “crop-charming” (in reality, that simply translated to an unusually high crop yield) was illegal — though no outline of punishment for “crop-charming” within this document remains intact, much less how one determines if and how the accused has “charmed” their crops. It is at the very least clear that Roman law from its earliest beginnings was very much interested in the repression of “magic, subcategories thereof, and allied phenomena.” (Ogden, 277)

Archaeologists discovered this ancient Roman

Ancient Roman “curse tablet,” 2nd century CE, Leicester, England. Image source.

In 186 BCE, there were senatorial decrees of note issued with the intention of cracking down on Bacchic rites. Of course, they didn’t abolish Bacchic rites entirely, as if such a prohibition were ever possible. The source Ogden provides comes from Bruttium, and states that “it is one among many copies that would have been set up all over Italy in response to the Senate’s decree.” (278) The crisis which gave rise to this decree supposedly began when a “Greek petty sacrificer and diviner (sacrificulus et vates) had introduced his initiations and secret nocturnal rites into Etruria. The petty sacrificer’s cult had spread quickly and come to Rome . . . [and with it came] human sacrifice, criminality, drunkenness, and promiscuous sex of all varieties.” (278 – 9) This is but one example of an increasing trend among Roman society to associate magic and foreign cults with conspiracy and attempts to overthrow the State. Shortly after the issue of this decree, in 184 and 180 BCE, if we are to believe Livy, some five thousand people were executed in Italy for veneficia. (Livy 39.41 and 40.43). (Ogden, 279)

Later punishments are exceptionally cruel. In Pseudo-Paulus’s opinions on Sulla’s law of 81 BCE against assassins and sorcerers (Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficis), one reads:

Those who perform or direct the performance of impious or nocturnal rites, in order to bewitch, bind, or tie [obcantarent, defigerent, obligarent] a person, are either crucified or thrown to the beasts. Those who sacrifice a human being, make offerings of human blood, or pollute a sanctuary or temple, are thrown to the beasts or, if they are of the upper classes, executed. It is resolved to subject those who know the craft of magic to the ultimate punishment, that is, to throw them to the beasts or crucify them. Actual mages, however, are burned alive. No one may have books on the craft of magic in his house. If they are found in someone’s house, they are burned in public and their owner has his property confiscated; upper classes are deported to an island, lower classes are executed. Even the mere knowledge of this craft, let alone its pursuit as a trade, is forbidden.

(Ogden, 279)

The Romans obviously made a clear distinction between what was State-sanctioned, acceptable religion and everyday behavior, and everything else — “everything else” being inherently wicked and warranting brutal punishment.

These traditions, value systems, and definitions are what ultimately make up our Modern English word “magic.” What the Hellenes and Romans viewed as “magic,” what they viewed as acceptable, were nothing like the Egyptian concept and articulation of heka, and the integral role heka played (and for Modern Kemetics, still plays) in both formal religion and everyday life.


The Egyptians were the odd ones out among their Ancient contemporaries. To the Egyptians, there was no “bad heka” or “good heka.” There was no concept of “sorcery” or “witchcraft” as was understood within Hellenic culture and Roman culture, or indeed by that of Egypt’s numerous Semitic neighbors to the East. Furthermore, no such definition of “sorcery” or “witchcraft” existed within the Ancient Egyptian vocabulary that Modern “magicians” and “witches” use for themselves today. Which, incidentally, makes it quite easy for the layperson to avoid fraudulent Modern publications that profess revelatory, esoteric knowledge about “Egyptian Witchcraft,” since 1.) heka is exoteric rather than esoteric in nature and function, and 2.) “witchcraft” was not something Ancient Egyptians had any concept of whatsoever.

There was only heka. Heka was, and is, simply heka. Heka is a tool, and a power innate within Creation that binds all beings to the interdependent network of Creation and connective justice. This innate power can be articulated by intelligent beings, both mortal and immortal. Ritner states “Egyptian heka was considered neither supernatural nor unholy, representing instead the Divinely-sanctioned force that initiated, permeated, and sustained [existence] itself.” (192 – 3) Karshner adds to this insight, telling us that “the rules by which one secured power were the same whether one was a peasant or a God . . . power and [heka] were not mysterious or esoteric to the Egyptians. [They] were a part of an individual’s very existence.” (Karshner, 52)

Heka was part and parcel of official religion and everyday life. It was not something people necessarily did in secrecy beyond the view of the public eye, though it is conceivable that some manners of articulation required some degree of discreetness. Heka was part of the mortar that helped bind Egyptian society together. Ironically enough, formal and State religious rites were performed in the secrecy of temples’ inner sanctums, where non-authorized personnel were absolutely never allowed. (Pinch, 92) The participation of non-priests in official religion, especially before the New Kingdom and Ptolemaic Periods, was highly restricted. However, heka was not simply tapped-into by priests who had authorized access to a cult’s icon and its inner sanctum. It was done in the open, too, in everyday life, by people of all walks of life — both priests and non-priests.

So why, exactly, was heka acceptable within Ancient Egyptian culture when magic within other cultures of the Ancient World was not?

Ancient Egyptian society was what Assmann refers to as a “cosmological society.” By Assmann’s definition, a cosmological society lives by a model of Cosmic forms of equilibrium and stability, which it transforms into political and social equilibrium and stability on Earth by means of meticulous and repetitive observance of rituals. Within Ancient Egyptian religion, heka was, and is, the means through which the microcosm could and can relate to and find reciprocal relevance within the macrocosm. (Assmann, 205; Karshner, 54)

Regularity, recurrence, and predictability were of the utmost necessity and value. In Egyptian religion, the will and fate of the Gods is bound to the maintenance of the processes of the Cosmos. It is therefore the duty of priests — practitioners of heka (hekau) in general — to reenact these processes through ritual rhetoric and pantomime. This serves not only to establish some semblance of Order on Earth, but also ensures the functioning of the Cosmos, the renewal of existence in perpetuity, and the security of the Gods’ perpetual life and good will toward humankind. As Assmann puts it, “Creation was not over and done with on the seventh day, but continued on indefinitely.” (206) The Ancient Egyptians understood that a well-established relationship with the Gods was vital, and in need of especial attention. To ignore Their maintenance and the maintenance of Cosmic equilibrium spelled mutually-assured destruction. Without the heka-based assistance of mortals, the Gods would be greatly weakened and conceivably perish against the forces of the Uncreated. Without the Gods, the forces of the Uncreated would run amok and all good things would cease to be, not just the Gods. In the Egyptian mind, non-existence was the chiefest of nightmares, and heka was the only tool with which to combat non-existence and sustain existence.

Traced from a photo by Jennifer Wheatley. © Joan Lansberry. Image source.

Traced from a photo by Jennifer Wheatley. © Joan Ann Lansberry. Image source.

The execration or curse was a vital tool of heka to the Ancient Egyptians, and is still a practice of popularity and importance among Kemetics today. In Antiquity, not only was it considered not wrong to execrate or curse transgressors against ma’at, transgressors against the State, and transgressors against one’s own person, it was encouraged. Indeed, it was vital to ritually carry out the destruction of enemies, such as the demon-serpent Apep, foreign aggressors, and criminals. This ensured that the machinations of both the Multiverse and human society would continue to function normally. The last native-born ruler of Ancient Egypt, Nectanebo II, is said to have repelled foreign invasions by making wax models of his own ships and men, and those of the invaders. After placing them all in a container full of water, Nectanebo II would wave his ebony rod and invoke Gods and demons to animate the wax models and sink the enemy ships. This caused the actual enemy navy to founder until the day when the Gods decreed that Nectanebo II’s reign should come to an end. (Pinch, 92) This ritual pantomime mirrors quite closely the execrations of Apep conducted in secret within temple sanctuaries by authorized priests. In these execrations, wax models were made of current enemies of the State, as well as the nemeses of Creation and Cosmic equilibrium. Their names were inscribed upon their effigies, and these effigies were ritually dismembered, stabbed, burned, and sometimes even urinated upon. The smashing of red pots upon which Execration Texts were written was another common method of execration which achieved the same aim. (Pinch, 93)

The Ancient Egyptians saw little to no problem with performing heka for or against one’s fellows. One of the lines from the Instructions for Merikare reads: “[The Creator] has made for them [heka], as a weapon to resist the events that happen.” (Jackson, 100-1) The concept of connective justice inherent within their society “enabled men to act for one-another.” (Assmann, 239) “Doing” and “faring” lay completely within the sphere of human responsibility, and was not a matter of Divine or Cosmic micromanagement or guilt. Cursing one’s neighbor for stealing one’s belongings, or acquiring a person’s love through the use of spells, for instance, did not necessarily result in misfortune for the one performing the heka. Mishap and misfortune, rather, were the result of isfet, and could happen to anyone, however innocent or not-innocent, for any reason, at any time. Performing good works and “doing and saying ma’at,” while of value to society, did not stave off mishap and misfortune. The only way to combat mishap and misfortune was to sue the Gods for protection, and / or use heka to harness cosmogonic powers for one’s own benefit. (Assmann, 239) The Gods did not always come through for Their mortal supplicants, and so supplicants had to take matters into their own hands through the use of heka.

Heka was also intertwined with the healing arts in Ancient Egyptian society. Doctors and surgeons would almost always perform heka on their patients in conjunction with what we Moderns would consider more advanced and practical medical and surgical treatments. These disciplines were instructed by the same religious institution, so there was no concept of heka being “beyond the sanction of the State.” As a result, heka was well-established within Ancient Egyptian society. (Pinch, 52)

The “irreverence” and “irreligiosity” that are qualifiers for the Western socioanthropological definition of “magic” do not apply to heka. Within heka, it was standard religious practice (since heka is inherently religious) to assume the identity of the Gods, fight other Gods, and overcome other Gods in order to achieve one’s aims or ensure Cosmic equilibrium. We see this in Utterances 273 and 274 of the Pyramid Texts, a section known as “The Cannibal Hymn,” wherein the “Osiris” (deceased person) King Unas becomes “the bull of heaven” and devours Gods in order to absorb Their heka and strengthen himself, ensuring his safe passage through the Duat and elevation to the Heavens. (Ritner et al., 197)

Heka was, and is, also a highly deceptive art, and even this aspect of it seems to have been accepted by the Ancient Egyptians with open arms. We see this quite clearly and frequently throughout funerary texts which list spells and prescribe related amulets that protect the utterer from divulging the dark, dirty secrets of his or her heart, so that the utterer may pass the final trial in the Hall of Two Truths unscathed. The 42 Negative Confessions which come into play before the utterer reaches the Hall of Two Truths to have his or her heart weighed against the feather of ma’at are not utterances of explicit truth, either. No one is that pure, and the Egyptians were well aware of the flaws inherent within humankind. As per their understanding of the Duat, they knew that they would not likely survive the Otherworldly ordeal if they attempted to rely on the purity of their soul alone, without the aid of heka. These heka texts existed for the explicit purpose of negating one’s own flaws — if one could afford the luxury of these Otherworldly “cheat sheets.” The 42 Negative Confessions were a series of blatant lies, which, when uttered correctly at the appropriate times to the appropriate Gods and guardians, allowed the deceased person to make his or her way past all the terrible obstacles to be faced within the Duat, so that the individual could successfully transform into an Akh and achieve Paradise.

In heka, what one utters does not have to be categorically true. The rhetoric of the utterance creates maps to truth when and where truth is absent. Through perception — sia — the mind would design an idea (or the heart, as the Egyptians saw the ib as the seat of human emotion and thought-force, as well as a chief component of the soul). Through force of Will and reasoned, thoughtful rhetoric, this design would be brought to life and made true — hu — so that the design of the mind / heart would be accomplished as desired. (Karshner, 52, 58)

Through heka, what was once and would otherwise be an untruth becomes undeniable truth. By saying “I am pure,” the individual has become pure. By saying “I have not transgressed . . . ” regardless of whether or not the utterer has actually committed any given offense, the utterer has established his or her indisputable innocence. Through heka, uncertainty is converted into meaningful action and truth.


There was never any one, sole deity “in charge” of heka. As stated previously, heka is an innate power that all articulate beings have access to, and tap into virtually all the time — whether with explicit intention or by mishap.

While all Gods have access to and are proficient in the art of heka, some are more well-known for it than others. It would be impossible to name Them all, as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Egyptian Gods.

My personal icon of the God Djehuty.

My icon of Djehuty. Photo © Sarduriur Freydis Sverresdatter.

Most recognizable among Them is the God Djehuty (Thoth). Djehuty is most commonly known as “the God of Wisdom and Writing,” though He has hundreds of varied functions — not all of them benign and “bookish.” Rhetoric, which comes in the form of both verbal utterance and tangible writing, is one of the central principles, manifestations, and tools of heka, and is within the primary jurisdictions of Djehuty, as Ra’s Vizier. The association is therefore a natural one. Djehuty is also known as a God of heka due to His superior skill in the healing arts, in addition to His warlike capacity. (Jackson, 100 – 6, 115 – 120, 123) Divine aggression and curses — particularly execrations against malevolent forces and disorderly individuals — it must be remembered, were considered by Ancient Egyptians to also be part and parcel of upholding ma’at.

Statuette of Tutu Third Intermediate Period, Dynasty 21/25, ca. 1070-664 BCE Bronze, 22.2 x 16.5 x 3.6 cm (8 1/2 x 6 1/2 x 1 1/4 in.) Gift of Henry H. Getty, Charles L. Hutchinson, and Robert H. Fleming, Art Institute of Chicao #1894.257 Photo © Joan Ann Lansberry. Image source.

Bronze statuette of Tutu,
Third Intermediate Period, Dynasty XXI – XXV, ca. 1070-664 BCE. Art Institute of Chicago. Photo © Joan Ann Lansberry. Image source.

Ra and all His iru, naturally, are also very closely associated with the art of heka. Heka scrolls, among medical and astronomical scrolls, were housed in what were known as “Houses of Life,” attached to larger temple complexes, and these were essentially libraries, scriptoriums, and Universities all wrapped up into one institution. The scrolls that were kept, read, and written there were said to be emanations of the Sun God Ra. (Pinch, 51, 64)

Bes is a God proficient in heka that commoners petitioned quite frequently, for a variety of reasons, but especially in regard to protection for the pregnant, mothers, and children. The Goddess Aset has an epithet that many Goddesses share, Weret-Hekau, which roughly translates to “Great Proficient of Heka.” Aset in particular is renown for Her heka-exploits in myth and folklore throughout Egyptian History. Gods such as Yinepu (Anubis) and especially Set, the slayer of Apep and Yamm and an exhaustive list of malevolent beings (Ayali-Darshan, 19 – 21; Pinch, 59; Te Velde, 123), are also known for Their skill in the art. A God Who predates the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods but became popular during those times, Tutu (Tithoes), is often though not always artistically represented in a similar fashion to the God Heka, possessing many heads and other strange characteristics. His “primary body” is that of an androsphinx. He is referred to, among an exhaustive list of epithets, as “The One Who Keeps Enemies at a Distance,” and is the highly-approachable leader of an army of Divine emissaries capable of interceding on behalf of mortals, protecting them from malevolent spirits and Gods, especially angry Goddesses. (Pinch, 36)

Heka (with a capital “H”), however, is the Divine, articulate personification of heka. He is shown as the composite of all Gods, demonstrating the multiversality and permeating qualities of the power He represents. Heka was worshiped as a Primordial God at Iunu/On (Heliopolis), Men-nefer (Memphis), and Iunyt/Ta-senet (Esna/Latopolis), but He was not the principle God of any of these sites. (Pinch, 52) The first mentions we see of the priests of the God Heka come from around 2400 BCE. During the third and early second millennia BCE, most priests were only part-time. They served in temples for about one month out of four, and spent the rest of the year pursuing other trades. (Pinch, 52)

Not all hekau were priests of the God Heka. As mentioned repeatedly throughout this article, all Egyptian cults possessed priests who performed heka, as part of duty to ensure the maintenance of Creation and attendance to the needs of the Gods. It was part of their identity and their intrinsic function. “Hekau” was, and is, a general title applied to those who practiced heka, regardless of priestly status. Titles such as “Chief Lector Priest” and “Hekau of the House of Life,” however, denoted a higher station than “hekau” did. Chief Lector Priests and Hekau of the House of Life were specialists in ritual heka. Ritual heka was conducted, of course, within temple sanctuaries for the sake of the cult, the God(s) of the cult, the State (embodied by the Pharaoh), and the Cosmos itself. (Pinch, 52)


One of the numerous and seldom-addressed ontological dilemmas Modern Kemetics are faced with is whether heka existed in Uncreation, or in other words, before any of the Gods existed, or if the Gods caused heka to exist when They came into existence.

Some argue that heka — a Divinely-sanctioned force that initiated, permeated, and sustained existence itself, to refer back to Ritner’s definition as corroborated by Karshner’s and Assmann’s views — had to have existed before the Gods within the Primaeval Waters of Nun, or else the Gods would not have had that self-same power to create and establish Themselves within the Creation They made for Themselves.

I claim that in order for heka to be a Divinely-sactioned power, firstly, the Divine had to exist in its own articulate form. Heka has to be articulated in order to have effect. This the Uncreated could not and cannot do, possessing many of the qualities of non-being (though it must be understood that the Nun was and is not total “not-anything”): formlessness; absence of light; absence of matter; absence of sound; absence of movement; absence of need; absence of change. Secondly, I claim that in order for heka to exist and be used, there must be Will, there must be cosmological necessity (meaning, something must require the sustaining power of heka in order for heka to exist), and there must be action — none of which the Uncreated intrinsically possesses nor has any need for, being a state antithetical to that of Creation and all created things. The Nun is indeed limitless potential, and in some mythic portrayals is even self-aware (consciousness is one of the very few existential attributes the Nun possesses), but actualization of potential is not possible without Will and the enforcement of Will. Beings, objects, and forces cannot be ascribed qualities of being, much less intrinsically possess them, without action. The Nun does not itself act or create or enforce its Will, since it has none and no way to do so. It is a passive abyss. The Gods, on the other hand, are the diametrical opposites of passivity. Ergo, when the first God willed Himself into existence from the Primaeval Waters of Nun (insert preferred regional God and allied cosmology here), He created and necessitated the existence of heka. Heka did not exist in its own form before that precise moment, and did not have a specific need and purpose (qualities of being) before that precise moment.



Assmann, Jan. The Mind of Egypt — History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs. Translated by Andrew Jenkins. New York : Metropolitan Books, 2002.

Ayali-Darshan, Noga. ” ‘The Bride of the Sea’ — The Traditions About Astarte and Yamm in the Ancient Near East.” A Woman of Valor : Jerusalem Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honor of Joan Goodnick Westenholz. Edited by Wayne Horowitz, Uri Gabbay, Filip Vukosavović. CSIC. ISBN 978-84-00-09133-0.

Jackson, Lesley. Thoth : The History of the Ancient Egyptian God of Wisdom. London : Avalonia Books, 2011.

Karshner, Edward. “Thought, Utterance, Power : Toward a Rhetoric of Magic.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol 44 Issue 1 (pp 52 – 71). Penn State University Press, 2011. Online. Date of access: May 14, 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/philrhet.44.1.0052 .

Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds — A Sourcebook. Oxford : Oxford University Press Inc, 2002.

Pinch, Geraldine. Magic in Ancient Egypt. Revised Edition. Austin : University of Texas Press, 2010.

Ritner et al. The Ancient Gods Speak — A Guide to Egyptian Religion. Edited by Donald B. Redford. New York : Oxford Univeristy Press Inc, 2002.

Te Velde, H. Seth, God of Confusion: A Study of His Role in Egyptian Mythology and Religion. 2nd Ed. English Translation by Mrs. G. E. van Baaren-Pape. Leiden : Brill, 1977. ISBN 90-04-05402-2.


For more articles on this topic from other Kemetics, please click the image above.

For more articles on this topic from other Kemetics, please click the image above.