The Kemetic Round Table (KRT) is a blogging project aimed at providing practical, useful information for modern Kemetic religious practitioners. For all the entries relating to this particular topic, take a peek here.
Side note: As with ma’at being a concept and a deity, so are heka, hu, and sia. Let’s talk about the concepts.
One of the most difficult parts about working with a religion that’s been dead for millennia is trying to puzzle out some of the most basics of basics. It doesn’t help that the only aspects of the religion that we can build from are from leftovers from priesthoods that are long since over, especially since not every single one of us want to rebuild a priesthood but just a functional practice for the layman. We have to rely, heavily, on academic books that may be overly dry and boring, enough to make your eyes glaze over when you attempt to read them. Another problem is that this particular religion is definitely outside of a Western thinker’s framework. We come into these ancient religion with our preconceived notions of definitions and beliefs, bringing holdovers from monotheistic religions in a lot of cases. It can be one of the hardest things when you’re going along and finally decide to ponder the meaning behind important concepts like ma’at and heka without much of a jumping off point.
As I had stated in my initial Kemetism is Orthopraxic post, I have had exceedingly difficult times with figuring out what ma’at is. In same vein, I have had similar difficulties when it comes to heka. Generally, it is defined as “magic.” This isn’t inaccurate, but it’s not the actual definition of the word if we can really say that the definition we have is accurate since the language has been dead for thousands of years. In effect, the literal translation (near as I can figure) is activating the ka (the ka was the immortal aspect of the ancient Egyptians complicated soul concept – this is also the part of the soul that I believe reincarnates with each new life). But what in the world does that even mean?
In the last year, I’ve tried to define it with mixed results.
My initial thoughts on it were more in line with one of the concepts that heka is associated with as opposed to the actual meaning of the word. These two concepts are hu and sia. Sia is the power of perception and hu is divine utterance. I was thinking more along the lines of these two concepts as what heka actually was and I honestly don’t think I am correct at all. They are related, honestly, but they do not equate to one another. Sia is, to me, about what can come about, is created by, the action of hu. While these two concepts are kind of the foundation of what the great, wide world of understanding heka can be, they are not the totality of the concept. It isn’t just about watching your speech because you never know what you’re throwing out into the world – though this is important – it’s about activating or use of your ka.
But, specifically, what does that even mean? Is it like having super powers at your disposal without you realizing it? In a manner of speaking, we could easily say that the answer is “yes.” It is through our ka that we are able to inflict change, in the forms of hu and sia specifically, upon the world. It is through the ka that we have a deep connection with divinity, “Upon the body’s demise the ka rejoined its divine origin, but always remained in close proximity of the body.” [X.] It is through their ka that gods like Amun self-fertilized, Ptah created the world, and Khnum shaped clay into the vessels of men. While they are gods and probably are more aware of what needs to happen to use effectively their heka, they created us in similar image. They gave us the exact same piece of the soul, the ka, to do similar acts. While our acts may not be as grand as self-fertilizing or creating an entire world, they are still acts that we can do in order to effect change in the world.
And doesn’t that sound familiar to anyone who has studied witchery in any context? I’ve seen it explained that by using spells and poppets, witches are pushing their will into the world to create a change that they would like to see happen. It’s not really all that far-fetched now to see why heka is usually loosely translated to mean “magic.” Magic isn’t necessarily a bad definition, but it’s not the totality of the subject matter. Heka is more about what you have to do – in witchy words, building up the energy based around your desire – in order to create whatever you want to see happen. It isn’t just about deciding to do something, but in the acts that lead up to that moment as well as the ingredients needed, the correct word usage, and the will to have perceptions change to include what you’ve just thrown into the world.
Now, as I said above, I’ve had difficulties defining this concept, to the point where I was conflating the two foundational concepts – hu and sia – to equate to heka. While, as I said, they are important aspects because they teach you what it is that you must do in order to utilize heka effectively, they are not the sum total of the concept. It’s almost as if we have an ancient recipe on our hands that we must follow exactly in order to get the final result – the dessert – that we are aiming for. If you go a little over on the measurements, you may be short-changing what it is you want with your heka and end up with something completely different than what you had intended.
I’ve been thinking about whether or not this concept is something we need to make manifest on a daily basis. Is heka and it components necessary for a layman in modern times? Is understanding this concept, and thereby using it, something that we, as modern practitioners, require? I’ve written one set of responses and realized I was wrong. I’ve written another set of responses and realized that wasn’t the totality of what I wanted to say.
Honestly, I think that even though we see it used so often in ancient Egyptian myth in specific occurrences, specific events, that it is something that modern recons/revivals/eclectics need to take into consideration on a daily, hourly, or even minute by minute basis. It was, probably, used frequently by priests in the ancient days because that’s part and parcel to the religion itself. Using good heka meant the world would continue for another day, another hour. It was probably used just as often by healers and magicians, for the common folk, because they were literate enough to decipher the texts that are associated with heka. But we don’t have a specialty class anymore. We don’t have a specific priesthood, specific magicians and healers, that we can go to in order to properly and effectively use heka. We are the people who cavort with the gods, who are de facto priests of the gods, and we must learn about heka in order to ensure that we are doing things appropriately in the name of our gods and in the name of our religion.
But, how do you do that? How do you start working with a concept like heka?
You start off small.
For example, you will see that many Kemetics do utilize, at least in part, the hu aspect of heka when we discuss religion. You will see the name
Apep “ritually” destroyed in our conversations. Some people remove some letters, other people use a strike through to ritually destroy the name. In this vein, we are practicing heka, more specifically the concept of divine utterance. By desecrating this name, we are making sure that it does not gain power and cause ma’at to fall from the world, generally speaking. Do we do this daily? In some instances, yes. When we are discussing our religion with outsiders or with one another, these discussions may span days in forums, blogs, or groups and each time, we will do this. This is minor heka. It is about activating our ka. It is about perceiving this name as being destroyed. It is about performing a divine utterance. However, this is small – minor, really – in comparison to larger acts that we may perform, such as a spell, an execration, explaining things to newbies, etc.
I think we should be aware of what we say to other people and how we say it. I think we should be aware of what sort of perceptions can be sent into the world about one another, but about ourselves. And I think we need to be aware that, perhaps, our use of spoons is about throwing the energy into the world about X, Y, and/or Z when we don’t mean to. I think all of these things are important enough to keep a kind of mental sticky note on the mirror to say, “How are you spoons? Are you using your heka effectively?” And I wonder how many of us will come back from this exercise to realize that we were activating our ka in regards to something, tossing some spoons into the world for the fun of it, and then shutting back down again.
I’m pretty sure I’m guilty of this and I’m almost positive that I’m not the only one.
And I think that’s really, honestly, the only way outside of major undertakings (like ritual destruction) that we can and should use heka. Pay attention. Look around. Do some internal surveys. Double and triple check your thoughts on something so that you don’t have to backpedal later when you fail to explain yourself properly. Watch your spoons and how you manage them. But above all, be cognizant of the best advice a Kemetic has ever shared, “don’t be a dick.”