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!
Execrations are a form of curse, as far as I am concerned. For me, there is no quibbling about it; the very act of execrating something, by virtue of the modern-day definition of what cursing is, means that it is a curse. In many pagan circles, more specifically of the Wiccan variety, such things are frowned upon. However, there are no such compunctions in most of the religious traditions that will generally be categorized under the broad heading of “polytheistic.” In many ancient cultures, it was quite all right to use your words or actions in an effort to enact judgment or penalties against people and things that you felt had wronged you. That is precisely what the point behind execrations is in the ancient Egyptian religion. And, from one Kemetic polytheist to another, I can safely assure you that doing them is pretty damn cathartic, too.
Dating as far back as the Old Kingdom, the left over shards of broken pottery have been found buried in necropoles at Giza and Saqqara, bearing a distinctive formula. The basis for these destroyed pots appears to be on the Pyramid Text utterance 244, “O [Osiris the King], here is this Eye [of Horus]; [take] it, that you may be strong and that he may fear you – break the red jars.” (The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Textstranslated by R.O. Faulkner.) This particular passage seems to indicate that by breaking these red jars, strength will be granted to the deceased, or more specifically as this particular utterance relates to the burial of the royalty, the strength of the spirit of the pharaoh. Later, this particular utterance is re-established in The Coffin Texts in spell 926 as, “Wash yourself, sit down at the meal, put your hands on it; divert the god’s offering, break the red pots…” (The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts translated by R.O. Faulkner.) In this particular spell, it appears to indicate less about gaining strength from the subjugation of the enemies listed upon the red pots, but as a part of the mortuary cult itself. It is not until the New Kingdom where we find evidence of the execration of the red pots to have moved outside of its mortuary cult associations when Amenhotep III broke two red pots at the temple of Amun-Re at Luxor during a festival or rite.
In many instances of these execrations – formally known as the Execration Texts – the enemies listed within were classic ancient Egyptian enemies: Nubia and Syria-Palestine. The distinctive formula mentioned above, often times referred to as the “rebellion formula,” are used and reused through the dynasties of ancient Egypt. Examples of these particular texts can be found in Egyptian forts within hostile territories, such as in Nubia and Syria-Palestine. In some instances, the formula and naming convention of this particular form of execration is so specific that some potsherds inscribed with these utilize the specific names of enemy kings: ones that were long since dead in examples found in the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom.
While I am no Egyptologist, I believe that this shows the ancient Egyptians’ belief in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Each ritual action of these execrations would have been symbolic anyway and while the names of the particular enemies may not have changed, that didn’t necessarily mean that the ritual was null and void. On the contrary, according to Robert Ritner in The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, “…the execration lists contain nothing which, in itself, could be called magical, serving merely to identify the individual, nation, or force with the inscribed pot or figure. The desired magical effect of the assemblages must thus derived not from the text but from the ritual to which they were subjected.” As we know nothing about what actual ritual was performed to imbue the potsherds with the magic required to desecrate the enemies of the Egyptian state, we can only guess that the lack of name changes throughout the years is another indication that that words weren’t nearly as important as the actual ritual used.
This, of course, poses a very severe problem for modern day Kemetics. How does one perform a ritual that we aren’t entirely sure about how it was performed? But, more importantly, why would we perform a ritual that appears to have been a state run affair?
Not all found remnants of these rituals show the classic “rebellion formula” associated with the standard enemies of ancient Egypt. Some fragments are specific to a given individuals, either of foreign or native descent. In those cases, the particular execration becomes more in line with a type of poppet than anything else. Again, we do not know the nature of the ritual utilized against these clay pots, but it appears that the enumeration of the bad things these individuals may or may not have done, possibly coupled with a few insults, was enough to attach that person and their misdeeds to the figurine or clay pot. The images associated with these individual-associated execrations always show a bound figure in some form or another, either as the image itself or within the body of the text itself. Binding, apparently, was incredibly important to the task at hand, which makes sense.
If you want to perform a magical rite against someone, you don’t want them capable of fighting back.
So, we do have evidence that execrations were done against individuals, although it was not until later periods in Egyptian history when it became a more popular amongst the laity. This is quite common in ancient Egyptian history. In the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom, literacy rates were at all-time low. But more specifically, the state religion was specific to the needs and requirements of the state and less about the needs and requirements of the laity. While I am not saying that the laity did not have access or the ability to beseech the gods, I am saying that there may have been huge tracts of the traditions that were denied to them. Again, the literacy, or lack thereof, is another aspect to this. As the act of execration is entirely dedicated to the written word, then how you can take part?
It wasn’t until the New Kingdom, with the advent of scribes-for-hire when such things as the Book of the Dead and pots for execration that we find the general populace taking part in the religion at large. (On a side note: OK and MK era laity would not have questioned whatever it was we see them as lacking in. It was not their place. The function of their lives was to till the land and survive, while it was the function of the priesthood and the pharaoh to make sure that the country was not destroyed either physically by enemies or cosmically by the gods.)
What does all of this history lesson garbage have to do with modern-day practices?Well, since many of us who are historically informed, it bears thinking on whether or not it’s something that we should even attempt to reproduce. As we do have historical evidence that the ancient Egyptian laity did participate – if rather late in the game, I suppose – in execrations, I don’t see why we shouldn’t participate in such rites. We do still have the problem of knowing what the actual ritual entailed. Our best bet in this particular instance is to go with what feels right. Some Kemetics may take aspects from previously written rituals, such as thought found in Eternal Egypt by Richard Reidy, or they may prefer to go with a self-made execration ritual that feels “correct” to them. In other instances, they may ask the netjeru themselves on how best to go about all of this. Whatever the case – I think that, yes we should absolutely utilize these in our practices and that the how of the matter is less important as each of us are individuals and may find something that works for one of us may not work for all of us.
Now while I fully endorse everyone in creating a ritual that works for them on how best to go about an execration, the real question is whether or not it is ethical to do so. As I noted above, execrations are curses as far as I am concerned. And if one looks to the ancient Egyptians for indicators on what could or should befall the people or entities they are creating these texts for, it looks as though “curse” is an accurate definition here. As far as the ethics relating to it, I don’t think it’s such a terrible thing to attempt to take back your personal power from people or things that are taking it away from you.
When someone harms us, we have few options available to us in an effort to take action against them. In this day and age, we can seek legal help or we can “turn the other cheek.” (Whatever that actually means…?) After having been on the receiving end of everyone else’s power and its hold over my life for years, I can safely attest to how intensely wonderful it can feel to take some form of action – even if it is only as a wish fulfillment action – against others. Legal recourse is all well and good, but sometimes you may not particularly like the verdict the courts hand down. Allowing people to continue to harm you in whatever manner they decide is as equally unsatisfying. After a while, you get to the point where you have to say to yourself, “Well, we’re at this again? Why am I doing this?” It gets so monotonous and/or painful that actions have to be taken either to protect yourself, your friends and family, or to inflict a modicum of pain/rage/monotony back at the person or people who have been taking advantage of you in the first place.
I wasn’t joking when I said that execrations can be incredibly cathartic.
The thing is that many modern-day Kemetics may not even use the acts against people, but in many cases, they may take it out on things. I know a few times, I’ve done execrations against the “gremlins” that have been infesting my car. I have also done execrations against my head-in-the-sand mentality, my inability to feel my emotions properly, my lack of energy, my anger, etc. The beauty behind this form of curse is that it doesn’t have to be specific to people, but it can be specific to emotions, mentality, places, and things.
Of course, just as with all forms of magic, sympathetic and otherwise, actions on your part are required to see the fixes through. We can do execrations against “gremlins” infesting a car, but it won’t do much good if you don’t take your car to the mechanic to get shit fixed in the first place. We can do execrations against our lack of spoons or energy, but it won’t do much good if we don’t figure out how to budget those spoons or that energy. It’s a temporary fix in cases such as this unless you also do what you can on the mundane end of things to see these things through.
Many modern-day Kemetics only utilize execrations at extreme moments in their life or during the new year celebrations at Wep-Ronpet. Ritual execrations against the serpent of isfet, Apep, were done as well. However, by limiting the time frames for when we perform execrations, we are doing ourselves a severe disservice. As I’ve indicated numerous times, it is very cathartic to perform these rites. While they can, and will, take a lot out of you if you aren’t careful with the budgetary requirements of energy needs to perform rituals of this sort, this shouldn’t mean that we shouldn’t perform them regularly. Just because we’ve done the mundane aspects needed to either get back at someone or remove a block from our lives doesn’t mean that we should stop with just a single execration. Things may change – circumstances may change, but the issue clouding the matter may still be around. In re-doing the execration, you’re adding more power behind your original intent.
And well, who doesn’t love more power?