Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Making It Happen - An Inquiry Into Heka

A History of Heka

Ancient Egyptian culture had no distinction between the magical and mundane worlds, believing that the two were fully intertwined and inseparable. One of the ways they believed they could influence the world (both theirs and the gods) was through the use of heka. Heka to them was a great power, primarily accessed through speaking or writing to ask the netjerw for healing, protection, or support.

“… [an] expression of the divine creativeness through thought and speech…” -- Egyptian Religion, by Siegfried Morenz

Heka comes from the Coptic word hik, which was translated into the Greek ‘mageia’, and the Latin ‘magia’, both of which were defined as ‘illegal sorcery’. This is why today, heka is mistakenly translated into English as ‘magic’. Yet heka is a neutral word, directing the self with purpose of regaining ma’at when something has gone wrong.

Heka was first recorded when translating the coffin texts of Egyptian tombs. The passage found on them described an existing force that the gods utilized to create, to destroy, and to change both their and the human world.

… to me belonged the universe before you gods had come into being. You have come afterwards because I am Heka…” -- Coffin Text, Spell 261

The force of heka itself consists of four parts: heka, rw, seshaw, and pekhret. Heka itself, which is described as, “a primeval potency that empowered the creator god at the beginning of time”, and is often depicted as existing, “before duality had yet come into being”. The other components are rw (sacred texts), seshaw (magical rituals or treatments), and pekhret (medicinal prescriptions).

Heka is one of the three creative powers of the Sun god Ra, which were necessary for Creation to come about. Thus heka was the divine energy or the life force, the other two were hu, divine utterance, and sia, divine knowledge.

Like ma’at, heka was later personified into a netjer (a god), and is depicted as a man standing in front of the naos where the Sungod is seen, in the sunboat, and sometimes holding different ritual objects.

A Greek word, naos means “inner sanctuary” of a temple. The most famous one was constructed by Pharaoh Nectanebo I in the 4th century BCE, at Saft. It was dedicated to Isis, and the inner part of the temple was called “Naos of the Decades”. This naos was later moved to a temple in Canopus. Such temples were used to record detailed charts of stars, using a system that divided the sky into segments called decans. Decan stars were used to accurately measure the passage of time and to mark feasts and holidays regularly on the calendar. These fell under the rw part of heka.

Heka appears in the Book of the Coming Forth By Day, sometimes called the Book of the Dead, translated from the Papyrus of Ani (1240 BCE).

"Behold, it is not this Pepi who hath said these things to you, O ye gods, it is Heka who hath said these things to you, O ye gods, and this Meri-Ra is the support which is under Heka; he cometh forth therefore and ascendeth into heaven." -- Translated by E.A. Wallis Budge

"I am one with Atum when he still floated alone in Nun, the waters of chaos, before any of his strength had gone into creating the cosmos. I am Atum at his most inexhaustible - the potence and potential of all that is to be. This is my magic protection and it's older and greater than all the gods together!"

As these passages suggest, the concept of heka, like ma’at, existed before any of the netjerw came into being. Yet even after the concept became personified, heka continued to play an important part in the development of the other netjerw. Aset bore the title “Weret-Hekau”, meaning ‘great of heka [magic]’, as in myth she managed to trick Ra into revealing his secret name to her. The powerful goddess Sekhmet also carried this title.

The best definition of heka I have found is ‘lifeforce in action’, meaning that one’s whole self is dedicated to correcting something that is not ma’at. It consists more than just saying a prayer or reading a passage, but totally and utterly committing to returning things to a proper order.

Ra traveling through the underworld in his barque, from the copy of the Book of Gates in the tomb of Ramses I (KV16).
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons