This post is part of the Kemetic Round Table, which aims to answer some of the most common questions and provide a wealth of diverse options for the Kemetic novice to explore.
What are execrations and curses?
First, let’s throw out a quick definition (paraphrased from dictionary.com) so we know the difference between an execration and a curse:
- A curse is an invocation or spell intended to cause misfortune to another person.
- An execration can be a curse, but can also be damnation or denouncement.
For clarity in this blog post, I will use curse as-is and execration as a denouncement of someone or something–a “get thee hence” statement or spell intended to separate a person (or thing or situation) from oneself so that it can do no harm, rather than intended to harm a person (or thing or situation) directly.
Note: My definition may be different from how other bloggers, Kemetics, and polytheists use these words. When reading other posts, please keep that in mind.
Can you perform execrations and curses in Kemeticism? If so, how and when?
In antiquity, execrations and curses were both performed pretty regularly and commonly. Ancient Egyptians didn’t seem to hesitate in either separating themselves from harmful people/things/situations or in actively seeking harm to befall their enemies or agents of isfet (uncreation). For plenty of academic information on the various forms of magic and heka in ancient Egypt, including execrations and curses, check out the free download of Ritner’s The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice (click on the little arrow button next to “4th printing”).
Common methods of cursing and execrating include writing or drawing a person or their name, then destroying the image/word by drawing knives through it or burning it; this can also be done by writing/drawing on a red pot, then shattering the pot. Depending on the individual’s intention and spoken heka, this can sever a link between two people (to execrate) or actively “attack” another person (to curse). Most often, the target of the execration or curse is identified with Ap-p, the Uncreated One, and can be drawn as or inside of a serpent shape.
For more on how to perform execration and curses, check out these posts by Devo and by Helms.
As for when one might perform an execration, I’d say “whenever necessary,” but the timing for a curse—to actively seek to harm someone—leads us nicely into the next question:
Are there ethics involved in execrating and cursing? If so, what are they?
For execration, I personally don’t think that one would suffer an ethical dilemma. Execration is separating oneself from harm or threat of harm, and when that separation is done to preserve oneself or to build a better life, there’s no conflict of interest.
For curses, I hesitate. Cursing Ap-p or other (non-human, often symbolic) agents of isfet, who would see all of creation undone, is something both ancient and modern Kemetics did and do in order to maintain the order of the world and its very existence. But actively seeking to harm an individual, rather than to excise them from one’s life or contain their harmfulness so it cannot damage other people… I myself would not do it. There are so many other ways to remove someone’s ability to do harm that seeking to destroy a living, fallible, redeemable person is not within my array of options.
Execrations, which remove oneself from harm, can be employed whenever necessary by symbolically destroying the link between oneself and the source of harm.
Curses, which actively harm the target, should be employed only after great deliberation—if at all—by symbolically destroying the target.
Both execrations and curses are suitable to perform against Ap-p or other (non-human) agents of isfet (uncreation); performing either helps maintain the order of the world within ma’at.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out other takes on execrations and curses by my fellow Round Table bloggers!