Hail Bast, coming forth from the shrine, I do not eat my heart.
~ Purification 13 from the Papyrus of Ani
Eating one’s heart is a distinctly Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) phrase. It comes from the Papyrus of Ani, which has a list of 42 “negative confessions” or “declarations of purity”, all with references to various Netjeru (gods) or netjeri (spirits). It’s a list meant to convey that the person speaking (who is dead and preparing for his/her heart to be weighed against Ma’at’s feather) is pure and has not commited isfet.
Isfet is a word that does not directly translate to evil, but that’s a pretty close approximation; to do isfet is to do bad, to create negativity, to harm, to act or speak maliciously, to lie. Where ma’at is the force of balance, rightness, and harmony, isfet is the force of uncreation, imbalance, and badness. (Ma’at capitalized is the goddess embodying the concept; ma’at lowercase is the concept itself.)
As Rev. Tamara Siuda, founder of Kemetic Orthodoxy, states in her booklet The 42 Purifications:
The heart (ib), being the symbolic place of emotions, memories and conscience for a person, is a very important body center …
To eat one’s heart is to starve oneself of ma’at, to turn in upon the self until there is nothing left but an empty, worthless husk.
Heart-eating is a concept that I’ve been wanting to explore. With that, please understand that this post is mostly my inferring and extrapolating upon the idea, rather than citing the interpretation(s) of modern Kemetics. If you have your own insight to add, please do!
To eat one’s heart is to damage oneself and so create isfet. Self-harming actions and thoughts, self-deprecating words and thoughts, and deliberate neglect of one’s wellness of any level are all things that I would consider as eating one’s heart. I would not consider disorders or physiological imbalances, like clinical depression, to be eating one’s heart; skewed brain chemicals are not a choice, and I believe the creation of isfet is a choice, not a consequence of mistakes or ignorance. However, what you do with your situation – be it an unexpected negative event or having to deal with something like depression – is where you can promote ma’at or create isfet. While we cannot control the fact that a shitty situation exists, we can control how we respond to it, however hard that may be.
Condemning oneself, kicking oneself for being imperfect or making mistakes, self-hatred, self-harm, self-deprecating– these are all actions that create isfet, all examples of eating one’s heart. But acts of self-care, compassion, understanding, tolerance, gentleness, self-strength, and patience? These promote ma’at and go a long way towards nourishing one’s heart and feeding one’s spirit.
This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.