The Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) word heka is most frequently translated to be “magic,” but it’s not quite the kind of magic that most of us in the Western world are familiar with. Heka is word-magic, the power inherent in the written or spoken word, the power of authoritative utterance. It most literally translates to “activating the ka,” which is the part of one’s being or spirit that comprises one’s current personality and psyche; the power of heka is tied to the soul and the innate power of who we are. Unlike a lot of modern magical methods, heka does not require casting circle, creating sacred space, raising or channeling energy, or invoking any entities into your personal space. Heka is language at its most powerful, and as language, prayers can be heka just as easily as “spells” can be heka.
Ancient Egyptians and many modern Kemetics place special emphasis on how they speak and what they say (or write). Heka is in every word that passes our lips and hands, not just the words we intend to be magical or prayerful. As I write this entry, I commit heka. As I pray to my gods and sing Them songs, I engage with heka. As I write my little charms in Kalash on the whiteboards at work, I inscribe heka. As I hold a conversation about silly things or deep things with my friends, coworkers, and myself, I create heka.
One of the things I love about the power of heka is that its strength and effectiveness is solidly backed by science. The power of what we say and how we say it has been extensively studied from almost every point of view, from hard psychology to self-help authors to New Age affirmation gurus to modern magicians. There’s a huge difference in how our bodies and brain chemicals and intangible minds react to “I won’t smoke anymore” vs. “I want to quit smoking” vs. “I am quitting smoking” (or “I quit smoking”).
Heka is the understanding that what you say matters. Ancient Egyptians often offered teaching wisdoms to this point: speak only in surety, do not speak out of anger, holding your tongue is to be the bigger person. The value in speaking with care and deliberation has not lessened as the ages have worn on; as a point of self-control, as part of compassionate interaction, heka has a crucial role to play in how we communicate with others and express ourselves.
Not to mention the power of intentional heka used in prayer and magic! To focus all the power of language into short forms of prayer or ritual or spellwork, written or spoken, is an amazing thing. It’s like poetry, like music, able to distill the immensity of the human experience – or at least one facet of it – down to a singular, streaming flow of words. One can bring to bear all the power of linguistic aesthetics and magical potential, calling on positive phrases and avoiding negative ones, choosing particular words for their beauty and their acute meanings. To craft heka as prayer or spell, written or spoken, is to forge a blade and hone it to a glistening, unwavering edge. With intentional heka, one etches oneself upon the slate of the universe, for good or ill, in the name of willful change or gratitude or whatever one sees fit. We can change the world – the big one outside and the smaller ones inside ourselves – with the shapes of our tongues and teeth and ink-bearing hands.
Heka can come in many forms and trappings, including those we more commonly associate with ritual – light the candle, light the incense, say the words of purification, wash, say the words of prayer or of spellwork, and even add raised energy to the mix. Ancient Egyptians so believed in the power of heka that many of their spells and rituals involved taking on a particular god’s name – and thus, all powers and relationships S/He had – in order to accomplish a goal. At its heart, heka is the power of the language we choose and use. Our words have power, and we are responsible for how that power is dispensed through our vocabulary.
This post brought to you as part of the Pagan Blog Project.