From Heka to Hik – A Few Things on Ancient Egyptian Magic

Heka was the word ancient Egyptians used to describe actions qualified as “magical”. According to Geraldine Pinch, heka also represented one of the forces used in the creation of the world, to make order out of chaos. The personification of heka, or Heka as a deity, was represented as a human with his name written on his forehead. Seems that the Egyptians considered every act of magic as some sort of continuation of the creation process, thus Heka  was the energy that made creation possible.  It is interesting that deities and supernatural creatures possessed this heka quality, but not only. Egyptian kings, the dead and some of the deformed living were also linked  to it.

Ritner mentions the Coffin Texts, a collection of  funerary spells from ancient Egypt. Here is Heka addressing the gods in Spell 261:

“O noble ones who are before the Lord of the universe (“the All”), 69 behold, I have

come before you. Respect me in accordance with what you know. I am he whom

the Unique Lord made before two things (“duality”) had yet come into being in this

land by his sending forth his unique eye when he was alone, by the going forth from

his mouth … when he put Hu (“Logos”) upon his mouth.

1 am indeed the son of Him who gave birth to the universe (“the All”), who was

born before his mother yet existed. I am the protection of that which the Unique

Lord has ordained. I am he who caused the Ennead to live … I have seated myself,

O bulls of heaven, in this my great dignity as Lord of kas, heir of Re-Atum.

I have come that I might take my seat and that I might receive my dignity, for to me

belonged the universe before you gods had yet come into being. Descend, you who

have come in the end. I am Heka.”

However, it is also Ritner that clarifies that the written word  representing the Heka does not always include a divine determinative, so it is difficult to distinguish the god from the practice and from the magician. The Coffin Texts do mention a form of evil magic, but this is actually connected to the heka of the creatures of the underworld.

What’s most important for Ritner is that this omission of the divine determinative and the confusion between the three meanings mentioned above contradicts the arm-chair anthropologists’ theories that magic and religion are something separate and contrastive.

Meyer&Smith link heka to ritual power and mention the word being attested as early as Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts and taking the form hik in Coptic. Moreover, the two argue that the Coptic texts related to ritual power seem to preserve the role as the ritualist as an embodiment, a channel of divine power, rather than someone who threatens or begs the gods for favors.