(Sometimes Hike, possibly in closer accord with the actual pronunciation) The Egyptian word heka is generally translated as ‘magic’, and the God Heka is the anthropomorphic divine personification of this power. Occasionally Heka may be depicted holding a snake in each hand. Being a personification does not mean that Heka was without his own cult in diverse places (e.g., at Esna as the child of Khnum and Menhyt), but his relationships to other deities are conceptual rather than mythical.

Heka is one of the key concepts of Egyptian religious thought. Gods and humans alike draw upon the power of heka, and it is a constitutive force in the cosmos. The word heka contains as its principal component the word ka, which is frequently translated either as ‘spirit’ or as ‘double’, the latter because the ka of an individual is sometimes depicted as their twin. Ka is the force of vitality or of will in the individual, comparable to the Roman concept of the personal genius, of varying strength depending upon the individual’s degree of accomplishment or self-realization, while heka is the instrumentalization of that force. Although “to go to one’s ka” means to die, one’s ka is what supports one all through life as well as beyond. Food-offerings for the dead were directed to their kas, just as offerings to the Gods were directed to their kas. Since the ka is the source of sustenance and vitality, heka is in some sense the primary activity, the mobilization of vital energy as a movement of will prior to all other modes of activity. One’s ka is both one’s innate nature, and also the best that one can be, and heka manifests the striving to actualize the potential of one’s ka. The ka can also be understood as one’s luck or fortune, and heka as the effort to affect this element of ‘destiny’ or to deploy it as an effective force in the moment, in the now.

In PT utterance 539, the king, asserting his right to ascend to the sky, makes a series of what appear to be threats directed to the Gods if they do not assist him, the threats concerning for the most part the withholding of offerings. He states, however, that “It is not I who says this to you, you Gods, it is Heka who says this to you, you Gods.” This is not in the nature of a refusal of responsibility any more than the threats are an attempt at coercion. Rather, the invocation of Heka identifies the lack of offerings which the Gods will experience if the king is not helped to ascend as a function of the very structure of the cosmos. If the king is not able to ascend to the sky, then the cosmic project resulting in the cult of the Gods has in essence come to naught and all that has been invested in the constitution of the human spirit shall be lost rather than being recovered and returned to the Gods who are its origin. Heka is in this sense synonymous with the cosmic order and the will of the Gods themselves. The king threatens the Gods, therefore, with nothing more than their own failure to carry out their own will, which is meant to be manifestly impossible.

Spell 261 of the Coffin Texts is for becoming Heka, and reveals much about how the Egyptians conceived the exercise of heka. Here, Heka is identified with the primordial speech of Atum when he was yet alone, at the very moment in which the differentiated cosmos begins to emerge, and as the ongoing protection of that which Atum has commanded. Heka is thus at once the means by which the cosmos comes forth as well as the means of its maintenance and preservation. Heka says, “I am ‘If-he-wishes-he-does’, the father of the Gods,” the effective will being essential to the nature of a God. Indeed, Heka here identifies himself as “the son of Her who bore Atum,” thus placing himself prior even to the eldest among the Gods, “who was born without a mother.” This paradox, typical of Egyptian religious thought, expresses that heka is essential to the nature of the Gods and is therefore in a sense prior to them, albeit not in a generative sense, but simultaneous to their own, timeless existence. The relationship between heka and ka is underscored in Heka’s styling himself “Greatest of the owners of kas, the heir of Atum,” and in the reference to the two functions of the mouth of Atum, “the august God who speaks and eats with his mouth.” In spell 945 of the Coffin Texts, a spell for the divinization of the members of the body, the eyes are identified with Heka, and correlatively, a spell against crocodiles (no. 124 in Borghouts) affirms that their eyes are blinded by Heka. Heka can symbolize the powers of perception and cognition combined, as can be seen from the tendency for Heka to appear sometimes in place of Hu and Sia, the Gods representing the faculties of thought and perception respectively, in the boat of Re as it travels through the night in the Amduat books. In the ‘Teaching for Merikare’, it is said that heka was made by the divine for humans “as a weapon to oppose the blow of events.”

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10 Responses to “Heka”

  1. kmariej said

    How do we pronounce Heka? Does the ‘he’ sound like ‘hay’ Does the ‘ka’ rhyme with ‘bra’? Thank you!!

    • henadology said

      As Egyptologists, where the principal concern is to express the structure of consonants in the written word, we pronounce the first syllable hə or hɛ (in the first case, like ‘huh’, in the second, like the ‘e’ in ‘let’), while the second syllable rhymes with ‘bra’, as you said. We’re expressing the structure HkA (in the Manuel de Codage system), which is an aspirated h + kA, a biliteral sign which you can see in the third row from the bottom in this chart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_biliteral_signs. Egyptological pronunciation, of course, is not a guide to how things actually sounded in spoken ancient Egyptian. In Coptic, we find a late form of this word as hik, which sounds like ‘hick’.

  2. helmsinepu said

    Do you have any info on Weret-Hekau?

  3. Thank you, excellent article! Could you cite your source for Coffin Text 261? I’m trying to find an English translation of it.

    • Edward P. Butler said

      All Coffin Texts are from R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts, 3 vols. (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1973-8). Spell 261 is in vol. 1.

  4. […] the existence of the creative order itself, according to the Coffin Texts Spell 261 (Ritner).  See https://henadology.wordpress.com/theology/netjeru/heka/, and […]

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