Heka: Magical Drawings – Part Three

Illustrations and drawings:

A. Explanatory drawings/instructions in magical papyri:

This category is pretty self-explanatory. There are hardly any magical  texts without any kind of drawings – some which show exactly the image(s) to be used to ritual. Some even have drawings related to a myth which has to do in some way with the magical work prescribed. For example the story of Isis and the name of Ra, which usually relates to spells and rituals aimed at healing venomous snake bites.

Other times, there would be instructions on what image is to be used (and on what):

Invocation of Anubis and other Gods for revelation:

[...] Formula: You take a bowl of bronze, you engrave a figure of Anubis in it. [...] (1)

B. Drawings on various objects to be used in ritual:

Included here are the following:

- Apotropaic wands/’knives’ (made of ivory or hippopotamus tusks) with depictions of various deities and spirits, animals and hieroglyphs. (Pictures: 1 & 2)

- magic rods made of various materials (with magical figurines attached to them) decorated with symbols and images such as wedjat eyes and animal motifs.*

- Horus cippi (of which larger ones can have entire spells written down) which had the purpose of repelling dangerous animals and reptiles and to cure those afflicted by venomous bites.

-Soles of sandals: for execrations known as ‘the trampling underfoot‘ the images of enemies (and perhaps their names) would be drawn on the soles of sandals so the enemies of the Magician would literally be trampled on. This type of execration is very commonly seen in the case of royalty – there are numerous examples of images of the king smiting Egypt’s enemies.

The trampling underfoot of an enemy, depicted unambiguously here, becomes a permanent feature of Egyptian royal seated (and striding statues) – with a slight modification. Replacing the literal images of the vanquished enemies is a series of Nine Bows, the symbols of the traditional foes of Egypt, carved as protruding from beneath the feet of the ruler. (2)

It’s also worth mentioning that this particular type of execration survived until the Roman Period.

- a variety of objects such as papyrus, metal plates, ostraca, stones and linen, each object having a specific ritual purpose.

C. Images drawn on the body or to be consumed (absorbed by the body):

To heal ophthalmia (?) in a man:

[...] You also write this on a new papyrus; you make it into a written amulet on his body: – ‘Thou art this eye of heaven’ in the writings. (followed by an eye with rays, as drawn in the papyrus) (3)

Magical texts also have a variety of medicinal spells (medicine and magic in Ancient Egypt were not separated) which prescribe writing the words of power or drawing the images on strips of papyrus which was to be dissolved in beer and drank so the full power of the spell would be absorbed by the body.

An even more well known example of drawing on the body is the Magician having a figure of the goddess Ma’at painted on his tongue (which, in some cases, is even a ritual purity requirement)

The purpose of this uncomfortable requirement was to ensure that the magician’s words were true and would therefore bring what they described into being. (4)

Of course, this particular magical technique was not limited to the tongue. There are plenty of examples where the magical figures or symbols would be drawn on the skin in various locations on the body of the Magician (or the client), usually to provide magical protection during the rite.

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There is one other thing I’d like to add: more often than not, the ink with which the drawings were to be made is very important. However, this is the subject of a whole discussion which I will leave for a future post.

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Footnotes:

1) Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden, edited by F.L Griffith & H. Thompson, 904, PDF edition 2007, Col. XIV

* Magic in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Pinch has a very good example of a magical rod on pg. 79

2) The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, R.K. Ritner, pg. 119

3) Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden, edited by F.L Griffith & H. Thompson, 904, PDF edition 2007, Col. XX

4) Magic in Ancient Egypt, Geraldine Pinch, pg. 77-78

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Heka: Magical Drawings – Part Two

Seals and Sigils

As I’ve stated in the previous post, seals and sigils have been used since predynastic time. They have evolved from simple patterns, such as ‘maze’ patterns and simple geometric designs (interlocking spirals and concentric circles, even combinations of the two), to more complex and elaborate patterns in later times, which could combine several motifs, including animal and human motifs, as well as hieroglyphs (single signs or full inscriptions, such as a royal cartouche).

They were mostly inscribed or carved upon clay, faience or stone scarabs (such as these), and on cylindrical and signet rings (example). These could have a variety of uses other than, let’s say, sealing documents.

The symbolic signs which occur on many levels emphasize their role as helpful amulets apart from their practical use.*

So they could have amuletic value, talismanic value, and could even be created and used for a specific ritual.

Sigils could also be etched onto lamellae (thin strips of metal) which could then be used for a variety of ritual purposes. The type of metal can vary, depending on the work they were made for.

A very particular type is the phylactery – which was usually a lamella (however it’s not unusual to find examples etched on stones or painted on papyrus sheets) engraved with a sigil or even a full spell, which was to be worn on your person for protection.

The PGM offer many instructions for creating phylacteries, such as PGM IV. 930-1114 which provides instructions for making a cloth phylactery which you must wear wrapped around you for the protection of your whole body.

Photographed on the 18th of September 2014. Located at the Petrie Museum, London

Photographed on the 18th of September 2014.
Located at the Petrie Museum, London

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*Quoted from Eva Wilson’s Ancient Egyptian Designs, British Museum Press, pg. 100

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Heka: Magical Drawings – Part One

Egyptian spells survive in a great variety of contexts. They can be inscribed in tomb walls, coffins, and various types of funerary objects; on statues of deities, kings, and men; on furniture, vessels and amulets; on scraps of papyrus, potsherds and flakes of stones, and on long rolls of leather or papyrus. (1)

Photographed on the 23rd of September 1014. Located at the British Museum

Photographed on the 23rd of September 1014.
Located at the British Museum

Magical drawings can play an important part when working heka. They are very versatile and can be employed in a variety of rituals (from execrations to healing and everything in between).

They can be categorized thusly:

1. Hieroglyphs – which can be used for their symbolic value, not just as writing.

2. Seals and sigils – which have been used since pre-dynastic times and which have evolved from simple designs to very intricate patterns

3. Illustrations and drawings – a) Explanatory drawings/instructions in magical papyri

b) On various objects to be used in ritual

c) Images drawn directly on the body or to be consumed – usually ingested- and so absorbed by the body

[Please note I am not including tattoos in the last category, either temporary or permanent, only drawings done for ritual purposes. If you're interested in reading on tattoos, this piece provides a lot of interesting information.]

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Hieroglyphs

Hieroglyphic writing was intimately connected with Thoth and Seshat.

It was considered to be sacred and it was even referred to as medu netjer(u) – words of the god(s).

Although so much emphasis is placed on the spoken word, written magic had powers and virtues of its own. The Egyptians referred to the symbols of the hieroglyphic script by the same word that they used for images of the gods. (2)

The hieroglyphic script is symbolic in nature and the actual signs themselves would be used for that symbolic value, especially the signs which represent the object they depict. The signs can be used on their own; the act of drawing, painting or carving the hieroglyph being the focal point of the ritual. This is the simplest and easiest form in which they can be used. They can also be inscribed on ritual equipment, such as candles or paper/papyrus. They won’t be the focal point of the ritual itself, but they can empower it nonetheless.

For more complex rituals, a further action would be required to be performed upon the sign after drawing it, such as:

- defacing the hieroglyph (which is quite common in execrations)*

- destroying the medium upon which it is inscribed (again, common in execrations)

- if the hieroglyphs is written on papyrus it can be dissolved in beer and drank (usually done for healing or empowering work)

*The magical potency associated with the signs may certainly be seen in the way in which hieroglyphs representing hostile or dangerous creatures were often incompletely drawn or purposely mutilated in order to render them harmless. (3)

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Footnotes:

(1) Magic in Ancient Egypt, Geraldine Pinch, pg. 61

(2) Magic in Ancient Egypt, Geraldine Pinch, pg. 68-69

(3) Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art, pg. 150 (chapter Words as Magic, Words as Art)

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Words, words and more…. words

This is a Kemetic Round Table post and this month’s topic is Terminology and Language.

When adhering to a religion which originated from a completely different place in space and time it can become quite the challenge to adopt the correct terminology for your practice and to communicate with others who adhere to the same religion or set of beliefs.

I believe it’s necessary to have at least a basic understanding of terms, notions and concepts. Without that, there is no solid foundation to build your practice on. For example, Ma’at and Isfet (used as an example because we have discussed these concepts last month). They are such important notions that they can’t simply be set aside or ignored. And they’re not the only ones.

To be honest, I think for Kemetics that’s where it all starts. Whatever the direction their practice takes, the building blocks will be pretty much the same. It’s left up to the individual to decide what suits them best and what fits their practice at any given time. And I think that’s why the importance of research is stressed time and again.

No one says you have to be able to read a hieroglyphic text perfectly. But I believe a basic understanding of the hieroglyphic script is necessary. And when I say basic, I don’t mean learning how to read and write a few words. By basic, I mean knowing what the hieroglyphic script is, what it’s made of, the symbolism behind it and others as such. Sure, if you wish you learn to read and write words, sentences and entire texts, then that’s your prerogative.

You don’t have to know everything about every god or goddess. It’s preferable, however, to read up at least on the gods and goddesses you’re interested in (or who are interested in you – it happens!).

You don’t have to study every cosmogony in depth (unless of course you wish to). But a basic knowledge what these were, where they originated and the basic ideas behind them is desirable. If for nothing else, then for yourself.

Think of your practice as a construction site. The bricks are the basic notions that you use to build with. Your (personal) understanding of these notions are the mortar that keeps them together. You can use any other material to further expand and embellish your construction to your pleasing. But the bricks and mortar you absolutely need.

A very interesting bit pops up when you use slightly different terminology when communicating with others. I’ll refer here to communication between Kemetics, especially when talking about deities. Let’s take my beloved Anubis for example. Some refer to Him as Anubis (as I do when I communicate with others, what I call Him in my private practice may differ), others as Yinepu (or a variation thereof) and some even refer to Him by a title. But we all know who we’re talking about, even if we use a different term, name or title. The essence of the subject doesn’t change, just the language. And many times, it can be open for debate; I’ve had to explain a few times why I use the Greek name instead of a more ‘Kemetic-sounding’ name.

However, this doesn’t work with other names or terms. You can’t use the term ‘ma’at’ to define something else. It just doesn’t work. And that’s why that basic understanding I kept mentioning earlier is needed.

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Find all the responses for this month’s Kemetic Round Table here.

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Live in Ma’at. Oppose Isfet

For many Kemetics (if not most) these two concepts have a particular importance on many levels. Living and sustaining Ma’at is a basic religious and moral precept.

Ma’at encompasses (but is not necessarily restricted to) the ethical concepts of ‘cosmic balance’, ‘universal harmony’, ‘truth’, ‘order’ and even ‘justice’.

Ma’at the goddess is the personification of these concepts.

‘The goddess represented the divine harmony and balance of the universe, including the unending cycles of the rising and the setting sun, the inundation of the Nile River, the resulting fertility of the land, and the enduring office of kingship; she was considered to be the force that kept chaos (isft), the antithesis of order, from overwhelming the world.’ (1)

Isfet on the other hand is not just chaos or disorder. It is complete destruction, un-creation, nothingness. Isfet is a complex concept just like Ma’at and one could say they are the perfect opposites.

Ma’at keeps things together and Isfet tears them apart then sends them into nothingness. With Isfet and its agents (such as the dreaded Ap/p who threatens the Sun God Ra himself) there is no beneficial chaos, no destruction to make room for creation, no reason. It just is and it wants more. It wants everything. It constantly tries to creep up  on creation and all it entails.

The inevitable (and tricky) question arises: how do I keep Ma’at and battle Isfet?

It all comes down to the individual. This post couldn’t be a better example of that. And this one hits the nail on the head with the statement ‘It’s all shades of grey’. And although it’s easy to find references to how Ma’at was kept in ancient times, it’s not always easy discovering what it means for ourselves. Some of us may be lucky and have a clear view from the start. Others will keep searching for a while. Some will change their minds as they go along and that’s fine as well. You see, there’s no simple answer. We are all different individuals, with different circumstances and experiences.

Personally I see living in Ma’at as trying to keep everything in balance in all aspects of life. It’s not easy at all. I sometimes falter and I sometimes need help. It’s bloody hard work!

I see it as being true to myself. I see it as being the ability to make a compromise in a particular situation just so everyone is content.

I see it in the ability to forgive. I see it in realizing when I made a mistake and trying to remedy it.

To me, keeping Ma’at can often boil down to doing simple things for a greater good. It may sound silly, but I even see it in planting some bee friendly plants in a pot so the bees have a bit of extra food. I can donate some things to charity so others don’t go without. I can recycle to keep things from going to the landfill. I can take care of someone who is ill and offer them comfort. I can’t go and fight Ap/p. But I can do small things to ensure good things are being maintained and flourish.

To me, things like injustice and oppression are agents of Isfet. I can’t always fight these things. They happen all over the world and I may not even know where or when it’s happening. But hardships can happen to people I know and care for. Or they can happen to me. That’s when I can and most likely will do something about it. That’s where my personal battle is. That’s where I can say ‘That’s it. Isfet, I’m going to execrate the daylights out of you!’

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(1) Ma’at by Emily Teter in The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology, pg. 189

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This is a post for the Kemetic Round Table.

See all of the responses here.

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A few good finds

Hello lovelies!

I’m finally back from my travels and as nice as it has been I must say I’m looking forward to slowing down a bit. Right before it gets busy at least. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while I think you’ve become familiar with my usual start-of-autumn-all-the-way-into-winter busy times.

I’ve been meaning to show you all some nifty finds for a while now so let’s start with the one which has been waiting the longest:

019A few months ago I went to Camden Stables Market (if you live in London I’m sure you know exactly where it is) and found this little gem of a store. It stocks not only statuary and papyri but also water pipes and perfumes. I’ve asked for a business card and saw that they also maintain this website. I hope to go back again by the end of the year because I have my eye on a Thoth statue ;) There seemed to be something for everyone, for such a small space (just Unit 13 k) the stock was quite impressive. Please forgive the glare of the camera’s flash, I wasn’t getting a clear picture without it.

The next finds are these:

 

KEYS!

KEYS!

 

All of my market finds.

All of my market finds.

I’ve discovered these during my usual car boot sale & market wanderings at the week-end. I normally go and check what can be found, there are almost always different sellers along with the usual ones so the stuff one can find can vary greatly. I had been looking for keys and an old compact with an intact mirror but the little dish with spoon was an unexpected find, for the whopping price of 20 p. Yep, that’s right. 20 p.

And now for the latest one:

Phytognosis goodies!

Phytognosis goodies!

Ah, Phytognosis! An absolutely brilliant Etsy shop where you get exquisite quality and impeccable customer service. You can even find their Facebook page here. The Mr. surprised me because he knew I was running low on supplies and despite the not so good money situation he’s told me to go ahead and order a few things. And Jeremy, the shop owner, has been kind enough to send a couple of generous samples, one of his Aset blend (which is sweet and dark, a bit reminiscent of kyphi and incredibly potent) and some Coptic Frankincense. I’m especially impressed with the Heka Oil, I have a feeling it will become a repeat purchase. The Sun Incense is based on Agrippa’s recipe and it’s exquisite as well. I had previously ordered his Moon Incense and expected the same quality. It did not disappoint at all. The Dark Mayan Copal is for Anubis, of course ;) Another thing I’m really happy about is that you don’t get swindled on overseas shipping. I’ve seen U.S. sellers adding an extravagant £6 for every extra item – and I’m not talking about big and heavy items, just the usual small oil bottles or small packs of incense. And you get to the point where the shipping is about 3 times over the cost of the purchase. Now I know it’s a bit more expensive for overseas shipping, but £6 for every items seems extreme to me. That doesn’t happen with Phytognosis however, which definitely deserves a cheer in my opinion.

 

That’s about it for now, be well everyone!

 

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Kemetic Round Table: Akhu Basics

[this is my last KRT catch up post, finally up to date!]

Ancestor worship is something many modern kemetics have included (or are in the process of including) into their general practice. It is absolutely fine if you do not want or you do not feel the need to. It’s not an absolute requirement to be ‘a good kemetic’.

In ancient times there were entire rituals and temple grounds dedicated to the cult of the dead, as well as specific classes of clergy which dealt with the dead. This was intimately related to the ancient Egyptian view of the soul – here’s a good link if you’d like to read more.

The dead required the preservation of the body through mummification, numerous chants, prayers and spells to guide and protect them through their journey into the Afterlife, and nourishment for their ka – this was done both through some of the paintings in their tombs with symbolic value (such as the painting of offerings) and through regular offerings of food and drink; there was usually some type of contract between the deceased and the clergy for how much was to be offered after that person’s death and for how long. (on the subject of offerings, I’ve discussed it before here).

For modern practitioners, if you’d like to set up or expand your ancestor worship, here are a few things worth exploring:

Put up a shrine (as small or as big as you wish or your circumstances allow) with their picture or a personal object, a candle, incense and water. The dead are always thirsty so it’s a good idea to maintain fresh water at your ancestor shrine as often as possible.

Tend to their graves if you can. Keep them free of weeds and place fresh flowers. If they were cremated and their ashes scattered somewhere, visit that place and leave some flowers, say a prayer or whatever else you feel it’s appropriate.

Commemorate them on their birthday (or the day they died – whichever you prefer). Have a meal in their honour. Leave a chair empty for them and place a full plate on the table in front of it.

Participate in one of their favourite activities. Wear one of their favourite colours. Think about them. Speak to them in your thoughts.

Write a letter to them (letters to the dead were very common in ancient times). Pray for them. Pray to them if you wish.

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Relevant reading: Kemetic Round Table contributions on the subject and this website.

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