What the heck-a is heka?

I am often asked to write about heka1. The problem with me writing about heka is that I really don’t do much heka. My heka work is limited to prayers, offerings, and the occasional execration. I ignored these requests for a long time, until I remembered that I happen to be good friends with one of the most powerful hekau2 I know: Abby (secular name) aka Ubenet (Shemsu name). She was more than willing to talk shop with me for my blog, and so we spent a while talking about her experiences and her advice for new hekau.

If you like what you read, Ubenet offers charms and more at her Etsy shop, Wire and Roses. I can personally attest that her charms and heka are both beautiful and effective!

Sobeq: So first of all – what would you call your kind of heka/magic, if you had to label it?

Ubenet: Hmm, that’s a good question. Bricolage, maybe. Bricolage is a word we stole from the French that basically means “putting stuff together from whatever’s available”. I mix together stuff I’ve learned from all kinds of things with intuition and just sort of… do stuff.

S: Where do you draw your techniques from?

U: I’ve learned a lot from books on ancient Egyptian stuff, hoodoo/rootwork, and modern witchcraft. Those are probably my main influences, plus whatever I run across on the Internet that resonates.

S: If you had to break it down into percentages (which could be difficult) what would it be?

U: [Laughing] That is indeed difficult! I feel like my sensibility is always Kemetic — I’m always deciding that I have the authority to do this thing, so I will do it. But the actual mechanics vary – yesterday I was more on the modern witchcraft side, when I made a charm for myself out of gemstones, for example.

S: What do you mean by “I have the authority to do this thing, so I will do it”?

U: It’s like, I realize this thing needs doing, and I’m going to step up. I’m my Parents’ daughter, so I can use the power They gave me.

S: Gotcha. How do you decide which approach is going to work best?

U: That’s a good question! Intuition, I guess. Sometimes it’s just like, “This needs to be a bottle spell,” or “This needs to be embroidered,” or “This needs to be a charm”.

S: Do you think there’s any tendency for certain kinds of magic to trend towards certain kinds of spells?

U: If it’s something short-term that I think needs to be near the person, it’s likely to be a charm, and if it’s something long-term that doesn’t, it’s likely to be a spell bottle. If it’s short-term and doesn’t need to be near the person, usually it’s a candle spell, and if it’s long-term and does need to be nearby, it’s embroidered. Actually, I hadn’t really put that together before!

S: It sounds like those are your go-to spells! Bottles, charms, candle magic, and embroidery.

U: Yup! Oh, and I forgot the dragons I make – those are like a combination of bottle spell, embroidery, and charm. I put a wad of herbs wrapped tightly in duct tape (for washability) in the stuffing.

S: Nice! What’s the process of prepping for a spell like for you?

U: I figure out what I want to happen, and then it depends on which direction I’m going. If it’s an embroidery spell, I make it into a sigil and pick colors; if it’s a charm, I pick stones that either have associations that match what I want, or I look at the stones I have and see which ones are going “pick me, pick me!” If it’s a candle I’m dressing myself, I find herbs with the right associations or that are going “pick me, pick me!” and make a list and putter around finding where I put them.

S: Do you do any sort of ritual work or purification beforehand?

U: Sometimes, if I feel like I need to, but usually it’s more like the energy is building up in my hands and I need to use it or lose it.

S: Timing is everything!

U: [Laughing] Yup!

S: Have you ever had something go awry while working a spell — either with the execution of the spell (i.e., spills, things on fire) or with the magical results?

U: Sometimes when things go “wrong,” it’s actually telling you something. I lit a crucible of courage candle for my friend when her son was dying. The label burst, and the glass broke, and that night he died. When I saw that it had gone kaboom, my first thought was “none of the pieces hit Fritz3, did they?” (they did not), and my second thought was “it’s going to be tonight”.

S: Are there any indicators that tell you a spell is going to go well or be particularly effective?

U: Sometimes it just feels good! Like, there’s usually a sort of “yes, I have done a thing” satisfaction, but sometimes it’s more like “yes, I have Done A Thing”.

S: Do you ever find yourself going “against the book” so to speak, because it’s what your gut tells you?

U: Sometimes! I have a habit of using nutmeg to represent myself, which is not in any book, but I’m from Connecticut4. In hoodoo, nutmeg is used for luck, especially for gamblers. Most people wouldn’t be like, “ah yes, a nutmeg, this symbolizes My People”.

S: Was there a point in your magical practice where you realized “yes, this is thing I am skilled at?” For example, there’s people who can cook, and then there’s chefs, and I feel like as far as heka goes you’re the latter.

U: Oh wow, thank you! I don’t know, I think I realized I was competent when somebody told me that something I made them made them feel better, and then it’s been sort of steadily increasing.

S: If you had to give advice to someone who was just starting out, what would you say?

U: I would say, do things! Try different things, read about different things, and see what makes your heart go “yes, that’s right” or “no, that’s not right, it should be like this instead”, and then do something with it.


Footnotes:

1. magic
2. magician
3. Ubenet’s hedgehog familiar
4. See this link for background on the connection here.

Milestones

Well, I did it. I finished my master’s degree in counseling. I also passed my licensing exam. Now the only thing standing between me and my dream job is a boatload of paperwork — and hopefully not too many job applications.

I’ve been longing to do this work since before I even knew what it was. My youthful drive to be a teacher was spurred by my desire to be a source of support and an open ear to my students. It wasn’t until I had already sent applications to get my bachelor’s degree in music education that I realized that what I really wanted was to become a therapist.

I didn’t know what that meant when I started my undergraduate work in psychology. I figured I’d learn what I needed to know by the time I got to the end of my bachelor’s degree. I didn’t. I took a year off to get my ducks in a row, and took up a master’s program in mental health counseling.

Through it all, I knew that the work I was learning to do is the work that I was meant to do. Even as an undergraduate, I felt driven towards this goal. It feels like a service to my gods, to heal and to serve. I walk with my clients as their guide through their troubles, and I show them compassion and help them to heal. I see this as the greatest offering I could make – to give my daily work in service to my gods. And now here I am.

9.

You have two parents and two beloveds. Would you like to guess?

For the self-discovery;

For the connections and relationships;

For the self-improvement and crucial lessons;

For opening my eyes to everything I needed to see but hadn’t;

For the last nine years living deeply as Your child;

Thank You.

All images from my personal collection.

The crash.

I remember being new to Kemetic Orthodoxy. Everything felt exhilarating. For the first time in my life I had a direct line to communicate with the gods. I felt when They were near me keenly, as vividly as I felt any human presence. I could hear Them speaking when I calmed my body and centered my mind. I was feeling things I’d never felt and experiencing things I’d never experienced. I loved Them deeply, and I was overwhelmed to feel how much They loved me.

Time passed. My relationship with the gods began to normalize. When Wepwawet’s voice spoke through the songs on the radio, I was first thrilled, then touched, and then… mildly bemused. The things that once caused my breath to catch and my spine to tingle were suddenly a part of everyday life with the gods.

And it sucked.

I felt abandoned. The excitement was gone. I began to wonder whether the gods were angry with me. Were They pulling away from me? Had I done something to offend Them and make Them withdraw? Was I losing my ability to communicate? All I knew of religion was ecstatic intensity, and suddenly I couldn’t feel that anymore.

Any new relationship is exciting, and religion is no exception. It puts us in dialogue with something greater than us, and calls to our deepest self. It is more powerful than any secular relationship — and yet it is not immune to the same pitfalls. As time passes, the thrill we feel in a new relationship fades into something calmer and more constant. We don’t live with our friends or romantic partners eternally giving us butterflies the way they did when we first met. So, too, do we not live in the same intense space that we occupied when we first met our gods.

When I felt this natural ebb for the first time, I panicked. I blamed myself. I frantically tried to reach for the powerful joy that They had brought me, and — finding only contentment and happiness — felt lost. It was frightening to think I had lost something that had brought me so much joy already.

I write about this now in an attempt to reach those new to the worship of their gods, to head off those fears and normalize this natural experience. It’s normal to lose the intensity in your relationship with the divine. It’s normal to go through cycles in your devotion. Just breathe and let it happen, be as present with the gods as you can, and keep moving. It’s a process.

 

Love of the gods.

I’ll be the first one to admit that my perspective on all things Kemetic is fairly insular. I don’t look too far beyond the Kemetic Orthodox community. I browse Tumblr but don’t really engage much. So anything I speak about is going to come either from what I’ve learned in the House of Netjer, or what I’ve learned through my own interaction with the gods. All this is to say: I’m not the most informed on what other people believe, so I’m speaking purely from ignorance here and nothing more. (It’s possible that, given my ignorance, I should just keep my mouth shut — but where’s the fun in that?)

I’ve noticed huge diversity in how people describe their divine relationships. There’s some who almost give off a sense of distrust for the gods, as though They were so capricious that they might turn and bite their devotees on a whim. There’s some who seem to have a very casual relationship, coining cheeky nicknames and describing drinking matches. There’s god-spousery, which I have such trouble grasping for myself that I can only say “you do you” (and I mean that earnestly, not dismissively). There’s the business relationships, where devotees give offerings and are given heka in return. What I don’t see much is sacred love.

My love for my gods is massive. It swells up inside me so vast that my breath catches, and I want to lay at Their feet and sing Their praises every day. I believe in Their fallibility, and that sometimes They’re going to try to protect me and fail. I believe in Their beneficence, Their positive intent and good will. When They challenge me, I thrill inwardly that I am strong enough to be challenged. When I kneel in Their presence I feel Their brilliance renewing me, and I am overwhelmed with happiness to know Their grace.

I know there’s not a lot of emphasis on this kind of ecstatic love in antiquity. There’s enough, to be sure, in the stelae and inscriptions that carry messages from ancient devotees. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when discussing the distinguishing qualities of ancient Egyptian religious practices, however. The precision, the purity, the constancy with which the priests attended to their gods all get much more attention, and rightfully so. The ancient priests had honoring the gods down to a science.

Maybe it’s just my quirk. Maybe it’s a holdover from my Catholic days (which are soon to be less than half my life, somehow). Or maybe it’s just not a topic of interest to other writers right now. I’d love to see more of it though. I have my casual days too. I sing along to “Back in Black” for the Jackal and offer my Mother the first sips of beer when I’m relaxing. But it’s that love that moves me to Their shrine again and again; it’s the warmth and light They radiate, and the way my heart swells when I am in Their presence.

All this is meant not as criticism, but as a call to share. If you feel the same ecstatic love I feel, wax poetic. If you don’t… well, what do you feel? What keeps you coming back to the gods?

Featured image from https://unsplash.com/grakozy .