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.

We’re home and we’re safe.

Water flooding down our street.

Later yesterday afternoon we were able to go take a look at our neighborhood. Pretty scary looking. Our streets looked like rivers, with water flooded up over the sidewalks, lapping against our front lawn. Thankfully, that’s as far as the water came. It crested right against our door, but did not come into the house. Thank the gods!

We moved all of our stuff back in this morning. The sun was shining, the breeze was cool and it was a beautiful day. By the time we finished picking branches out of our yard and cleaning up the debris, you would never have known there was a hurricane. Amazing.

As I walked past my stripped down shrine in the process of reassembling the house, I felt something of a proud giggle coming from it. I had prayed with fervor that the house would be safe, and no damage done. The gods said, “We will protect Our shrine.” They gave me instructions on some heka to do to keep the house safe – something to be done in meditation after shrine. It worked exactly the way I was told it would. The heka and the work of the gods was effective, and our house and the shrine are safe. Nekhtet! 🙂

Community Heka In Progress…

Here is a snapshot of something awesome in progress – my workshop slowly pulling together! I am so amazed at the wonderful things everyone has done. We just wrapped up the Sekhmet Healing ceremony. There are no words for seeing Her. Ptah came with a message for us all as well – a blessing I did not expect!

Tomorrow is Weshem-ib. Then, we name the Shemsu – Dua Netjer! Dua Sekhmet! Dua Ptah! Nekhtet!

Retreat Report: Set’s Day

Yesterday afternoon we enjoyed a lecture on lesser known gods from Daryt, Tanebet and Kai-Imakhu Sedjemes, followed by the daunting task of making amulets to ward against the dangers of the year. After amulet-making I was very worn out – I feel like I snoozed through dinner. We wrapped up the night with prayers and meditation for our Akhu – a beautiful way to end the night. I wound up turning in early rather than staying up for fellowship – probably a wise decision. This morning we will be discussing the gods, followed by a group heka workshop run by none other than me! *gulp* I will check in later after lunch to let you all know how it goes. May Aset bless you on Her birthday! Nekhtet!

Pagan.

A few days ago I decided that in my private journal, I was going to hash out my feelings about a word I hadn’t been using: the p word. Pagan. Now it seems that the question of Paganism is kind of a hot topic, having found its way to Pantheon, the pagan blog on Patheos, where the usefulness of the term “pagan” has been questioned, with much response.

For me, the issue is complex. For a long time I deliberately stepped away from the word “pagan” because I felt it applied to something I wasn’t: to the Earth-based, Goddess-worshipping, sometimes-Wiccan-but-not-always pagans I met everywhere I tried to go. There wasn’t much room for a semi-hard polytheist. Sometimes I felt purposefully put out by people uncomfortable with my decision to be a member of the House of Netjer. I stopped hanging around pagan forums, stopped going to open rituals. The word simply didn’t belong to me anymore. In doing that, I carefully constructed a wall between where I stood, and hundreds of potentially interesting interactions, conversations and exchanges. I took away my own ability to attend Pagan Pride Days, to participate in pagan picnics, to engage in pagan-organized charity events. Clearly, if I was not pagan, I would not be allowed to socialize with the pagans. In wanting to separate myself from something I believed I wasn’t, I also separated myself from a community in which I could have any number of great experiences.

It was an argument of semantics for me – whether the word was accurate enough to describe who I was. I let that in turn define what social experiences I would then have. I can’t really say if the Pagan community at large is effective. Are people having fulfilling experiences as a result of belonging? Does it help polytheists and reconstructionists find answers to their problems, or find common ground? More importantly, how does it affect our ability, as individual sects, to interact with larger world religions?

My thoughts about this aren’t as concrete tonight as they were a few nights ago. Then, I was convinced I would easily start wearing the word Pagan again. I’d found that there are an increasing number of people in the polytheist/pagan/recon world who are saying and doing things that I really respect and admire, and are calling themselves Pagan. I now know about Pagan Pride Days and Pantheacon and other awesome events that I would love to attend. And yet the points I have read tonight are so very important. We do need to maintain a valid identity in our own religious beliefs. We need to know who we are, what we believe, and where our boundaries are with other religions. We do need to be accurate in defining our religious beliefs, to avoid assumptions and confusion, but we do not need an excuse to isolate ourselves – whether that is from other “pagan” religions as individual sects, or from other world religions as the larger Pagan community. We have enough to worry about without division and turf wars. Anything that helps build dialogue between ALL religions is a step in the right direction, in my book.