Utterances, forces, and beings in Egyptian magic

As I research my book I have been struck by the extent to which the Ancient Egyptians personified forces as beings, and depersonified beings as utterances.  Have a look, for example, at this description from Coffin Text Spell 261:

I am he whom the Sole Lord made before there came into being the two meals on earth, when he sent his Sole Eye when he was alone, being what came from his mouth; when his myriads of spirits were the protection of his companions; when he spoke with Khopri, with him, that he might be more powerful than he; when he took authoritative utterance upon his mouth.

(The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts, Raymond O. Faulkner, 2015 edition from Aris & Phillips, section 1 pp.199-200)

This utterance ostensibly comes straight from the mouth of the god Heka, “Magic,” something we modern Western magicians would tend to regard as a force, not a being in its own right.  In this utterance by Heka, Heka identifies himself in turn as an utterance of the “Sole Lord,” before giving some examples of particularly memorable times the Sole Lord uttered him.

It’s odd for us to think of utterances as beings in their own right; we’re more used to seeing them as something produced by beings.  Now it has been argued by some Egyptologists, such as Henri Frankfort, that this was simply how the ancients thought: that for them the universe was experienced not as “it is” but as “thou art;”  that to them, everything had to be some sort of being, utterances included.  There was nothing inanimate under the sun.

Personally I haven’t yet seen convincing evidence of this, though I may come across it in the course of my researches.  It seems more likely to me that the ancient thinking may have gone something like this:

Since everything in the universe is uttered into existence by the Creator, then everything is at root an utterance, a force; in which case personifying anything is only done for our mental ease.  In which case, why not personify everything?  It certainly makes interactions easier with other humans…

Author: Michael Sheppard

Michael Sheppard edits the Quareia course. He is also writing a book on Ancient Egyptian magic.

2 thoughts on “Utterances, forces, and beings in Egyptian magic”

    1. Thanks so much, Richard. I’ll be blogging weekly, and the book should hopefully be out sometime this year. If there are any topics that you, or anyone else, would like me to cover, either here or in my book, then do let me know.

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