Posted by: Isidora | April 14, 2012

Words of Power…and of interest

“Words of Power” is an English translation—really an approximation—of Egyptian hekau. It has to do with the energy that animates and underlies the universe and with words and speaking as a way to move that Divine energy. In his Hieroglyphic Dictionary, E.A. Wallis Budge gives two other words for spoken magic: iakhu, which also has to do with holy, shining light—starlight, sunlight, Divine light (a title of Isis-Sothis is Iakhuet)—and kau, which the Egyptians appear to have used in relation to a whole range of things as the ka or vital essence of the thing, including spoken magic.

The character Daniel Jackson from Stargate, recent popularizer of hatin' on Budge

<Warning: small rant in defense of Mr. Budge follows> If, as I have, you’ve done any kind of amateur research into “things Egyptian,” you will have found many, many pretty darned exciting and readily available books on Egypt by E.A. Wallis Budge…and then you will probably have run across the extremely emphatically stated position that “Budge got just about everything wrong” or that he is today “considered laughable in Egyptological circles.” Some people certainly think so. But let’s take a moment to remember that Mr. Budge’s work comes very early in the process. He was born in 1857. Champollion had just published the first correct translation of the hieroglyphs in 1822. Work on hieroglyphic translation was very much in its early stages. Many of the texts we have now had not yet come to light. Of course, Budge made mistakes. Everyone did. Modern Egyptologists have almost a hundred years of additional work to draw on, which he did not.

E.A. Wallis Budge

Budge also comes in for a lot of criticism about the conclusions he reached from his reading of the material. He seemed to be at great pains to conclude that ancient Egyptian religion was really just like the Christianity of his day and that the ancient Egyptians were actually monotheists—perhaps in an attempt to make the Egyptians more palatable to the British Museum goers of the time (Budge was Keeper of the Egyptian section of the British Museum and acquired quite a collection of treasures for the museum). Yet I have found the same sort of assumption of the superiority of Christianity in the work of most Egyptologists right up until the 1980s or 90s. It is infuriating, incorrect, and we might even say, laughable. What’s more, some ancient texts do sound rather monotheistic. (An excellent discussion of this is Erik Hornung’s Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many. Fantastic book.)

In my opinion, when it comes to Budge, there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. You just have to read much more critically, and more broadly. Read modern Egyptological works, then go back and read Budge. There are things in Budge that you can’t readily find anywhere else; for example, the actual hieroglyphs of the Book of the Dead, which enables you to do your own translations, should you be so skilled. Unless you are a university-connected scholar and can access their arcane scholarly “books of shadows,” it is exceedingly hard to find a lot of the material Budge does indeed provide in one form or another.

Case in point, his dictionary.

Budge's An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary in Two Volumes, one of the very few Egyptian dictionaries available

Budge’s An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary is the most widely available ancient Egyptian dictionary. Here in Isiopolis, we also own a copy of Faulkner’s A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (which is handwritten (!), for Goddess’ sake, and doesn’t have an index) and Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar, which is mostly grammar, as the title says, but also contains a good discussion of each of the hieroglyphs along with their meanings. Neither one has the sheer amount of recorded words as Budge’s does. Neither one is nearly as much fun to page through, either. It’s true that Budge’s transliteration of the Egyptian words is not the current scholarly standard, but he does provide the hieroglyphs so you can check.

With all this in mind, I’d like to share with you a few more words from Budge’s dictionary that have intrigued and inspired me over the years—in addition to the “words of power” I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I’ve updated them to the extent that I am able and please note that the letters don’t have their proper diacritical marks as I’ve yet to figure out how to make that happen in WordPress.

I have adopted some of these terms into my own work with Isis; perhaps you will find some of them of interest, too.

Qi en Iset—a ceremony in honor of Isis; no clue as to what kind; qi refers to a “state, condition, mode, or manner.” I like to fantasize that this might be something like a “Way of Isis.” It certainly could be used as such for modern Isiacs.

Sekhen—means both “to embrace” and “to fold the wings;” sekhen with a different determinative means “breast offering” and there was a festival by that name as well; all these concepts seem nicely Isiac to me

Sheta—a form of Isis in Per Bastet, called by the Greeks Bubastis; temple of the Cat Goddess Bast and located in the Egyptian delta; sheta means “secret or hidden” so this is a mysterious form of Isis

Tia—the Divine emanation or essence of the Deity; tia Iset would be the emanation of Isis

Qâhu (plural)—the four quarters of the world; singular is qâh; a nice Egyptian name for them

Mesut Iset—Egyptian for “birth of Isis” or Isis’s birthday

Ubekhet—name of a temple of Isis and Nephthys having to do with brilliance, light, shining, and whiteness; could be loosely translated as The White Temple, meaning the temple of all brilliant, light, and positive things

Rekhiet—the Wise Woman; i.e. Isis

Gerh en sedjer Iset Resut—the “Night-watch of Isis;” perhaps the vigil of Isis as She watched over the body of Osiris?

Gerh en hati—the “Night of the Tear Drop” of Isis that caused the Nile to rise; hati is tear drop

Hefed—a swoon of religious ecstasy; the way I feel in Her presence sometimes

Suweh—to speak in ecstasy, to prophesy

Sa en Iset—the name of a medicinal plant meaning the “power or energy of Isis”

Iset em Nebet Ankh—”Isis as Lady of Life;” the name of the Goddess of the 9th Hour of the Day

And one last word, this one related to last week’s post: Iset Nedjit or Nedjet—Isis the Avenger, a name from the Book of What is in the Duat



  1. Thanks Isidora…I feel a poem coming on!

  2. In terms of other Egyptian dictionary resources, the massive Wörterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprache is available online as a series of free PDFs here: Those who don’t have German can always use Google Translate. A very useful resource, once one gets the hang of it, is the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae:, which will be continuously updated and expanded.

    • Ooh…thank you! There are ever-expanding wonderful online resources indeed. I didn’t know about these 😉

  3. Hi – I’ve used the first 7 of the above to make a Qi en Iset / Qi en Nebhet for the Iseum of Isis Pelagia’s annual “Sisters of the Sea” Ritual! Thanks to you and EAWB for the inspiration. I’ll send it along soon.

  4. I’m struck by the term ‘hekau’ as words of power. Perhaps it has no connection but of the very little Egyptian I know, ‘heka’ is the word for magic. Is there a connection there? Sure seems reasonable to me.

    And, ahem, a ‘small rant’? 🙂 I think not! But a most interesting rant anyway.

    • Hekau (HkA.w) is the plural of heka (HkA). “Words of power” is a loose translation.

  5. Exactly! Or…loosely 🙂

  6. […] * A century ago, in his hugely influential books (still so because Dover keeps them readily available), Sir E.A. Wallis Budge used a peculiar set of symbols to transliterate the hieroglyphs, and one of them in particular continues to confuse readers to this day. Instead of the ı͗ used by other Egyptologists and often called yod (borrowing the name of the Hebrew letter), Budge represents the reed flower as å (that’s not quite it; the dot should be solid, but it was all I could get WordPress to do.) And don’t get me started on Budge. You can see my comments on Budge-hating here. […]

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