Photo Essay: Finding the Lord of the Red Land

 

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The Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength / Panel Two of the Lords of Valor Triptych- a work in progress

 

It is in your pain that I am with you.
It is in your darkness that I am with you.
It is in your hopelessness that I am with you.
It is in your cries and your shouts that you hear
My voice, which shatters the sky as thunder,
Which cuts the tops of mountains
As lightning.
It is in your fear that my strong right arm draws Back the bow.
My aim is sure, and the Gods of the Sky
Acclaim me on account of it!

– From the Prayer of the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

 

The ancient Egyptians called their deserts the Red Land, deshret, and Lord Set is their benefactor.  He is the terrifying Presence on the periphery of the green and black cultivated land, the deity Who speaks through the tempestuous winds tearing through sand and rock, and over the mountain peaks.  His habitation exists in all the places *civilized* human beings fear to tread; in the searing heat of the desert, in the barren wastelands occupied by scorpions and snakes, and in the lonely spaces where the hot sky and wind predominate.  I happen to live in such a place, in the high desert of northwest Utah, where every day I am given the opportunity to see the natural world around me as the dwelling place of the living Gods of Kemet.

On June 7, 2017, in preparation for the Full Moon observances, my household conducted the first sanctification ritual for my current icon in progress, the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength.  Already, the face of the moon was shining full and brilliantly, like an alabaster lamp suspended in a dark sapphire sky; and we made our way through the northwestern desert of Utah to our own sacred places, where we have celebrated the Presences of our Gods as They manifest in the awe-inspiring forms of the natural world.

 

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A barren road winds through a desert framed by dark red and amber peaks, these leading to the holy place we have named Merit-Sager’s Womb

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Great red mountains loom like natural pyramids over the valley in northwestern Utah where Merit-Sager’s Womb waits to receive our veneration

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Twilight falls on our lonely sacred valley, bringing with it a profound stillness and silence, broken only by the sound of birds, bats, and crickets

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The moon began to rise as we arrived at Merit-Sager’s Womb, from whose vantage the glittering Bonneville Salt Flats may be seen

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This lonely desert is the dwelling place of Lord Sutekh / Set, Whose sacred red color paints the ground, rocks, and mountains

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Merit-Sager’s Womb as seen from the outside of its natural cave-like outcropping, which contains the crevices and holes in which bats and birds build their nests

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Merit-Sager’s Womb is blessed in the name of the protective Cobra Goddess Whose own sacred peak in Egypt stands over the “Great and Noble Necropolis” we now call the Valley of the Kings.  In our landscape, Merit-Sager is the Protectress of the desert in which our little town of West Wendover sits.  We come to this place to give prayers and offerings to the Goddesses and Gods of the Red Land

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The moon rose clearly and brilliantly as we approached Merit-Sager’s Womb for our lunar radiation ceremony.  Each of my icons is created according to the sacred lunar cycle, with each phase of creation coinciding with one of the main lunar events.  The Full Moon period always initiates a new stage in the creation of a cult-image, and is utilized for the charging of the divine image with direct exposure to lunar light

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Before we begin our ceremony proper, procession of the Aegis of Sutekh is made from the edge of Merit-Sager’s Womb into the heart of Her natural Sanctuary

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Inside the Sanctuary of Merit-Sager’s Womb, the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength is given a blessing to the accompaniment of bats and desert birds

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The mouth of Merit-Sager’s Womb embodies entry into the Duat, the Twilight Realm inhabited by the Gods and the Blessed Dead.  Her stony roof stretches out into the lonely desert where we establish a sacred space where Lord Sutekh may be invoked

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The Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength is surrounded by images of the deities associated with Him, including His sacred animals.  The bones of an antelope are present as embodiments of Lord Set’s wild nature

 

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The Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength bathed in the final rays of the dying sun just prior to our ceremony

 

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The near-Full Moon beams down on the desert where distant town lights flicker

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The Aegis of Sutekh receives the lunar radiation rite

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I am very grateful to Michael Strojan for his consent for us to use the following litany during our lunar radiation rite for the Aegis of Sutekh, which assisted in the bestowal of sanctity to this powerful cult-image of Lord Set.

Aretaology of Seth

I am the Lord of the Heaven and the Northern Sky.
I am he who supports the sky for all the gods.
I am the self-born child of Nut and Geb.
I have torn myself from my mother’s womb.
I stretch forth in stride upon my father’s land.
I am in my power, coming with full wrath upon my brother.
I am of great repute, being mighty because of my brother.
I am the Bull in Ombos, having many shrines.
I am magnificent in my shrines of Upper Egypt.
I am in the midst of many magnificent temples.
I am the ruler of both lands.
I quicken the rapids of the Nile.
I am the red hippopotamus in full wrath.
I am the serpent raised to strike.
I am the falcon surveying armies.
I am he having many armies, triumphant over enemies.
I am at the front, defeating the armies of invaders.
I am within their encampments like scores of fleas.
I send them away and naming their best soldiers.
I have taken from them many beautiful wives.
I have crowned them and made them mine.
I am he before whom the sky trembles.
I am he with great power in the barque of millions.
I am the beautiful child of Re, standing at the bow.
I am mighty at the tip the barque, armed with spear.
I conquer Apep daily and rend him in twain.
I defeat all the enemies of Re, dispatching them with sword in my wrath.
I he who is magnanimous, bestowing many honors.
I have given seats of powers to kings outside of Egypt.
I have welcomed the foreigner into my lands.
I am great of power and magic.
I am he with hidden and secret forms.
I have taken the dawn with my power, and created darkness.
I have given light to the darkness and have caused the sun to return.
I heal any and every affliction with my saliva.
I am mighty of voice and cause demons to flee the four corners of the earth.
I am the pleasure of increase in antelope.
I am the phallus that causes increase in hares.
I make the fish to gather in pools and prosper.
I am the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
Mighty is my name, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

 

Smoke This!

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“It’s all just stuff blowing around in the wind, and noise…so much noise. I wear the wind on my sleeve and have a halo of lightning surrounding my bare head. I eat the Gods in the morning, and there is no part of me without a God in it. All the other little things are just that, little things. I have already conquered death, and I am married to Eternity through the holy works of my lotus hands. Let my critics put that in their pipes and smoke it”

– Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Polytheistic Voices With Galina Krasskova

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I first became acquainted with Ptahmassu several years ago when I commissioned a series of icons for my prayer card series. His work was stunning and it was very clear immediately that his icons were living embodiments of divine energy. The Gods had blessed him as a craftsman and artist. He is a fierce polytheist and I am delighted that he was able to take the time for this interview.

 

GK:  Tell me a little bit about yourself and your work. Who are you and what do you do?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  My life as a servant of the Gods has taken me on a very windy road.  It feels like each stage of my life has witnessed the Gods calling me to another level or mode of service, and with each level has come a more wholesome understanding of who the Gods are and what They have to say to humankind.  I was legally ordained as a priest of the Temple of Isis California in 2001 by the Rt. Rev. Lady Loreon Vignè, and a priest of the Fellowship of Isis by Lady Olivia Robertson.  The spiritual visions of the TOI and FOI have played a significant role in the development of my spiritual work, which has become- more and more- the path of devotional service to the living Gods.

 I regard myself as a devotional Polytheist, primarily in the Kemetic tradition, though there are other pantheons I serve with cultus.  My direct experience has demonstrated to me that the Gods are unique and individual manifestations of the Divine.  They each have Their own powers and spheres of influence, material and spiritual forms, personalities and methods for revealing Their presences to devotees.  I reject entirely the rather New Age concept of the Gods as merely different faces of the same inscrutable god, and the ever popular neo-Pagan ideal that views all gods as one god, and all goddesses as one goddess.  In these regards you could call me something of a hard Polytheist. 

My calling to Kemetic Polytheism has found its most profound outlet in my work as a ritualist and an iconographer, both of which I see as two sides of the same coin.  For me, Kemeticism is bound to our immediate relationship with our Gods, the Netjeru, Who engage humankind through the actions of cultus, which revolve around the divine presences inherent in ritually awakened images.  It was through a very gradual process spanning a number of years that I was directed to use my priestly skills in conjunction with my skills as an artist and crafts-person.  The result of this process is my vocation as a Kemetic iconographer, which is my sole vocation, in the place of secular work.  My goal is to eventually establish a guild of Kemetic iconographers to carry out the continued revival of Kemetic ritual practices via the iconographic arts of the temple.  Innate to this goal is the philosophy of Kemetic polytheism as a body of religious practices to which the living Gods are central.  I want my work, more than anything, to be a voice for devotional Polytheism.

To read the entire interview please click here

Revisiting Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land

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Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land
Panel #2 of the Sacred West Triptych
An original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
Extra fine watercolor, precious metal, semi-precious stones on 8″x10″ archival panel
Genuine mineral pigments used as watercolor:
lapis lazuli (sourced from Chile), amethyst (Soladad, Brazil), bloodstone (Alaska, USA), jadeite (Alaska, USA), piemontite (Alaska, USA), rhodonite (Bellahorizonte, Brazil), red fuchsite (Brazil), garnet (Brazil), malachite.
22 karat gold, Sterling silver, copper
Cabochon gemstones: Chrysoprase (Brazil), Sugilite (South Africa), onyx
Austrian lead crystal elements by Swarovski®.

 

O Anpu, Lord of the Sacred West,
open the Doors of Heaven,
and open your mouth in the
presence of the West!

Homage to You, Lord of Natron,
whose scent is the scent of the
First Occasion, whose breath
brings life to the one who inhales it.

Make the giving of life, O Lord
for the one who sleeps,
make a path in the Sacred West
for the one who has journeyed forth.

Open your mouth, O Anpu,
and may my mouth be opened
by that tool of heavenly iron
by which Ptah opened up the
mouths of all the Gods.
May You in your leopard skin
place your powers upon my shoulders,
your breath in my nostrils,
your terror in my hands.

You breathe, O Anpu, and I breathe!
You take your seat in the Wedjat Eye, O Anpu,
and I too am seated in the Wedjat Eye
at the hour of its filling!
You sit upright, O Anpu, and I am erect,
never impotent, never weary like the
Imperishables.

Homage to You, O Anpu the Lord of Natron!
Your purity is the purity of the Nine Gods,
whose sweat composes me, whose brows flare
with power over my flesh and my members!
I stand in the Sea of Reeds, rejuvenated
from the efflux of your body,
and what dwells in the Gods dwells
within me.

All praise to You, Anpu, Lord of the Sacred Land,
Dweller Upon His Mount and Foremost of the
Westerners!

-Prayer honoring Anpu Lord of Natron
by Master Iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

 

Since I have not yet posted professional quality photographs of my icon “Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land“, it gives me great pleasure to present to you this collection of outstanding pictures taken by professional photographer Nick Sokolof of Salt Lake City, Utah.  It is with profound gratitude that I am able to share this work with those of you who continue to support and take an interest in my work, and I say thank you to Nick for the time and energy he has thus far invested in photographing my icons.  Please enjoy!

All photographs copyright© 2017 Nick Sokolof.  All rights reserved

 

Honoring Thrice-Great Djehuty

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Aegis of Djehuty and the Souls of Khmennu“:  an original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa / panel one of the Lords of Valor Triptych / natural semi-precious mineral watercolor, acrylic, semi-precious stone, Austrian lead crystal, 22 karat yellow gold, 23 karat red gold, platinum on 5″ x 7” archival wood and clay panel.

Natural mineral pigments used as watercolor:  lapis lazuli, amethyst, malachite, jadeite, garnet, red fuchsite, piemontite

 

Full Moon night fell on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah’s northwestern desert on May 10, 2017, and we gathered beneath the ruddy peaks that lined the valley to give praise to the Noble Ibis- the God Djehuty, called “Thrice-Great” in so many ancient texts.  My new series of small icon panels, the “Aegis Series”, began with the Aegis of Djehuty and the Souls of Khmennu, a work that petitions Lord Djehuty to safeguard the virtues of sacred Knowledge, Wisdom, and Magical learning.  Like all of the panels in the Aegis Series, this icon is a *shield* of divine protection aimed at drawing out the apotropaic qualities of the deity it houses. 

This holy work is not a symbol, though it displays symbols.  It is not a reminder, though it contains memory.  It is not inspirational art, though it was certainly divinely inspired and provokes inspiration.  Like all true cult images or God-images, the Aegis of Djehuty is a physical manifestation of the Netjer’s (the Deity’s) Ka or Vital Essence.  Referred to in the ancient tongue as sekhem, the cult-image is a literal container of the Netjer’s power, and is itself a tangible manifestation of that deity’s living presence.  Such works are taken through a number of complex rites and magical procedures, from the moment of their inception to the moment of their installation in temple or shrine.  Each of my icons is *birthed* through the pains and ecstasies of time-honored rites that directly link the physical image with the dynamic manifestation of the deity crafted upon it.

One such body of practices is the rite of lunar radiation, during which the icon is taken beneath the light of the Full Moon, and remains there for a period of time long enough to magically charge it with the essence of the lunar disk.  Solar radiations are also accomplished for deities linked directly with the sun; but for Lord Djehuty, Who is Himself the very embodiment of the Moon (Iah), the lunar radiation ritual is the most vital and powerful ritual, whose action grants the cult-image a living power all its own.

So, we took the Aegis of Djehuty- still in a state of being worked to completion- out into the desert salt flats where the intense glare of the Full Moon shone nearly as bright as early morning on the pristine salt.  Above us stretched a dark lapis sky ornamented with bright stars, and behind us the dark amber sentinels of pyramidal mountains.  These were the peaks we have recognized as sacred places of our Gods, and have even given them Kemetic names; Montu Mountain, the Peak of Sutekh Great of Strength, the Womb of Merit-Sager.  All of Them watched in utter silence as we created an appropriate ritual space on the desert floor, and then broke the silence with the crash of our sistrums and chanting in the Kemetic tongue. 

Offerings of round bread and beer were fed to the image through the recitation of offering formulas, and Lord Djehuty petitioned to receive the essence of the offerings by way of the *mouth* of His holy image.  It is the essence of cult that opens up the doorway between our human world and the world of the Gods.  It is the action of cult- its offerings, music, hymns, and ecstasy- that urges the Gods to return our petitions with the power of Their living Presences.  It is cult that brings human and Divine together in the same vital space, which becomes a living temple where the Gods and Their celebrants dance.

The most significant aspect of the cult of images is to provide a meeting place for the material and spiritual worlds, to bring these together in such a way as to make them inseparable.  This is accomplished through the feeding of the divine image, meaning the offering of taste (food sustenance), sight (via flames), sound (via music, instruments and chanting), and smell (incense) to the Deity.  These are the foundations of cultic action, and without them no God-image can hope to serve or to bridge the gap between humanity and the Gods.  It is the constant *feeding* of the God-image that establishes a firm link with the deity so embodied, and cult-images that receive constant and vigilant service become the most potent images of all.

I am very grateful to those generous souls who contributed prayers to be read out loud during our lunar radiation rite for Lord Djehuty.  Her Holiness Rev. Tamara Siuda (AUS), Nisut / Sacral King of the Kemetic Orthodox Faith, was kind enough to send us a special prayer she had adapted for our blessing of this icon, and she is sincerely thanked for providing that blessing.  Rev. Tatiana Matveena allowed us to use two of her beautiful and poetic prayers to Djehuty for His gratification.  All three of these prayers are posted below with permission from their authors, and all rights are reserved by them.

 

 

Prayer for Blessing the Aegis of Djehuty

By H.H. Rev. Tamara Siuda (AUS)

Dua Djehuty! I kiss the earth before Ra’s tjaty.
Very Great Lord, sacred bird, Lord of Ma’at, words, and knowledge:
Creator Who spoke the words of life,
You Who spoke into existence all that is and shall be,
Who played a game against the moon that Netjeru might be born,
Who aided Aset in Her flight, and judged in Heru’s favor;
You Who are mate of History and consort to Truth,
Lord of scribes, playwrights, and poets,
Grant that this icon communicate with Your grace.
Accept my words and bless Your image with iru,
that it might inspire and bring blessings to all who interact with it.
May You walk within it, and within each of us, today and every day.
Kheperu! Nekhtet!

 

Adoration of Thrice-Great Djehuty

By Rev. Tatiana Matveena

Djehuty thrice-great, lord of Khemennu
Uncreated, who made the world into being
As the word of Ptah and will of Atum
Who witnessed the birth of sun
On the top of the hill of the Ogdoad

My heart longs for you
Your city is in rejoice
When you come into it
Let me praise you
At day at night
You, master of the divine book
Who measured the sky and earth
Let me follow you
Wherever you go
Protect me and vindicate against my enemies

Make me justified
Before the tribunal of any god and goddess
Let them all say, she is without fault
So my water and bread will be pure
One that comes from your altar
Let me come to the beautiful west
To the abode of pure souls
To dwell with ones who love you

You, the well of the desert for those who thirst
Consolation of sorrows
Inventor of speech
Lord of many graces
Let me know all your holy names
Written in my heart
Let me know you and adore you in all your holy forms
So I may make the glorifications
Of the secrets of Thoth

 

Praising Djehuty Lord of Hermopolis

By Rev. Tatiana Matveena

Praise to you, Djehuty,
Lord of Hermopolis, Thrice Great,
Great One of the Five,
Lord of the divine Net in Kheseret,
Lord of Terror in Pselquet,
Lord of the Wine in Abaton.
Lord of the Divine Speech,
One who makes libations for the Ogdoad on Iat-Djamut,

Divine Avenger with knife
Sharp as the moon-crescent, blood-stained,
One, whose revenge is swift,
One, whose benevolence has no limits.

You, the most beautiful,
Silver Aten of the Night,
Lord of the Glory of Nut,
Thrice Great, Great.

My heart rejoices about you every day,
Your heart is pleased, when you see me,
My heart is full of joy when I see you.
You make me justified,
Before the tribunal of every God and Goddess,
You initiate me into the secrets of the Divine Book,
And let me know the difficult passages of the Divine Speech,
You let me know the number of Chambers-of-the-Sanctuary.
You are the Light I saw in the Chamber of Darkness.

Accept me to your suite
And let me follow you
Wherever you go,
And grant me safe passage
Through either of the Two Ways
To the Mansion of the Moon,
To the abode of Justified.

I live to serve Djehuty,
Now and in the eternity-everlasting, nhh-djt.

 

Photo Essay: Coming Full Circle With Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land

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Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land

Panel #2 of the Sacred West Triptych
An original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Extra fine watercolor, precious metal, semi-precious stones on 8″x10″ archival panel

Genuine mineral pigments used as watercolor:
lapis lazuli (sourced from Chile), amethyst (Soladad, Brazil), bloodstone (Alaska, USA), jadeite (Alaska, USA), piemontite (Alaska, USA), rhodonite (Bellahorizonte, Brazil), red fuchsite (Brazil), garnet (Brazil), malachite.

22 karat gold, Sterling silver, copper
Cabochon gemstones: Chrysoprase (Brazil), Sugilite (South Africa), onyx
Austrian lead crystal elements by Swarovski®.

O Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land draw near to my door!
May You grant boons when You come with the Wedjat Eye wholly open; untarnished it rises in Your hands before the Assembly of the Sky!
Ho! Throw back those bolts to the sky-doors,
and upon Your holy mount rise up to break the seals of heaven.
O Anpu, O Opener of Ways, remove the dust from before my door,
and bring me up to the Mansion of the West when I go forth as one of the Blessed! 

-Excerpt from the Prayer to Anpu as Liberator of the Blessed Dead By Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

A man has perished: his corpse is dust,
and his people have passed from the land;
it is a book which makes him remembered
in the mouth of a speaker.
More excellent is a roll [scroll] than a built house,
than a chapel in the west.It is better than an established villa,
than a stela in a temple.

-From Papyrus Chester Beatty IV(R.B. Parkinson, Voices From Ancient Egypt, p. 150. University of Oklahoma Press, 1991)

On March 20, 2017, at the hour of Spring Equinox and on Last Quarter Moon day, I completed the creation of “Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land ”, panel two of the Sacred West Triptych. This journey began in June of 2015 with my preliminary sketch of this Netjer, transcribed directly from a vision I had had during dream incubation. That is how the Netjeru answer my petitions to give Their holy kas places of residence, which is precisely what icons or cult images are. They are the places the Gods choose to alight when They are called out from that Other World of the numinous.

It is the properly executed and awakened image that becomes the earthly manifestation of a Netjer, Who lives not a distant life from the material world, but a life fully engaged with the physical and terrestrial creation. The Netjeru are not repelled by the graven or tangible, nor are They lost when we enter flesh and blood, or when we mingle with the sensual, visual, tactile faculties of our human nature. It is through the world of matter and sensation that the Gods engage us, flirt with us, call us, and awaken us to the highest states of consciousness of which life is capable.

The icon becomes a point of contact with that interior world we call Sacred, a world that wears the clothing of precious metals and luminous colors. All icons provide a setting for a dialogue, an exchange taking place between the immortal and mortal, the Sacred and profane; but I would add that icons are also a place, a dimension where the profane and mortal mind may be transformed into the numinous and elevated. The true masterpieces of iconography provoke a direct change in our perception of the material reality in which we find ourselves; and such works as these allow us to see the Gods as active partners in the evolution of the natural world and the human condition that inhabits it. Such works permit us to see the holiness resident in matter, in our flesh and blood, and in the experience of life itself.

But I must add that the cult images representing the Kemetic Netjeru- and very much those crafted by my own hand- are not produced as mere pegs of inspiration upon which human beings are able to hang their hopes and aspirations; as such a purpose would place the human ego as the focus of the exercise of divine service, which must never be the case if the true aims of cultus are to be realized.

The Ancestors of our contemporary Kemeticisms left us a clear record of how the Gods interact with the mortal world, and how such interactions foster the accomplishment of Ma’at, the Work of Truth, the ultimate form of Justice through which all life benefits. In this work the Temples and their cultus are institutions of service based upon a mutual, symbiotic relationship with the Gods. The Gods give; humankind gives back; the Gods give in return; and this cycle is perpetuated through the cult of offerings and images, which provide, once again, a point of contact between humanity and its Gods.

To the Ancients, the terrestrial bodies of the Gods, that is to say the cult images or icons crafted by human hands, were the literal dwelling places of a portion of the Divine power, a power that could come and go, enter and leave the material world at will. The Netjeru are not limited to a single form or realm of creation, because all forms and all creation belongs first to Them; thus Theirs is the expression of infinite multiplicity and constant evolution from form to form to form, and each form They enter becomes yet another stage or aspect of a continuous stream of divine manifestation.

Within this understanding of the Sacred, cult images serve the Gods as places of alighting, and as vehicles for bestowing Their boons to the mortal world by way of the Temples and shrines in which cult images are maintained. The cult image or icon, then, is for the Gods; it behaves as a residence for the indwelling Divine presence in the same manner as the human spirit utilizes a body of flesh and blood as its vehicle during earthly life. The cult image is not a reminder. It is not a symbol. It is not a work of art crafted for our edification or pleasure. It is a receptacle for the Divine Ka, Whose powers are projected through the material substance of the image and interact with the material world in which the image has been awakened.

Each icon I craft has its own unique process of awakening, though the same time-honored cultic and ritualistic standards are adhered to unwaveringly as I strive to bring into our world a vital piece of that other Sacred world. My experience has been that each Netjer adds to these with a series of trials or ordeals, every one a stage of initiation that allows me to gather necessary insights into the nature of that Netjer and how She / He manifests throughout creation. This is at once a process of struggle, of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual hardship, rather like drawing out honey from a nest of live bees; one must brave and endure the stings in order to taste the sweetness. The Gods always give with one hand and take with the other.

The Ancients who bequeathed me their iconographic arts were well aware of the dangers- both personal and cosmic- of activating divine images in the context of sacred space. Their temples may have been immense complexes of pylons and columned halls stretching over vast acres of land, but the actual sanctuaries housing the awakened cult images of the Gods were relatively small and intimate spaces, and the images themselves were sheltered in shrines with sealed doors. The temples themselves were always surrounded by high, undulating walls, often crenelated, whose lofty pylons were magically protected by defensive martial reliefs, sphinxes, and guardian colossi. These were worlds within worlds, within whose precincts were daily, even hourly, reenacted the holy rites through which the violent powers of the process of creation were harnessed and pushed forward.

An iconographer (in the Kemetic tradition, and I am sure in other traditions, too) must by necessity be a worker in Heka, a word often translated as “Magic”. I prefer to describe Heka as a “leavener” or “leavening agent”, a set of tools that provoke or give rise to effects, though this is a somewhat terse description. Far from being hocus pocus, Heka is precise knowledge of the laws of cause and effect, which, when paired with engagement with or intervention from the Gods, has the capacity to change events and substances in the material world. In the realm of sacred space, where cult images stand as open channels between the divine and mortal worlds, Heka is used to construct a defensive framework, a protective sack or womb, within whose boundaries the work of creation may unfold beyond the influence of chaotic / destructive forces.

Each creative act will naturally give rise to the potential for its opposite, and each object opened as a doorway between the worlds will inevitably allow manifold aspects of the numinous to pass through its channels; thus the Ancients took complex magical measures via ritual acts in order to close the gap between negative forces and the unfolding work of creation within the temples. Cult images too were armed with regalia, scents, fabrics, and magical words that assured they were outside the scope of entry by malevolent forces.

These things are also very prominent concerns as I undertake my sacred labors as an iconographer, but so too is the necessary path of the initiate, the spiritual pilgrim, the devotee of the divine cult as both servant and master of the sacred powers spelled out in the form of the icon. We begin with the raw materials of wood panel, gold, silver, copper, semi-precious stones and mineral pigments, and through the processes of craft and magical initiation, we shape the inanimate substances of this world into a holy body animated by the Ka of the Netjer. But this is very much a process of struggle, like the violent struggle of a mother to bring her baby into this world; there is suffering and sacrifice involved to push and make way for a new life to take the breath of consciousness.

Icons and cult images truly awakened are conscious with an interior life that hears and sees and speaks, and animates what would otherwise be cold stone, metal or pigment. In order for the iconographer to perform such a miracle, the deity in question must be an active participant and co-creator in this process, which demands the fully conscious faculties of the iconographer, and her or his mastery of the spiritual, metaphysical principles involved in bringing forth the numinous into the terrestrial.

I am all too familiar with the “birth pains” of iconography, which always vary from more or less benign to severe. Each Netjer takes the lead in my work with requirements of Their own, which include various levels of offering to life experiences designed to awaken in me the metal and spiritual faculties needed in order to bring through the divinely desired and exact image. We humans- and especially we human artisans!- are all too full of our own egos and designs, and these are often a disservice to the ability of receiving the impersonal Sacred, which transcends the human ego and ultimately limited desires. True iconography is an impersonal act, manifesting not the vision or creative direction of the artisan, but rather the transcendental presence of the Divine, which is never caught up in a single frame of mind or set of desires.

The template of the Gods I use in my work has not been constructed in order to satisfy my vision of my own experiences or state of being, but is rather a timeless set of principles woven together using symbols, materials, and forms conducive of the larger, transpersonal expression of the Sacred throughout creation. This expression is infinitely larger than my own comprehension, and multifaceted beyond the limited scope of egoistic designs.

I have now come full circle with Anpu neb ta-djoser, “Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land “, after a journey of considerable difficulty. Never before have I encountered such trials- technically, intellectually, spiritually, and even physically- while bringing an icon to fruition, which has left its indelible mark upon my person. The Equinox came, and brought with it the birth pangs that tear the soul, and make instantly sober a mind traveling the buoyancy of creative fulfillment. I have always reached that point of satisfaction upon the completion of an icon, which for me is a moment of celebration and gratitude; but this time is very different.

Lord Anpu gleams with His pure gold and silver and copper, robust and noble beneath His celestial crown of crescent moon and crystal stars. He thrusts the sun-touched lunar disk into a sky of real lapis lazuli, beheld by the Wedjat Eyes of the Other World glinting with holy gold and warm copper. Surrounded by genuine amethyst and a host of other semi-precious pigments, the Lord of the Sacred Land gives resurrection and restoration to the dead and slumbering souls, and the renewal of life to the shrouded body of His Father Ausir.

Everywhere the signs of life abound in this icon, but so too does the truth of sacrifice and suffering, of purple-black midnight darkness, and the loneliness of death. The imy-uwt fetish spills its blood behind the striding feet of the God, Who appears before the Mount of the West upon which the tomb of His Father has been raised. This is a moment where life and death claim in equal measure, where suffering and liberation are given equal dues, where human mortality breaks through into that numinous state of divine immortality. This is an icon containing the magic of death, which is the mother and father of all created things.

Lord Anpu came to me when I asked Him to, and He gave me an image of Him to give to the world; not painless or joyful, easy or ecstatic, but rather in a veil of divine terror that leads the heart through all the dark places of the world. This is a world where we see that in our beginning sprouts the makings of our own end; but this ending is not all there is, for everything created that is destroyed takes on new form, and it is this process of regeneration that is opened by Lord Anpu, Who Himself is the Opener of the Ways. He did not promise me an easy path when I petitioned Him for an image, but showed me a vision of terror and triumph that would require a sacrifice of my own to make it complete. With suffering can come knowledge, and with knowledge power; a power that initiates the mind of all pilgrims into the higher reality of the Sacred, the most dangerous reality in creation.


Facebook Live: Cult, Image, and Sacred Craft in Our Practice (Episode One in a Series)

Photo Essay: Walking Through the Veil

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Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land“~ An original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa / panel 2 of the Sacred West Triptych/ a work currently in progress.  22 karat gold, Sterling Silver, copper on 8″ x 10″ panel

 

 

Even when you are in shadow, I am with you;
when you traverse through the fields where the sun fails to shine; when the horizon is closed behind you!
There I am, bearing the torch of the sky in my arms; I who strike the flame; I who brighten the passages below the earth; I who walk through the Veil!

~ Oracle of the God Anpu delivered to the iconographer on August 19, 2016

 

Wep Renpet (or Wep Ronpet, “Opening of the Year”, Kemetic New Year’s Day) fell on New Moon day this year, August 2, marking a high point in my work with the Sacred West Triptych.  At sunrise we gathered two of the icon panels- those of Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine and Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land– and headed out onto the Bonneville Salt Flats on the Utah Desert, where we waited to welcome the New Year sunrise with a serenade of ancient hymns and traditional prayers.  We placed the icons of Ptah-Sokar-Ausir and Anpu side-by-side facing east, and when the sun appeared He showered them with His holy radiation.  Ptah-Sokar-Ausir had been completed only just, so His solar radiation appeared as a brilliant flash of pure gold, copper, and semi-precious stones, and rich colors that seemed to compete with the cornflower blue and delicate pink of the desert sky.   Anpu, on the other hand, was still only a black and white underdrawing, with highlights picked out in detailed gesso bas reliefs.  In the warm brush of summer air that fluttered over the desert, Lord Anpu, though not yet majestic with gold or sumptuous color, received the New Year sun to the sound of our crashing sistra and Kemetic chants.  This was the traditional Union with the Sun, holy to the ancient Egyptians as the New Year’s rite for charging the most sacrosanct of temple images.

 

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Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land stands side-by-side with Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine to receive the blessing of sunrise on Wep Renpet morning

 

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Holding Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land at the time of our sunrise service on Wep Renpet morning

 

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Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land as He appeared on Wep Renpet morning; a work still very much in progress, but blessed nonetheless by this auspicious day

 

From New Moon day (August 2) until Full Moon day (August 18) I worked steady and sure on the application of precious metal to the detailed bas reliefs on Anpu; consisting primarily of 22 karat gold, but with the addition of Sterling Silver and copper for the elements that magically required it.  This icon presents Lord Anpu as a lunar deity, represented by His uplifting of the moon, which is now covered in Sterling Silver.  This is a metaphor for the heavenly body of the God Ausir (Wesir, Osiris), the resurrected God Whose dismembered limbs have been reassembled and bound back together; each of these 14 limbs being a day of the principal lunar cycle.  However, the silver moon is rimmed by the golden snake of Mehen, the netjer Who safeguards the corpse of Ra-Atum as it passes through the dangers of the Duat or Netherworld.  Mehen here represents the solar cycle and its nocturnal rejuvenation of the corpse of Ra, which may be magically linked to the corpse of the God Ausir.  Anpu is the netjer Who brings back together the separate components of the God Ausir, while also empowering the aging body of Ra to return by morning as the netjer of renewal.    Both of these cycles- one lunar and the other solar- are embodied in this icon, which seeks to spell out the sacred powers through which creation is restored after death or dissolution.

 

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Late on the night of August 2, still on Wep Renpet day, we returned to the lonely salt flats of the Utah Desert for our final ceremony to welcome the New Year; this a lunar rite of sanctification and birthing for my icon of Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land.  The deep purple shadows of the dominating mountains loomed in the distance as we set up our altar on the salt flats, which felt truly forbidding and empty without the ivory touch of the moon.  We struck candles and sistra, and intoned in the ancient Egyptian language the primary names and epithets of Lord Anpu, Whose icon seemed to leap up with a life of its own in the flickering halos of our candles.  We touched the ears, eyes, lips, and limbs of Anpu’s image with a sharp obsidian blade, and anointed the backside corners of the panel with genuine holy lotus oil; and it was these actions that bestowed the introduction of divine life to this little icon panel that has now become so much a part of my daily life.

He is a God that walks through the veil, this God Anpu of Whom it is said that He brought back together the lifeless limbs of the God Ausir to make them live again.  He is the God Who dominates the empty desert in which I live; except it is not really empty, when I look out over the shimmering white flats of salt to the pyramidal peaks of amber that climb into the turquoise sky; and what I see is a doorway to that other world rising where mortal eyes might miss it.  It is said that in the midst of life we are also in the midst of death.  If this is true, then it is equally true that we are also in the midst of the veil through which Lord Anpu moves, passing effortlessly from one world into the other.  He is our guide, a journeyer Whose hands open the way from death into new life.  That really is the purpose of my work as an iconographer; to create windows that open up doors into that mysterious other world.  It is our inheritance, after all, when we become more than the sum of our mortal parts.

 

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Photo Essay: Union With the Sun

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Offering the completed icon of Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine to the rising sun on the morning of Wep Renpet (Wep Ronpet)

I walk my path with the living Gods in the middle of a desert wasteland. It is a harsh and isolated place, and one in which I am tried and tested, asked to go inward, and face the true mirror of my Ka. What do I see reflected in Netjer’s mirror? I see the bodies of living Gods breathing through Their creation. Not all of creation is hospitable or kind, luxurious or easy to traverse. The Gods give me a path in the middle of a salty plain, then ask me to take off my shoes! They then give me glorious forms to hold in my hands, to bring forth from that terrible place we call the Duat.
 
Here I am at sunrise on Wep Renpet, the Opening of the Year where everything begins again in Zep Tepi, the First Occasion. I present to the face of Ra the image of His nocturnal body, Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, which He has allowed me to pull out from the darkness. When my body leaves this earth, I will remain in the holy images my fingers have fought to fashion; my Ka will live again, and again, every morning when the sun strikes this mirror of Holies.~ Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

 
In the pre-dawn hour of August 2, 2016 we arrive at the lonely and hauntingly beautiful stretch of the Utah desert known as the Bonneville Salt Flats.  The air is warm and heavy even at this early time of the morning, when the empty sky glitters above like dark and polished turquoise.  In the distance rise the amber pyramid-shaped peaks of mountains, their rich color contrasting sharply with the white sheen of salt fanning out for miles before them.

 
For Kemetics everywhere this is the holiest day of the year, the sacred time known as Wep Renpet (or Wep Ronpet), the “Opening of the Year” or New Year’s day; the day when time begins again, when creation is renewed and returned to Zep Tepi, that primordial “First Occassion” during which the living Gods unfolded the miracles of creation.  This is the time our life begins again, when our world can begin again, and the veil between human and divine appears gossamer thin.  We can walk side by side with our Netjeru as They weave the warp and weft of flesh and spirit anew.  Our imperfections are cleansed as we greet the first rays of sunlight that strike the earth on this morning of beginnings.
 

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The face of Ra mounts the horizon of the Utah desert at Bonneville on Wep Renpet morning.  With open hands and an ancient hymn of praise I greet Him, Ra, the Lord to the Limits of Creation

 
On this morning we follow in the footsteps of all the Ancestors before us; those Ancients who ascended the roofs of the holy sanctuaries to bring the sacred images of the Gods up to the New Year sky to receive the solar radiation.  This ceremony, called the khnm-atn or “uniting with the sun”, was performed in every temple in Egypt at dawn on Wep Renpet(1), and embodies the revivifying power of the Netjer, the sustaining force of creation, fusing with the material creation.  But this holy rite also signifies the living divine essence resident in awakened or opened cult images, which themselves contain the ba or spiritual essence of the deity represented.  There is no more sacred moment in all the year than Wep Renpet morning; at that precise moment of sunrise when the earth welcomes the first rays of sunlight on the first day of the new year.
 

My newest icon panel (Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine) was completed on New Moon day on July 4, 2016, and began its birthing or awakening / opening on July 19th, Full Moon day.  Wep Renpet this year coincided with New Moon day (heb pesedjenti), itself one of the most sacrosanct moments of the lunar cycle embodying divine rebirth, marriage, and renewal; thus Wep Renpet this year held the most hallowed and vital energy possible for servants of the Netjeru.  For Kemetic iconographers like myself, this day was an opportunity to consecrate new holy images to the service of the living Gods; images that would be imbued with the energy of the new moon on the first day of the new year.  Any image thus blessed becomes the repository of a most auspicious power, and one that cannot be depleted as long as the image itself survives.

 

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Top:  Ra rises over the Bonneville Salt Flats on the Utah desert on Wep Renpet morning.  Above:  The peaks and sky of the Utah desert are lightened by the first rays of the sun on New Year’s day.

 

We brought with us two icon panels, “Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine” and “Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land“, both from the Sacred West Triptych, to receive the Union with the Sun, the solar radiation blessing that would empower the icons to serve as a proper repository for the Netjer’s holy ba.  A light and warm wind picked up over the salt flats the moment the first portion of the sun’s body emerged on the horizon, and with it the melodious crash of our sacred rattles, accompanied by the hymn for awakening Amun-Ra in His temple.  It was an awe inspiring moment for us to see the bright beams of the New Year sun strike the two icon panels, but most especially that of Lord Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, covered in lustrous 22 karat gold, copper, Sterling silver, and semi and semi-precious stones; these glowing with an inner light all their own, heightened by the dazzling, fresh sun.

 

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Note

1     Ragnhild Bjerre Finnestad, “Temples of the Ptolemaic and Roman Period:  Ancient Traditions in New Contexts“, in Temples of Ancient Egypt, edited by Byron E. Shafer (New York, 1997) pp. 221-222.

 

 

Crashing Through The Gates

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It is through dream incubation, divination, and a number of other factors that I arrive at the icon images I bring forth with my hands. My current works, the Sacred West Triptych (Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine, Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land, and Auset the Great Enchantress), are edging surely towards completion; and I had thought my next triptych in this series was fixed, but the Netjeru have had Their way, making Their voices clearly heard. Lord Setesh (Sutekh, Set) has been walking with me very strongly the past month or so, and with Him a host of the Lords of the Desert; but also Lord Djehuty has stepped forward to demand greater attention and devotion, though He is and always has been a very strong presence in my spiritual life and work. I have a very strong bond with Lord Montu that I have nourished since my high school days, but have only rarely spoken of.

It seems now that Lords Set, Djehuty, and Montu have crashed through the gates of my iconographic plans and have decreed my focus on Them for my next triptych. I had already planned on including these Netjeru in my “Gods of Life, Gods of Death” series of icons, but had not scheduled Them to a specific time frame. I do not work according to my own personal agenda and desires, but instead always ask the Gods to take my heart and hands into Their keeping, and to let me know through clear signs what They need, want or require of me in my craft. Divination is part of this, which I always ask from external sources I trust and know can be counted on; and for good measure I ask divination from parties wholly unrelated to one another so that results can be compared and cannot be biased.

Once again, the Netjeru have made Their voices clearly heard. Lord Djehuty requires me to create an icon for Him as the central panel of my next triptych. The other two positions will be filled by Lord Set (left panel facing right) and Lord Montu (right panel facing left). The oracle I received was very clear that Lord Djehuty needed me to step up the process of birthing an image for Him, and Lords Set and Montu likewise require my hands quickly following. It is a strange and wondrous life, to be called to service and directed by one’s Gods. The Holy Powers walk with us in everything, and when we listen, when we open the ears of our heart to Their direction, our achievements become a living path of Their presences; a path that twists through dark and light, agony and ecstasy, ignorance and initiation. It all becomes the play of the Sacred, and life is a full house!

Hymn to Ptah-Sokar-Ausir For Bestowing the Netjer a Holy Image of His Form

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Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine

An original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
Extra fine watercolor, gold, semi-precious stones on 8″x10″ archival panel

Genuine mineral pigments used as watercolor:
lapis lazuli (sourced from Chile), amethyst (Soladad, Brazil), bloodstone (Alaska, USA), jadeite (Alaska, USA), piemontite (Alaska, USA), rhodonite (Bellahorizonte, Brazil), red fuchsite (Brazil), garnet (Brazil)
22 karat gold, Sterling silver, copper

sardonyx (India), fire opal (Mexico), moonstone, opal set in obsidian (Australia), onyx
Austrian crystal elements by Swarovski®.

 

Worship of Ptah-Sokar-Ausir when He appears by twilight on the western horizon of the sky, when His glorious ba manifests the completion of Atum on earth, when an offering is made by Ptahmassu, the servant of the God, the master color artist and scribe of the Gods, artisan of the House of Life who casts the shadow of the God as a living ba in its image, who has spent his life making images of the Gods, the unique one, the son of Ptah given life and vindicated forever, who says:

Homage to You O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Who comes upon His sand, the Lord of the Secret Shrine, the Great God Who is ruler of the beautiful west, the Lord of the Sacred Land residing in the west, the Great God Who is Foremost of the Westerners!

Praises rise for You in the region of the subterranean waters; the inhabitants of the Netherworld gather together to lift the sound heard only by the spirits of the hours, who wail for You, who create a shuddering for You in that Place of the Hauling where the corpse of Ra is revivified.

Praises rise for You Who wears the mantle of the horizons upon His shoulders; the falcon of dappled plumage whose name is ‘Ra the Lofty One of the Double Horizon’ , He whose form of ruddy gold dazzles the eastern house when it appears; Your appearances blinding the sky, glittering, casting out a feathery net of pure gold, whose wings are the very sky when she stretches out her arms.

Praises rise for You Who descends in the mountain of the west with the Wedjat Eye in His grasp; the Sacred Eye is completed in the company of Your hand, which foretells the Filling of the Eye in its moment of the sky; whose radiation encompasses the Gods of the Hours; whose light beams penetrate the Duat and mantle the corpse of the Sun.

Praises are given to You in Your mysterious region, in Your secrets, in Your darkness, in Your terror; these things that make You complete and unknowable in Your vast caverns beyond the sky. Humankind does not know You, the Gods cannot predict Your forms, whereas all that the sun encircles belongs to You when its time has been completed. O Form, O Lord of the Duat, possessing the torch of life in the place where diminishment falls; praise is Yours, and You hear it as it tears open the sky!

O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, take Your image as a doorway from the sky;
take Your image as the glittering prow of the Henu Ark,
whose runners break the backs of Your enemies- death and inertness-
upon the earth,
whose oars tread the sacred sky and Her outstretched arms,
whose mound is the gateway of souls;
and let me be called up by Your voice of terrible thunder;
let my body live again, my corpse shine as a spirit of pure gold!

The bones of Your enemies- oblivion and impotence- crumble and break;
for You are terrible in Your strength,
and when You rise in the sky
the Gods tremble in Your wake!
The sky in the east makes a gift of Your terror
to the sleepy mountain of sunrise;
in the west Your complete form is taken by the gap of the horizon,
where the dead are roused and make a cry of Your name.

I praise the Lord of the Netherworld Who is my dread lord!
He comes as the Lord of the Secret Shrine,
He of that place in the cavern of darkness
where the mantle of the Sun-God is carried through to the dawn.

Homage to You O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir!
You are Ptah, Tatenen, the Unique One of dynamic forms;
You are Sokar, He Who is Upon His Sand, of power in the Henu Ark;
You are Ausir, Wen-Nefer, Foremost of the Westerners Who is good.

Homage to You O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, Wen-Nefer, the perfect god Who shines in the holy west for the eyes of the blessed!

Homage to You O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, Khenty-Amentiu, the Forerunner of the Western Ones, the Opener of the Way in Whose tread all holy souls follow!

Homage to You O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir in Rosetau, Who leads and governs in the Place of the Hauling, Who knows the roads and their gates, Who throws open the doors of the sky, Who stands at the Place of the Dragging, Who unseals the Duat before the feet of the blessed!

Homage to You O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir of the Secret Shrine, Master of Shetyt, Whose circumference in strides crosses the threshold of the sky, surpassing millions of forms;
Your manifestation more far-reaching than the sun!

Homage to You O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, Hap the Bull, husband of the sky and governor of its timely flood;
You are the Holy Bull, the green of appearances, the thundering of feet over the clouds, the lightning of His cow, upon whose flank sails the Ark of Morning tide!

Homage to You O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, Nefertem, the Holy Lotus, revivifying power at the nostrils of Ra;
You are the coming into being of Ra from His corpse in the Duat;
You shine from His forehead, and gleam as electrum from His body;
You are the ba of Ra springing up from His mound;
You are the secret mound of the beginning, knowing the Gods before They came into being.

O my dread Lord, O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Who wears the bright atef-crown, the Right Eye and the Left Eye of the Sky-Lord;
when I speak to You, I speak to You in color;
when I pray to You, I pray to You in gold;
when I cry to You, I cry in stones made from mountains;
and when You answer me, You answer in forms
fashioned from the sky.
Terrible in Your darkness,
holy in Your light,
great in terror and dazzling in Your might;
You, O Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, are the lord of that Mysterious Region,
and Your secret shrine is the Place of the Hauling.
Come O Lord of shouting Who tears the sky,
and receive this image my heart has conceived!
When those who know You behold it,
they behold Your ba of heaven,
descended in earthly form.

As for anyone who sees this image of the ba of Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, who says “it is Ptahmassu the artisan who has made it as a gift for his lord”, and who makes an offering to his ka on behalf of the God, this one shall be given a portion of offerings from the hand of the God; they shall receive fulfillment of life in the Henu Ark, and shall be given power to take shape as a spirit of light amongst the ranks of the blessed. As for the one who honors this image with offerings, it means that they shall be known by name at the board of offerings of the God; this is a matter a million times true!

Openers of Doors

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Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine

An original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
Extra fine watercolor, gold, semi-precious stones on 8″x10″ archival panel

Genuine mineral pigments used as watercolor:
lapis lazuli (sourced from Chile), amethyst (Soladad, Brazil), bloodstone (Alaska, USA), jadeite (Alaska, USA), piemontite (Alaska, USA), rhodonite (Bellahorizonte, Brazil), red fuchsite (Brazil), garnet (Brazil)
22 karat gold, Sterling silver, copper

sardonyx (India), fire opal (Mexico), moonstone, opal set in obsidian (Australia), onyx
Austrian crystal elements by Swarovski®.

 

“We iconographers are much more than painters; we are gate keepers, and openers of doors through which the Gods enter our world. There is an above, and there is a below; and what the iconographer does in bring the above and below together, weaving the warp and the weft of human and divine, sacred and profane, mortal and immortal. We shine a light from the mirror of the dark realm where Gods, spirits, demons and the dead travel; we shape for Them a vehicle of earthly substance which transmits their ethereal presence, and allows us to receive that presence like a tree struck by lightning. We do not paint; we work miracles with minerals, color, and gold. We are not simply artists; we are channels for the Holy Powers, giving these a voice, a form, a dialogue with the human race. Our calling is not to glorify art for art’s sake, but to elevate art to its highest form possible; that of divine manifestation and communion”.

 

On July 19, 2016, the night of the Full Moon, as we prepared for our Wep Renpet (Kemetic New Year) celebrations, we went out to the center of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the Utah desert to hold the first of several consecration and blessing rituals for my newly completed icon of Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine.

It is hard for me to convey the immense relief and gratitude I feel to reach the completion of this holy work, which has now taken more than one year. Of course, I have been working on three icon panels simultaneously (as the panel of Ptah-Sokar-Ausir is the first icon in a triptych, the Sacred West Triptych); the other two are now half way complete.

This panel has also coincided with a very difficult series of initiations which have served to bring me ever closer to my Netjeru, my Gods, and in particular Lord Ptah-Sokar-Ausir, Who has taken me under His wings to give me not only this image of Him to act as a gateway for His living presence in our world, but also has transmitted spiritual realizations to me that are necessary for the fulfillment of my priesthood and life path. I am exhausted, inspired, grateful, and ever more in love with my Gods.

We arrived at the Salt Flats just after midnight, when the Full Moon had nearly risen to its zenith, and the miles of salt on the Salt Flats glistened like newly fallen snow. It was a silvery white almost like early morning sunlight.  Above our heads, the stars sparkled against the dark lapis veil of the sky. We set up an altar for the Netjer’s image between two green desert shrubs, the only living things growing in that hostile place, and we struck candles and incense, and began with a sound purification by sesheshet (sistrum), the crashing of which was clear and startling in the presence of the lapis sky and pyramidal mountain peaks soaring behind us.

We chanted Lord Ptah-Sokar-Ausir’s names and epithets in the meduw-netjer (hieroglyphs) as we circumambulated the Netjer’s icon, and then recited the offering prayer I had composed to formally hand over the God’s image to Him. Offerings followed, concluded by our personal prayers for the icon to be received by the Netjer and filled with His Holy Ba. This was only the first night of the Wep Ra or Opening of the Mouth rite for this image; it was a “soft” opening which we call a lunar radiation ritual; exposing the icon to the blessing of the Full Moon light in order to awaken and charge it for the many holy rites to follow.

A Process of Struggle

 

Opening images for the Gods on earth is dangerous as it is liberating. There are always forces bent on disturbing sacred work, and hindering those who engage in it. Those who create cult images must at one time or another come face to face with these forces and overcome them in order to bring through a true image of the deity. Icons / cult images are not pretty pictures or simply works of art; they are the visible manifestations of a process of struggle between order and chaos, and they are the gateways between worlds, literally.

The cultures of the Ancient Near East understood this only too well, and because of this struggle, those who created and awakened holy images operated within a ritualistic and magical framework that allowed them to safely bring into being an earthly form that was fit for occupation by the goddess or god of a temple. In Egypt, cult images were produced by specialists who were also bestowed with priestly titles or office, who wielded the ritualistic knowledge and purity to awaken living images of the Gods. This included the final ceremony of actually awakening or opening the holy image, which was accomplished via the Opening of the Mouth ceremony- a very involved set of invocations, purifications, offerings and precise ritual actions that made an inanimate man made form a magically suitable residence for a portion of the deity’s living, vital power.

These are all significant aspects of the work I undertake to bring through the images I create, though there are other aspects to my work that I don’t discuss. But it is because of these qualities that I always strongly differentiate between the creation of icons / cult images and what people call art work, art, painting, etc. I do not consider what I do art, art work, or painting in the contemporary understanding of those terms. I belong to a tradition that predates the conception of the visual arts as we know them, and also the term and concept of organized religion.

Contemporary painting involves the application of paint on a two dimensional surface to create an expression of the individual artist’s personality or experiences. The identity of the artist as an individual is often of primary or underlying concern in contemporary art. Art and painting as we know it today is utilized for personal expression and for decoration. Both of these ideas are absent from the creation of cult images in the work of the ancient Egyptians and peoples of the Near East. These are the traditions I am operating in, which define images of deities (either two or three-dimensional) as physical vehicles for harnessing and containing the dynamic power of the goddesses and gods who are worshiped through them. There is no self expression on the part of the craftspeople who undertake such creations, and there is no sense of creation as a work of art to decorate or be admired for aesthetic considerations.

My job as an iconographer manifests tremendous satisfaction when I see the end result, when I have completed the struggle- materially, intellectually, spiritually, and magically- to craft and then to activate an image as the home of a deity. When one of my icons has been installed in a Temple, and is receiving prayer, offerings, and daily cultic service, then and only then have I accomplished my sacred duty, which is, in the end, that of a Hem Netjer (Priest) and worker of Heka (Magic).

Art for its own sake is a noble and fulfilling vocation. Creation as an extension of the work of the Gods is the highest vocation to which an artist may aspire.

God of Death, God of Life

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My journey with Ptah-Sokar-Ausir to co-create an icon for Him is gradually coming to an end. I say co-create because a true icon or cult image is the outcome of an intimate collaboration between the deity and the iconographer. This relationship for me is a deeply initiatory experience, and one that ripples out from the studio to impact many areas of my life simultaneously. I cannot claim absolute authorship of the holy images my hands help to bring into this world. Artistic skill is the easiest aspect of the work I do; it is the spiritual faculty demanded that challenges and provokes me to refine my relationship with my Gods.

What I have found is that Ptah-Sokar-Ausir is a surprisingly vibrant, multi-colored and energetic deity. A death god would seem to bespeak solemnity, quiet awe, and perhaps respectful terror; certainly, I have felt these things rising to the surface at various times during the creation process. However, Lord Ptah-Sokar-Ausir continually asserted to me that being a death god actually places Him foremost in the phenomena of life-giving, procreation, continuity, rebirth, and production; for the Kemetic experience of death is the completion of one cycle coinciding with the beginning of the new. Death is itself a force giving way to life. Ptah-Sokar-Ausir explodes with fresh energy, manifesting in brilliant colors that leads one into the presence of the newly risen sun, or the holy lotus as its buds burst open.

This is what I experienced very profoundly as I concentrated on bringing His image to life on the icon panel. Ptah-Sokar-Ausir also showed Himself as a source of healing, which I had previously not associated with Him specifically. But it does make sense that a deity involved in giving resurrection to the dead would concern Himself with the healing process; after all, what is resurrection or rebirth if not a healing from death, impotence, and inertness.

Ptah-Sokar-Ausir takes custodianship of the dead within His cavern of darkness in the Duat, and then, in those darkest hours of the night, pushes the seed of new life up and into the world of light again. He is not unlike a midwife, nor is He separate from the undertaker. He receives death and all dead matter into His hands, and in those hands He transforms death into the matter and phenomenon of life. He is, then, a god of LIFE, not a god who takes life away. These are things I have felt strongly during the execution of this icon, which has at times been emotionally and physically taxing, and at others profoundly charging and exhilarating.

Brief Thoughts On Purpose

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At the end of the day my work is for the Gods, not for the gratification of human eyes. When we look at the “art” of the ancient Egyptians- the amazing reliefs and paintings in the tombs, and the objects that were placed in these holy places- we are astounded by the quality and attention to mastery that went into their making.

But we must stop and think how so much of these wonders were never intended to be seen by human eyes once they were crafted and sealed away. The reliefs and sacred texts that were the life’s work of master sculptors and painters…religious treasures like those buried with Tutankhamun…these were not created for mortal eyes, nor as “art” pieces for human consumption.

Egypt’s “art” was and is a spiritual technology designed to drawn the Gods into our world, and in so doing, to maintain the sacred order of creation via an interdependent relationship…one in which human beings and Gods are co-creators. In this relationship, sacred images, cult images, are the lenses through which the Gods enter and exit the material world. Each aspect of a sacred composition is part of an overall process of magical dialogue with the divine powers, and is crafted to harness and reflect those powers in the physical world.

My work as an iconographer serves these aims. I am less interested in creating works of beauty for people to look at, and entirely devoted to creating and activating bodies of divine splendor, wherein the deity may actually reside and receive the service of living cultus. Less and less I am concerned with how others receive my work, because my work is, first and foremost, a vehicle for the Gods. Human beings may be able to see my icons, but it is really the Gods that use them, and this is ultimately what gives my work its power, longevity, and authenticity.