“When one takes initiation or ordination as an iconographer, one moves up from being an artist to being a direct channel for the Holy Powers. In this function we become the hands of the Gods in this world, not just in a metaphorical sense, but an actual, literal sense.
We become the Gods’ hands fashioning Their own bodies, so what we do ceases to be art in the decorative sense, and becomes the act of repeating the original creation when the Gods emerged from chaos as physical beings.
This is hugely profound and transformative to our mundane lives, because it infuses the act of shaping earthly substances and forms with the Numinous, with the vital and living powers of the living Gods. Being an iconographer is, in my opinion, the highest calling to which an artist can be called.” – Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
The process of crafting and awakening a cult image is a long one; one that may take at shortest three months, and at longest the better part of a year. There are always technical challenges that must be met along the way, and paired with these are the cultic requirements that will facilitate the transmutation of earthly substances into the numinous forms inhabited by the living Gods. This is a process demanding immense reserves of patience on the part of the iconographer, and precise magical knowledge and execution by the priest, the facilitator of cult who must navigate and channel the waters of cultic precedent- the labyrinthine traditions of ritual acts that open up the hidden doors between the realm of the terrestrial and that of the numinous. I must occupy both roles in my work, the stations of iconographer and priest, craftsman and ritual technician; for these are the warp and the weft through which a man-made material image is woven into the ethereal vessel of a deity, and is then literally possessed by the God or Goddess it represents.
The most difficult challenge I face on the technical side of the equation is the “sculpting” of the delicate, intricately detailed reliefs which provide the substrate for the application of gold leaf, silver, copper, and platinum. These reliefs also provide a visual and magical dimension to the image of the deity, which must become a living God in the place of a static, inanimate image. Living forms have dimension to them, they have mass and weight, and so too must the vessel of the Netjer if it is to serve the dynamic power of the Deity as a truly living body. Relief is used to highlight or magnify the most vital portions of the Deity’s anatomy, where, when covered with real gold or other precious metals, these parts of the image grab light and cast shadows that travel as the play of light travels. This is not only magical in a metaphorical sense (that is to say, magical in a sense of being wonderful or beautiful to behold), but magical in the sense that the play of light over a divine image, and the subsequent casting of shadows, is, in the terms of Kemetic Heka (Magic), a literal incarnation of a deity’s Ba or traveling Spiritual Essence, the projection of a deity’s most hidden power that becomes visible when it possesses material forms. Thus my goal as an iconographer is to use material forms- and the effects given rise to by them- as instruments of transmission for the Bas of the Gods.
The use of raised relief or bas-relief has a very long history within the production of Kemetic religious images, and it is always used in these contexts as a means of communicating (and quite literally so, in the Kemetic perspective) the dynamism of a deity and the objects or texts by which a deity’s power becomes manifest in the material world. There is also a presence within reliefs that tangibly pushes its way out from the substrate upon which the image rests; and this is part of what gives these images a certain sense of life and realism, instead of the divine image being a wholly flat two-dimensional presence on a flat surface.
I build my reliefs on what I refer to as the “naked” surface of the deity, that is, the completed line drawing (underdrawing) which will hold the Ba of the deity once the deity has chosen to enter it. Liquid gesso is applied with a very fine, soft brush, and is very slowly built up in layers until it has achieved the desired thickness. Sanding is required between each application of gesso once the previous layer has dried (a minimum of 24 hours). The thickness of the reliefs is never arbitrary, but is governed by the magic qualities inherent to the various portions of a deity’s anatomy, crown, regalia, and surrounding names and epithets. The eye, eyebrow, and cosmetic markings of a deity, for example, are always build up higher than the surrounding areas, since the eye and its accoutrements are the primary vessels of a deity’s power as it is revealed to the material world. Upon completion of the final layer, intricate designs or details are applied to the topmost layer.
I have placed below a collection of images taken from the very beginning of the process of building reliefs on the Aegis of Heru Who Unites the Two Lands through to the very end. Many of these photographs were taken at an angle and in various light sources in order to show the depths being achieved by the reliefs, and how the differing heights of these surfaces reflect light and cast shadows.
The protection of Heru is He-Who-is-in-His-Disk,
Who illuminates the Two Lands with His glorious eyes.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is the Eldest One in heaven,
Who gives orders about the government of everything.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is that Great Dwarf Who goes
about in the Two Lands at twilight.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is the Lion of the Night Who
travels in the Western Mountain.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is the Great Hidden Ram
Who travels about in his two eyes.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is the Great Falcon Who flies
about in the sky, on the earth and in the Underworld.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is the Noble Beetle,
the Great Winged One in heaven.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is the mysterious corpse in its
mummy form in its sarcophagus.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is the Underworld,
the lands where faces are reversed and things are mysterious.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is the Divine Heron
Who sits down in His Sound Eye.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is His own body.
The magic of His Mother Auset is His protection.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru are the names of His Father in His
manifestations in the districts.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru are the lamentations of
His mother and the cries of His brothers.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The protection of Heru is His own name.
The Gods serve Him while protecting Him.
And such is the case with the protection of the sufferer.
The Aegis of Heru Who Unites the Two Lands (Heru-sema-tawy, Greek Harsomptus) is the third panel of the Lords of Valor Triptych, completing this “family” of gods Who are united through the magic of reconciliation and reunification. These are three Netjeru Who each function as powerful gods in Their own right, governing the terrestrial and stellar, solar and lunar domains; however, in the nearly earth-shattering Contendings of Heru and Set, the 80 year family war for the kingship of the Two Lands, we are told of the “birth” of the lunar orb (Iah, the orb of Djehuty’s headdress) from the forehead of Set (Sutekh) via the semen of Heru the God Set had ingested (2). This strange event links all three gods in an unlikely relationship; one in which the wise Djehuty is arbiter and pacifier of the two Combatants bent on gaining physical and moral ascendancy over the other. It is the God Djehuty Who steps between the two antagonistic deities to separate truth from falsehood- in the hopes of achieving an accord within an increasingly hostile situation that threatens to rend the harmony of creation.
The weaving of harmony from disparate elements is part of the Heka (or Magic) of this triptych, which gives us the healing radiation of the Moon (the Aegis of Djehuty), the searing fire of the desert (the Aegis of Sutekh), and finally the calm majesty of the infinite sky (the Aegis of Heru). The Aegis of Djehuty and the Souls of Khmennu is the residence of that Lord of the Divine Words (neb medu-netjer), Whose wisdom is so great as to encompass knowledge of every thing that has been created, and all that has yet to be created. Djehuty appears as the One “Who brings the Wedjat Eye” (Ani-Wedjat), as that Great Magician with the power to heal the Eye of Heru after it has been torn from Heru by Set. It is Djehuty Who comes forth to provide the healing that is vital to the continuance of the proper order and maintenance of creation (Ma’at). But in a certain sense, the healing orb of Djehuty, that is to say, the lunar disk, is the byproduct of a divine synthesis between the explosive energies of the Gods Set and Heru. This is a synthesis that is magically captured in the iconography and functions of the Aegis panels of Sutekh and Heru, which bring together these volatile gods not as combatants or adversaries, but as compliments within the dichotomy of creation. Here the Gods work together as the co-creators of wholeness (wedjauw), epitomized in the central panel of the triptych by the status of Djehuty as the One Who Brings Forth the Wedjat Eye. The other two panels in the triptych are each intended to stand in for part of the Wedjat Eye, which is eternally in the process of being reconciled or healed after injury.
September 6, 2017 was Tep Semdet or Full Moon Day, the day of the completion of the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength, and the ritually appointed time for bringing to fruition the new and renewed. My husband and I made a pilgrimage to Salt Lake City’s Sugarhouse Park to hold a prayer vigil and blessing for the newly completed Aegis of Sutekh beneath the tree we had adopted there on the Netjer’s behalf. In the spirit of reconciliation and healing, I placed the Aegis of Sutekh in His lockable travel shrine together with the virgin panel within which the Aegis of Heru-sema-tawy would become incarnate; thus could the Aegis of Sutekh– the beneficiary of so many powerful rites and blessings over the summer months- grant His sanctification to the untouched panel of Heru Who Unites the Two Lands.
The sanctification of a cult image is a long and drawn out process, and a vital part of that process is its participation in holy rites and “feeding” through the offerings of cultic service. It is the continuous participation in cultic service– building up the reservoir of divine energy within a sacred image– that makes it a fit vehicle for a deity’s possession. Without sustained veneration and exposure to sacred activities, it is impossible for the build up of divine energy to occur, which means that an image cannot function as a vehicle for the deity’s boons in the material world. Thus it is always a goal of the iconographer to begin the sanctification of a new icon as quickly as possible, and one of the ways this may be accomplished is the placing of a new icon within the vicinity of other cult images whose power and divine possession have already been confirmed. So the blank panel for the Aegis of Heru traveled on our pilgrimage to Sugarhouse Park directly beneath the Aegis of Sutekh, and was the recipient of the prayers for “Revealing the Face” of the Netjer to the sky.
Later that night, after the Full Moon had risen, we took the two icons to the center of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the northwestern Utah desert, and there performed the Khnem-Iah or “Union with the Moon” for the two gods. The Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength and the virgin Aegis of Heru Who Unites the Two Lands were exposed to the holy radiation of the Full Moon, and were fed with litanies, prayers, and material offerings of flame, incense, bread and beer. On this night of Tep Semdet the Aegis of Heru was installed on the offering table of our Shrine of the Household Gods, where He will be placed at the end of each working session of His creation so that He may receive the offerings and veneration granted to the Netjeru the following day during the prayer rite known as the “House of the Morning”.
The holiest cultic rite in which an icon may take part is the Khnem-Aten or “Union with the Sun”, which is traditionally performed by all temples once a year at sunrise on Wep Ronpet or New Year’s Day; however, the holy miracle of the “First Occasion” is technically repeated each dawn with the rising of the sun, and contains the same vital magic of renewal, though perhaps not to the extent experienced on Wep Ronpet morning. But Khnem-Aten may be offered to the Gods of a temple or shrine on any dawn of the year, which sees the most sacrosanct cult objects placed outdoors where they will receive the unobstructed first rays of sunrise, and will thus be charged and magically renewed. We performed the Khnem-Aten for the Aegis of Heru on the morning of September 13, 2017, which was Denat or Last Quarter Moon Day. Present also for this holy radiation blessing were the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength, the Aegis of Djehuty and the Souls of Khmennu, and the icons of Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine and Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land.
Heru-sema-tawy aha-ef em akhet Heru-nefer-en-nebu sekhem-her set(wt) nek / “Heru Who Unites the Two Lands, He Who fights in the horizon as the beautiful Heru of gold, the almighty of countenance Who begets illumination”. These are the names and epithets of the God Heru spelled out in the medu (hieroglyphs) on the Aegis of Heru, and they were first given to the Aegis in ceremony at dawn on New Moon Day (Pesedjentiu) on September 19, 2017. A permanent oil lamp was lighted for the Aegis of Heru on this morning, and the Netjer was asked to take possession of the icon panel during a rite for removing obstacles performed each day for the temple. This rite includes the use of a ceremonial iron dagger, which is used to dub or tap the corners and vital elements of the panel with magical names linked with the eradication of chaos. The Netjer is asked to use the Aegis (the akem or shield) as a vehicle for establishing order (Ma’at) and healing (saseneb), and for maintaining the sanctity of the temple as a palpable embodiment of the living Gods and Their powers.
The following afternoon at 2:50 p.m. my husband and I took the Aegis of Heru on a pilgrimage to one of our local holy places we have established as a place for the bestowal of offerings and prayers to the Gods. Leppy Hills Trails is one of the natural beauties of West Wendover, Nevada, containing some unusual rock formations, pyramidal peaks, and high vantages for viewing the city and the glistening stretches of the Bonneville Salt Flats beyond. This is one of the places we have found closely linked with the desert Gods and the Blessed Dead, where it is possible to feel a tangible thinning of the veil between this world and that of the spiritual. The sky was filled with dark gray clouds that day, threatening rain as we hiked to the natural shrine we have dubbed Sokar Rock. Sokar Rock is named for the sparrowhawk or falcon-headed deity associated with the Gods Ptah and Ausir to form the triune deity Ptah-Sokar-Ausir. It is here that Brent and I pour out libations for Lord Sokar and the Netjeru of the Western Desert, and make petitions for healing on behalf of those who are in need of divine intervention.
As we arrived at Sokar Rock Brent pointed to the distant sky directly above our shrine, and we saw two large vultures circling continuously; these we took as an avian sign of blessing for our intentions to further sanctify the Aegis of Heru in this holy spot. And this we did by placing the icon panel in the center of the natural offering table standing directly beneath the bird-shaped formation of Lord Sokar jutting out from the rocks above. We poured out libations for Heru-sema-tawy and the avian Netjeru, and invited Lord Heru to receive, sanctify, and take up residence in the icon panel.
At approximately 3:07 p.m., as we were hiking down the trail from Sokar Rock concluding our blessing ceremony, a large, long snake crossed the trail directly in front of us, pausing for long enough to allow us to observe him/ her and offer our respects. A similar incident had occurred at the end of May when I began work on the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength, when a similarly impressive bull snake had crossed our path on Leppy Hills Trails following our request to Lord Set for a sign. These auspicious signs were completed upon our arrival back at the beginning of the trails when a burst of 10 to 12 quail shot straight up into the air from behind where I was standing, and flew into an east/ northeast direction.
The Aegis of Heru-sema-tawy, like the other two icons in the triptych, is an embodiment of healing and protection, and a magical weapon against the forces of chaos bent on dismantling the creation of the Gods. The aegis- or, to be more precisely Kemetic, the akem or “shield”- takes the form of the head, crown/ headdress and shoulders of the deity, which are covered by the broad collar known as the wesekh, and further ornamented in many instances by an elaborate pectoral suspended from multiple strands of drop-shaped beads. The aegis can be found in the form of amulets or the caps of military or temple standards carried in parades, but are most prominently seen as sacred ornaments on the prow and stern of the portable barque-shrines in which the cult images of the Gods are carried in religious processions. The aegis is, therefore, a device encompassing the dynamic power of a deity in action, and carries with it the apotropaic force of the god or goddess it represents. There is a defensive nature to the aegis, which at all times behaves as a repellent to the enemies of the Gods. This means that the presence of the aegis may be adopted by devotees of the Gods as a means of being surrounded (quite literally shielded) by the boons of the deity that repulse all beings or forces contrary to that deity’s presence. In terms of the healing graces emanated by a deity, the aegis is the most intimate manifestation of that power which preserves life and averts disaster.
When I was given my first impulse for creating the Aegis Series of icons, some time in mid-late April of 2017, the feeling I had was that these special cult images would be given over almost wholly to healing and protection, and to the overall process of magical defense against the enemies of the Gods. These would be works intended to draw out the powers of the living Gods into the material, mortal world, and thereby establish active gateways through which the dynamic presences of the Gods could be approached directly by those in need. Hand in hand with these functions, these Aegis/ Akem panels would form a system of magical technology for invoking the Gods directly into sacred space and rooting Them there; and, once rooted in sacred space through the vehicle of the Aegis-body, the Gods would have the easiest and shortest route through which to work Their healing/ protective boons on behalf of Their devotees.
Each Aegis panel represents and contains the vital power of a specific deity, and encompasses specific aspects of a deity’s personality. The Gods are unique and individual holy powers, and Their various names, epithets and modes of iconographic representation are each linked to unique qualities of that deity’s manifestation through the substance of creation. The Aegis of Heru Who Unites the Two Lands, though consecrated as the body of Heru-sema-tawy, is more unique still because it is being utilized by multiple deities simultaneously, instead of by a single deity. The God Heru is generally acknowledged to share the same essence as a legion of deities known loosely as the “Heru Gods”, Who can appear in the myth cycles as “elder” or “younger”, as the father or forerunner of one deity here, and son of another pair of gods there. The Heru Gods and Their iconography appear to be greatly interchangeable, though this in no way means that They are not also distinctly Their own sacred personalities. Each temple or locale in ancient times appears to have had its own manifestation of this Netjer, which was doubtlessly understood to be both its own individual deity and linked with the powers of the other Heru Gods all at the same time.(3)
The Aegis of Heru is the dwelling ground of multiple Heru Gods, including Heru-sa-Auset (Gr. Harsiese, “Heru/ Horus the Son of Auset or Isis”), Heru-Behdety (“Heru the Behdetite”, that is, Heru of the town of Edfu), Heru-Wer (“Heru the Elder”), Heru-em-akhet (“Heru of the Horizon”),Heru-akhty (“Heru of the Two Horizons”) and Heru-pa-khrad (or Gr. Harpocrates, “Heru the Child”). The use of a cult image for multiple deities is not my usual modus operandi as an iconographer, however, flexibility is one of the requirements of my vocation as co-creator with deities Whose manifestations are vast, and Who, on occasion, may direct me to operate outside the strict rules of canon in order to accommodate Their desires for contact. The Heru Gods certainly fall into this category, for it seems to me that They are quite comfortable with the wearing of one another’s clothing, and that They all share an essential underlying nature we might call “Heru-ness”.
At the beginning of fall 2017 I was contacted by the Rt. Rev. Lady Zarita Zook (an Archpriestess of the Fellowship of Isis and foundress of Temple of Auset Nevada) and asked to conduct a healing ritual for her and her husband- who had been recently diagnosed with inoperable terminal cancer. Lady Zarita relayed to me how the Goddess Auset was guiding her to make the trip from Montana to West Wendover in order to be touched by the powerful magic of this place, and, more specifically, through the magic of taking part in a sacred rite performed by me in this landscape. The Goddess seemed very insistent that there was a special presence located in Wendover, an energy field, gateway or portal, an actual place where healing could be facilitated more easily. My husband and I have always felt that the desert surrounding Wendover holds a “thinning of the veil” between the worlds, and a number of natural sites where the spiritual dimension may be accessed easily. These are places where we conduct holy rites for the Gods, give offerings and cultic service, and invoke the Gods and Ancestors for intervention and guidance. These are also places that take a significant role in the sanctification and awakening of the icons I co-create with the Gods.
On September 27, 2017, First Quarter Moon Day (Denat), the four of us gathered for a private ritual in our household shrine, during which I offered Lady Zarita and Rev. Warren a healing rite taken from the texts of the magical healing of the child Heru from a lethal scorpion sting. Such texts were recorded on special stelae– like the renowned Metternich Stela– known as the cippi of Horus, these being replete with images of apotropaic deities and dominated by figures of the young God Heru standing atop crocodiles while grasping the noxious denizens of the marshes. The magical texts recorded with these images give us an account of the trials and tribulations of the Goddess Auset and Her infant son Heru:
I am Auset, Who had been pregnant with Her fledgling,
Who had been expecting the Divine Heru.
I gave birth to Heru, the Son of Ausir
in the nest of Khebit (Khemmis).
I very much rejoiced at that because I saw the Avenger of His Father!
I concealed Him, I hid Him from That One!
I wandered to and fro about the land begging
for fear of the evildoer.
I spent the day gathering sustenance for the child
and taking care of His needs.
Having returned to embrace Heru, I found Him-
the Beautiful Heru of Gold, the innocent child,
the fatherless one-
while He had moistened the banks
with the water of His eyes,
with the saliva of his lips,
His body limp, His heart weak,
while the vessels of His body did not beat!
I uttered a cry, saying:
‘Heru has been bitten!
Oh Ra, Your Son has been bitten!
Heru has been bitten, the Heir of an Heir,
the Lord Who would set forth the Kingship of Shu!
Heru has been bitten, the child of Khebit,
the child in the House of the Magistrate!
Heru has been bitten, the Beautiful Child of Gold,
the innocent child, the fatherless one!
Heru has been bitten, the Son of Wen-Nefer
born of the wailing woman!
Heru has been bitten, the guiltless one,
the youthful boy among the Gods!
Heru has been bitten, the One to Whose needs I took due
care because I recognized the avenger of His Father!
Heru has been bitten, the One Who was anxiously cared
for in the womb, Who was already feared
in the belly of his mother!
Heru has been bitten, the One Whom I eagerly awaited
to see, and for Whose benefit I loved life!’(4)
These trials are then transferred from the mythic past to become the mythic present, during which the afflicted person takes the place of the God Heru, and the priest-magician performing the rite becomes the vehicle for the great magic of the Goddess Auset and other protective divinities.(5) The Aegis of Heru took part in our healing ritual through His presence at the front of our Shrine of the Household Gods for the duration of the ceremony; and, following the healing rite proper, was taken with us on a pilgrimage to the northwestern side of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the Utah desert. Here the Heru Gods received a libation of wine and loaf of bread via the Aegis of Heru, and were invoked to witness the ritual burial of the knotted threads of the Goddess Auset where the afflictions of Zarita and Warren had been ritually trapped. Concluding our ceremony, Lady Zarita held the Aegis of Heru in her hands and bestowed her blessing on Him, calling on the Lord Heru to be ever-present there, and a perpetual source of healing for all who would see Him. At the very moment Lady Zarita finished her blessing prayer a warm wind picked up over the salt flats and played through the scarf of glinting fabric covering Zarita’s head. Above us in the clear powder blue sky the First Quarter Moon was clearly visible, and within us was a sense of satisfaction that healing had been accomplished, and the Aegis of Heru had been sufficiently blessed.
October has seen two further occasions of sanctification for the Aegis of Heru; the first on the 3rd , when the Aegis was “shown the sky” in Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the second on the 5th, on Full Moon Day (Tep Semdet), when the Aegis received the Khnem-I’ah or “Union with the Moon” out on the Bonneville Salt Flats. By that time the annual monsoon rains had filled a large portion of the salt flats with a temporary lake, and we arrived precisely as the moon was rising to its zenith over the shimmering waters. I opened the lockable travel box containing the Aegis and presented Him to the full radiation of the moon, together with the cabochons of carnelian and lapis-lazuli that would eventually be set in gold on the Aegis upon completion. The air of the fall night was crisp around us as we stood there, bathed in the yellow alabaster radiance streaming from the moon, but somehow all we really felt was the warmth of the Heru Gods as Their earthly image gazed up at the sky.
The underdrawing of the Aegis of Heru Who Unites the Two Lands was completed on Friday October 13, 2017, the day after Last Quarter Moon Day (Denat). Like His companion panels in the Lords of Valor Triptych (and all the icons I have birthed in service of my Netjeru), the Aegis of Heru is being filled with the essence of the living Gods, slowly taking steps down the path to holiness through the life-affirming and sanctifying feet of a living religious tradition. What I do is not the art of copying or mere imitation, nor is it the craft of intellectual satisfaction by dabbling in history or myth via the visual arts. What I do, what I have given my life over to with every breath of my being, is service to the very Gods Who gave humankind its breath and its soul; and what I do with my two hands is provide a meeting ground between Creators and created, between the Immortal and mortal worlds. Not art for art’s sake, nor even art for the sake of inspiration, the fruit of my labor is the tangible manifestation of the Gods in our world, which has been and always will be the pursuit of holiness.
1 Adapted from Borghouts, J.F. Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts. Brill, Leiden, 1978, pp. 65-67.
2 See Meeks, Dimitri & Christine Favard. Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods. John Murray, London, 1997, pp. 68.
3 See Edmund S. Meltzer in The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology. Oxford University Press, New York 2002, pp. 164-165. See also Watterson, Barbara. The House of Horus at Edfu: Ritual in an Ancient Egyptian Temple. Tempus Publishing Limited, Stroud, 1998, pp. 31-33.
4 Text from the ritual program I performed in West Wendover, Nevada on September 27, 2017 for the Rt. Rev. Lady Zarita Zook and the Rt. Rev. Warren Zook. Adapted from Borghouts, ibid, pp. 64.
5 For an authoritative and illustrated investigation of the magical texts of the Metternich Stela, and how these and the cippi of Heru were used in such healing rituals, see Nora E. Scott. The Metternich Stela, Volumes 8-9 of Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1951.
The Khnem-Aten or “Union with the Sun” is one of the holiest rites that can be performed for the Gods and Their cult images, and traditionally this is offered only once a year, on Wep-Ronpet or “New Year’s” Day. This solar radiation of holy objects was, in ancient times, carried out on Wep-Ronpet morning with a procession of the primary cult image of each temple to the roof of the Sanctuary, where the holy light of the New Year sun would bless and reinvigorate the Gods for the following year. This is a rite of divine renewal for the temple and humankind at large, and it is still being celebrated by adorers of the Netjeru today.
We observed Wep-Ronpet and the heliacal rising of Sopdet-Sirius on August 5th this year, and together with one of our principal kar-shrines containing the God Ptah, we brought out the Aegis of Djehuty and the Souls of Khmennu (which had been completed at the time of the Last Quarter Moon in May of 2017) and the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength, which was at that time only half way complete.
The Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength was completed on Full Moon Day (Tep semdet) on September 6, 2017, and it was our decision- since the icon had not been complete for the Khnem-Aten on Wep-Ronpet morning- to hold a second “Union with the Sun” for Lord Set on Last Quarter Moon Day (Denat) on September 13. It also occurred to me that the four icons thus far created for our official Guild Shrine had never been sanctified together, nor received cultus at the same time. Thus we gathered Ptah-Sokar-Ausir Lord of the Secret Shrine, Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land, the Aegis of Djehuty and the Souls of Khmennu, and the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength, and made a pilgrimage to our holy desert site on the northwestern Utah desert’s Bonneville Salt Flats.
(Note to my readers: none of the photographs presented in this essay are professional, thus I ask that you please keep in mind that these images of the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength are not of high quality, nor do they represent the true color, detail or vitality of this work)
We think we know Him. He is Set, Seth, Suty, Setekh, Setesh, Sutekh, that “Red One” of violent temperament and intemperate behavior. He is the God Whose very birth was announced by tearing open His mother’s body, and Whose deeds have been overshadowed by the gruesome murder and dismemberment of His own brother. The family drama that ensued is filled with unimaginable brutality, being the struggle of the murdered God’s wife (Auset, Isis) and son (Heru, Horus) to reclaim the throne of Kemet and restore the rightful order of creation, Ma’at. This is a drama that presents the God Set as the ultimate source of chaos and wrongdoing, as the bellicose adversary Who operates in a manner one can only describe as Machiavellian.
In the cycle of family myths that have come down to us in pieces, the God Set is the “black sheep” of the clan of Geb and Nut descended from Ra, and resorts to the murder of His favored brother Ausir (or Osiris) in order to claim the kingship of the Two Lands. Here begins a blood feud that occupies the realm of the Gods for nearly 100 years, and includes what have come to be known as the Contendings of Heru and Seth. These are the myth cycles in which Set (as the murderer of His brother Ausir) and Heru the Son of Auset and Ausir battle to gain ascendancy one over the other. Aside from using violence and cunning against His nephew, Set attempts to use His own brand of sexual prowess in order to subjugate the young Heru, and thus demonstrate the youngster’s inept ability to govern; thus Set becomes the embodiment of deviant sexuality together with all behaviors that operate outside the social norms.
But there is a different Set that emerges when one peels back the incomplete textual layers of this deeply controversial god, and lets go of the contemporary moralistic judgments so often leveled against this strikingly powerful deity. It is very difficult to discuss deities like Set without resulting to our contemporary ethical frameworks in order to arrive at the quick verdict that sees Set as wholly evil- a fratricide, a brawler, a sexually aggressive deity with tendencies towards homosexual rape, and a bloodthirsty creature possessing a propensity for total war. But these are- in my opinion- vast oversimplifications brought out by minds unwilling or incapable of comprehending the ancient African, Near Eastern and Mediterranean religious minds.
The Kemetic (or ancient Egyptian) world is inhabited by deities, demons, and spirits of bewildering and often terrifying appearances. Household gods like Bes and Taweret, for example, are venerated as fierce protectors of women, children and domestic life, and yet these same deities are known for Their wild and often violent demeanor. It is precisely because of Their underlying aggression that such deities were recognized as duly equipped sources of divine defense against potential threats experienced during childbirth or on the domestic front in the form of diseases. The God Bes can manifest as a comical bandy legged dwarf banging a tambourine, but He can just as easily appear as a ferocious creature- part dwarf part lion- Who eats or vomits snakes and brandishes massive knives.
The Goddess Sekhmet, the lioness-headed spouse of Creator God Ptah, is a closer match to the all-consuming violence expressed in the mythos of the God Set. Here is a goddess Who relishes the near annihilation of the human race in one cycle of myths in which the aging Ra calls out His “Eye” (sometimes Sekhmet, sometimes Hwt-Her or Hathor) to punish humankind for its rebellion against the Gods. Because of Her bloody exploits and punishing, warlike nature, Sekhmet was rightly feared as a goddess just as likely to harm humanity as to help it; and yet it was precisely because of Her explosive and destructive nature that She became known as a Protectress of truth and righteousness, and a goddess Who defended the worthy against injustice. Another aspect to the dichotomy of Sekhmet is Her reputation as a bringer of plague and disease, which could be unleashed upon humanity indiscriminately, and included desert storms. However, the Egyptians recognized that because the Goddess could manifest and control these terrors, She could also cure them, and because of this Sekhmet became the patroness of physicians and healers, and was invoked to guard against all forms of pestilence.
Time and again one comes across such dichotomies in the myth cycles and hymns to Kemetic deities; these seemingly irreconcilable characteristics of deities who, on the one hand, come forth to help or serve humankind, and, on the other, to serve chastisement or outright destruction. The Netjeru or Deities of Kemet are vastly complex divine beings Whose legions of forms, names and epithets reveal the danger in placing simple moral labels like “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “evil” upon Them. Using such ethical terms places supernatural beings- who are not, after all, members of human society, and are not, therefore, subject to man-made laws or social norms- within subjective frameworks that will always change from culture to culture, place to place, and from epoch to epoch. It is human beings who are subject to the laws and ethics their various societies create and enforce, but always above such changeable constructs are the eternal Gods, Whose actions as expressed in Their cycles of myths often belie human tastes and conventions.
Lord Set is one such deity Who seems to go against the very grain of any form of social order recognizable to us. He violates the sacred bonds of family by murdering His own brother, Whom He drowns or dismembers (or both, depending on which version of the myth cycle one consults), and then makes war against His sister and Her son in a lengthy saga of hostility that disrupts the well-ordered machine of divine creation.
Extraordinarily, this same deity is also called upon to champion the cause of cosmic order as the defender of the Ark of Ra, which travels the Underworld nightly in order to face the serpent-demon
Apep. Apep is the ultimate enemy, not only of the Gods, but of the earth, human race, and the cosmos entire. Apep’s sole purpose, it would seem, is the consummate dissolution of the Gods’ creation, and it is to this end that he works ceaselessly. It is the role of Set as the Defender of the Ark of Ra to deflect each attack of Apep in order to preserve the cosmic order established by the Creator Gods at the beginning of creation, and Set is the only god Whose violent powers are capable of accomplishing this.
In this truth we find one of the fascinating aspects of the ancient spiritual mind; and that is the truth that the same deity who is dangerous enough and powerful enough to upset the cosmic order by His exploits on the earth can also be the defense system and remedy to potential cosmic disorder by an equally violent enemy. Lord Set may have murdered His brother, and He may have made war on His sister and nephew, however, it is because of His terrible powers- capable of murdering another god and creating cosmic disturbances- that the God Set, when He chooses to, becomes the greatest force for protection and order our universe can know. In standing up against the cataclysmic actions of
Apep, Set demonstrates His ultimate nature as an instrument of defense on the side of the Gods and Their fragile creation. Set’s other deeds, too, need to be seen in this same light.
Set’s victimization of His own family garners a great deal of press, and yet the outcome of these terrible events seems entirely lost on some minds. The demonization of Set might at first appear well deserved, for He drowns and dismembers His own brother out of apparent jealousy, and, not being content to wrest the throne of Kemet from His dead brother’s rightful keep, strives violently to prevent His nephew Heru from claiming His inheritance of divine kingship. But myth cycles are not one-sided affairs; they are the keepers of multiple truths simultaneously, and need not to be judged by the first impressions of moral outrage. The entire cycle of myths devoted to Set’s family epic are concerned on the one hand with the order of divine kingship in this world, and, perhaps more importantly, with the exercise of sacred kingship and custodianship in the Other World.
Before the induction of Ausir into the Duat (or Other World) after His death, the inhabitants of the land of the dead dwell in a state of confusion within a nigh-perpetual darkness. Their only relief from this terror comes during the brief spell of golden light cast off from the passage of Ra during His nightly journey through the Duat. From this cycle there seems to be no chance of respite, until the God Ausir is resurrected from the state of death into the Duat as its divine sovereign, Who forever after takes custodianship over the souls of the dead as judge and beneficent ruler. The Kingdom of Ausir in the Duat is the home of the Blessed Dead, those Righteous and worthy souls whose earthly lives merit a place among the Gods. All Egyptians strove to achieve resurrection after death and entrance into the Kingdom of Ausir, and these things were possible because of that unthinkable act of violence perpetrated by the God Set.
The catalyst of the entire cycle of myths of the family of Ausir, Auset and Heru is in fact the God Set, Who brings the God Ausir to His fate and purpose by consigning Him to the Duat. The means Set uses are not as significant as their effect, which is that Ausir is forced to relinquish His kingship in this material world in order to become divine sovereign of that Other World populated by the numberless souls of the dead in need; for kingship, that is, right rule and right conduct in governance, is needed not only in the realm of physical being, but, more significantly, is necessary in the spiritual state behind the terrestrial world.
The Duat embodies the entire state of creation within or behind the mortal sphere, and that sphere of existence far outlasts the limited span of life in the temporal world. In this spiritual condition, the force of Cosmic Order and Justice, Ma’at, holds sway above all, and is the prerogative of the God Ausir as Divine Judge and King of the Blessed Dead. It is Ausir Who looks into the hearts of all souls in order to determine their purity and Rightness (Ma’a), and He Who bestows the boons of resurrection and immortality to those who lived lives of moral worth upon the earth.
Without being cut down by the God Set, Ausir would have retained His earthly throne, leaving a continued vacancy for judge, guide, and caretaker of the dead in the Duat. Thus the role of Set in the fulfillment of a much larger, cosmic framework cannot be overlooked or underestimated. The question in approaching the mythos of this god and His family is not one of “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “evil” in a human social sense, but is instead a question of how each deity operates according to the higher purpose or harmony being emphasized in the myths. The actions of Set in His family drama are a means to an end, and that end becomes the proper establishment of the God Ausir as Judge and Sovereign in the Duat, and the passing down of His throne to the next generation of earthly kings. Though initially manifesting as pain and suffering and confusion, the cosmic result of Set’s actions is the new order of divine kingship for the living and the dead, and the development of the God Heru into a champion of Justice.
It was on May 25, 2017, on Pesedjentiu or New Moon Day, that I embarked on my mission to craft for Lord Set a cult image worthy of His awesome power; but equally as important to me was the creation of an earthly vessel whose form and qualities could serve as a manifestation of the Netjer’s noble attributes as a representative of the Royal Lineage of Ra. My complaint with many contemporary representations of Set is that they tend to fall prey to what I call the *dark lord syndrome*, portraying Lord Set as a brand of satanic bad boy or Kemetic devil. This type of image- equating the God Set with notions of the adversarial evil present in the Abrahamic religions- is, in my opinion, a carryover from monotheism, and represents the moral baggage we’ve inherited from the religions of the book. Whatever else He may be, the God Set is not Satan, and He is not evil.
On a par with other Kemetic deities of a martial or defensive nature (Sekhmet, Neith, Montu, Anhur, Maahes and Sobek come to mind here), Lord Set is ultimately the instigator of change or transformation, and this process is often a violent one, described in the mythos as a rending, tearing, or cutting down of life. Very similar to the Goddess Sekhmet, Set appears as a terrifying catalyst when change is not only called for, but mandatory for the next phase of life and creation to begin. In the short term, such action reads as outright destruction for its own sake, and is therefore morally objectionable from a human perspective. But change does not apologize or ask for permission; it manifests as part of the natural order of the created world, and is a natural part of the cycle of life; and many of the Netjeru embody these forces actively at work in the forms of Their cult images, epithets, and mythos. Set is certainly one of these, however, He, like all other Netjeru, performs other functions aside from those recognized as His primary roles.
We tend to think of Set as entirely violent, destructive, vengeful or bloodthirsty, and yet one of His most prominent roles in ancient times was as a Binder or Uniter of the Two Lands with the God Heru. These two Gods, Who elsewhere may be seen as adversaries, are in fact engaged in a sacred dance of weaving together the warp and the weft of Kemet’s halves; the lotus of Upper Kemet and papyrus of Lower Kemet, which create the activity of sema-tawy or “Union of the Two Lands”. By taking up a vital role in this cosmic action, Lord Set is in fact bringing together the disparate aspects of the created world and joining them together as a harmonious whole. The fact that it is Set in this position, and not some other deity(1), is an indication of just how significant His role in creation was understood to be by the ancients.
Some may view Set’s inclusion in the sema-tawy motif as strictly one of representation of polar opposites, since Lord Set’s dominion is Southern or Upper Kemet, while Lord Heru’s is Northern or Lower Kemet; thus it would be natural for these two deities to appear together in the heraldic device signifying the reconciliation or unity of the Two Lands. But I believe that there is an even deeper significance to Lord Set’s appearance with Heru as a “Uniter of the Two Lands”. That significance is Cosmic Order and Rightness, Ma’at, which requires the operation of creation according to the principles established at the initiation of creation.
Set is sometimes said to be against Ma’at when He murders His brother Ausir, and in this instance we are seeing Ma’at on its micro level, which has to do with our view of what is just and humane on a social level. Murder is never acceptable, and its consequences can hardly be seen as “good”; however, there is the larger, macro view of Ma’at, which understands that the proper operation of creation includes death, dissolution and destruction as part of the natural process of creation. These things clear the way for the next stages of life, which result from the great change brought about by sudden violent action.
The sema-tawy motif, while symbolically representing the Two Countries of Upper and Lower Kemet, is also a device embodying the dichotomy of creation as seen through the lens of the two gods Whose very actions define this creative-destructive, life-death affirming dance in which all created things are engaged. We can no more deny the facts of birth and creation than we can the phenomena of death and decay, which are all woven together in the fabric of the created world; and it is Lord Set Who is the instigator, the catalyst, the propeller, and the protagonist of the change that compels the machine of life and creation forward. That is precisely why He stands with the God Heru as a “Binder of the Two Lands”.
The Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength is the second panel in the Lords of Valor Triptych, and forms an important contribution to my Aegis Series of icons. After months of prayer, meditation, ritual activities and offerings to the Netjeru, I have come to the conclusion that these panels are part of a system of spiritual technology for the defense of those who are actively engaged in the work of the Gods. On this point I may not elaborate further, other than to say that out of all the Netjeru Who have stepped forward to take part in this project, it was Lord Set Who let it be known that His presence is most vital to the aims of the Aegis Panels, and that His quality of protection is what is needed in our world at this time.
Suty nakht aah pehty neb pet sety, “Set the Mighty is great of strength (as) Sky-Lord (Who) Begets” read the medu (hieroglyphs) on the left hand side of the God. These epithets were very carefully selected, as always, after an intense period of prayer and meditation on the vast array of epithets and descriptions given to Lord Set in the historical record(2). There are numerous ways to write Set’s name in the medu, thus numerous ways to pronounce His name(3); but the form I have used, Suty, a variant of Sutekh, is not too dissimilar from the words setu, “arrow”, and seti, “shoot”, which is identical in pronunciation- and similar in its writing in hieroglyphs- to the word seti, “to shoot seed”, “ejaculate”, “impregnate” or “beget”(4). As placed in this icon, the epithets of Set form a play on sound and symbolism or meaning; for the God Set or Suty is the God Who shoots (seti) arrows (setuw), Who stands behind kings to guide their arm in archery, and Who, as a Netjer of rampant male sexuality, is known for His aggressive and potent sexual appetite. The *Set animal*, which is seen in its complete form four times in the Aegis of Sutekh, bears its distinctive arrow-like tail, which hints at the martial nature of this god Who is known to give kings ferocious strength in battle against the enemies of Kemet.
Behind the head of Set I have placed a rebus forming an epithet saying Sutekh-pehty- shuwyt (or shuwt) or “Set is the shade (or shadow) of strength (or valor)”. The origin of this epithet- insofar as I know- is contemporary and local, having been given to me by Lord Set during a walking meditation in the northwestern desert of Utah. This is a landscape my husband and I frequent continuously, and in regards to communion with the God Set it could not be a more appropriate setting. Lord Set has always been associated with the desert, or “Red Land” (deshret) as the ancient Egyptians called it; and the northwestern desert of Utah is very red, dominated by deep amber and red ocher-colored peaks, which for miles loom above the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. This is a truly Setian landscape, startling in its stark beauty, which in summer scintillates with the hostile waves of heat rising up from the Salt Flats. It was here in the presence of one of the red pyramidal peaks that Lord Set gave me a vision of Him in His wild animal form standing on the heads of two leopards. From His back rose up the ostrich feather sunshade carried in religious processions by the ancients, and in my heart’s ears I heard the words “I am Sutekh-pehty-shuwyt.”
This epithet for me denotes a local form of the God Set resident in the mountains and salt flats of the northwestern Utah desert, and yet, like all epithets given to Kemetic deities, it can also reference more universal or cosmic associations. The form of the sunshade- with its tall ostrich plumes- is often used to denote the presence of a deity or divine king, but always embodies the auspicious power or presence of a great being. The sacred boat shrines used by Kemetic priests to carry the cult images of the Gods are shielded by long-handled sunshades of gold with multicolored plumes. These are badges of a god’s power and influence, and carry with them the understanding that the god’s spiritual presence is present. However, the sunshade or shuwt is also used in the medu (hieroglyphs) to denote the seryt or military standard(5), which of course would have special significance in relation to Set as a god of the military and martial prowess.
But the shuwt-sunshade most especially represents that aspect of Gods or mortals that may best be described as a form of spiritual influence or existence connected with the physical body, and yet capable of projecting itself from the body, just as any material body or object may cast its shadow on the ground. The casting of this shuwt or shadow- in deities- is a manifestation of the god’s tangible power which has the ability to cross thresholds and boundaries; thus the use of divine sunshades in religious processions during which the cult image of the god crosses over the threshold of the sanctuary and out into the wider world. Sunshades, portable cult objects, and even temple sanctuaries themselves may constitute forms of a deity’s shadow, which have the ability to affect people and the natural world with Their power(6).
In the case of the God Set, He may rightly be called a shuwyt or shuwt of Ra, that is, a shadow of the Sun-God that is projected ahead of Ra in order to defeat His enemies. It is Set Who stands at the prow of the Ark of Ra as the valiant knight poised with His spear against the serpent-demon
Apep, and He Who preserves the sacred maintenance of creation embodied in the Family of Ra. The presence of Set denotes the presence of Ra as the Defender of Ma’at or Cosmic Order, thus He is the “sunshade” of the Gods, the “shadow” of protective power cast off from the body of the Creator. The Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength houses the Shadow of the God Set as the Divine Protector and Representative of the Royal Family of Ra. It is a cult image which itself behaves as a shuwt of the Netjer, for its own physical shadow is the living presence of Set as it crosses the threshold of the material world. In its gold, gemstones, crystals and pigments it holds the spiritual potency of the God, which shines or casts from it a radiance that permeates the space around it. This affect, energetic, visual and physical, is the function of the shuwt as a metaphysical body.
I would further define the epithet Sutekh-pehty-shuwyt (pronounced soo-tech pek-tee shoo-yeet) with the following:
“It is Suty, Sutekh, Setesh Who stands as the Shadow, the Sacred Image, the Spirit of valor! Sutekh is the Shield, the Screen, the Safeguard of divine strength, and the very image of valor is Sutekh! Sutekh is the Shade of the powerful, the valiant, the Sacred, and His valor is the Shade of true power. With His strength the God Sutekh preserves, shields, and shades, and with His Shadow He becomes the protection of the Divine!”
On August 5, 2017 we celebrated the holy Wep-Ronpet or “Opening of the Year”, “New Year’s” Day festival, the heliacal rising of the star Sopdet (Sirius) and the official start of the Kemetic year. Before the New Year sun mounted our desert sky, my husband and I gathered some of our temple’s holiest treasures and made our pilgrimage to the center of the Bonneville Salt Flats. Along with our kar-shrine containing the God Ptah, we brought the completed Aegis of Djehuty and the Souls of Khmennu and the half-completed Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength.
All Kemetic temples celebrate the Khnem-Aten or “Union with the Sun” on New Year’s Day, which signifies the renewal of the earth and the powers of the Gods throughout creation. The central deity (or deities) of each temple is removed from Their secluded sanctuary and placed where the unobstructed rays of the rising New Year sun may fall upon Their living image. Other cult objects such as standards, wands, sacred stones, and all items especially venerated by the God of the temple are left out in the open air as the New Year sun rises and reveals the newly rejuvenated earth. We made our procession with the icons, and placed the faces of Lords Ptah, Djehuty and Set facing east to receive the Wep-Ronpet blessing of Ra.
The solar radiation ceremony at sunrise on New Year’s morning is considered the holiest blessing cult objects can receive, and for this reason I was anxious to bestow this momentous event to the first two icon panels of the Aegis Series. It was a marvelous moment when the lightening lapis sky was transformed by a burst of glowing pink streaks, which quickly erupted over the desert mountains and spilled onto the glistening white salt flakes blanketing the Bonneville Salt Flats. We watched while we intoned the Kemetic invocation of Ra as the golden-copper face and finely gilt reliefs of the Aegis of Sutekh leapt to life with fiery color, the platinum White Crown on Set’s head beaming silver-white in the sunrise.
People often ask me why my icons take so long to craft. We live in a society where instant gratification is taken for granted as a way of life. Everything in our modern consumer culture is governed by it; fast food, instant messaging, texting, dating, and entertainment. We expect everything we want to be delivered to us at the tap of a screen, and when it’s not, we move on to something that will. The sacred work I do as an iconographer is built on a foundation of painstaking craftsmanship using materials and techniques that take time; however, there is also another aspect of my work that requires patience, and that is its cultic requirements. These are ancient ritual standards for purity and empowerment that operate primarily according to a lunar calendar.
Each lunar month has its New (pesedjentiu), First Quarter (denat), Full (tep semdet) and Last Quarter (denat) observances, which are each marked by specific prayers and offering rites that bestow sanctification to the cult image as it progresses. Added to these primary lunar observances are the numerous feast days of the Netjeru of the Temple that occur throughout the year. These too must be punctuated by the appropriate prayers and offerings, which not only please the Gods, but also petition Them for Their acceptance of each cult image as a true cult image fit for divine habitation. These celestial events also govern when each phase of a cult image may begin and end.
Of course, it is not always possible for me to begin or end a particular phase of an icon on the actual lunar day ideal for it; there are technical challenges and setbacks, but in general I strive to align each phase of an icon’s creation with the ritually appropriate time specified by the lunar cycle. Through dreams and divination the Gods make clear Their intentions to the iconographer, and these can include *extra days* or *rites above the moon*, that is to say, ritual actions required by the deity on days or times that are beyond the typical. Each deity has its own unique requirements for establishing right relationship with it, and each cult image is a unique vessel tied to a specific aspect or aspects of a deity’s personality; and it is for these reasons that the time frame required to complete an icon may be extended beyond what is normal.
The Lunar Festival rites granted to each icon do not take place in my studio, but rather in locations out on the desert where the icons may be exposed to the spiritual powers of the local deities and land spirits; but also, and equally as important, where the icons may receive the direct influence of the lunar and stellar lights. I have given the name Khnem-I’ah, “Union with the Moon” to the Lunar Radiation Rite, which entails placing the cult image directly on the desert floor beneath the light of the Full Moon so that the deity is bathed in it and may “drink” it. The Khnem-I’ah is the most powerful lunar ritual, and is always performed beneath the auspices of the God Djehuty (Thoth) or Djehuty-I’ah, Djehuty as the lunar disk. The icon panel is circumambulated, “fed” with copious food offerings and libations of alcohol (beer or wine), and venerated with a chanted litany of the deity’s names and epithets. But there are other lunar observances, such as the Sennut or “Six-Day” Feast, which marks the beginning of I’ah Meh Wedjat, “Filling the Wedjat Eye”. On this day- continuing until Full Moon Day- the God Djehuty, together with His retinue of 14 Netjeru, replaces the missing portions of light to the Moon until it is whole (wedja) again, that is, until it becomes the restored Netjer of complete (wedja) power.
All of these observances- and many more besides- constitute a vast ritual program for each icon, through which two-dimensional images crafted from earthly materials are united with the vital powers of the living Gods, and are thus transformed from terrestrial into celestial manifestations. It is not enough for any artisan or craftsperson to simply make the form of a deity, because a thing that merely looks like a deity but has not been enlivened by the Divine Presence is not a deity, and has no internal power whatsoever. An image that has been made to resemble a certain deity’s iconography may inspire; it may please the eyes, and it may grant the observer a certain feeling of connection to the deity they believe it represents; however, without being “fed” the appropriate cultic rites, and crafted from its inception through the exacting and ancient standards of ritual purity and ritual identification with the deity, no image, however beautiful, will actually contain the living power of the deity, nor will it be able to function as a true cult image.
A true cult image must be literally enlivened or “made to live” through the activities (iruw) of the cult (iri khet), which do not begin after the image has already been crafted, but rather before the image has even materialized. A “working” or “awake” cult image is first established through a direct relationship with the deity in question, which always begins with prayers accompanied by offerings. The type and number of offerings is always directed by the deity through a process of dream incubation and divination, through which the deity makes known the conditions required by Them in order for the image to be crafted. Cult images cannot be made without the direct permission and participation of the deity, because the entire purpose of a cult image, and what gives it its holiness, is engagement with the vital power of the living Gods; and for engagement to occur, the deity must first desire to engage and be engaged, and Their cooperation must be given to the iconographer who will be making a material copy of that deity’s spiritual body. Once these fundamental conditions are met, the iconographer must still meet the legion of other cultic requirements established through what I refer to as cultic precedent.
Cultic precedent presupposes that there is a right way to engage the Gods and create an active relationship with Them through sacred space and the activities offered therein. How do we know what the right way is? As Kemetics we are the recipients of a vast legacy of temple documents, sacred texts, treatises and images that each contain valuable pieces of information concerning how our Gods were engaged for thousands of years, and the procedures by which our Ancestors achieved this. By studying such texts as the Daily Ritual, we have spelled out for us clearly the very words, ritual gestures and offerings that were utilized by our Ancestors. Such texts make it clear that specific ritual gestures, prayers, and rites of purification were long-established ceremonial forms for maintaining right relationship with the Gods. This religious legacy constitutes cultic precedent, giving us a very ancient and time-tested framework for engaging the living Gods and ensuring our right relationship with Them.
August 21, 2017 marked yet another auspicious stage in the creation and sanctification of the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength when the United States witnessed the first total eclipse visible across the entire contiguous US since June 8, 1918 (7). Symbolically, solar eclipses have special significance for the God Set, for He is the Defender of the Ark of Ra, the divine champion Who stands at the prow of the solar boat- javelin in hand- to repel the enemy Apep. A solar eclipse is indicative of the ascendancy of
Apep over the sacred light of Ra, but it is also an opportunity for Lord Set to be recognized and invoked as the force of Cosmic Order (Ma’at) over Apep. Thus we made a pilgrimage to our favorite city, Salt Lake City, Utah, carrying the Aegis of Sutekh with us in His temporary lockable “shrine”. From the top of one of Sugarhouse Park’s many hills, surrounded by maples, spruce, fir and pines, we shared the Aegis of Sutekh with the sky at the height of the eclipse, and claimed Salt Lake City for the Lord Set. It may seem strange to some that we would do such a thing, being that Salt Lake City is the known administrative and devotional center for the LDS Church; but speaking from a vantage of geography, the Great Salt Lake, the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere, places the surrounding territory, including Salt Lake City, under the aegis of the God Set, Who is known to be associated with the sea, and, by extension, large bodies of salt water.
As if to solidify His spiritual presence as Lord and Divine Patron of Salt Lake City, Set arranged through a series of synchronicities to have His Aegis blessed in that city by the hands of Her Holiness Rev. Tamara Siuda (AUS), the Nisut or Sacral King of the Kemetic Orthodox Faith. I have known Her Holiness for a number of years, and She has been a deeply influential peer, guide and friend to my sacred mission as a Kemetic iconographer. From the very beginning of my work on the Aegis of Sutekh, She was present as a source of blessing and guidance, often sharing Her insights with me concerning how Lord Set operates in the lives of His devotees, and how He could be making His presence known through my creation of this icon.
On the evening of May 31, the day before Denat or First Quarter Moon, my husband and I were hiking on the desert trails near the red mountains behind our home, when a large bullsnake crossed back and forth three times on the trail directly in front of us. Immediately before the bullsnake had appeared on the trail, Brent and I had offered prayers to Lord Set out loud, asking Him for a sign of His blessings. I immediately thought of contacting Her Holiness for Her interpretation of what this could mean if it was a sign sent by the Gods, so I texted Tamara and asked Her for a reading. Her answer was clear; that this bullsnake crossing our path was a sign of protection from the Gods Set and Wadjet- in Her manifestation as the Royal Cobra Who defends the Lineage of the Gods. It was also a powerful blessing for my Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength, indicating that it was a container of the apotropaic presence of Lord Set.
It was with some excitement and anticipation that my husband and I drove to Salt Lake City on First Quarter Moon Day on August 29th for our dinner meeting with Her Holiness. Lord Set had instructed me via a dream that we were to bring His Aegis with us to receive Her Holiness’ blessing, which He said was part of its awakening/ sanctification process. When the moment finally arrived, my heart leapt, not only because I was meeting a treasured friend and spiritual teacher in person after having known her online and by phone for so long, but also because of the reaction that happened when Tamara held and gave Her blessing to the Aegis. There was a palpable burst of heat or energy that rose up through the icon from Her hands. Was it the sekhem or “power” of Lord Set rushing in to meet Her Holiness, or was it Her Holiness rushing in to meet Him? Or both? It was certainly a powerful moment I was very grateful to be a part of, and one about which Tamara later texted me: “…when you set it in my hands something happened”.
Full Moon Day (Tep semdet) on September 6, 2017 saw the completion of the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength after more than three months of intense work. These were months of trial and struggle (technically, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally), and it was very much a grateful iconographer who journeyed once again to Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City to offer the face of Lord Set to the sky. My husband and I took the Aegis of Sutekh to the park in His lock box, and there let the God drink in the rays of the afternoon sun as we recited Kemetic prayers, and then offered our own personal petitions to the God Great of Strength. Later that evening, at sundown, we returned to the park for a walk, and were given heavenly confirmation that Lord Set had received His image. That morning as we drove to Salt Lake City, the desert air was clouded by the smoke blowing over from the raging wildfires that were ravaging California and Montana, and by the time sunset fell over Salt Lake City, the sun had transformed into a vibrant red-orange globe descending in the smoky sky.
Later that night we drove back to our home in the northwestern Utah desert, and there, beneath the startling radiance of a smoky yellow-orange moon, offered the Khnem-I’ah to the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength. The crash of our sistrum and chanting filled the otherwise still air of the desert night- with the dark amber peaks of our local holy mountains looming behind us. The Bonneville Salt Flats sparkled here and there as if scattered with diamonds, and directly above us the stars of Ursa Major (Meshketiu) shed their sacred lights.
Lord Set is called the “Red One”, and fire is certainly His element, and wildfires a symbol of how His power operates in the natural world. The hand of Set clears out the old making way for the new, and this is His law as it is made manifest throughout creation. He is the force that burns, that separates the “wheat from the chaff”, that cuts down the mature tree and gives birth to the sapling, that prepares new life to explode from death. In many respects the God Set is the master of change and impermanence, for that which never changes never has the opportunity to grow, and Lord Set is the instigator of growth through the agency of change. This is often a difficult and painful process, because any form of change, be it “good” or “bad”, is still a shift in paradigms or of what one has known, and the immediate response can often be flight or terror. The terror of change is the work of Set, Who uses change as a tool to urge growth towards the fulfillment of a goal.
We see this in the mythos of the Family of Geb and Nut, where Set cuts down His own brother and sends Him to the Duat. The Duat is always the destiny of Ausir, Who is only ever allowed a brief time in the material world before He passes over into the realm of the Spirit. It is through the death and suffering of Ausir that He is challenged to renounce His throne in the world of light to become Sovereign of the shrouded world of the dead; but it is Ausir’s final passage into this place of darkness that fills it with a light of its own, and gives freedom to the souls, deities and demons sequestered there. The agency of Ausir’s kingship is none other than His brother Set, Who also plays an instrumental role (albeit a fractious one) in the development of Ausir’s son Heru into the adult king He becomes. These events are possible because of the tumultuous actions of Set, which provoke the entire pantheon of Gods to reexamine Their positions of power and Their loyalties. At the end of a nigh one-hundred year feud, kingship over the world of the living has been restructured, and kingship over the world of the dead established forever. The Gods Heru and Set have taken custodianship over the Black (cultivated) and Red (desert) Lands respectively, while the God Ausir reigns justly as the Divine Judge of men’s hearts and Sovereign of the Blessed Dead.
Having now reached the end of an extraordinary experience of creation and initiation, I can look back on the past three months with a new sense of insight and gratitude. No, Lord Set is not a “nice” deity or an “easy” one. His purpose is not to lull us into a false sense of security or to help us see our world and ourselves through rose-colored lenses. Lord Set’s purpose is to peel away the blinders, and replace the rose-colored lenses with an awareness of things as they truly are. This is an agonizing and ego-crushing process, because we so want to see the world through idealism and attachments that are, in the end, merely ephemeral constructs. These the God Set greedily devours, just as He cuts down the things we need to change in order to be transformed into who and what we really are.
Contrary to His blighted reputation, Set does not accomplish this without compassion, for His valor, His great strength is the strength of a heart roused by a love for the noble qualities of which humankind is fully capable; qualities that Set brings to the surface of the stagnating pond by throwing a rock into its center. His actions spur us into action that allows us to recognize our own inner strength, bravery, and fortitude. His love is a fierce love, a tough love, and a desire to accomplish what is good for the greater good. In the short term this might surface through pain or confusion, as the ego runs wild attempting to escape from the reality Set’s actions confront us with. In these regards, walking with Set can at times feel like we are walking through the eye of a storm; and just around the corner, just beyond our line of sight, the calm of the storm dissolves into frenetic chaos. This is the chaos brought about by radical change, by the sweeping hand of Set, Who is never without change, and never fixed in the world of our illusions.
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
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 a Prayer of the Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa, June 1, 2017
1 There are occasions when Set’s role in performing sema-tawy is given over to the God Djehuty or Thoth, which demonstrates how the fear or vilification of this deity is nothing new; however, it is recognized in studying the history of the sema-tawy device that its original two deities were Heru and Set, and that this was the standard visualization for the Union of the Two Lands.
2 Leitz, Christian. Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen, Band VIII. Peeters Publishers, 2002, pp 667-670. See also Band VI, pp. 691- 698.
3 See teVelde, H. Seth, God of Confusion. Brill, Leiden 1967, pp. 1-12.
4 Faulkner, R.O. A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. Griffith Institute, Oxford 2002, pp. 218, 252-255.
5 Faulkner, Ibid., 235.
6 For an excellent article on the Shadow or Shade see the entry written by James P. Allen in The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology. Oxford University Press, New York 2002, pp. 334-335.
7 According to Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse_of_August_21,_2017
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
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.
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.
“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
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
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
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
All praise to You, Anpu, Lord of the Sacred Land,
Dweller Upon His Mount and Foremost of the
-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
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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