Photo Essay: Walking Through the Veil
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.