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