Photo Essay: Raising Heru
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.