Photo Essay: Adoring the Lord of Terror, Launching the Aegis of Sobek-Ra
O Holy Crocodile,
O Sobek Lord of Terror in Your lake!
Protect me from all enemies;
From every violent man,
From every violent woman,
From every evil intention of every
Man, woman, or spirit of the dead;
On the earth or in the Duat,
From every direction,
From every weapon or evil word.
Protect me as Your adorer;
Surround me with Your power
Of sacred protection from the Mountain of Bakhu
In Your name of Sobek the Lord of Terror-
The Holy Crocodile
Stronger than all the Gods!
– Prayer for Invoking the Protection of Sobek through the Aegis of Sobek-Ra/
from the Book of the Guild by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
All praise to You, mighty Sobek,
Son of Neith Whose arrows are
Beloved lord, the Great, the raging
and fearsome, hidden in His waters,
the flooding in His time of becoming.
Yours is the face of Ra in the
Dazzling, the waters are parted before
You, all green things sprout from the
void, the vault shudders at the moment
of Your birth.
All praise to You!
O Lord of Green things, Your body
brings to life all that has passed
away, the Great River swells as You
swell, and Your ardor becomes the
rutting of the beasts in their seasons.
All praise to You!
Beneficence of the waters, the Earth
receives Your bounty.
Radiance of the Disk, humankind thrives
on account of You.
O Lord of Love, Sobek swollen between
His thighs, goddesses follow after You,
their hearts ensnared by Your potency.
Great Sobek, You fill the bodies of men
with strength, while women become the
bearers of Your seed.
All praise to You!
O Sobek, wandering between the waters,
cherished in the darkness, acclaimed by
His light, fearsome in His body,
turn Your terror towards my enemies
and Your bounty to my hands.
May Your glory reflect the glory of Ra
in my limbs, and Your invincible love
be the shield of my heart.
All praise to You!
– Giving Praise to Sobek Son of Neith by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
The sanctification of the Aegis of Sobek-Ra Lord of Terror began on Thursday October 19, 2017 on New Moon Day or pesedjentiu– the sacred time when the Gods are born, when the seeds of Their powers are planted, when the Gods visit one another in the heavens and fraternize on the earth. This is the time of sacred marriages and births, the ideal time for bringing ourselves and all our endeavors back to Zep Tepi, that “First Occasion” when the creation of the Gods was new and pristine.
The First Occasion begins with the rising of the benben or Primordial Mound (the Pyramidion or Mount of Creation) from the churning lake of chaos, and it is upon this holy mound that the creative Netjer ascends as Ra, revealing His luminous face from the unfurling petals of the sacred lotus. We have our own lake of chaos and creation every year on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the northwest desert of Utah- where the monsoon rains fill the salt flats with a few inches of water. As the waters recede, they leave a heavy deposit of salt in their wake; a salt with a mineral composition not unlike the natron salt prized by the ancient Egyptians and utilized in their religious rituals for its purifying qualities. These salts and the flat desert lands where they arise are used in the service of the Netjeru today as sources of intense sanctification and purification in the work my household accomplishes through the practice of Kemetic iconography. Our cult images are birthed and given sacred breath on these salt flats beneath the embrace of pyramidal amber mountains.
With Ursa Major glittering directly above our heads, we made a pilgrimage to the Bonneville Salt Flats with the virgin panel upon which the Aegis of Sobek-Ra would be birthed. A natural causeway of thick salt deposits stretched out into the monsoon lake from the edge of the main access road to the Flats, and we walked out on the salt as far as this “bridge” would allow, and there knelt down and offered prayers to Lord Sobek as His Aegis panel was sprinkled with salty water from the rippling lake that surrounded us.
Many people might be forgiven for thinking, and quite naturally so, that my work as an iconographer takes place in the studio- where I measure out sacred proportions, draw, apply precious gold and metals, and apply pigments and gemstones to cult objects in service to the living Gods; however, the technical, craftsman, studio-centric aspect of my work is but half the equation of the grueling work my vocation requires me to do. The most sensitive- and indeed time consuming- aspect of my craft lies in the priestly, cultic requirements of birthing holy images according to the traditional canon of religious observations handed down to me by the ancient masters of my craft. These are the prayers, ritual gestures, and rites of purification that empower and enliven virgin cult objects and make of them ritually appropriate vessels for the Powers of the Gods; but these images are living bodies for the Gods, too, which means that the Bas or spiritual forms of the Gods alight upon them and literally possess them. The images, then, cease to be inanimate man-made objects, and function on the spiritual dimension as open gateways through which the Netjer or Deity manifests its more tangible, physical forms.
In order for a man-made object to attract and maintain the Ba of a Netjer, that object must first be crafted according to conditions and traditions established during Zep Tepi, and must then be awakened via the authentic ritual channels ordained by the Gods and passed down to the Ancestors. Many of these ritual procedures have been preserved in the texts of the Daily Cult Ritual, in which the cult images of the Netjeru were served by the priestly class in every temple in Kemet, and are also found in the texts for Opening Up the Mouth. These are the primary examples of what constitutes a labyrinthine program of offerings, prayers, ritual gestures, and cultic acts that open and transmit the Divine Powers through the material intermediary of the cult image. It is at the moment of offering- when the essence of food, sacrifice, regalia, scent, sound, and visual stimulation are transferred to the Deity within sacred space- that the cult image ceases to function as a mere intermediary, and becomes instead the vital pulse of living power acting for the Deity in the human world. Cult images that have been properly enlivened through the right ritual channels become visible aspects (Kas) of the Gods, and become the sources of boons (hotepu) and blessings or favors (hessuwt).
Thus the most significant aspect of my craft is that of cult (iry khet), which is expressed through the ritual actions (iruw) of the Mysteries (shetauw). These are sometimes performed in the studio in the mediums of prayers and invocations, and in the Shrine of the Guild, where the icon in progress is fed with offerings during the Daily Ritual known as the House of the Morning. During the House of the Morning, the images of the Gods are granted fire, incense, libations, and food, and are enlivened with the Litany (Wehem) of the Netjer’s names and epithets. These and other holy recitations imbue the icons- especially those still being crafted- with the vital power (sekhem) of the Netjer, for the Netjer is provoked to come forward and receive the essence of the offerings that are placed before It; and this is precisely why the virgin icon panel is given over to the activities of the House of the Morning, during which the fundamental exchange of offerings (hotepuwt) between Netjer and humanity occurs.
But these ritual activities of the Guild Shrine are extended through the mandatory actions of pilgrimage to places in the natural world where the Deities have directly expressed Their presences, and where the vital link between man-made image and natural-cosmic Power can be made. From a Kemetic point of view, the deshret or desert (“Red Land”)- which in Egypt means the west bank of the Nile and the environs beyond- is one such place, albeit a hostile and dangerous one, where the Gods and Powers of the Duat (Otherworld) may be approached and engaged. The power of the desert is raw and unrestrained, and filled with that fire-like quality of burning, consuming, and purging. Desert mountains contain gaps or entrances to the Duat, and are places where the Akhu-spirits of the dead roam, together with the guardians and demons of the earth. I live in the middle of the desert, surrounded on all sides by unspoiled stretches of salt flats ringed by amber and ocher-colored mountains- very reminiscent of those on Egypt’s west bank and in its western desert. This place is a crucible where the various elements of my craft collide to give birth to living images of the living Gods. It is a landscape that harnesses and reflects the Powers of the Netjeru, Who receive pilgrimage and offerings at its pyramidal mountains and on its sandy and salty body.
All of the icons I co-create with the Gods experience the moment of pilgrimage, when the sanctity of the natural world is utilized as a tool for direct engagement with the Gods. Mountains become beacons of the Holy Powers, bringing down the heavens in a dance with the earth; salt flats become a purification ground, feeding the holiness of the earth into the terrestrial bodies of the Gods; and desert paths and valleys become meeting places between human and divine, where stillness predominates, provoking recognition of the Numinous. Throughout the high and low points of the lunar cycle, each cult image I craft is taken on a journey to a specific site in this sacral landscape, where prayers, chants, offerings, and ritual action are woven together as gifts to the Gods Whose presences will speak and act through the materials of the icon.
Two days prior to First Quarter Moon Day (denat), on October 25, 2017, the virgin panel that was to become the Aegis of Sobek-Ra was taken on a pilgrimage- together with the Aegis of Heru-sema-tawy in progress- to a sacred rock formation we have recognized in the West Wendover hiking system of Leppy Hills Trails. “Sokar Rock” is a natural outcrop jutting out from a large gathering of rocks facing the Leppy Hills Trails, and from a certain vantage this feature resembles the head of a falcon or sparrowhawk, which we have dedicated to the Netjer Who takes custodianship of the Blessed Dead. This is a place of regular pilgrimage for us, where we pour out libations and make petitions on behalf of those who need healing or special protection. It has also become a place for the blessing and sanctification of my icons.
The Aegis panels of Sobek-Ra and Heru-sema-tawy were placed side by side on the natural flat-topped “offering table” below Sokar Rock. A libation of wine was poured out for the two Netjeru as prayers were offered for the sanctification of the icons and the associated semi-precious stones that would eventually be set within the panels upon completion.
A spell of protection to be said over real carnelian
Red is the color of my Lord,
Sobek, Sobek-Ra the Holy Crocodile,
The Master of Bakhu Who watches in the horizon,
Who comes with the blood of sunrise.
He fights the rebels,
He punishes the enemies of Ra;
He spears them as serpents,
He devours them as fish!
Red is the color of my Lord,
The Holy Crocodile,
The Dweller within the Mansion of Carnelian;
Real carnelian is His holy stone in His name of
O blood, O sunrise,
O Ra, O sunrise,
O carnelian, O sunrise,
O Sobek-Ra, O sunrise,
O blood of the Holy Crocodile Who brings an
End to the enemies of Ra!
– Recitation from the Book of the Guild by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
The Aegis of Sobek-Ra Lord of Terror embodies the dichotomy that accompanies this powerful Netjer. On one hand He is a manifestation of the burning, punishing, and all-consuming fire of the Creator Ra, a warlike deity possessing a severe disposition; but on the other, He is a passionately procreative and protective deity aligned with the powers of sexual fecundity, fruitfulness of the earth and its vegetation, and abundance of the river. On the one hand He is fire and burning sky, and on the other He is water and riparian land. Sobek-Ra is a primordial deity linked with the dual natures of both fire and water: (of fire) warming, life-affirming, and life-sustaining, and yet wholly destructive when left unchecked or unattended; and (of water), the vital component of existence that feeds and nourishes all life upon the earth, and yet floods and rages, taking life in a violent instant. As Lord of the River (neb ateruw), Sobek manifests in its most dangerous predator, the crocodile (Crocodilus niloticus), taking sovereignty over all the denizens of the water, and controlling the very height and flow of the river itself. Such influence extends to all that the river touches, its flora and fauna, and human life when it enters the scope of the river. Lord Sobek, then, is the severe controller of life and death, choosing what grows and thrives, and what must perish as part of the cyclical nature of all material life.
Sobek the Lord of Terror,
The glittering crocodile….
Sobek-Ra the dazzling
Comes bringing the Wedjat Eye
Of terrible powers.
He brings the terror of Ra;
He brings the whole power
Of the Wedjat Eye, the Lord of Healing
In the turquoise-green sky.
Come O Sobek of green plumes,
Carnelian-eyed, Lord of Bakhu,
The Beloved of Ra!
O falcon, O crocodile, sharp-clawed,
Ptah-Tatenen of the Mound,
Master of His semen, the bull, the fecund!
– From the Litany of Sobek in the Book of the Guild by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
On Saturday November 18, 2017, on New Moon Day (pesedjentiu), we took the Aegis of Sobek-Ra on a pilgrimage to Parleys Creek in Salt Lake City, to the place where the creek joins Parleys Pond in Sugarhouse Park. Since we are one Nile River short in the United States, we Kemetics must make do with the rivers and streams we can get our hands and feet into; these, too, are sacred to Lord Sobek and fall beneath His auspices. It is also my direct experience as a Hem Netjer (or Priest, a “Servant of Netjer”) that the Netjeru come where They are invoked and honored through the activities of cultus- where offerings, libations, and prayers flow. In these moments, our sustenance becomes the Ba of the Netjer as It alights upon the cult image, which receives that which we give, and bestows boons in return. This is the crux of Iry khet or cult, that phenomenon of interrelationships through which the Gods and humankind- the Numinous and the physical- are engaged one with the other, and transmit the essence of sacred life.