"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014

"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014
"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014 / Extra fine watercolor, 22 karat gold, lapis lazuli, Austrian crystal

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Honoring the Genius of Imhotep

My votive figure of Imhotep on the Household Shrine of the God Ptah
Imhotep is something of a phenomenon in the course of Egyptian history.  His deification- as a mortal elevated to godhood- is certainly a rarity, however, Imhotep presents us with one of the very rare examples of a mortal man being given a divine parentage and pedigree.  "Imhotep the Great, son of Ptah", as he is hailed in a text from Philae(1), is said to have been born from a human woman named Kherdankh, who somehow managed to catch the attention of the God Ptah, who became the child's biological father(2).  Imhotep was cited as having a mortal father named Kanefer(3), but this small detail seems not to have made its way into the official cult of Imhotep, which was formal and constant from the time of the sixth century B.C. onward(4).

Imhotep the man was the architect, chief builder and vizier of King Netjerykhet (Djoser/ circa 2687-2668), a priest of the God Ptah, and high priest at Annu (Gr. Heliopolis)(5).  His most renowned accomplishment is, of course, the monumental Step Pyramid of King Djoser and its imposing surrounding cult complex.  It must have been on account of these architectual wonders that Imhotep was recognized as something quite special, quite on a par with the Divine Craftsman Ptah, Whose ancient cult center was always Mennefer (Gr. Memphis), near the vicinity of Imhotep's brainchild.

Some time prior to the New Kingdom, Imhotep had begun to be titled "the son of Ptah",(6) which one might be forgiven for thinking was simply an honorary epithet granted to a priest of Ptah who authored a tremendous piece of sacred architecture for his King.  But the status of Imhotep is a thing quite unique, even for a priest of Ptah and vizier.  Imhotep was given his own sanctuary at Philae, where, on the western facade, he is called not only "Imhotep, the great, son of Ptah", but is also said to be "...glorious, god whom Tatenen created and his beloved sister bore"(7).  Tatenen, "the risen land", is perhaps the oldest name of the God Ptah as the Creator God par excellence, embodied in the primeval pyramidal mound of earth from which the Gods and creation were given birth.  

It is certain that Imhotep was honored during the reign of King Djoser(8) as the architect of the king's Step Pyramid, and it is also certain that that pyramid embodied in its shape the symbolism and power of the hillock of creation, the ben-ben.  So, it would have been quite natural for the Egyptians to have made a theological correlation between the creation of the Step Pyramid and the hallowed parentage of the man who brought it into being.  As a son of Ptah, Imhotep would have embodied the creative power of Ptah-Tatenen, Who, as the primeval mound, gave form and shape to the artistic endeavor of creation.

Imhotep's power as an architect and innovator, an artist and a priest of Ptah seems to have bolstered his credibility to the community of artisans, who especially revered him as a divine patron of the arts, and academics are not shy in calling him a "patron saint" of the arts(9).  However, it was as a healer of the sick, physician and a worker of miracles that Imhotep came to be renowned during the Ptolemaic era, where it appears to have been a common practice for the afflicted to seek healing dreams from Imhotep in special sanatoriums that had been reserved for such purposes(10).

It should be self-evident why Imhotep is of some special significance to me.  Yes, the brilliant architect of a great and innovative monument.  Yes, a wise counselor, vizier and overseer of works.  But of course, the prodigious scholar and scribe, author and designer.  But it is as a compassionate hearer of prayers, an answerer of the aches of hearts and bodies, that I seek Imhotep and always find Him attentive.  There is a reason why, many centuries after his death, couples unable to conceive, the seriously ill, and those desiring answers, signs, and miracles came to the shrines of Imhotep.  They appealed to a demigod who was not only the son of a god known as the Hearer of Prayers, but, more significantly, had been a living and breathing man who knew the suffering and challenges of being in a mortal body, and yet possessed a link with the immortal Gods.  It is precisely because Imhotep had been in a body like ours, had walked in the human community, and had risen to greatness based upon his own unique merits, that Imhotep embodies a deity we can readily relate to, and rely upon for human compassion.

If you look at the lap of every single statuette of Imhotep (the famous bronzes that are scattered throughout museums of the world), you will see his ever-present trademark:  the unrolled scroll that singles him out as the divine scholar and scribe, the patron of learning, scholarship and the arts.  As a Son of Ptah, Imhotep was the inheritor of his divine father's artistic acumen.  This was well recognized by the Ancients, who recorded of him that "the Great God, Father of the Gods (Ptah) rejoices at the sight of him (Imhotep)"(11).

For me, Imhotep, as the Son of Ptah and Patron of artisans/ painters, is the iconographer par excellence, the creator of one of the largest pieces of iconography to have been envisioned by the mind of man, the Step Pyramid of King Djoser.  Throughout the ages artisans, stonemasons, architects, sculptors and painters have looked to the genius of Imhotep for inspiration.  His life and story are the hallmarks of one of the great artistic moments in humankind's history.  Still, Imhotep sits with his unrolled scroll, silent and ready to hear our prayers.

Before I sit down to work on an icon I have a little ritual that I always perform before any pigment or gold can be applied.  I light a candle in front of our votive cult figure of Imhotep from Egypt, and I offer a few drops of my watercolor water in honor of the God Imhotep, the Son of Ptah, Who is well pleased by beauty.  This is the prayer I composed in his honor:

Anedj her-ek Imhotep sa Ptah
Imhotep neb hemu nefer netjer
Homage to You Imhotep the Son of Ptah,
Imhotep the Master of Artisans, the beautiful god!
Come and shine, receive, O You beautiful offspring
Of Ptah Who is South of His Wall.
Take unto Yourself all things good and pure,
And give all things good and pure to this
Servant of the workshop of Ptah.

O Imhotep, glorious in Your sanctuaries,
Fashioner of splendors, radiant in Your
Body, make of my hands the hands of
Make of my fingers the fingers of
("Ptah the Great Director of the Artisans").
Make of my heart the vessel of Ptah the
Beautiful Who is Himself Atum.

May I give form to what is perfect,
May I give breath to what is good,
May my endeavors manifest the sky,
May immortality stream from my earth.
For I am in Your company, O Son of Ptah,
Imhotep the Great Whom the Netjeru (Gods)
Have embraced as one among their entourage.

Bless You, O Imhotep the Beautiful,
The wise, the merciful, the hearer of prayers!
May that which lives in You live in me.
May Your boons be upon my hands,
And the works of the Netjeru come forth
From my heart!

Anedj her-ek Imhotep sa Ptah
Imhotep neb hemu nefer netjer
Homage to You Imhotep the Son of Ptah,
Imhotep the Master of Artisans, the beautiful god!


1) Holmberg, Maj Sandman.  The God Ptah.  Lund, 1946, pp. 195.
2) Holmberg, Ibid.
3) Ibid.
4) Holmberg, Ibid., 194.
5) Wilkinson, Richard H.  The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt.  London,   2003, pp. 111.  Also Holmberg, Ibid., 194.
6) Redford, Donald B.  The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology.  New York, 2002, pp. 79.
7) Holmberg, Ibid., 195.
8) Wilkinson, Ibid., pp. 112.
9) Redford, Ibid.
10) Wilkinson, Ibid., pp. 113.
11) Holmberg, Ibid., pp. 196. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

From the "Archives"/ Not the Final Word on "The Father Ra"

"The Father Ra", extra fine watercolor, 18 kt gold, Sterling silver

In early September, 2001 "The Father Ra" was born.  My husband and I went shopping at an Indian grocery store for ingredients needed for that night's feast, and when we arrived at the front counter to pay we noticed the dozens of flashy, gaudy but attractive prints of Hindu deities hanging on the wall behind.  Still half-draped in last year's metallic Christmas tinsel, Shiva and His lingam, Hanuman and Ganesha seemed happy to offer shoppers their otherworldly endorsement.  My husband had come originally from the Hindu tradition, almost taking vows as a swami, but had chosen instead to follow his own brand of spirituality until landing in the camp of the Egyptian deities and deciding to settle in permanently.  Still, he maintained that there was some genuine connection between the ritual forms and spiritualities of the Hindus and the ancient Egyptians.

"You could do that", he said to me offhandedly as he paid for our things, "but for the Netjeru".  He pointed to the Hindu prints in their plastic frames.  "Devotees need to see their gods...", he continued.  "they need to have that kind of access, things for devotion, visuals.  I think that's what you should do".

We discussed this idea on our drive home.  To create a series of sacred images, beginning with watercolor, that could be gilded and used to make devotional prints from, just as practitioners of the Hindu faith used.  This was the seminal idea, the seed from which my vision for Icons of Kemet grew.  Of course, I had always been intrigued with the concept of icons and the study of multicultural iconography.  While studying watercolor technique in college I had painted a series of watercolor meditations (as I referred to them then) of Egyptian deities, and had considered using these as "roughs" from which to work up serious and detailed compositions in oils, however, the concept remained dormant until Brent rekindled the idea that September of 2001.

In Egyptian cosmology everything begins with Ra, the dazzling Sun-God from Whose loins creation and humankind sprung forth.  It was Brent's idea to begin at the beginning, with Ra; to make a study of Ra in His various incarnations as known to the ancient Egyptians, beginning with the rising of Ra in the ocean of creation from the sacred lotus.  The eventual goal would be to work up a very large canvass in oils and gold, but the concept needed exploration and refinement, so Brent suggested starting with my favorite medium of watercolor in order to produce a working "sketch" or "rough" version.

"The Father Ra", a 9" x 12" watercolor, gold and silver "sketch", as published in April of 2002, never became the much larger, more ambitious work that we had planned.  As is usual in the life of a very creative, inspired multitasking individual, I was pulled in many different directions after the watercolor "sketch" of "The Father Ra" was completed.  Brent adored the "sketch" of Ra, but I remained highly critical.  Though aspects of the composition, coloration and detail worked for me, the painting as a whole lacked the kind of detail and gilded magnificence I ultimately had in mind.  I decided to move on to other icon projects in order to refine my style and vision for what eventually became Icons of Kemet; however, in the very back of my mind has always remained that larger, more ambitious rendering of this same composition, for which my little watercolor of "The Father Ra" remains the prototype.  It remains to be seen whether or not that larger work will ever materialize from the creative ocean that is my iconographer's mind.

Detail of "The Father Ra"


Sunday, December 28, 2014

"My" Icons, More Than Archetypes

"Bes the Magical Protector" by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

My icons are very much part of an active dialogue between the Gods and humankind. They reveal a two-way, reciprocal relationship between the human heart and the living Gods.

The Netjeru, the Goddesses and Gods of Kemet, are not mere archetypes or constructs of the human mind. They are divine personalities, beings Who manifest through creation and as creation. The Netjeru in Their cult images in Shrine or Temple are drawn into our world by way of the Daily Ritual and offerings of the Cult.

The Divine Cult is a body of sacred practices that invites and entices our Gods to maintain Their presences and blessings in the human world. It is through the cult image or icon that a meeting place between the Netjer and humanity is established.

Thus my icons are that meeting place, and they open a door for the Netjer to enter and commune with the devotee. I also feel that my icons are a snapshot or record of the ways in which I have been touched directly by the Netjeru.

My icons are the product of dreams and visions seen during incubation in the Temple, where I sleep or meditate in front of the Shrines in order to receive the images I will paint. So, my icons are a record of what I have seen and experienced as I have engaged a deity and invited Them to communicate with me. The viewer will then be able to experience those same images I experienced during incubation, and each person has the potential to be spiritually touched directly by the Netjer just as I am.

Called By Isis

"Auset/ Isis Queen of Magic", a work in progress by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
When I was in grade school I attended a private Catholic school where every Friday we were required to attend chapel and say Mass. We were expected to kneel and recite the Lord's Prayer, and sing the appropriate hymns in observance of various Saint's feast days. I was utterly offended at being required to kneel to a god I regarded as foreign, and recite a prayer that rang hollow in my heart.

At ten years of age I was already secretly consecrated to Auset, Mother Isis, so it was to Her I fervently prayed when the time came to kneel and parrot the words of the Lord's Prayer after Father Treat. I remember a gilt icon of the Madonna shining above a rack of glittering candles, and silently, deep down in my heart of hearts, I said to Isis: "When it looks like I am praying to her, I am really praying to YOU!"

One morning after Mass was concluded, Father Treat saw me lighting a candle in front of the Madonna, and he said, "Oh, you are praying to our Lady?" "No", I replied, "I am praying to Isis". Father Treat called my mother that very morning and told her what I had said, expressing his outrage and concern, and when my mother came to pick me up at school I was confronted by her and Father Treat regarding my religious beliefs.

What could I say? I told both of them that the worship of Isis was far older than the religion of Jesus the Jew, that the magic and power of Isis was far more profound than the miracles performed by Christ, and, finally, that the Goddess had called me personally and answered my prayers directly. How had She called me?

The nectar of the ancient Faith of Isis (Whom the Ancient Egyptians called Auset) is the one virtue that I have always found greatly lacking in many of the world's current religions, and that is unconditional love...what every mother would recognize as the unfailing trait shared by most mothers. Mothers have a capacity that most fathers, and men in general, find wanting. They are able to love their children, simply love them, for all their imperfections and regardless of shortcomings.

Conditional grace is central to the major monotheistic religions. Belief in one doctrine. Absolute obedience to the core professions of the faith. Salvation is granted only to the worthy, those who accept the one deity and belief as expressed in authoritative scripture. Eternal punishment after death for those who do not.

The religion of Isis is very different in these regards. My personal experience of Mother Auset is that She, like all mothers, loves where others fall quite short. She does not condemn those who do not recognize Her divinity. She does not chastise souls for following their conscience in the place of doctrine or religious dogma. She requires no vows for those who call upon Her in need. She professes no wrath for those who follow other beliefs and yet wish to feel Her mercy.

Even those who challenge Her, those who hate Her, those who attack Her can in the same instant be embraced or saved by Her if they but cry out for Her help. She asks for nothing in return.

Those who serve Mother Isis recall the story of Her trials and sufferings as a single mother hiding in the marshes of Egypt from Her enemies. The Goddess, in Her most dire time of need, was persecuted by a haughty rich woman, who slammed her door in the Goddess' face when Isis was begging for a place to hide Her infant son. It was a poor woman who invited Isis into her home to partake of what little she had to give.

The guardian scorpions of the Goddess were outraged at the behavior of the wealthy woman, and decided to punish her by stinging her baby son to death. When Isis heard of this retribution, She cried out, "I cannot allow the innocent to die because of me", and the Goddess used Her magic to cure the afflicted child.

This ancient story reveals the heart of the Isian Mysteries, which are quite less mysterious than they may outwardly appear. The truth of the Divine Mother is that Her grace, Her salvation, Her love is entirely unconditional. What She expresses to those who choose to follow Her is the necessity of altruistic love and the example of a mother's unblemished mercy for all Her children.

The Goddess does not subtract, She adds. The Goddess does not turn away, She embraces. The Goddess does not govern through fate or doctrine, She and She alone alters fate and cuts through the delusion of power that is the leash of dogma. Isis rises above the conditions set by other deities, receiving all souls into Her care regardless of creed, gender, race or belief.

What Isis inspires is not religious fervor, fanaticism or control, but the freedom that only limitless love, true love...a mother's love can give. This is the message that Mother Isis gave to me when I was six-years-old and first came to know Her.

It is often a difficult message to live or embody, because I, like all children, am rash, egoistic, imperfect and brimming with conflicting emotions. However, what Isis has in abundance is patience. She sees through our faults and cherishes us for the Soul we all possess. It is this single attribute of this most ancient of Goddesses that first called to my heart 34 years ago, and has remained with me, each and every day since.

The tender face of "Auset/ Isis Queen of Magic"

As Above, So Below

"Bast the Light-Bringer" by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
My icons are not art in the conventional, contemporary sense. In fact, it may astonish some when I say that the purpose or function of my icons is not to be looked at or seen, but rather to serve as a house or vehicle for the deity portrayed, allowing the deity to take residence in our world in an image that can receive cult offerings and stand as a portal through which the goddess or god can enter our world. 

Many of what we regard as art masterpieces of ancient Egypt were never intended to be seen by human eyes once they were sealed away in the tomb, and the cult statues of the Gods were not viewed publicly, but only in the exclusivity of the Temple environment.

My icons are composed of precious natural minerals, pure gold and semi precious and precious stones, and are thus suitable houses for the essences of the Gods to dwell inside. Once installed in Temple or shrine, the icons I create are seen in a ritual context only, receive cult offerings and worship, and function on a wholly metaphysical level. The idea of an icon simply hanging on a museum or gallery wall or being seen as just something pretty to look at defeats the entire point of what an icon is created to do. A true icon is functioning, living thing, not an inanimate decoration. Regardless of what tradition they come from, all icons are expected to bring the viewer directly into the presence of the Divine.

When I work on an icon I am constantly chanting the deity's names and epithets, and concentrating my devotion and adoration into the piece as it manifests. The water I use with the mineral pigments is first consecrated on the offering table in our Temple, as are all the materials I use for each icon. Before I begin each painting session, I sprinkle water and say a prayer to honor Djehuty and Imhotep, the two divine patrons of the Kemetic iconographic arts. The God Ptah, Supreme Artisan of Creation, Chief of all craftsmen, is given offerings and asked to enter my hands. When an icon is finished, copious offerings are given in the Temple and the deity represented in the icon is asked to take possession of the icon.

Though the icons I create for commission technically belong to the patron paying for them, the actual icon, being given over to the deity as a sacred home, in fact belongs to the Goddess or God and not to the patron. An icon cannot be owned because truly it belongs to the deity who inhabits it. An image that is not awakened or consecrated as the home of a deity is not an icon, though it may be beautiful or look holy. A true icon is an image that is awakened with an interior life force that is literally part of the body of a deity, and is thus part of the earthly flesh containing the heavenly presence. The icons I create are living gods, not inanimate decorations. They feed us and are meant to be fed through the celebrations of the divine cult. As above, so below.

"My" Icons, Doorways to the Gods

Stela of "Ptah Who Hears Prayers" by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

I always want to emphasize -though I know I sound like a broken record player- that the work I do as a painter is not art for art's sake (though I believe very much in that kind of work as well), nor do I regard myself as an "artist" or "painter".

I call myself an iconographer, and my work icons. Icons are known in many world religions as objects that bring worshipers in contact with the god or gods they adore. An icon is a work of figurative art that has been blessed or consecrated as the repository of holy or sacred energy/ power.

An icon is almost always a focal point for prayer and ritual, and most icons the world over are objects of pilgrimage and veneration. The icons I create are accomplished with all of these concepts first and foremost in mind.

Egyptologists and academics term such images "cult images", that is to say, images that are ritually awakened or "opened" to receive the spiritual essence or power of a god or goddess, and are given offerings and ritual worship via the daily cult.

My icons are crafted for these reasons also. They are ritual objects that are magically activated in order to be possessed by the goddess or god they represent. These are then installed in Shrines or Temples where devotees perform the ritual actions and prayers of the deity's cult.

My icons are not Egyptology/ archaeology art, nor are they simply portrayals of myth, nor are they decorative objects. My works are sacrosanct relics that belong to the Gods, and are to be used in a ritual context only. Outside that context, they have no value, and I would rather they be destroyed.

My goal as a Kemetic polytheist and iconographer is to reintroduce the aims and ideals of the cult image/ icon and the sacred rites that pair with them. Being an iconographer is a very strong part of my practice as a Hem Netjer or Priest of the God Ptah, Whose divine hand is as the artisan of creation.

In ancient Egypt, artisans, and in particular painters/ sculptors were titled Priests of Ptah, or called themselves Priests of Ptah. This is how I feel about my own labors as an iconographer...that my creative life is as a Priest/ sacred artisan of the God Ptah, and that my icons are living bodies of living Gods.

When I am creating an icon I am actually practicing my religion and serving my Gods, giving Them doors through which They can walk into our world. What I create is holy, and I have profound respect for my craft as a deeply religious and spiritual act.

Isis Embraces All

Lady Olivia Robertson Ordains Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

On October 13, 2002 I was ordained by Lady Olivia Robertson as a Priest of the Goddess Isis in the International Fellowship of Isis, the largest community of Goddess adorers in the world. 

The Fellowship of Isis is a multicultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic family spanning the globe, consecrated to living the ideals of the Goddess in today's world. We follow no dogma or authoritative text. Dogma constrains the conscience of the individual, and authoritative texts strangle the human longing for freedom. 

It is by developing our psychic gifts, intuition, devotion and wisdom of the Sacred that we come closest to our pure selves, and it is within this purity that the Goddess Isis speaks clearly as the Universal Mother. She includes, never excludes. She embraces, never shuns. She reaches out Her hand to take our sorrows and bring us together into wholeness. 

 What if one day each member of the human family awoke to find that there were no longer boundaries separating us as dwellers on the same planet? What if gender dissolved? What if sexual orientation no longer acted as a barrier to the joy of love and sexual passion? What if race no longer inflamed hatred, but instead became an embodiment of the diversity of the human condition? What if being human no longer separated us from animals, trees, birds...the waters? What if we could gather up our joy, pleasure and existence and share it freely with others? 

These are the treasures I have found in the Goddess, and though I cannot claim to be spiritually enlightened or self-realized, I have found within my heart a place where being human is a cause for the greatest gratitude and love. The Sacred and the "mundane" are two sides of the same mirror. 

When we look into the mirror and we see a good person, then we are seeing God, Goddess, Enlightenment, Salvation. Here I am being Consecrated by Lady Olivia Robertson beneath a 500 year old tree, a tree embodying the generations of the human race who have come together to celebrate the Sacredness of this Mystery we call life.

Touching Isis/ The Real Goddess Still Making Herself Known

"Auset/ Isis Queen of Magic"/ Oils & 22 karat gold

To millions of people "ISIS" is the name of a terrorist organization, thanks to the media, who have taken the name of one of humankind's first Mother Goddesses and transformed it into something evil. The ironic thing about this is that the Goddess Isis is the Mother of the human race, the Protectress of the oppressed and afflicted, the Savioress Who embraces the lost and the suffering. 

For thousands of years the Goddess Auset, Isis was adored by the ancient Egyptians, and well into the Christian Era was being adopted by entire civilizations throughout the known world. 

My icon of this great Goddess stands for the true and original Isis, Her universal compassion and tenderness. My work is a call to draw close to the origins of our inborn ability to love unconditionally and altruistically. It embodies the strength of the Goddess to overcome our darkness and inhumane impulses. My work is a call for the ripening of divinity within the human condition.

"Auset/ Isis Queen of Magic" (on 30" x "40" canvas) is my first icon using extra fine genuine mineral pigments as oils.  It also has the highest use of gold of any icon to date, together with Sterling silver and copper.  Its use of bas-relief effects is also the most prominent of all my work thus far, making Auset stand out, quite literally, very apart from anything else I have attempted.

The above picture was taken after the first session of over painting.  The body and face of the Goddess have been under painted using hydrated iron oxide (yellow ocher), the precise mineral compound used by the ancient Egyptians when painting the figures of goddesses (and females generally) in two dimensional representations. 

The cosmetic markings of the Goddess' eye and eyebrow have been made with real lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. Crown and jewelry are gilded with 22k gold, with some details in copper and Sterling silver. 

This is only the first layer of a several layer painting process. My method is to work from dark to light. After an under painting- during which I establish the base colors of each section- the first layer of the over painting seeks to lay down a primary tonal range from which I will, in further layers, work up to final shading, highlights and details.

The creation of this precious icon has dominated my life since the Goddess first inspired me to create it more than four years ago. The process of creating a work of religious and spiritual significance is difficult to describe. What I can say clearly is that for me it is a process of initiation that manifests half way between sheer ecstasy and violent terror. To realize an image of the Goddess means first to face Her directly, and one cannot be in the presence of the Goddess being attached to one's ego. 

Thus one is required to stand face to face with one's own innermost demons, attachments and desires...to enter and then pass away from these in order to give one's fullest heart to Her, to receive Her grace and omnipresent power. Only after having gone through this explosive process can the artist absorb Her greatness and observe Her majesty. 

When creating an icon, the iconographer must himself/ herself be a reflection of the very qualities he/she desires to portray through the icon. An icon, to become a true cult image celebrating the deity, must be created by hands that have realized first hand the very essence of the sacred vision being depicted in material terms. 

If the iconographer fails to realize these, then the icon cannot possibly come to embody these qualities. Artistic skill is not enough. The iconographer, of course, must possess superior training and must have mastered the forms and mediums being used. That goes without saying. That part is the easiest. Any art student with a brush can create a coherent image. What is significant about that? 

To create a living deity image possessing the actual, tangible qualities of the Divine is the most painful task of all. It requires a painful degree of self-sacrifice and discipline that cannot be ego-driven or self glorifying. It must also come from a heart possessed by utter love and devotion for the deity being portrayed. If this is truly realized, then all who gaze upon the finished icon will feel the power of the deity and will know that the image is alive.

I am Auset Great of Enchantments,

Within whose body the immortal Gods dwell,
Within whose womb the seed of the universe
Did spring.

There is nothing that exists that I have not
Touched with the grace of my fingertips,
Nor a heart that beats without having felt
My divine breath.

My image is that of Eternity,
My body the thread of the Everlasting.
The gods of all nations know me,
The Threefold Creator invokes me,
I am higher than the governors of the Earth,
And over the starry firmament from which
I have descended.

I am Auset Great of Enchantments,
Whose feet are planted in the Stars,
Whose never ending grace existed before
Time and creation existed.
I endure, and I am before the beginning,
And after the end.

Welcome to My World

Welcome to my world.  I wake up in the morning and before I distract myself with anything from the mundane world, my knees hit the floor in prayer.  Our Shrine to the Household Gods shines and glimmers in the little tea lights that have been placed just so, ornamenting the gilt cult images of the God Ptah and His Holy Family.  I light myrrh resin incense on a brazier of charcoal and waft its fragrance into a sweet cloud for the Gods to enjoy.  "Men nek irit Heru...", I half-whisper as I raise the palms of my hands in the ancient gesture of worship.  "Men nek irit Heru.  Take unto yourself the Eye of Heru...take unto yourself the Eye of Heru".  

The Altar to the Household Gods in our home
An Egyptian alabaster votive bowl is filled with powdered sugar-topped lemon tart, another topped off with red wine.  Yes, the Gods love their sweets, their alcohol, and in my household, both of these are given in profusion.  In the meduw-netjer, the divine language of ancient Egypt, I recite the traditional offering prayers, inviting the Netjeru-Gods to "bestow the giving of life" for my household.  I vigorously shake a sistrum- an Egyptian ceremonial rattle- to conclude my worship, after I have silently offered my own personal prayers for the ears of the Gods.  I bestow my prostrations to the Great God Ptah, Hearer of Prayers, and, in our temple, King of the Gods.  His gold-covered Kar-Shrine (or naos) containing a small cult image of the God now stands open to receive the morning rays of the sun's light, and life in my household can spring to action once more.

I readily admit that I live an unusual life.  Our living room has no television.  Yes, we have the obligatory couch and (book covered) coffee table, however, in the place most people reserve for their entertainment center dominated by the almighty flat panel television, my husband and I have installed our Shrine to the Household Gods, which can be seen from every vantage of our flat.  It creates of our home environment a sacred refuge and place of peace from the stresses of the outside world.  It brings our sometimes fragmented focus back to the reality of the Gods in Their place at the very center of creation.  This is a space for prayer and ritual, where our innermost aspirations may be expressed or realized, but it is also the fuel parlor, the generator for my daily work as an iconographer.

An iconographer practices a trade quite different from that of other artists, who often explode with a creativity fueled by a personal drive to explore and express the human psyche.  The modern artist has at her or his center the Self with a capital "S".  My experience.  My understanding.  My feelings.  My expression.  These are the seeds that sprout the trees of modern art, which is dominated, of course, by the modern artist.  However, in iconography there has been, historically, much less of an emphasis on the iconographer, on his identity or persona, and almost entirely a focus on the icons themselves.  Iconographers are not commissioned to create their own reality, but are instead asked to express time-honored ideals concerning how the Divine should be depicted, and the most important part of this is the impersonal nature of the work itself.

That is not to say that the creation of an icon requires detachment.  Quite the opposite, if the iconographer is true to his calling.  Iconographers are called like priests and nuns to their craft.  There is a drive behind the work that comes from the reservoir of the Sacred, a current of energy passing out from a deity or deities.  It is this higher energy or inspiration that fuels the creation of icons.  So, the work is impersonal in that it is not the artist's ego or personality that is driving the work or providing the subject matter.  Icons do not glorify the personality of the iconographer, they glorify the Sacred, the Divine, and many well known icons remain the output of unknown painters.

In the case of ancient Egypt, we but rarely are privy to the names of individual painters and artisans, whose masterpieces may be household names and instantly recognizable.  Take the fabulous golden burial mask of Tutankhamun, as one example.  This tomb treasure is often hailed as an "icon of ancient Egypt", in the sense that its fame and preciousness have come to represent, in the minds of the masses, the greatness of Egyptian civilization.  However, I would add that the mask of Tutankhamun is also an icon in the original religious context of the word.  To the ancient goldsmiths and jewelers who created it, the burial mask of Tutankhamun was a piece of sacred machinery, through whose great magic the deceased King Tutankhamun would be transformed into a living manifestation of the Sun-God Ra.  The mask itself, though carrying upon it a stylized representation of Tutankhamun, is in fact intended to represent the God Ra Himself- gold of skin with lapis lazuli hair- as the indestructible Lord of Heaven, untouched by death and wholly divine.  The Egyptians saw such treasures not as works of art, in the manner that we see them, but as holy objects embodying the powers of the Gods.  They were, in short, icons.

Not only the incomparable treasures of Tutankhamun, but so many works of ancient Egypt had a sacred purpose that took them beyond the realm of the human viewer.  So many works of art that stun and captivate us today were simply never intended to be seen again by human eyes, once they had been created and brought ceremonially, magically to life.  We do not know the names of the craftsmen who produced them, their genius preserved only in the astounding objects they gave life to.  To the ancient Egyptians, the personality of individual artists was practically insignificant.  Their mode of religion called for cult images wrought from the most precious substances on earth...gold, lapis lazuli, feldspar and turquoise, which represented to the Egyptian mind substances forming part of the anatomy of the living Gods.  The task of the artist was to give earthly bodies to the Gods, Who would be invited to take up residence in the precious cult images once they had been ritually awakened.  Thus the ego or personal experiences of the artisan served no purpose to the Egyptians, who saw ceremonial images as the dwelling places of their gods, not as representations of individual mortals.  My, how things have changed!

Enter me.  My profession must be, at times, an experiment, for I am not an ancient artisan of cult images dwelling in a nation where my gods and their servants are supported by the state.  Gone are the monumental temple sanctuaries filled with incense and solid gold cult images.  What we have today are small ceremonial centers and home-shrines, these lovingly filled with not-so-solid gold images of our ancient gods.  The incense and offerings have remained, though not on the scale consumed by the Gods in ancient times.  Gone too are the monolithic stone statues of the Gods and kings that led way to the imperial sanctuaries.  These things belong to a past that has now become a tourist trap.  What we servants of the old Gods have is the Gods Themselves, Who continue to inspire us in ways that may fall outside the realm of traditional pomp and circumstance, but in circumstances that are, nevertheless, effective as a living religion.

In my world, it is the icon, a small panel covered in intricate details, gold and semi-precious stones, that has as much meaning as a massive stone temple or a solid gold cult image.  Those things have meaning too, but for the past, and since we are living in the present, and the Gods are ever-present, our task is to find new traditional ways of honoring Them and asking for Their intervention in our world.

So, every morning, after I have awoken our household shrine with a heady cloud of myrrh or sandalwood, I sit in my studio at my massive table, where a modern panel of wood, which may initially appear inconsequential, will be transformed into an image of ancient splendor.  It is not only gold or lapis or amethyst that will make this little panel something of value, but, much more importantly, the love of the Gods that is poured into its glittering metal and mineral pigments.  Such love for the Sacred is what fuels and entices me to work fervently, day after day, in my own divine world.  Welcome.