"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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hwt-Her/ Hathor: Touching the Goddess of Love (Part 1)

Detail of the completed under drawing of "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky"

For more than 20 days the Goddess Hwt-Her (or Hathor) has gently coaxed my hand in the designing of an icon that could describe Her sensual beauty, Her musical power, Her vivacity as embodiment of celestial glory.  My icon panels aren't precisely miniatures, but they are quite small, merely 8" x 10", which means that the actual space used for the deity inside the ornamental borders is only 4.5" x 8.00".  This requires me to pack as much as I can into the available space, which is magically the entire point of creating the icon in the first place.  

A true icon is not a decorative work of art, but a piece of machinery that harnesses and directs the power of a deity into the viewer's point of observation.  The point is not to create a pretty and balanced little work, where there are just as many objects present as are needed to make the composition harmonious to the eye...like the perfect illusion of Greek temples, say.  Austerity and simplicity are not the modus operandi of Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) iconography, where the exercise of "art" is to achieve the operation of divine magic, the process of a deity remaining present in the physical world, and assisting humankind in the preservation of life.  From the Egyptian perspective, divine images must function on visual and magical levels simultaneously, and in order to accomplish this the magically appropriate symbols and components must be present.

The Goddess Hwt-Her is a passionate and abundant goddess, certainly a far cry from ideals of simplicity or austerity.  This goddess goes for the reverse.  She takes an empty space, such as a womb or a tract of land, and fills it with fertility.  She creates life in profusion...a profusion of love, green and living things, and very much the seeds for renewed and perpetual life.  She is the goddess who cures infertility and impotence, whose passionate presence stirs the heights of sexual ecstasy from which new life will spring.  Even for the sake of sexual pleasure itself, Hwt-Her bestows the joys of sex to all who call upon Her, and with these She brings the fulfillment of life as a thing to be savored and devoured.

"Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky", my first commission of 2015, was inspired principally by images of the Goddess from the elegantly painted coffins of what is known as the Third Intermediate Period (1070-945 BCE)(1).  This period of Egyptian art history is significant in that it provides us with some of the most exquisitely detailed representations of theological themes to have survived from ancient times.  Due to the social and political instability of the times, the elaborately carved and decorated tombs were no longer being produced as assets for the Afterlife.  What the ruling class of priests and the elite were opting for were simple burials to house nests of wooden coffins that fitted tightly together like so many Russian dolls.  These were sumptuously painted, varnished and inscribed, inside and out(2).

The Mummy Board of Henettawy/ Third Intermediate Period, Dynasty 21
Mummy Board of Henettawy/ Dynasty 21, Third Intermediate Period

One of the common themes for the inside basin (or bottom) of these Third Intermediate Period coffins was an image of Hwt-Her as the Goddess of the West (Imentet), that is to say, the goddess who received and mothered the blessed dead once they entered the shadowy Western region where the Sun-God was swallowed each and every day.  As the Daughter of the Sun-God, Hwt-Her became a surrogate mother of the souls who struggled for rebirth each night with the Sun.  Many Third Intermediate Period coffins contain sensuous paintings of Hwt-Her as a goddess of renewed life for the dead, standing in the West arrayed in all Her divine finery, surrounded by magical figures and texts.  One such image, that made for the coffin of Mistress of the House Henettawy, was my inspiration and point of reference as I shaped the under drawing for my latest icon commission.

In "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky", the elegant, nubile form of the Goddess lifts up the hieroglyphic sign for heaven, pet, which contains twelve five-pointed stars of the night sky.  Upon Her head She carries the disk of the sun between lyre-shaped horns, these being those of the domestic cow, with whom the Goddess was always associated from the earliest period of Her worship.  While it is quite natural that the Goddess should occupy the central station of the icon in order to highlight Her significance, in this instance such placement has even deeper theological meaning associating Her with the placement of the rising sun.

The body of the Goddess is taking a position between two theological groups that are intended to represent the mountains of the east and west, between which the orb of the Sun-God Ra (of Whom Hwt-Her was daughter) held dominion.  On the viewer's right we see the pronounced dip of the Western Mountain, the very mountain assigned to the Goddess' special protection.  Out of this undulating desert feature rises the head of the sacred cow, which also carries the face of the sun between its horns.  Around its neck is suspended the amuletic device of the Goddess Bat, a very ancient bovine goddess with Whom Hwt-Her shares a certain relationship.

To the viewer's left can be seen the embodiment of the east and station of sunrise, the sacred falcon of the God Heru (or Horus), to Whom the Goddess Hwt-Her was married.  The God in His falcon form wears around His neck the menat necklace with its characteristic counterweight or counterpoise, this being an emblem of the magical power of the Goddess Hwt-Her as divine songstress and musician, the patroness of music and the dance.  The menat itself was a ceremonial necklace composed of numerous strands of beads, which, when shaken vigorously, provided an accompaniment to rituals in celebration of the Goddess Hwt-Her.  Here it is Her consort, resident in His animal totem, Who carries the sacred menat in honor of His beloved goddess.

The falcon of Heru is further united with the Goddess by having as His perch the ceremonial rattle known as a sesheset or sistrum, which was played especially for Egypt's goddesses by the chantress priestesses, and was very closely associated with Hwt-Her in Her role as divine songstress and musician.  Here the instrument embodies the Goddess Herself, and thus becomes a symbol of the sexual and spiritual union of the God Heru and Goddess Hwt-Her.  It is well known that the name of Hwt-Her means "House of Heru",(3) telling us that the Goddess is the very dwelling place, the sacred womb, the place of empowerment of the great and ancient God of the Sky.

So the Goddess Hwt-Her rises up holding not only the starry sky, but also the face of the sun, and it is between the mountains of the east and west that She accomplishes it, and these locations are here represented by the divine animal totems (the falcon and cow) of the east and west.  The Goddess Herself may embody both the sun and the vital power of the Sun-God, Ra, Whose "Eye" Hwt-Her is often stated to be.

The solar presence of Hwt-Her is epitomized in the burst of flames shooting out from the solar disk tucked behind Her face.  Once again the symbolism reads on multiple levels simultaneously, for the disk can represent the face of the sun, and at the same time stand for the highly burnished surface of a mirror, an object very close to the mythos and ceremonial symbolism of the Goddess Hwt-Her(4).  Once completed, this portion of the icon will shine with pure 22 karat gold, and is intended to represent the hand held mirrors used by Egyptian women in connection with the cult of Hwt-Her; for this is a goddess of physical beauty and sexual allure, something that Egyptian women were as keen on as women of today.  Many examples of Egyptian mirrors have come down to us that depict the heart-shaped and cow-eared face of the Goddess Hwt-Her on the handle, below a disk mirror which stood for the sun.

As a royal mother goddess Hwt-Her wears upon Her elaborate wig the vulture coronet which reinforces Her dominion over the sky and stars, and states that She is, after all, royal daughter-consort of the Sun-God.  As the "Eye of Ra" Hwt-Her can encompass and harness the terrible fire or destructive power of Ra as the solar Creator, and as such She carries a cobra-encircled orb between Her curled cow horns, these representing Her cosmic fertility together with Her powers as a protective, regenerative goddess.

A lotus flower, yet another solar symbol of regeneration, opens its petals above the forehead of the Goddess, and this is a reference to a further aspect of the solar theology from which the Egyptian universe was composed.  A very ancient story told how the infant Sun-God pushed up from the dark waters of chaos before the beginning of time, and it was from the stamen of the sacred blue lotus that His cosmic light shot forth, thus bringing about the illumination and order of the created world.  Here the blue lotus of creation blossoms from the solar crown of Hwt-Her as the Daughter of the Sun-God Ra, and it is His fiery power She radiates to all living things.

Detail showing lazy papyrus stems falling at the bejeweled feet of the Goddess, Who stands on the nub or gold hieroglyph.  One of Hwt-Her's more prominent epithets is nubit, "the Golden One".
Detail of the erotic curves of Hwt-Her's body, accentuated by a form-fitting dress of transparent linen covered in a net of beads.  When completed the dress of the Goddess will be composed of 22 karat gold, precious mineral watercolor and Austrian crystals.



1) Dates for the Third Intermediate Period are those given by Professor John Baines and Dr. Jaromir Malek in their Atlas of Ancient Egypt.
2) Tiradritti, Francesco.  Egyptian Wall Painting.  New York, 2008, pp. 372-373.
3) Redford, Donald B.  The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology.  New York, 2002, pp. 157.
4) Wilkinson, Richard H.  Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art.  London, 1994, pp. 32. 

1 comment:

  1. It was great to be able to read of the detail behind your latest icon creation. I can't wait to see Her finished!