"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, March 25, 2015

Photo Essay: Gods In the Landscape/ Thinking Kemetically In West Wendover

At first glance the town of West Wendover, Nevada may seem as far from the Nile Valley and its ancient deities as it is possible to be.  As one enters this small casino resort community, just straddling the border between Nevada and Utah, one encounters the 63-foot-tall neon majesty that is Wendover Will, the cigarette smoking cowboy acting as the town's official greeter and landmark.  This is unashamedly a gambling town, dominated by the casinos that are the primary draw for the tourists and travelers who pass through here.  One would hardly make a connection between the life of casino-hopping, presided over by a flamboyant neon cowboy, and the milleniums-old spiritual traditions of Egypt.

I have been a follower of the Gods of ancient Egypt for 35 years, and part of the everyday practice of my spirituals beliefs is to recognize the presence of the netjeru (Gods) not only in the experiences brought about by life itself, but also in the physical landscape in which I find myself at any given time.  This is very much in keeping with the Kemetic or ancient Egyptian perspective, which sees the natural world, its flora and fauna and geographic features, as the dwelling places of living gods.

The Nile Valley was heavy with natural features through which the powers of the Gods were omnipresent to the ancient Egyptians.  The artisans dwelling in the village of set-Ma'at (or Deir el Medina) recognized the limestone cliffs and hills skirting the Valley of the Queens as the residence of the protective cobra Goddess Meritsager, and it was into these cliffs that the devout village craftsmen cut shrines as places for the bestowal of prayers and offerings to the Goddess(1).  In fact, the pyramidal mountain dominating the region of western Waset (or Thebes) and its necropolis was believed to be a form of the Goddess Meritsager(2).  However, this same mountain was also honored as a place most sacred to the cow-goddess Hwt-Her (Hathor), who was hailed as the "Mistress of the Western Mountain" in Her role as receiver and mother of the blessed dead.  In this aspect, the Goddess was envisaged as a cow with lyriform horns emerging from the base of the sacred mountain of western Waset(3).

An important site sacred to the veneration of the God Amun was Gebel Barkal, below the fourth cataract of the Nile, where a number of sanctuaries were established as ritual centers.  Scholars have noted that the dominant mountainous sandstone feature of the region, which the ancient Egyptians called 'the pure mountain', resembles the royal cobra goddess wearing either the high white crown or the disk of the sun-god, depending on the direction from which this natural feature is viewed(4).  It is almost certain that the Egyptians looked upon this mountain as a dwelling place of divine power, a place where goddesses and gods watched over the landscape below, receiving the honor granted to them by the activities of the temple cults.

My point in citing these examples is that the ancient Egyptians experienced the power of their gods and religion not solely in the man made sanctuaries consecrated to them, but more importantly in the immediate natural environment surrounding them.  The river Nile, which flooded annually and sustained Egypt's farming economy, was seen as the efflux of a number of deities, not least of which was Hapy, the spiritual embodiment of the river itself.  The Egyptians saw that the netjeru or Gods were actually resident in the land of Egypt itself, and could be recognized as the benefactors of local environments in their aspect as niwty or "local god"(5).

For those of us honoring the netjeru today, there may appear to be a break between the Nilotic roots of our deities and their current role as the focal point of contemporary Kemeticism.  If the goddesses and gods of ancient Egypt were in a sense rooted to the physical landscape of Kemet (Egypt), then how do we access them in the current age, when we are no longer resident in the geographic and cultural conditions in which our gods originally operated?

My answer is quite simple:  do as the Ancestors did.  Wherever we are, wherever we live, we have the opportunity to take a look at our surroundings and see how the Gods operate through them.  If we accept that the netjeru are living gods, if we see them as having unbroken power and presence in our world, then we must also see that they are not limited to the geography of the Nile Valley proper, and may in fact be powerfully present in the mountains, rivers, valleys, rocks and vegetation of the earth entire.  If the Goddesses Hwt-Her or Meritsager, for example, were believed to be resident in the pyramidal western mountains of ancient Waset (Thebes), couldn't they also choose to be active in any western or pyramidal mountain?  Couldn't contemporary devotees of these goddesses establish forms of offering and reverence at local mountain regions that in their appearances echo those of ancient Egypt?  My answer to such questions throughout the years has been yes, and no more so than now, where my daily life is surrounded by a dramatic desert landscape that in many ways mimics that of ancient Egypt's natural sacred sites.

Above:  Immediately outside the main town of West Wendover stretches a series of pyramidal mountain peaks that to my Kemetic eyes greatly resemble the amber-colored mountains of western Thebes (ancient Waset) in Egypt, where the peak known today as Al-Qurn, "the horn", stands as a natural sentinel over the royal burial ground called the Valley of the Kings.  In ancient times this peak was sacred to the Goddesses Hwt-Her (Hathor) and Meritsager.  Today it is my practice to say prayers to these two most ancient goddesses whenever I visit this gathering of very pyramid-like peaks, which stand prominently outside the entrance to West Wendover.

Another view of the range of peaks flanking West Wendover

Above:  I have named this natural rock formation Sokar Rock, after the hawk or falcon-headed deity Sokar, a most ancient funerary deity associated with the Underworld and the necropolis region of western Waset (Thebes).  This gathering of rocks just beyond the town of West Wendover may certainly be recognized as a special power spot by those who look at this dramatic desert landscape through Kemetic eyes.

Above:  Natural miniature cave-like rock formations in the desert outside West Wendover call to mind the man made rock cut shrines the ancient artisans of set-Ma'at (or Deir el Medina) created for the God Ptah and Goddess Meritsager in the western mountains of Waset (Thebes).  These places have a very sacred feeling to me, and in my mind I see them as little shrines to the netjeru, where the Gods appear in order to receive my prayers and offerings in this holy desert landscape.


Teeter, Emily.  Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt.  New York, NY, 2011, pp. 84-86.

2) Silverman, David P.  "Divinity and Deities in Ancient Egypt", in Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, edited by Byron E. Shafer.  Ithaca and London, 1991, pp. 38.
3) Wilkinson, Richard H.  The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt.  London,   2003, pp. 141.
4) Wilkinson, Richard H.  The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt.  London, 2000, pp. 233.
5) Silverman, Ibid.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Living In A World Of Symbols (Part Four) With Adriano Bulla

Detail from "As My Father's Eye Watches Me"/ Acrylic and Sterling silver on canvas by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

An Intimate Interview with Iconographer & Poet

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa


Adriano Bulla

In 'I Carried Them away with Me', you mix spiritual, metaphysical and sensual. Is your poem about how we can find the infinite, ex-temporality in the union with other humans? How do you think sex is a mystical experience?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Yes, you are precisely right, 'I Carried Them Away With Me' is about the ecstasy of spiritual awakening that can happen when we are paired with the right lover. The beginning of the poem tells us that the process of such a spiritual awakening begins with the dissolution of fear, because fear prevents us from trust, and trust is the seed of true intimacy...intimacy in this sense being able to give over our complete selves into the hands of another. To give everything away; this is the handing over of our 'self', our independent identity, into the consciousness of another, our lover. Instead of remaining separate from our lover, instead of holding back our ego in a selfish manner, we are prepared to allow our lover to become interdependent with us...not codependent, but interdependent.

     So, we have a lover here who is not seeing their 'self' as being completely separate from their lover. This person is not experiencing love in terms of 'I' versus 'them', or 'me' versus 'you'. Although my poems are always told in the first person point of view from my perspective, so from a male homosexual perspective, the meaning here can be applied to any gender or sexual orientation. A woman could be seeing her lover, let's say a man, as being a vital part of her consciousness. So, during the act of love, the lovers aren't thinking in terms of gender...'him and 'her', 'she' and 'he' et cetera, but are instead experiencing the act of love as two parts of the same consciousness. The personal ego of 'I', 'me', 'mine', 'you', and 'yours' is being dissolved. The result is an interdependent consciousness, a love in which gender and ego do not separate or define, but are united and give rise to an enlightenment experience.

     This kind of enlightenment experience is what is being described when I say When, with you, time has lost its validity/ The power of the future is undone. When two lovers meet as vessels of pure consciousness, not allowing ego or gender or preconceived notions of separation to define them, then certainly things such as time, future and past cease to be relevant. When your lover becomes interdependent with you in this one moment of mental, spiritual awakening, then concepts like 'me' and 'mine', 'you and 'yours' become obsolete. It's the consciousness that draws you and of which you become a part, so things like gender and sexual orientation also cease to be relevant. Consciousness has no gender or sexual orientation. Pure consciousness is not attached to an ego or personal identity. It is simply awakeness, pure perception...just consciousness.

Detail from "As My Father's Eye Watches Me"/ Acrylic and Sterling silver on canvas by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

      In the second group of phrases, I tell my readers that because I am willing to have such an experience of interdependence with my lover, that I am experiencing immortality; a condition that surpasses physical limitations, yes, but, more importantly, transcends all forms of limitation because we are dealing with pure consciousness, pure energy, which never dissipates, only changes form.

     My poem describes the limitations and disappointments manifest in material happiness and conditions, when people become fixated on ephemeral things such as fame and fortune, money and the admiration of society. These things are ultimately finite, and my poem is describing the infinite, the transcendental. I want none of them/ Between my legs is stating the obvious: I do not want to be limited, ephemeral or temporary. I want the kind of love that transcends finite things like fame, money and power...social acceptance, peer approval. I am rebelling against these things having hold over my passions, having power over my experience of love.

      For me, sex can be a mystical experience, precisely as I've described above. Sure, we can have sex solely for the pleasure, for the physical and emotional release it gives. We can fuck and we can enjoy fucking, and for me there is no guilt in any of these experiences of human sexuality. I love to fuck, and when I use the term fuck, I am talking about the mechanical act, without having to have elevated emotions or ties involved. I don't have a problem with casual sex in general, as long as those involved are being honest...no one is being forced or lied to or deceived in any way. If there's honesty about what the sex means, then have at it. Sex solely for its own sake can be a tremendous release, and I feel no shame in saying that I enjoy sex, fucking, purely for the physical pleasure it brings, which I view as completely natural and perfectly healthy.

     Then there is making love, which I define as being different than mere sex, fucking. Making love elevates the mechanical act of sex into something much more emotionally grounded. Those involved in making love are engaging in the physical act as more than just an expression of pleasure, for the climax, but are sharing a form of emotional and intellectual intimacy that creates a bond beyond the physical, the animalistic.

     Now, we come to the definition of human sexuality being described in 'I Carried Them Away with Me'. This takes us even a step further than making love, engaging in the act of sex as a vehicle for bringing us emotionally closer to another human being, as an expression of love. The kind of sex I am describing here is an experience of partnership that surpasses the limitations of gender, sexual orientation, personal ego and confines of a defined relationship, which always have boundaries or restrictions. This kind of love making liberates the mind, the consciousness from such restrictions or boundaries, and allows the lovers to experience one another as an aspect of their own consciousness.

      In this experience there is no gender, no sexual orientation, no 'me' and 'mine, 'you' and 'yours'. There are no opposites, no forces at work limiting or separating the partners. There is no possession either, for possession is another form of restricting or limiting the experience of pure consciousness. Pure consciousness, absolute awareness is limitless and without expression of opposites, boundaries, gender identifications or sexual orientation. It is when two people experience this level of consciousness at the same time, while also seeking to bestow ultimate pleasure to their partner, that a pure and mystical experience arises. This experience is not limited to or subject to physical boundaries, and is thus a true form of immortality. I am talking about enlightenment.

Detail from "As My Father's Eye Watches Me"/ Acrylic and Sterling silver on canvas by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Adriano Bulla

What would you say to all those who only live sex as carnal? What are they missing?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

(Laughs) Hmm...do I need to answer this after what I just said (laughs again)? Well, I honestly have to answer to each their own. As I've said, I have absolutely no problems with sex solely for its own sake, as a mechanical and animalistic act...'carnal' as you put it. Carnality, fucking...orgasms...these are perfectly healthy and vital human impulses, as far as I'm concerned, so for me there is no problem with individuals choosing to limit their experience of their sexuality to sheer physical enjoyment.

      That being said, and to answer your question head-on, I feel that limiting sex solely to the mechanical act is also denying a very basic human need for emotional bonding with other human beings. Emotional satisfaction, intellectual stimulation is also a part of human sexuality and human relationships. So I feel that a person who's excluding these things from their sexual experiences is somewhat one-dimensional, and in the end is not experiencing the full satisfaction that exploring one's sexuality completely can have. However, that's just on the emotional level of sex, to say nothing of the spiritual.

      In my personal experience, there is this spiritual dimension of sex that makes the physical act that much more explosive, liberating...rewarding. That's precisely the kind of sex I am describing in 'I Carried Them Away with Me'. I've been in that other frame of mind before...that frame of mind where getting off in bed is pretty much the only objective; get in, get off, and get the fuck out. Sure, I've had incredible orgasms that way, I'm not even going to lie about that! But then when I started to awaken more and more in a spiritual and intellectual way, when I started having sex as part of a fully emotional and spiritually-engaged relationship, I realized how one-dimensional my sexual experiences had been. I started looking at my other sexual experiences and realizing what a waste they were, because at the end of the day I could have just jacked off and saved myself the trouble, and probably could have had even better orgasms (laughs).

     But experience is what it is; experience is our best teacher, so I couldn't have known about that other dimension of sexuality without putting myself through the purely physical dimension. What people are missing when they limit their sexuality purely to the mechanical act is the deepest possible satisfaction that can arise when the sex act becomes the focus of an intimate connection with another human being. Orgasm, getting off, becomes secondary to the act of fully exploring your lover, inside and out, delaying the moment of climax more and more; and this delay allows both partners time to mature in what they're experiencing, in bed and out. Because sex is also an intellectual and emotional release...satisfaction...gratification, what have you. It's a sense of bonding beyond the physical level, which actually intensifies the physical level, and makes climax more powerful and satisfying.

       You can't have this kind of powerful experience with someone you're just getting off with, because you're mind isn't interested in being stimulated or satisfied on that level. It's all about coming, ejaculating, getting off. But when you do experience that other level of sexual fulfilment, you really can't go back and experience sex from the purely animalistic side and enjoy it that same way again. You realize that your mind wants to be engaged and stimulated, not just your genitals! Sexuality is a whole experience of the mind, body and emotions, and when it goes even further, to include our spiritual nature, then having sex touches an even higher level of ecstasy. But that's my experience. As I said, to each their own.

Adriano Bulla

It appears to me that your poetry, though it clearly opens windows onto the universal, originates from personal experience; looking at 'Gossip of Sparrows', could you explain how you go about this process?


Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Well, I guess it's important for me to explain first that all of my poetry is personal...completely personal. My poetry comes from that other side of my creative nature not necessarily touched on in the creation of my icons. Those are a mystical, religious expression, not a personal exploration. My poems, on the other hand, are a personal exploration. They are the laying out of my subconscious and emotional nature. They are an impulse I have to use words, the combination of words, as symbols for my experience as a human being. How do I see my world from that individual vantage I've been given, from my own experiences? How do I dig up and reveal those things that get buried deep inside me? How do I work through grief, anger, love, desire...lust? How can I say things to people if I can't approach them personally? But even if I could write them, call them, text them...how can I feel safe in expressing absolutely everything I feel, without feeling vulnerable or subject to rejection? For me, these questions are answered through poetry, through this impulse I have...I have to call it an impulse...to divulge my feelings in the expression of written language.

     I've been writing poetry consciously since I was in the first grade, and I've kept my poetry diaries and journals with me since I was in high school; so, I have this track record of my life experiences and the ways in which I found to work through all the things I needed to work through. Because, for me, poetry does that...helps me to process and understand my emotions and reactions to things. But it also helps release a vital impulse I have, like having an orgasm, ejaculating semen. Writing poetry for me is like breathing, fucking or pissing. It's a necessary and natural human impulse that just happens, almost without my having to concentrate on it.

     I hope I don't disappoint you here, but I can't really pinpoint a 'process' or 'method' I go through consciously in the creation of my poetry. I'm not one of those obsessive 'literary' poets operating according to style or procedure...'in the tradition of '...as in trying to emulate the style of Yeats or Keats or Byron. That never enters my mind. I'm not coming from the standpoint of style or tradition, but of impulse; I just have to keep coming back to that word, impulse. I don't want to belittle the art of poetry by being crude here, but for me writing poetry really is like breathing or pissing or fucking. You don't do these things because you're good at them, or bad at them. You do them because it's a natural part of the process of living in a human body. We have to do them in order to survive! For me, writing poetry is a method of survival. It's not an art or a hobby or a pastime. It's not an intellectual exercise. It's a vital part of who I am and how I express myself. Words are vital to me, and how words are linked together is vital to me. Words are symbols, and my poems are symbolic expressions of my identity.

      'Gossip of Sparrows' is about more than one experience, but fundamentally it's about an intellectual love affair I'm having with a man I want to take as my lover. I want to consummate that relationship, to take him physically and fully, to break through this emotional block he is placing in front of his interactions with me. The sparrows are free. They can live anywhere they want and exist between the worlds of heaven and earth, spirit and flesh. Sparrows are symbolic of the unrestrained emotions, the heart in full flight, without fear or hindrances. They get to talk based on impulse, instead of on reason, so in this way they are more free than human beings, who must rationalize their emotions and use logic instead of intuition. But the sparrows in my poem represent this intuition freely used and never suppressed, and are therefore truly free and represent the place I wish to be in my relationship with this man.

     The sparrows also have that bird's-eye view of the human world, so they see exactly what I want from this man I am attempting to take as my lover. They see inside my head, and although my poem makes it sounds as if I have taken him fully and physically, I haven't...my love affair with him is purely intellectual and emotional, all in my head. But the sparrows see into my mind's eye and see this kind of fantasy life taking place there. They see the kind of relationship I want with this man, which is sexually charged and without restraint.

      I'm asking myself in this poem does he know what is going on inside my heart, inside my head? Does he know what he is to me? That's what I'm asking when I say Were those chattering sparrows/ Eavesdropping?/ Did they carry my lust to your ears/ Even then? In a way I'm trying to get my voice heard by this man, this object of my desire, and say to him, look, do you know how much I want to make love to you? Do you realize how much you're under my skin?!

     Then, of course, I retreat into my fantasy world, dreaming away at the hours I could spend in bed with this man if he became my lover. I'm telling him what he could have if he let himself go...promising him this erotic fantasy. But he remains obstinate, doesn't he? Because even though I've made myself vulnerable for him...Became a virgin again, set aside my faults and apprehensions about the relationship, he remains unyielding. He is like this powerful god I'm praying to, who ultimately can't or won't acknowledge my prayers. He won't answer them, no matter how much I try to persuade him otherwise.

     So, what do I do? I tell him that I know he will one day surrender. Although I'm the one who is stung with lust and feeling for him...I'm the one in this kind of agony for the present time...he will one day bring his heart to me and lay it at my feet, like bringing flowers to a lover's grave. That's my form of symbolic language expressing how we all feel when the object of our lust or love refuses to reciprocate our emotions, and we tell ourselves, well, one day you are going to come to me! I'm telling this man that even though he has the power right now, that I'm in a position of vulnerability, that at some point in the future the positions will be reversed.

      Believe me, even though it may not seem like it, all of my poems ultimately take an optimistic view of the human condition. The suffering we experience in lust or love is all worth it, in the end. There is something gained, some spiritual insight, some enlightenment, even in the most terrible trials. Everything manifests knowledge, personal or self-awareness...self-realization. Love and sexuality are always metaphors in my poems for this process of coming to know ourselves more profoundly. Our lovers are Buddhas; they are our spiritual teachers because they force us to take a closer look at our intentions and convictions and state of mind. They make us aware of our true feelings and natures, and making love with them, or being denied by them, is a motivation for engaging in the higher process of spiritual liberation.


     That's why my poems weave together this blend of erotic and spiritual language. The two are almost synonymous for me, because the spiritual quest is fraught with dangers and trials, and is dominated by effort, just like our most profound human relationships. And at the end of the day, our passion and lust and love provoke us to look inward, as deep as possible, until we find the truth of who we are. Our lovers are a reflection of how we see ourselves at any given moment in time, and that is what I'm trying to say to my readers in 'Gossip of Sparrows'.

Adriano Bulla

In 'I Sat Near a Stream', you talk about reaching out over that 'barrier' which we call death. How is this poem informed by your studies of Egyptian religion?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

This poem on the one hand is about letting go of someone you love, letting go of the physical body of a lover with whom you've shared that most intimate of bonds. It's about the transience of sensual existence and the trappings of the material world. My poem tells us that these things are ours to enjoy for a limited time only, so ultimately it's the interior, spiritual nature of life that we must hold onto if we wish to continue after the departure of the body. The difficulty of accepting physical death, especially of a loved one, is the heart of 'I Sat Near a Stream'. It's our nature to cling to the things we cherish, to refuse to set them free or change. Death changes everything. It's an unavoidable change, but a process of evolution.

     In the Kemetic or ancient Egyptian religion, death is a temporary state, a phenomenon of transmigration from one state of existence into another. It is transformation, from mortality to immortality. So, 'I Sat Near a Stream' is about watching someone you love go through this transformation, not wanting to let go of the physical form you knew them in, but eventually facing their departure and seeing it as a rebirth. The Egyptian religion uses water and rivers as symbols of the primordial flood from which creation emerged at the beginning of time. This emergence represents absolute purity...freshness...an untainted state of being, before death or imperfection comes into being. It also signifies a rebirth, like the land of Egypt being reborn each year from the Nile inundation.

      I have to admit that this poem ends on what might seem to be a rather morbid note. We have the narrator questioning what will happen after his transformation into the next world, after his death. Is this going to end in oblivion, or will there be a renewal, a rebirth of consciousness...a fresh start? There is a suicidal question being posited here, because the narrator is telling us he has been sitting near a stream pondering what is going to happen when he drowns himself; how long the process will take and what will happen in the world once he is gone. It's a morbid fascination with one's own death being expressed here, but also a longing to understand what happens to the human condition when it passes away; what happens to people we love once their bodies are taken from us? Does life still go on somehow? Does the world remain the same, or does the death of one person alter the course of life on earth? It's a philosophical poem, for which, of course, there is no absolute answer. It's all very subjective.

Adriano Bulla

'The truth was /What you taught me/ In my bed at night' in 'I Could Wring That Sparrow's Neck' sounds both sensual and religious, taking the reader by surprise, puzzling the reader, then, you move into your realization that 'One "God"' is no use for you... Why is it so?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

This poem is actually about incest. I am an adult survivor of childhood incest. My father began touching me sexually before I entered adolescence, and by the time I was 13 we were engaged in a fully sexual relationship. My father was my first lover. The Truth was/ What you taught me/ in my bed at night; this is the statement of a child acknowledging that what he knows of the adult world, the truth about what happens in the real world, was a thing learned in the bed of incest. I was introduced to the world of adult sexual relationships when I was still a child, and this gave me a window onto the world I would never have had, could never have had, except through the darkness of that experience. I was shown things that no child should ever be forced to see, and yet that experience showed me the ugly side of human nature, that side of man that tortures and destroys people and things much weaker than himself. What my father did to me was a crime against the soul, but it is unfortunately part of the evil that lives in humankind.


     The symbolism of the sparrow in this poem is obviously one of freedom; the sparrow is free from any prison or confinement, while I am a prisoner of my own body, of my own home, which seems to be pressing in on me and falling to pieces at the same time. It's a metaphor for victimization, the reality of a person in pain recognizing that their situation is not changeable, at least not in the foreseeable future. Because this is exactly what happened to me when I was a teenager. I was inhabiting a body that became the absolute possession of my father; I couldn't stop what was happening to me, so when I looked out at other kids my age, part of me hated them, was envious of the freedom I thought they had. I was in a state of imprisonment, and I hated to be reminded of the freedom others had. The birds outside were free/ And how I could wring/ That sparrow's neck. Now you can see the meaning of those words. That's how I felt when I saw how carefree other boys my age seemed. I saw them playing baseball with their fathers, and that's the kind of freedom I wanted. But my father was fucking me, and I was stuck in that body with no means of escape.

     The poem seems to change tone in the middle when I introduce the concept of piety...How pious/ To feel the words of that black book/ Pass clean through me/ Like a sword. This is my strict religious upbringing rearing itself. The 'black book' is, of course, the Bible...the book bound in black leather. For all intents and purposes I was raised in a very conservative, traditional Baptist family, a family in which a literal interpretation of the Bible as the infallible and inerrant word of God governed every aspect of our lives. Evangelical conservatism was the backbone of my family, and my siblings and I were spoon-fed the Gospel, it seemed, every moment of our lives. There was no escaping it.

       So, on the one hand you have my father preaching the Bible to us as the representative of the traditional Christian family man, while on the other, and in private, he sexually victimized his own son. This kind of hypocrisy made it very easy for me as a young man to break free from the idea of the Christian god and embrace a completely different way of life. The evil that I saw in the Bible, in the Christian idea of Salvation, was that it became a license to behave as you will, then ask for forgiveness later. I was raised in the belief of once saved, always saved. Once a man asked Christ to enter his heart, he was washed clean from sin, and could forever after do as he pleased.

      My realization of the hypocrisy, the falseness of the Christian religion as I saw it revealed to me in my father's embodiment of it, is what I am pointing out in the verses I have passed through/ All these ephemeral things..."God", prophets, commandments...and also in the verses One "God", I have no use for you, et cetera. I am here turning away from the things that I see are contrary to the liberation of the human soul; things like doctrine, commandments and prophets, governed by a jealous and angry god who in the end is no more just to his people than my father was to me. There is a direct correlation here between the one god of the Christian religion and my father. Both are tyrants, angry, unjust, an enemy to freedom of thought and freedom of conscience.

Adriano Bulla

You are both a painter and a poet, a bit like Blake, and in many ways the imagery does bring the Romantic Poet-Engraver back to mind... What do you feel, in your experience, are the similarities and differences between painting and writing poetry.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun by William Blake

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

It's interesting you invoke Blake here, because Blake's work is imbued with spirituality, and many, of course, would say religion. I think of Blake as a symbolic painter, a painter whose entire view is composed of metaphysical principles reading as allegory or mythology. These are things that have strong meanings for me in my life's work.

     Well, for me the two crafts, painting and writing poetry, come from very different aspects of my creative drive. I feel like I'm going to repeat myself a bit here, but my icons are not an expression of my personal life or personal experiences. They do not describe how I see the world around me, nor are they a result of my engagement in the world. That is what a modern artist does, but an iconographer's duty is not to define or describe this world, but rather to give the viewer a window into that other world beyond the five senses.

     For me, my poetry accomplishes what painting does for the majority of artists today...it gives me a vehicle for transmitting my personal experiences and emotions, for defining...or perhaps the right word is exploring...my reactions to the things I see and feel as I live my life. Painters use images and colours to do this, but isn't that what I'm doing in my poetry? Aren't I using the language of symbols and imagery to evoke powerful emotions and experiences? I think that I am. So, perhaps my poems can be thought of as paintings composed of words. All of my poems take place in a world of symbols, symbols from the natural world like the sun, moon, and stars...water, desert, birds and flowers. I use nature because for me the natural world is the most profound experience immediate to my own nature.

      But in general I'd say that there is a lot of common ground between painting and writing poetry. Painting uses colour and form in a symbolic way, at least for me, and I use language in much the same way as I use symbols in my icons. Colour and form are always vivid symbols in the icons I paint, but that also holds true in my poems. When I give the reader azure blue, or lapis lazuli, I am, of course, evoking the celestial or spiritual component of creation. My icons use blue in precisely the same manner.

      I'd have to admit that when I write poetry I feel this sense of complete liberation from structure, method, discipline or tradition. I'm a firm believer in those things, please don't get me wrong, but my icon work is very intense, very structured and governed by precision. There is no room left in my icons for chance or going with the flow, so to speak. Each line has been thought out methodically, is part of a visual and ritual complexity traditional to Kemetic religious iconography.

     However, my poetry flows from a very different place. Unlike some very literary minded poets, I am not attempting to write in a specific style or after a certain genre. I'm not coming from a place of needing to be taken seriously as a poet, so following the traditional guidelines in order to do that. The impulse of my poetry is rebellion, rebellion against death and emotional imprisonment. My poems deflect self-censorship...I say exactly what I need to say, and not a word more or less. So, in this way, my poems are the most natural and uncontrived creative expression I have. They are not about this tradition or that tradition, paying homage to some time-honoured style. My poems are about freedom, personal freedom and spiritual freedom, and they demand wings of their own. When I sit down to write I never do it thinking I'm going to write in this specific meter, using this kind of imagery and this number of words in each line. I don't think about my phrasing, and I never rhyme on purpose, no matter what you might think!

      I know there are a few instances where there are a number of lines in a row that rhyme, which I have to tell you was completely coincidental. I read those lines after I'd written them, and thought that sounds very intentional to me. Rhyming is not something I'm after in my poetry, so if it happens, then it just happens of its own accord. I think my poems are almost independent from me sometimes, writing themselves wherever they want to travel. So, that's why they embody an experience of creative freedom for me. I just sit and write, automatically, and I never force the words or disrespect the perfect flow of the words. I just let them fall out of my pen, and they land wherever they land.

Adriano Bulla

Birds are a leitmotif in your poems; what is their symbolic meaning, what ways of understanding experience do they open to the reader? Birds were also highly symbolical in Egyptian Art, is there a relation?

"Reshpu Lord of Might"/ Acrylic and 22 karat gold by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

 Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

I guess you could say that birds predominate a lot of my work. That's because birds have a duality to their nature that resonates within highly symbolic contexts. On the one hand, birds belong to the air...to the heavens, because they fly, and their wings are the epitome of freedom in movement. But birds also have a connection to the earth because they nest in trees and hunt for food on the ground. So, there is this strong heavenly connotation to them, paired with this sense of complete freedom from any material restrictions; and then this airy symbolism gives way to the idea of return to the earth, making a place in the terrestrial element. These are themes I like to explore from a symbolic vantage, which many of my poems do, and in every instance there is a deeply spiritual meaning being conveyed.

     In 'Pelican' I use this bird as a solar symbol, a symbol of light being able to cross distances; as in the pelican crossing the ocean, and the pelican carrying the sun in his mouth. The ocean here represents something challenging and primordial, the past and all its memories churning like waves. The pelican is not daunted by having to cross long distances in order to find sustenance, and he is the hero of this poem. He represents immortality and a renewal of strength in the face of adversity. He is a hardy creature, able to endure the cold wind over the ocean and its spray. All the while, his big yellow-orange bill embodies a profusion of solar energy and sunlight, which will eventually cut through any turbulent conditions over the sea.

      We've already discussed my use of sparrows in 'I Could Wring That Sparrow's Neck', but I think it's worth noting that although birds rarely embody the ominous in my poems, in this one instance they represent something I yearn for, something I feel I'm being denied; and in that way the sparrows have a negative effect on me because they're living reminders of a physical and emotional liberty I am desperate to find, but am unable to have in that moment. They are almost teasing, mocking in this sense.


     One of my latest poems, 'Flight of the Jabiru', uses bird symbolism in the most metaphysical way of all my recent work. This is about the Saddlebill Stork, which was used by the ancient Egyptians as an emblem of the ba, somewhat equivalent to our understand of the soul or spirit. The ba has the ability to pass between the material and physical worlds, to go from physical into spiritual matter, and back again. It is one of the vital aspects of a person's soul anatomy, and may even be understood in terms of embodying a person's actual personality or unique identity. At the time of death, the ba exits the body and departs to the duat or spirit realm, the realm of the Gods and the dead. But the ba has to power to return to the material world, to even make a sort of contact with the living.

      In 'Flight of the Jabiru' I use this bird in a Kemetic or ancient Egyptian context, as an embodiment of the soul and a symbol of the dead being released from the body as a living spirit. At the beginning of the poem the jabiru is a symbol of the Sun-God, of the quality of solar light of which spirits are composed. We find that the jabiru is a sort of messenger of death, because the flight of the jabiru means the transmigration of souls from this world into the next. I work with that a lot in my poetry...this phenomenon of death and how it is actually a passage from one state of existence into the next, a progression through forms. So the jabiru represents that progression in my poem, taking on the personality of someone I love who has just died. I am watching that person pass away from me, and then become a transfigured consciousness.

      But I describe this too in a way that deals with the emotional reality of death, because that part of death is terrible. It's not beautiful or peaceful. I describe this kind of suffering as the wings of the jabiru disturbing my sense of personal peace, because their presence signals the death of my loved one, like a stone being thrown into the middle of calm water. There is a disruption of the calm order of things, an emotional brutality that occurs. But I have to deal with this loss, and my poem is a form of saying that I can accept it, because I also accept that spiritual immortality is a fact of life...life after death, the consciousness continues.

     The jabiru is a picture for us of spiritual consciousness, which is vital and awake and brilliant to behold. It is a streak of sunlight in the darkness, and speaks to the reader of a form of guidance that ultimately conquers death. I guess that's the heart of this poem. It's a message that tells us of the reality of letting go of things we love, this fact of impermanence that dominates physical life. But that life continues to change and evolve, and this evolution process passes through the death state as just another aspect of the life cycle, prior to the renewal of consciousness. Immortality is the ultimate theme of this poem, like so many of my poems...but also my icons, I must say. At the end of the day, I believe in immortality, and my icons and poems will continue to speak in my voice long after I too have followed in the wake of the jabiru.

Living In A World Of Symbols (Part Three) With Adriano Bulla

"Bast the Light-Bringer"/ An original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa/ Extra fine watercolor, 22 karat gold, Indian star ruby, lapis-lazuli, fire opal, Austrian crystal

An Intimate Interview with Iconographer & Poet

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa


Adriano Bulla

As you know, Coleridge would have agreed with you that a way of knowing the Divine, possibly the best way we have as Humans, is through symbolism. I was admiring, for example, 'Bast the Light-Bringer', could you explain how it makes us closer to the Divine and its symbolism?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Firstly, I think it's important for me to say that this icon, 'Bast the Light-Bringer', was conceived as a tribute to Lady Olivia Robertson, co-founder of The Fellowship of Isis, who passed away in 2013. She was an extraordinary spiritual teacher and mentor to me, and when I heard the news that she had passed, the first thought that struck me was an image of the Goddess Bast standing with Her golden Sistrum in front of the holy Ished Tree, the sacred Persea Tree. Lady Olivia had a special relationship with Bast, so I believe that's why I was tuning in to the Goddess at that time.

      As for how it makes us closer to the Divine...this icon, an icon in general, I'd have to answer that it depends on your perspective, whether or not you as a viewer are receptive to the kind of energy or messages being conveyed by the icon. One aspect of my work that I constantly need to address, an aspect that I think is unique to the type of iconography I'm working with, is the fact that the religious culture I'm honouring is believed by most people to be an extinct one.

     People see images of Egyptian deities, images of gods and goddesses and hieroglyphs, and they immediately think oh, Egyptian mythology. So, even though I'm classifying my work as iconography, as religious work, people on the whole aren't used to thinking of ancient Egyptian images as being sacred, as being objects of worship or devotion. For most people, ancient Egyptian religion is just that, ancient, past tense, something that belongs in the archaeological remnants of a dead pagan culture. People are saturated with images of Tutankhamun's treasures, mummies, pyramids, et cetera, and for them ancient Egypt is a curiosity, a historical fascination, not something that's the source of valid spiritual fulfilment. For the majority of people, the images of Egypt's deities are just so many idols, figments of a pagan past and its false gods.

      An important part of what I'm striving to do is revive the connection humankind once had with its original and ancient gods, prior to the advent of monotheism and rise of Christianity. Polytheism is far older than monotheism, and the gods of Egypt, the netjeru, were worshiped for much longer than monotheism has existed. A very significant part of the practice of Kemetic or ancient Egyptian polytheism, and the same can be said for other Near Eastern cultures, is the emphasis placed on cult images, images that allowed a portion of the deity's essence to remain active in the temple environment where humankind could have access to it.

     The same kinds of cult images, using the same kinds of iconography, remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years, and this means that those symbols, signs and deity forms had a tremendous build up of power in them. That power, that sacred blessing is still active in those forms today, and I see my job as an iconographer as that of accessing that power and blessing in the current era, where more and more people are rekindling the ancient polytheistic faiths of humankind...through reconstructionism and neo-paganism.

     So, what value does 'Bast the Light-Bringer' have? How can it make us closer to the Divine? If you can accept that the Gods still have something to say to humankind, if you can see the validity of an ancient religion remaining as an active and living presence in our world, then my icons can be a refuge and a source of empowerment. I believe that my icons send out a strong message declaring that the Gods have not abandoned us, nor have they lost a connection with the human soul. The Gods are living presences in creation, in our material world, and they speak to us, flirt with us, give signs to us, and continue to court our love and devotion. They bring us healing, love, the gift of life itself...they are ever-present and omnipresent.

      Something that continually emerges in my work is this struggle between order and chaos, light and dark, life and death that becomes a foundation for the symbolism at play in my icons. I always begin at this place where the netjer, the deity is rising up as a challenge to the forces at work against creation. I think this is something one finds very prevalent in Kemetic, ancient Egyptian iconography. The entire experiment in ancient Egypt was to preserve the cosmic order, Ma'at, that had been established at the time the world was created. All the temples were a stronghold for Ma'at, where the precise order of ritual actions was maintained as a form of spiritual technology to guard against asfet or chaos.

      In 'Bast the Light-Bringer' we see the Goddess standing in front of the Ished Tree at dawn. This was the time of day when, according to the solar mythos, the Sun-God Ra was reborn after His great nocturnal struggle against the serpent-demon Apep. It was at dawn when the blood of Apep was spilled across the eastern sky, which reads as the bright pink stain spreading through the heavens just at sunrise. We see the primary scenario in this mythos taking place at the base of the Ished Tree, where the Book of Coming Forth By Day, Pert-em-hru...the so-called 'Book of the Dead'...tells us that the Great Tomcat dispatches the demonic serpent with his knife. But we know that the Goddess Bast was also associated with the Great Tomcat, and that is the association I am making here. Instead of decapitating Apep with a knife, I have given the Tomcat long silver nails, which pin down and slice through the scales of the serpent.

       You will notice that the back foot of the Goddess is shown stamping on the tail of the serpent-demon, and this is, of course, the working of magic. Images in the Kemetic tradition are a form of shaping reality...like we discussed before, they are a means of actually changing or impacting the material world. They aren't just for decoration, and the symbols used in sacred images aren't just visual placeholders for ideas. Divine symbols hold a literal reality, a magical force that has its own independent life; so, if one depicts a chaotic being...one that has the ability to disrupt the creation process, one must disarm that image through the use of more powerful images or symbols against it. That's why one finds images of Apep or vipers or other noxious creatures pinned down with staves or knives.

      The Ished Tree is the sacred tree of Ra at Annu or Heliopolis, upon whose leaves were written the names and regnal years of all the kings of Egypt. In this instance, the presence of the Ished Tree embodies the proper order of life in the cosmos, the divine order or Ma'at established by Ra. In a manner of speaking it also represents the Sun-God Ra Himself, and that's indicated by the raised reliefs of some of the leaves, which I've gilded with 22 karat gold. Gold is always solar in my icons...it represents the skin of the Sun-God, His indestructible nature.

      It was important for me to include birds in this icon, not only as symbols of life, the power of life to overcome death, but also as symbols of the Sun-God, Whom Lady Bast is representing, of course. These are the menets, swallows or martins, which stand in the prow of the night barque of the Sun-God, and hail His triumphant progress against chaotic night. I have one swallow facing right, and one facing left; these being the directions of west and east respectively.

      The root of Bast's name is 'bas', an ointment jar, so it would appear that the name Bast or Bastet means something like 'She of the ointment jar'; that's just one interpretation, of course. I decided to place a 'bas' jar in the Ished Tree as a representation of Bast's name, but also as an embodiment of Her power, Her fiery nature, which has always been very solar...associated with Ra the Sun-God. Bast is called the 'Eye of Ra', and in this She takes upon Herself the role of the destructive or defensive power of Ra, which shoots out as fire to incinerate the enemies of the Sun-God. I have been very faithful here in my depiction of the hieroglyph for ointment jar, which is modeled after a specific type of alabaster jar with its tightly sealed lid.

       Bastet was originally a lioness goddess, in the pyramid age when She manifested as something quite ferocious and warlike. I wanted to include that defensive, protective character of Hers in this icon; however, I didn't want that to predominate, because the purpose of this icon is to summon the much more benign aspects of the Goddess, Her qualities as a compassionate source of motherly protection. I wanted to...oh, I guess you could say tone down...those wrathful characteristics She has as a lioness, as the Eye of Ra. I have the smaller scene of the Great Tomcat slaying Apep, which I felt was sufficient to honor the very ancient warlike character of Bast.

       Later on, Bast's association with the domestic cat came to dominate Her iconography, and because that's the aspect of Her that contemporary devotees gravitate towards, I felt guided from the beginning to depict Bast in Her cat form. Always pushing this icon in the solar direction, you'll notice that I gave the Goddess orange colored fur, which one sees in traditional Egyptian images of domestic cats. Of course, I used lapis lazuli in the stripes of Her headdress, which are solar, once again, linking Bast to the indestructible celestial qualities of Her father Ra.

      This intimate relationship with Ra is really spelled out in the presence of the large Wedjat Eye, its falcon talon reaching out to exchange a blessing of power with the Goddess. The Wedjat Eye is always used as a symbol of solar power, and in this instance it is used to denote the creative power of Ra as the originator of the cosmos.

       'Bast the Light-Bringer', I call Her, and we find in this icon two very significant sources of that light. Firstly, the Goddess carries upon Her head the disk or face of the Sun, which the Egyptians used as a determinative for the name of Ra. In fact, the name of Ra can be written with just the solar disk, having a dot in the center. Can one even miss the sumptuous Indian star ruby I've placed in the center?!

Detail of "Bast the Light-Bringer"/ An original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa/ Extra fine watercolor, 22 karat gold, Indian star ruby, lapis-lazuli, fire opal, Austrian crystal

       Surrounding the star ruby, and very nearly filling up the inside space of this sun disk, is a sixteen-petaled rosette representing the corolla of the sacred lotus flower, a symbol of the solar creation and of the rebirth of the Sun-God at dawn. We find this design usually associated with statues of the lioness goddess Sekhmet, where it covers the nipples of Her breasts. But it is the opinion of some scholars that this floral design is solar in nature, which means that it's association is with Ra and the reborn sun, so that is how I've used it in this icon. That meaning is further emphasized by the two rearing cobras that flank the sun disk, these, of course, being badges of the Sun-God's power to preserve the cosmic order and destroy His enemies. Their eyes are ruby-colored Austrian crystals.

       Foremost of Bast's symbols...really, the primary symbol used in all ancient images of the Goddess...is the Sistrum, which the Egyptians called sesheshet, a ceremonial rattle beloved of the Gods. This is a highly charged ritual object used first and foremost by chantresses or priestess singers in the temples. Bast seems to have been associated with music and the joy it brings from almost the beginning of Her iconography, and for me She is inseparable from it; so, in my icon of Her I've used the Sistrum as an embodiment of Her power and the light She brings. Notice how the multicolored flames shoot out from the base of the rattle and writhe upward. You can think of these also as music, as the sacred power being produced as the Goddess flicks Her wrist back and forth to create the rattling sound. This rush of energy and movement is indicated by the forward tilt of the Sistrum in Bast's hand, instead of standing upright. To emphasize this feeling of energetic movement, the flames jumping up from the Sistrum handle are shown dancing this way and that, curling up and twisting around in the sky.

       I have not forgotten two of the other important symbols of Bast, which are the menat necklace and the aegis or sacred shield. The menat is a heavily beaded ritual object closely associated with the adoration of goddesses such as Hathor and Bast, and was used as a form of rattle, having a counterweight at one end that was held by priestesses. Bast holds a menat decorated with golden lotus leaves and a sixteen-petaled rosette, in the center of which I have placed a ruby-colored Austrian crystal. Two strings of beads connect the menat to the aegis-shield, which has at its center a tiny image of Bast as a lioness, paying tribute to Her roots, as it were.

Order an archival museum-quality print of "Bast the Light-Bringer"

Adriano Bulla

There is a great attention to relief, thus actual three-dimensionality in your icons; does it have a specific meaning / function?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Of course it has meaning...meaning and function! Everything I do in my icons, every single detail has both magical and symbolic meaning, and is intended to be read on multiple levels simultaneously.

       Firstly, three-dimensional quality brings the deity image up and out into our space, the viewer's space. Instead of being a flat image that stays down in its own space, my icons have characteristics that stand out, and because these are covered in real gold, they pick up the light and shine. This makes them more visible to the eye, which will then see them as aspects of the composition that ring with more importance. So, in 'Bast the Light-Bringer' one sees how the sun disk, cobras, Sistrum and ornaments of the Goddess stand out as gilded reliefs. The wings enfolding Her dress are also dominated by raised and gilded feather reliefs. These are some of the most significant elements in the composition, also the elements containing the most gold, which from a Kemetic sense, an iconographic sense, makes them the most magically active.

    Second, it's important to remember that my icons are not works of art in the contemporary sense of the word. They are sacred objects of magical import, containing the power of living gods. They are created for ritualistic purposes, for purposes of cult and temple. Once installed in a shrine, these icons are used as sacred tools to open up a window into the divine world, and they become lenses that place that world into clearer focus for worshipers.

      In these regards, my icons are intended to be viewed in the temple setting, as part of an active practice of worship, offering and ritual. This means that 'Bast the Light-Bringer' will be viewed most often by candle light, and through clouds of incense smoke. For that reason, the materials of real gold and iridescent pigments, and raised relief effects, become ways in which to heighten the experience of the deity's presence for the viewer. One sees this in Russian Orthodox and Byzantine icons, for example, where the heavy use of burnished gold and raised reliefs causes the sacred image to glow intensely, and to stand out as the light of candles passes over them.

Detail of "Sekhmet the Eye of Ra" before the application of Austrian crystals and lapis-lazuli. Extra fine watercolor and 22 karat gold by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

     Lastly, my icons, though not precisely the same materials and configuration as those created by the ancient Egyptians, are still a continuation of a very ancient tradition of representing the original gods of Egypt. In the temples, the images of the goddesses and gods placed on the walls were often cut into the stone as raised reliefs, bas-reliefs, which would have created subtle moving shadows and effects in the play of light over them. We have examples of bas-reliefs of deities on the outer walls of temples...the places common Egyptians had ready access to...and these images were sometimes inlaid with highly reflective materials in order to make them stand out in the sun, also to highlight their sacredness. That's precisely what I'm attempting to do in my own icons, to create deity images that pay homage to the old traditions these gods have always been a part of, to achieve the same kinds of effects the ancients used in their temple images. Though I need to make certain changes, and I'm not simply copying historical images verbatim, my intention is always to honour the spirit of the ancient Egyptian expression of the Sacred, and in that way honor the netjeru, the original gods of Egypt.

Detail of "Hwt-Her (Hathor) Mistress of the Sky", an icon in progress, showing the raised relief surfaces

Adriano Bulla
What would you say about the 'flatness' of Western Visual Arts for almost a millennium, till attention to relief was then re-discovered after the Impressionists?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Well, I think this 'flatness', as you call it, has to do with the values or emphasis being placed on different forms of art by different societies at different times. Social values, in terms of what is artistically viable or in vogue, change from era to era. Just think about what Picasso did to modern art when he created Les Demoiselles d'Avingnon! With this one work Picasso invented Cubism, or gave Cubism its first dramatic face. He was signalling a new system of values for art, making a departure from what he and his contemporaries thought of as outdated values. It was a tremendous shift in paradigms. Art would never be the same again.

     In terms of relief...and I'm assuming you mean raised relief, bas-relief...I can only infer that perhaps it fell out of favor or prominence because the technique is so massively time consuming, which means great expense as well. It requires specialized training and intense skill to execute bas-reliefs correctly, effectively, so artists moved away from the sculptural and focused on the two-dimensional. Perhaps there was no longer a need for the monumental, the kind of extravagant display that such reliefs make on public buildings, say.

     Concerning my own work, I can say that the creation of the bas-relief components of my icons are the most demanding, time consuming aspect of the work. I use a liquid gesso to build up reliefs in layers, complete with designs or details, and these are then sealed with shellac and gilded. Each of my icons has multiple areas requiring bas-reliefs and gilding, and this is precisely why my icons take so much time to produce. If not for these aspects, my production each year could be doubled. But then again, my aim as an iconographer is not to crank out works of art as quickly as possible...to make quantity my focus. It is quality, not quantity, that governs my work ethic and creative values. Each icon demands a certain amount of hours to craft these jewel-like details, gilded reliefs and iridescent effects with delicate brushwork. I'm after the highest degree of refinement possible. In this way, I really consider myself a craftsman, instead of a painter.

 Adriano Bulla

What some people may not know is that in icons and in symbolism, direction is as important as position and the shape and color of what is depicted. Could you explain the importance of space and directions in 'Sekhmet the Eye of Ra'?

"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ An original Kemetic icon by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa/ Extra fine watercolor, 22 karat gold, lapis-lazuli, Austrian crystal

 Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Both space and direction play significant roles in all my icons. In the Kemetic, ancient Egyptian approach, left corresponds to east while right corresponds to west; so, in 'Sekhmet the Eye of Ra' the Goddess sweeps in from the east as the representative of the Sun-God, and dispatches the serpent-demon Apep to the west. The west, the land where the sun sets and is swallowed up by the Sky Goddess Nuit, is symbolically the land of the dead. This is the direction where the dead are sent in order to undergo the metamorphosis from mortal to immortal. The west is always symbolic of the sacrifice the Sun-God makes each night when He is consumed by darkness, in order to be reborn in the east the following morning.

     'Sekhmet the Eye of Ra' presents us with one of the key episodes in the solar mythos. Sekhmet is known from a sacred drama as a enraged, fire breathing and bloodthirsty lioness, whose terror is unleashed on the enemies of the Sun-God. This is the episode being illustrated here; however, we also have a reference being made to the theology of Annu or Heliopolis which states that at dawn, Ra as the Great Tomcat slays the serpent-demon Apep with His knife beneath the sacred persea tree, the Ished. The Ished has not been included in my icon for space considerations, but the Goddess here is certainly the very embodiment of the destructive power of the Sun-God Ra, whose flaming Wedjat Eye She carries in the sun disk upon Her head.

      Sekhmet is here an embodiment of the eastern direction by virtue of Her being depicted facing the western or right side of the panel. She also carries the sun on Her head, which insinuates the rising sun. We know it's the rising sun, the eastern sun, because the time of day when Ra slays Apep beneath the Ished Tree is precisely at sunrise. So, here we have Sekhmet, the newly birthed eastern sun, sending Apep into the darkness of the west.

      But the entire thrust of this icon is obviously moving towards the right side of the panel, which of course is intentional for the reasons I just described. I've also 'cheated' on the proportions of Sekhmet's anatomy in order to make Her right side appear larger than the left. Her right leg is definitely longer and larger, which makes Her appear to be stepping out of the canvas in order to pin down the coils of the serpent. Her right arm is also grasping the golden lance with the fist pointed downward, which means toward the west...toward the direction of Apep's impending doom. Her downward turned arm directs the eye quite naturally to the direction of the action, which is the lance being thrust by the Goddess into the neck of the serpent-demon. A downward turned fist in this instance is also a magical reinforcement of the action of dispatching Apep and gaining control over his wild power. Sekhmet has him in hand, as it were.

     Quite subtly, the lower right wing follows the precise line of the golden lance, and appears to be bursting through the neck of Apep as well. The direction of the wing in this case too is magical. It's part of the anatomy of the Goddess crossing over into the space being held by the serpent-demon. Her power and authority is obviously overtaking his. Her magic is subduing him.

      The fire-capped lance of the Goddess is the largest directional line in the composition...it moves the eye very naturally downward, to the bottom right corner of the icon panel. This directional line, the golden lance or spear, embodies the destructive power of the Goddess, which of course is one of the primary magical themes of the icon. The Goddess has the power to control and destroy the ability of chaos as it attempts to undo the work of creation. She is the fire of the Sun-God's Wedjat Eye, His representative, His swift justice.

     There are some very subtle directional lines placed in this icon. In the lapis lazuli border at the top of the panel, I have painted a little lightning bolt like squiggle, which comes from the very outer edge of the icon and touches the fire shooting out from the pommel of the lance. This leads the eye, then, down right across the composition and to the bottom right corner of the panel, where the point of the spear juts out from the pierced neck of the serpent-demon Apep. Notice the tiny streams of blood pouring down from the lance tip, which meet one of the seven arrows piercing Apep's neck. This also has a stream of blood dripping down from its tip, which takes the eye down to the bottom of the panel. Both spear tip and arrowhead point at the rearing solar cobra with its angrily extended hood. This is the fire-spitting cobra that sits on the forehead of the Sun-God Ra, and magically, in this context, the presence of the cobra acts as a bookend to the body of the Goddess, closing in the negativity of the serpent Apep from both sides.

    Space, both positive and negative, are always important considerations in any icon. Of course, as a general rule of thumb, the deity must always take up the largest amount of space in the icon panel. My icons have two major space components or divisions. The first is what I call the 'outer panel'. This is the border framing in the deity. The two side portions of this outer panel are usually reserved for the hieroglyphs containing the names and epithets of the deity depicted. These are appropriately placed with each of the hieroglyphs facing inward towards the deity, as is natural in the traditional use of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Then we have what I call the 'deity house', that is to say, the inner panel where the deity's image is actually painted. Because each deity is different in terms of their anatomy and the size of their crowns or accoutrements, the amount of positive and negative space in each icon changes. In 'Sekhmet the Eye of Ra' my challenge was to fill the inner panel with as much of the Goddess as possible, to reinforce the sense of Her awesome power pouring out of the icon...shooting out like fire, in an almost uncontrollable manner.

     The large X created by the Goddess' wings was of central importance to me in the initial stages of production. It was the guiding factor as I blocked in the other proportions of Sekhmet...how these would consume space to the left and right of the panel. This consumption of space is very much magical; as in the more space taken up by the deity, the greater Her power and magic. The negative space in the top portion of the X created by the wings actually frames in Sekhmet's head, providing a pair of directional lines that move the eye into the body of the Goddess. The fiery energy of the Goddess moves downward with the directional lines provided by Her bottom pair of wings; however, this energy flares upward in the form of dancing and curling, spiralling flames. These flames take up almost all the negative space in the icon, and their direction leads the eye upward into the sky, the dwelling place of the great Eye of Ra.

     Everything I do in my icons serves a magical and symbolic purpose. Absolutely nothing in these sacred compositions is purely ornamental or arbitrary.