"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

Friday, April 24, 2015

Mansion of the Falcon: The Goddess Hwt-Her as the Womb of Heru

Detail showing the falcon of Heru mounting the sacred rattle of the Goddess Hwt-Her/ "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky"/ An original Kemetic Icon in progress by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa/ 22 karat gold, natural mineral watercolor

"She is the Golden One, the Mistress of the goddesses,
She who comes in peace to her seat.
What a feast it is to behold her!
How sweet it is to look at her!
How happy is he who bows down (before her)
Because he loves her!
Gods and men acclaim her,
Goddesses and women play the sistrum for her....
Tatenen adorns her body.
She is the Mistress, the Lady of Inebriety,
She of the music, she of the dance"(1).


Every year the ancient Egyptians celebrated a lavish festival in honor of the Goddess Hwt-Her and Her divine consort Heru.  This was not a secret ritual performed in the incense-infused privacy of one of the great state temples, but a very public display of sacred rites through which the regeneration of Egypt was accomplished(2).  Governed by the lunar cycle, the Feast of the Joyous Union was initiated on New Moon day in the Third Month of Summer, and ended on Full Moon day (3).  

This fifteen day festival was a pilgrimage of love and desire for the Goddess, whose barque-enshrined cult image was removed from its home at Iunet/ Tantere (modern Dendera), and taken by barge the ninety-five miles upriver to the great temple seat of the God Heru at Djeba/ Behdet (modern Edfu).  The ultimate purpose of this journey was the sacred marriage and sexual congress of the Goddess and God, on the fourth night of which was conceived the child god Hor-sma-tawy (Greek Harsomtus)(4).  

However, this was also a time for the Goddess to attend meetings with other deities with whom She was intimately associated:  the Goddess Mut in Her sanctuary of Asheru at Ipet-sut (modern Karnak), and the Goddess Anuket of Pi-Mer (modern Komir)(5).  These stops were doubtless part of the lavish public revelation of the Goddess to the people of Egypt in order to magically reinvigorate the land and people with fecundity, to unite Hwt-Her with the other powerful deities who brought life and continuity forth into creation.

The god that came out to greet the procession of the Goddess Hwt-Her at Djeba was Heru (or Horus) of Behdet, not the later son of the Goddess Auset (or Isis), but the very ancient son of the Sun-God Ra, who took falcon form and was venerated as the heroic champion of Ra who destroyed the Sun-God's enemies.  Not until later would Heru the Behedite be identified with the younger son of the Goddess Auset(6).  A prolific deity in the conjugal department, Heru apparently had seven consorts in addition to Hwt-Her (7), but She was of primary importance, coming all the way from Iunet to be conjoined with the sacred falcon in these great rituals that included the Opening of the Mouth ceremony on the cult images, and the honoring of the Behedite's divine ancestors(8).

It is through these ritual observances that Hwt-Her becomes not only the consort of the falcon Heru, but also the mother of the child Hor-sma-tawy or Heru-sema-tawy, that is, "Heru who is Uniter of the Two Lands", who is both a man and a falcon simultaneously(9).  This god, as man, is the unifier and ruler of Egypt(10), and is thus a deity embodying the divine king as sovereign of the earth(11), but as a manifestation of the sacred falcon, the most ancient form of the Sky-God, He is also the personification of Ra's solar lineage, the divine seat of cosmic creation.  This is seen quite clearly in representations of Heru-sema-tawy as a child god emerging from the lotus flower from which the Sun-God was born(12).

What can these things tell us about the Goddess Hwt-Her?  The Feast of the Joyous Union gives us a goddess who becomes the integral path through which the ancient Sky-God Heru the Behedite is revitalized and reborn, and, by extension, Egypt and the human race entire.  With His goddess, Heru the Sacred Falcon is reawakened, re "opened" through the rites of the Opening of the Mouth, which is performed on the Day of the New Moon at the time when the sun reaches its zenith(13).  Following this, the first fruits of the land are offered, after which the land itself, its fields and all their contents, are presented.  A second Opening of the Mouth on the cult images of the God and Goddess follows this after a procession to the "Mound of Geb" (God of the Earth)(14).  These are the rites that prepare the ground for the culmination of the Joyous Union or Sacred Marriage on the fourth night, when the Goddess Hwt-Her is united with the falcon Heru, conceiving with His seed the infant Sun-God, king of the earth and sky.

Hwt-Her, then, is not only a spouse and equal to the Sky-God Heru; She is His mother, that is to say, the womb or dwelling place where the seed of the Sky-God/ Sun-God germinates, and is reborn as the King and Uniter of the Two Lands of Kemet (Egypt).  This is the infant Sun-God, who calls the other gods, humankind and living creatures into being.  Their source, it may rightly be said, is Hwt-Her, whose body is a sanctuary where the image of the Creator Sun-God is fashioned and reanimated.


In my icon "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky" we see on the viewer's left an image of the Sacred Falcon mounting the sesheshet or sistrum, the divine rattle used in rituals to the Goddess Hwt-Her, but also as a personification of the Goddess Herself.  This part of the iconic composition is actually a rebus expressing firstly the meaning of the name of the Goddess as intended in this icon, together with a certain amount of the divine history or mythos of the Goddess and Her avian spouse.

The sistrum or rattle is the cultic object most closely associated with the Goddess Hwt-Her and Her worship(15).  Its tinkling sound has been likened to the rustling of papyrus fronds, which also have an intimate association with the cult of the Goddess(16).  Such fronds we see directly on the opposite side of the composition, bending, curling and fanning upward before the Holy Mount of the West.  There are variations of the sacred rattle used in service to the Goddess, and in this icon we see the type whose handle is crowned with a fully frontal representation of the heart-shaped face of the Goddess with Her elongated cow's ears.  Though quite small, we can just make out the cavetto cornice sitting atop Hwt-Her's head, this a representation of the kar-shrine or naos in which the cult image of the Goddess dwells.  Certain representations of the sistrum show that the head of the rattle- in which were held the metal crossbars and disks- was often fashioned in the shape of the traditional box-shrine or rectangular pylon of the temple, and thus the actual house of the Goddess.

Upper Part of Sistrum, 664-525 B.C.E. or later. Faience, glazed, 8 x 1 15/16 x 1 1/2 in. (20.3 x 5 x 3.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund 

A Saite naos-shaped "sesheshet" sistrum. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, ca. 580 - 525 BCE.

Within the loop of the instrument as depicted in my icon, the viewer will notice that the crossbars holding the sound disks are depicted as rearing cobras.  This is part of the rebus spelling out one of the epithets of the Goddess, "Eye of Ra", referring to the awesome and terrible power manifested by Hwt-Her as the Daughter of Ra(17).  In this form, the Eye of Ra may be seen as a cobra with angrily flared hood, and embodies the destructive essence of the Sun-God.

As part of a rebus, the sesheshet sistrum with its naos crown spells out the house, mansion, sanctuary or residence of the Goddess, whose bovine and human face fronts the rattle.  This sistrum, then, stands for the dwelling place of the Goddess, together with the Goddess Herself.  But the sistrum also represents the dynamic energy of the Goddess, both creative and sexual, and as the divine container through which the Sky-God comes into being.  This association is set forth in the image of the Sacred Falcon, whose talons wrap firmly around the large loop forming the musical portion of the rattle.  This is His "perch", but also His mansion, His dwelling...His sanctuary.

Here we have a rebus presenting us with the name of Hwt-Her in highly codified form.  The name of the Goddess translates literally as "House of Heru" or "Temple of Heru" or "Mansion of Heru"(18), that is to say, the Dwelling of Heru, His Sanctuary.  And where is this sanctuary of the Sacred Falcon Heru?  Quite obviously, it is the sky itself, and that sky is the body, the very womb of the Goddess Hwt-Her, whose most ancient associations are heavenly and stellar(19).  The central portion of the icon is taken up by the nubile and elegant form of Hwt-Her as Sky-Goddess, lifting up the vault of heaven with its five-pointed gold stars.  But here is the name of the Goddess as the container of the seed of Heru the Sacred Falcon.  

The Joyful Union or Sacred Marriage of Hwt-Her and Heru is also spelled out in this rebus depicting the falcon-mounted sistrum, where the Sacred Falcon wears around His neck the menat necklace with its heavy counterweight, itself inscribed with the name and epithets of the Goddess.  In the first portion of the rebus we have the cultic rattle of the Goddess, Her ceremonial "house", behaving as a perch for the falcon Heru.  This is a codified language for the act of sexual congress, which sparks the sacred music, the dynamic fire and energy from which creation springs.  But the upper portion of the rebus may be read apart from the symbolism of the sistrum.  The falcon of the God wears around His neck a wholly feminine symbol, the heavy necklace composed of a multitude of beads which embodies the power of the Goddess, and can even take the place of the Goddess.  For the menat, used by priestesses in the celebration of Hwt-Her's cult, represents the Goddess in Her epithet "great menat"(20).

An elaborate menat necklace depicted in a relief at the Temple of Hathor at Dendera

Menat necklace from Malqata, New Kingdom, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

So the menat-necklace worn by the Sacred Falcon of Heru stands for the Goddess Hwt-Her Herself, both in terms of the sexual power of the Goddess and in Her physical body, Her sexual organs(21).  The husband of Hwt-Her is shown literally wearing Her around His neck, but in a much deeper sense He is uniting with Her, His power, His seed, flowing into Her body, and Her essence being transmitted to Him.  As if any more proof of their powerful union is needed, the rebus is shown surrounded by shooting flames and spirals of white-hot energy.  This is the seed of Heru the Sacred Falcon, His divine essence, going forth into the Goddess, into Her "house", Her "sanctuary"...Her womb.

If I were asked to give my own translation of the rebus as depicted in my icon, this is what I would have to say:  "See, it is the Sacred Falcon Heru Who mounts the place of the shaking, the rattle of the Goddess Who is the Mansion, the House of the Great Divine Falcon.  Her Mansion holds Him, and He possesses Her power, Her life, the Essence of the Lady of Contentment.  The Lady is the Mansion of the Falcon.  Hwt-Her is the Womb of Heru".  


Meekes, Dimitri and Favard-Meeks, Christine.  Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods.  London, 1993, pp. 179.
Finnestad, Ragnhild B. “Temples of the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods:  Ancient Traditions in New Contexts” in Temples of Ancient Egypt, Edited by Byron E. Shafer.  New York.  Pp. 225-226.
3  Watterson, Barbara.  The House of Horus at Edfu:  Ritual in an Ancient Egyptian Temple.  Gloucestershire, 1998, pp. 105.
4  Ibid, pp. 106-107.
5  Ibid, pp. 105.
6  Ibid, pp. 33.
7  Meekes, Ibid, pp. 67
8  Watterson, Ibid, pp. 105-107.
9  Meekes, Ibid, pp. 183
10  Wilkinson, Richard H.  The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt.  London,   2003, pp. 202.
11   Meekes, Ibid.
12  Meekes, Ibid.
13  Watterson, Ibid, pp. 106.
14  Watterson, Ibid.
15  DuQuesne, Terence.  "Sistrum" in The Quest For Immortality:  Treasures of Ancient Egypt, Edited by Erik Hornung and Betsy M. Bryan.  New York, NY, 2002, pp. 117.
16  Tyldesley, Joyce.  Myths & Legends of Ancient Egypt.  London, 2010, pp. 177.
17  Tyldesley, Ibid, pp. 178.
18  Ibid, pp. 179.
19  Wilkinson, Ibid, pp. 140.
20  Lurker, Manfred.  An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt.  London, 1980, pp. 79.
21  Antelme, Ruth Schumann & Rossini, Stephane.  Sacred Sexuality in Ancient Egypt:  The Erotic Secrets of the Forbidden Papyrus.  Rochester, Vermont, 2001, pp. 46-48.

1 comment:

  1. This articulate description of the meaning of the icon you are creating reflects the depth of the artistry of the work itself. There is much here that I had not been aware of (and finally I found out what the tiny spiral flame thingys around Heru are! I like those very much!)

    The icon is coming along tremendously and we are all waiting in anticipation to view the completed form.

    Dua HwtHer.