"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Photo Essay: Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land (Part 1)

Completed under drawing of "Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land"~ an original Kemetic icon by Master Iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Adoration of Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land
when He comes from the Beautiful West
by the artisan Ptahmassu, beloved of Ptah.
He says:

Homage to You, Anpu, Forerunner of the
House of Ausir, Foremost of the Westerners
whose coming forth predicts the day
following after the night.

O Dread Lord, terror of millions,
fear of You possesses the hearts
of those enemies of Ausir Wennefer,
and their blood has watered the earth
on the day of the Haker-Festival.
It brings joy to your heart to see
the rebellious punished,
your seat upon the mount
being raised upon their bones.

O Anpu tepi-dju-ef, He Who is Upon
His Mountain, the Nine Bows submit
to your hand, Ma'at acclaims You,
the Two Banks are reconciled before
your feet, and the Sacred Land
makes a welcome of the Blessed
in your holy presence.

Homage to You, Anpu khenty sekh-netjer,
O Anpu Foremost of the Divine Booth!
The Place of Purification draws the
Blessed to your waters, where the Wedjat Eye
is filled, where the Bleary Eye regains its
sight, where Wennefer is healed and His seat
elevated within the Duat.

O Head of the West, wherein are renewed
the forms of Ausir, whose limbs are
unfettered by You, who becomes the
Seat of the Eye through your power,
where Ra is reborn by way of your
purifications in the East.

Come Anpu, Lord of the Hidden Land,
take up your skin in your name of
Imy-uwt, He Who is in the Wrappings;
wherefore the Weary One is filled
with seed, wherefore He, Wennefer,
is transformed into the Sovereign of
the West.

Likewise, all those weary ones are
filled with life,
through You they come forth by day
as dwellers in the light.
The well-equipped Spirits salute You,
the Effective Ones hail your potency,
while those enemies of the Netjeru (Gods)
are united with the slaughter block
by your silvery claws.

Homage to You, O Anpu of the Hidden Chamber.
Your place of coming forth is the Door of the
West, shinning, blinding, making a body of
light from the shade, opening the way for
those who follow after You.

Hear these, my words, O Lord of the Sacred Land,
and may I be one of those counted amongst
your entourage, going in, coming out,
and glittering as the indestructible Spirit
of the day.

- Hymn to Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land
to celebrate the initiation of a cult image in His name
by Master Iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

D o we need an introduction to Lord Anpu (or Anubis), not arguably one of the most famous deities in the Kemetic pantheon?  If you do not know Him, then let me introduce you through the beginnings of my newest work, a cult image being made according to His specifications:  "Anpu Lord of the Sacred Land".

The religion of the ancient Egyptians was founded upon the conviction of immortality, and let it be said that their concept of immortality, contrary to New Age speculation, did not include the concept of reincarnation.  The Egyptians were not aiming at rebirth in the physical, human world, nor did they believe in some abstract spiritual melting into a unified consciousness at the moment of death.  No, the Egyptians believed in physical resurrection after death, a literal resurrection into the afterlife that was to be a perfect extension of their life on earth.  This life was to be an eternal manifestation of life's greatest joys, pleasures, and benefits, without the drawbacks of suffering or want.  The spiritual components of a person's personality were believed to be equally vital to survival after death, however, eternal life in the afterlife realm called the duat, the Sacred Land of the West, was a physical existence, and as such required a physical body(1).

Enter Anpu, the deity the Egyptians venerated as the inventor of the sacred art of mummification(2).  The first being to be the recipient of Lord Anpu's funereal skills was the God Ausir (Gr. Osiris), who had been slain and dismembered by His brother Seth.  It was through the cunning knowledge of Anpu that the shattered body of Ausir was transformed into an immortal form, being preserved and bound together as the first true mummy.  It was this act that allowed the Goddess Auset (Gr. Isis) to restore life to the body of Ausir, and thus to make of Him the judge and sovereign of the West (the duat, realm of the afterlife).

"Anpu Lord of the Sacred West" is a complex icon of an equally complex netjer (god), presenting the viewer with a veritable kaleidoscope of this deity's many attributes and manifestations.  These are woven together, one flowing very subtly into the other, using the multilayered narrative of Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) iconography.

In the center we see Lord Anpu Himself, His gesture, although that of holding aloft the celestial disk (suggestive in this case of both sun and moon), is also that of the ka, the spiritual identity of each living being.  

Although it is not my practice to directly copy any image from antiquity of a deity I am honoring with an icon, I must say that this particular form of the God Anpu was suggested to me by two images of the god in two different museums.  Both the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have in their collections images of Anpu as a dog-headed man carrying the lunar disk, with which Anpu was also associated(3).  Both images are very similar in design, depicting Anpu with black canid head and black human body.  The blackness of the God's head and limbs is highly contrasted by the use of bright gold leaf for the details of kilt, leopard cape, and armbands.  I admit that these images are irresistible fodder for my iconographer's brain, as they are, in my eyes, some of the most striking depictions of Anpu from the ancient world.

The God Anpu as depicted on the foot end of the mummy of Artemidora/ Roman Period/ From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo courtesy of Setken)
A nearly identical image from the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

It is my express opinion that the gilded and spotted cape worn by the God in these images is the leopard pelt worn by the classification of priests known as the sem, that is, those priests who performed the cultic/ funereal rites of Opening of the Mouth(4).  It is well known that the presence of the God Anpu was mandatory in this ceremony, when a priest representing the God donned a canid mask of Anpu as he held up the mummy of the deceased outside the tomb in order to receive the Opening of the Mouth(5).

Mask of the God Anpu fitted with eye slits for use by priests in the rite of Opening the Mouth. Late period. Clay. H 49 cm. IN 1585. Roemer-Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim


My icon of Lord Anpu portrays the God in the role of a Sem Priest.  Clad in the leopard pelt, with its distinctive head ornament hanging down over the torso of the God, Anpu walks at the foot of the sacred Mountain of the West.  Here He performs His vital magical role as the embalmer of the God Ausir, whose mummified body is seen directly behind Anpu.  This may at first seem strange and mistaken.  If Anpu is here in the role of a Sem Priest, His duty being that of Opener of the Mouth of Ausir, shouldn't the mummy of Ausir be placed near the entrance to His tomb, shown as if springing up from the side of the Mountain of the West?

Kemetic iconography is very specific concerning the cardinal directions and their magical/ symbolic functions.  In the Egyptian view, east is married with left, and right is married with west(6).  My icons always follow this fundamental view from the perspective of the viewer, thus I have placed the Mount of the West and the tomb of Ausir on the right, western side of the icon panel, while the mummy of the God stands on the left or eastern side.  In this instance, my use of the cardinal directions follows the solar theology which places the blessed dead in the west, the place where the sun sets, the location of Ra's entrance into the duat through the mouth of His mother Nut.  On the eastern (left) side of the icon panel we find the mummy of Ausir in the cardinal direction signifying the rising and reborn sun, the location where the Sun-God Ra as Khepri becomes master of the day.  East is always the place where the blessed dead are reborn, revivified, and reconstituted together with the triumphant Sun-God.

Part of the magical aim of this icon is to provide for the perpetual resurrection of the God Ausir via the ministrations of Anpu, who Himself is depicted giving rebirth to the solar disk (though the disk also doubles for the moon in this icon).  The God Ausir wears His characteristic tall white crown, at the brow of which is the solar disk signifying His resurrection through the solar cycle, His being merged with the indestructible, cyclical power of the sun/ Sun-God.  That is why I have placed the mummy of Ausir on the left, eastern side of the icon panel, for here Ausir is being given new life with the rising of the morning sun.  He Himself is that newly-born sun, having defeated the stifling terror of the night/ death to become Lord of the Day.

To highlight the magic of Ausir's resurrection we see that that the newly-risen God is sprouting leafy vines.  These are the trailing plants of the snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria L.) and birthwort (Aristolochia clematitis L.) varieties, which, according to Dr. Lise Manniche, are the most likely candidates for the trailing and vine-like plants depicted in Egyptian tomb scenes where a connection with birth and fertility, thus rebirth and regeneration, is undoubtedly being suggested(7).

Concerning birthwort, Dr. Manniche tells us that the juice of this plant was used by the ancient Egyptians to induce childbirth(8), and this would account for its use as an ornament in depictions of women after childbirth(9), but also in tomb scenes, where birth is equated with rebirth and renewal after death.  It seems only fitting then, that the God Ausir would be depicted with this trailing plant in tomb scenes such as those found in the Theban tomb of Userhat (TT 51), where the tomb owner and his family are depicted presenting and consecrating offerings to the God Ausir.  In this scene the God Ausir, complete with green skin to indicate His fertility and life-giving nature, appears to be growing with plant life, among them a trailing plant that is probably birthwort or snakeroot(10).

Painting from the tomb of Userhat (TT 51) depicting the God Ausir enthroned as trailing plants, papyrus, and lotus spring to life in His presence.

Also depicted in this icon is a cult object or fetish associated with the Gods Anpu and Ausir, know as the Imiut fetish.  Representing a headless animal skin mounted on a pole, which in turn is fixed in a pot or vase, the Imiut appears in tomb and temple scenes often in the presence of either Anpu or Ausir, and is certainly a totem associated with the protective power of these deities, though it is probable that the Imiut began as an insignia of royal power and protection(11).

The Imiut in this instance is the symbol of the God Ausir, and is a veiled allusion to His brutal murder, a savage action that nevertheless initiated the process through which the God achieved resurrection in the duat, becoming its king and the judge of souls in the West.  The neck of the fetish pours forth blood, signifying the tearing open of the body of Ausir, not only as a consequence of His being cut down, but also as a consequence of His mummification, a process requiring the evisceration of the corpse.  Thus the Imiut here may be seen as the skin or corpse of Ausir before its transformation into an eternal body.  It is through the magical arts of the God Anpu that the inanimate body of Ausir becomes a vehicle for His resurrection and immortality.

However, the Imiut as the fetish of Anpu spells out one of the primary epithets of the God in His most significant role, that of divine embalmer, He "Who is in the Wrappings".  It is by way of the process of wrapping, of placing a "skin" over the corpse of the deceased, that the shell of the body is metamorphosed into an eternal body, a living "statue" in which the spiritual essence of the deceased may reside forever.  In its context within the Ausirian mythos, the Imiut represents this process of transformation into an eternal body, and thus the protection offered by the "skin" or "wrappings" in which the power of Anpu is present.

We see that the tail of the headless animal skin is itself being transformed into something new, a green papyrus flower, which becomes synonymous with the power of fertility over impotence, life over death, rebirth over putrefaction.  The fact that the mummy of Ausir is depicted standing up over the papyrus tail of the Imiut tells us that the Imiut here is a rebus for the entire process of the Ausirian and solar nature.  Ausir/ the sun/ Sun-God is first taken by that principle of night or inertness (death), thus sacrificed.  It is by way of this sacrifice that the God Ausir/ Sun-God passes through the terror of the hours of darkness in order to achieve an eternal rebirth as an everlasting body.  We see that the body of Ausir has undergone this transformation from corruption/ inertness/ death into a resurrected, renewed, and living god.  And all of this process is possible because of the power of Anpu, who invented the process of purification, mummification, through which Ausir became an indestructible god. 

The tomb of the God Ausir rises up from the sacred Mountain of the West, level with the legs and thighs of Anpu.  Its form is that of the traditional funeral chapel of New Kingdom Egypt, complete with pyramidion and the name of the God Ausir in hieroglyphs.  In a little round-topped niche above the tomb's lintel we see the sign called nefer, representing the heart and windpipe.  This is the phonogram for "beautiful", "perfect", "good"(12), but it is also part of one of the primary names of Ausir, Wennefer (Gr. Omnophris), "the Beautiful", "the Good", a name used in conjunction with the resurrection of the God in the next world(13).  Thus this image of the tomb of Ausir is a rebus spelling out the name Ausir Wennefer, that is to say, "Ausir (Who is) the Beautiful (or perfect) God".

From the resurrected body of Ausir climbs a trailing plant whose apex flowers in a five-pointed star within a circle, this spouting a "tail" composed of streamers of light.  The five-pointed star is, of course, the hieroglyph for "star", also used to represent the duat or Other world when it is fixed within a circle.  However, this circle may also represent the body of Ausir encircling the "Other world" or duat (14), and its use here is meant to signify precisely that:  the body of Ausir has become the duat, the place where life is renewed into an eternal, star-like form, a form of celestial light.  But this form of light, renewed from the passage into death, is likened to the Sun-God's perpetual renewal in the East, for the little streamers shooting forth from the encircled star are filled with the same chevron pattern used to decorate the feathers of the solar falcon, representative of Ra.

To complete this solar connection, we see that the radiation of the duat star becomes the Wedjat Eye, the "Whole One", the Eye of Ra itself, which has been put back together after its nocturnal journey, becoming the restored and indestructible power of Ra as Creator of the solar world.  This journey of the Sun-God through the hours of darkness in the West, being reborn in the East after a terrible struggle, is repeated within the Ausirian mythos.  Here, the God Ausir is dismembered and passes away into the West, where He is put back together again and resurrected from the dead, this being mirrored by the Sun-God as He is resurrected each morning in the East.   


  For an accessible but detailed exploration on these thoughts, I direct my readers to Bleiberg, Edward.  "To Live Forever:  Egyptian Funerary Beliefs and Practices", in To Live Forever:  Egyptian Treasures From the Brooklyn Museum.  Brooklyn, NY, 2008, pp. 24-43.
2  Pinch, Geraldine.  Handbook of Egyptian Mythology.  Santa Barbara, California, 2002, pp. 104.
3  Wilkinson, Richard H.  The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt.  London,   2003, pp. 241.
4  Teeter, Emily.  Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt.  New York, N.Y., 2011, pp. 24-25.
5  Ibid, pp. 25.
6  Wilkinson, Richard H.  Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art.  London, 1994, pp. 63-66. 
7  Manniche, Lise.  An Ancient Egyptian Herbal.  London, 1989, pp. 84-85, 168-170.
8 Ibid, pp. 84.
9 Ibid, see illustration on pp. 85.
10 For the complete scene and more from the tomb of Userhat see Pinch-Brock, Lyla.  "The Tomb of Userhat" in Valley of the Kings, edited by Kent R. Weeks, with photographs by Araldo De Luca.  Vercelli, Italy, 2001, pp. 414-417. 
11  Lurker, Manfred.  An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt.  London, 1980, pp. 70.  See also Logan, Thomas B.  The Origins of the Jmy-wt Fetish.  Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol 27 (1990), pp. 61-69.
12 Allen, James P.  Middle Egyptian:  An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs.  Cambridge, 2010, pp. 462.
13  Goelet, Dr. Ogden, Jr.  "A Commentary on the Corpus of Literature and Tradition Which Constitutes The Book of Going Forth by Day" in The Egyptian Book of the Dead:  The Book of Going Forth By Day.  San Francisco, 1994, pp. 149, 175.  Also Faulkner, Raymond O.  A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian.  Oxford, 2001, pp. 62.
14  Clark, R.T. Rundle.  Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt.  London, 1959, pp. 249, also plate 14.    

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

From the Archives: Sekhmet Revisited

Extra fine watercolor & 22 karat gold on 8" x 10" archival panel (SOLD).


Genuine mineral pigments used as watercolor: Lapis lazuli (Chile), amethyst (Soladad, Brazil), jadeite (Alaska, USA), Mayan blue (Texas, USA), bloodstone (Alaska, USA), rhodonite (Bellahorizonte, Brazil) piemontite (Alaska, USA).

Cabochon gemstones: Lapis lazuli (Afghanistan).
Austrian crystal elements by Swarovski®

Note:  Earlier this year I was interviewed by celebrated poet and author Adriano Bulla, during which I was given the opportunity to discuss all aspects of my work in depth, and in particular the various layers of symbolism present in my works as an iconographer.  My icon of the Goddess Sekhmet, "Sekhmet the Eye of Ra", was a primary example I used in this discussion to highlight how my Kemetic icons function, symbolically and spatially, and I would like to present here those portions of our dialogue in which this work took center stage.  To date, "Sekhmet the Eye of Ra" remains the work in which people express the most interest, so I feel it is of value to extract my comments from my interview with Adriano Bulla and offer them here as part of the record of how this unique icon represents the Great Goddess. 

In "Sekhmet the Eye of Ra" I used a large quantity of lapis...oh, I'd say probably the most lapis I've used in any icon to date...because the Goddess Sekhmet is the daughter of the Sun-God, Ra, and all solar images, images that reference Ra or draw on His mythos, inevitably include lapis lazuli, the sacred stone associated most with the Sun-God. As the Eye of Ra, the visible and terrible power of Ra, Sekhmet too is associated with gold and lapis lazuli. The tips of the feathers in Sekhmet's wings are all lapis...the falcon feathers in Her corset and kilt are lapis, together with the sporran and belt. All the jewellery has lapis in it, and of course the Wedjat Eye in the flaming sun on top of Her head. There's lapis all over the place in that icon! The border framing the inner panel of the Goddess is composed entirely of lapis lazuli, with some real amethyst mixed in to arrive at the darker shades.


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, spiraling 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.