"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 2, 2015

Not Human, After All: Giving A Body To A Goddess

"Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky"~ An original Kemetic icon by Master Iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa/
 8" x 10" archival panel.
Genuine mineral pigments used as watercolor: Lapis lazuli (sourced from Chile), Amethyst (Soladad, Brazil), Bloodstone (Alaska, USA), Jadeite (Alaska, USA), Piemontite (Alaska, USA), Rhodonite (Bellahorizonte, Brazil). 
Hydrated iron oxide (red and yellow ochre)
22 karat gold, turquoise (Tibet), Shattuckite (from the Shattuck Mine in Bisbee, Arizon) with malachite, 
Austrian crystal elements by Swarovski Company

NOTE:  The pictures of "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky" presented here are not professional and should not be relied upon as reflections of the true colors, materials, and quality of the original icon.  Professional photographs are forthcoming in the near future.

The Egyptians made statues and images of the gods, but at the same time, they tell us that they were themselves created by a god, who thus conceived the images of the divine.  Thus, it is proclaimed by Ptah Tatenen on the Shabaka Stone, also known as the Memphite Theology:

He had given birth to the gods,...he had set the gods in their cult places, he had instituted  their offering bread, he made their visible bodies, according to what satisfied their hearts.  Then the gods entered their visible bodies, of every sort of wood, every sort of stone, every sort of clay.

Yet these images were not just metaphors charged with meaning but devoid of being.  The cult image of a god, which was the visible part of the divine on earth, was invested with divinity: it was not just an illusory reflection of the divine, but an integral part of it.
- Francoise Dunand and Christiana Zivie-Coche
Gods and Men in Egypt(1)

These are the words of the artisan Ptahmassu,
Beloved of Ptah, the master color artist,
Great Director of Craftsmen in the House of Ptah
Who has spent his life making images of the Gods,
Who propitiates the Gods through the works of
His hands, dynamic in the Soul-Mansion of Ptah,
Whom Ptah the Lord of Ma'at loves:

Rise, O Goddess, bedecked in the trappings of Ra,
Shining of face like the Disk at sunrise,
Acclaimed by the Vault as its mistress,
Heiress of the sky whose embodiment glitters
With fine gold!

Rise, O Hwt-Her, Hand of the Netjer!
Your body, young and perfectly appointed,
Causes Atum to rise in His season,
His passion becoming the verdant land,
His seed bearing the fruit of the Sacred Land.

Rise, O Hwt-Her, the Golden One,
Upon whose brow radiates the Eye of the Disk,
Whose radiation flares as the Cobra Goddess,
Her terror filling the hearts of gods and humankind.

O Beautiful One, the perfect countenance of
Her father in his sky, Ra has lifted you up,
Your body forming the domain of heaven,
Your navel becoming the great Mooring Post.
The Ark of the Day shines by your light!
The Ark of the Night follows your glistening
Thighs into the realm of the Blessed.

Rise, O Hwt-Her, Mansion of the Lofty,
The House of the Falcon, the Residence of the
Elevated One!
Your embodiment is the seat of the Eye,
Whose wholeness becomes you,
Whose powers shine through you,
Whose life is renewed at your coming home
From the south.
Djehuty the Lord of Eight-Town comes out
To hail you, acclaiming your powers, and
Leading you to your throne at the Filling of
The Wedjat Eye.

Rise, O Hwt-Her, Mistress of Turquoise,
Mistress of real Lapis-lazuli, upon whose
Limbs glitters indestructible gold,
That skin of the gods which brings joy
To the hearts of humankind, through whose
Magic the netjeru possess the entire circuit
Of the sun.

Rise, O Goddess, O Hwt-Her, O Mistress of Love,
Lady of Intoxication swimming through the
Thighs of men!
They see you, their hearts beat fast and their
Loins shudder in rapture.
They hear the music of your feet, the shaking
Of your breasts, the swaying of your hips.
All men make a dance for you, you who grant
The joys of lovemaking, the beauty of the flesh.

Rise, O Hwt-Her, the Daughter of Ptah, His beloved,
The ornament of Ra Whose brow dazzles as the
Eye of the Sun!
Come, O Goddess, in peace and in beauty!
Awaken in peace, O Hwt-Her, awaken in beauty.
Awaken in peace, O Golden One, awaken in beauty.
Awaken in peace, O Lady of Life, awaken in beauty.
Awaken in peace, O Lady of the Green, awaken in beauty.
Awaken in peace, O Eye of Ra, awaken in beauty.
Awaken in peace, O Mistress of the Sky, awaken in beauty.
Awaken in peace, O Mistress of the West, awaken in beauty.

O Goddess, your holy image is established on earth and
Outshines the circuit of the sun, the zenith of your powers
Becoming this image in the eyes of humankind.
Let all honor be yours in it, and the fruits that come forth
Be all things good and pure!

These are the words of Ptahmassu, having consecrated
This body, this ba of the Great Goddess Hwt-Her,
Calling it after Her "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky".

-Consecration prayer for the icon Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky
By Master Iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa 

 A goddess rises up in a brilliant turquoise sky, her arms upraised as if in a dance, her long, slender fingers hoisting up the edges of a star-spangled glyph saying "sky", "heaven".  There is a burst of flaming light behind Her noble face, and at first we recognize it as the brilliance of the sun.  Of course, it is the sun, the body of the God Ra, Whose celestial power is displayed in the presence of scintillating flames shooting out in ribbons of gold.  Bright red, orange and yellow flames tell us that this is the disk of the day synonymous with Ra, Whose daughter the Goddess Hwt-Her (also Hwt-Heru, Het-Heru, Het-Hert or Hathor) is.  

We cannot help but notice the burnished gilded disk framing the face of the Goddess, and we should understand that as a goddess of physical beauty and love, Hwt-Her's iconography includes the disk mirrors venerated by the ancient Egyptians and highly charged with sacred symbolism.  The highly polished disks of hand mirrors were, to the ancient Egyptians, sacred emblems of the Goddess Hwt-Her and Her role as a goddess of beauty and sexual potency, together with standing as representatives of the sun itself(2).  In this context, such mirrors, placed in tombs with the funerary equipment of the dead, were magical tools of rebirth and resurrection, associating the regeneration of the sun in the morning with the regeneration of the deceased in the Land of the Blessed Dead(3).

A hand mirror embellished with the face of the Goddess Hwt-Her/ New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty/ Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Thus I have created a visual play on words or rather ideas, placing in the center of the sun's radiation a disk of real gold that highlights the face of the Goddess, thus highlighting Her foremost significance in the composition of the icon.  More importantly, the disk stands for the sun and the Sun-God, but doubles as the disk of a mirror, such as were used in the ancient cult of Hwt-Her.  We can see the face of Hwt-Her as I have painted it, inside the bright 22 karat gold disk, as being born from the Sun-God and being a child of His solar powers.  But we may also see this disk as a mirror, reflecting the face, the beauty and regenerative power of the Goddess as a Mother Goddess, a goddess of abundant sexuality and progeneration.

The solar origination of Hwt-Her is further emphasized in a number of ways in this icon.  Draped over the head of the Goddess and blossoming at Her vulture-clad brow is a sacred blue lotus (Ancient Egyptian seshen, the Nymphaea cerulea variety)(4), which the ancient Egyptians recognized as an embodiment of the solar mythos.  It is known that the lotus responds to the presence of solar light, rising from the waters and opening its petals at dawn, then closing and withdrawing back into the waters at night.  This, then, becomes a theological description of the Sun-God at the dawn of creation.  He rises from the turbulent waters of chaos sheltered within a blue lotus flower in order to introduce the miracles of light and life into the void, and thus initiates the ordered universe with Egypt at its center.

A highly magnified view of the head and face of the Goddess Hwt-Her.  The actual head of the Goddess is approximately the size of an American quarter.

Here we have this very same principle described in the lotus of creation spreading out its petals from the forehead of the Goddess.  This is not a decoration or mere ornament of Her femininity, but a cosmological symbol of Hwt-Her as the Daughter of Ra, provoking Her father into the very act from which humankind will come forth.  As a divine mother and creatrix in Her own right, the Goddess as I have depicted Her carries both lotus and vulture upon Her brow, the head of the vulture coronet overlapping the flowering lotus quite purposefully.  

In the language of ancient Egypt the powerful Mother Goddess Mut (pronounced moot), whose primary insignia is the vulture and vulture crown, bears the name that also means mother, thus Mut= "mother"(5).  It is the regal vulture headdress that marks out a goddess or a lady as a queen, and also as an embodiment of the divine powers of fertility and regeneration.  The Goddess Hwt-Her is sometimes depicted wearing the queenly vulture headdress, and the queens of Egypt were apt to wearing this headgear, also topped with the lyriform horns and solar disk of the Goddess(6).  There should be no doubt, then, that my depiction of the Goddess Hwt-Her honors Her as a mother goddess, a goddess from whom other gods and creation are birthed.  She is a goddess of preeminent power on Earth and in the sky, both regions being under Her queenly tutelage.

Our second, and perhaps most significant solar symbol is the great disk of the Sun-God Himself, blazing from between the curved and twisting cow's horns sprouting from the platform crown (what scholars term a modius) on the head of the Goddess.  This is the most ancient iconographic attribute of Hwt-Her, Who has always been represented by the wild cow of the Delta marshlands from the earliest moment of Her appearance in Egypt(7).  This solar disk is not only a symbol of the Sun-God Ra, but is also, in the language of hieroglyphs, a determinative in the writing of the Sun-God's name.  It is a circle with a central dot that forms this determinative, and I have reinforced this by placing a magnificent cabochon of Shattuckite (from the Shattuck Mine in Bisbee, Arizon) set in a gilded central ring.  Shattuckite was not, of course, known to the ancient Egyptians, however, its malachite and turquoise coloration can certainly compare with both of these stones, and turquoise most especially.  In Her epithet of nebet mefkat, "Mistress of Turquoise", Hwt-Her was worshiped in the Sinai region as a patroness of the turquoise mines there(8).  I have, in fact, used real turquoise cabochons (from Tibet) as central elements of the icon's side panels, these being surrounded by the coils of the Cobra Goddess Wadjet.

The color green in general was associated with Hwt-Her(9), and though jadeite was unknown to the ancient Egyptians, I have surrounded the sunburst behind the upper portion of the Goddess with a mosaic-like pattern of "tiles" in genuine jadeite (mine source in Alaska, USA), alternated by bands of raised relief tiles in 22 karat gold.  Throughout my icon of Hwt-Her I have used jadeite as a substitute for malachite, which was very precious to the ancient Egyptians, being regarded as an embodiment of resurrection and vitality(10).

I have also made lavish use of genuine lapis lazuli (mine source in Chile), undoubtedly one of the most venerated semi-precious stones utilized by the Egyptians in their amuletic jewelry and temple accoutrements(11), though their lapis was sourced in far away Afghanistan.  The hieroglyph for heaven, pet, which the Goddess holds aloft on the tips of Her elegant fingers, is entirely composed of lapis lazuli, and is spangled with 12 five-pointed stars in 22 karat gold, these carrying in their centers a clear Austrian crystal by the Swarovski Company.  I must note that the entirety of the outer panel surrounding the "deity house" proper(12) is composed of lapis lazuli, blended in certain details and sections with Phthalo Blue and genuine Brazilian amethyst to achieve the darker tones.

The formal name given to this icon is "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky"/ Hwt-Her Nebet Pet, thus I have used both materials and iconography in a manner that harmonizes and invokes this aspect of the Goddess' personality.  Her gesture is in itself a large hieroglyph, a determinative in the word kai, "tall", "high", "be raised on high", "uplifted"(13).  We see the use of this gesture or variants of it in Egyptian theological compositions where a centralized figure (such as the Sky-God Shu or the reigning king) uplifts or supports the vault of heaven in the form of the pet ("sky") hieroglyph, which is often spangled with five-pointed stars(14).

In the Pyramid Texts Hwt-Her appears as "Hwt-Her in this sky" (pyr. 1278), and even declares, "I am Hwt-Her, mistress of the Northern sky" (IV, 177j-178a)(15).  From prehistoric times the iconography of Hwt-Her reveals Her stellar origins, and establishes for Her a role as "Mistress of the Stars"(16).  We cannot ignore the very essence of the name Hwt-Her, which translates literally as "House of Her(u)", that is, "House of the Lofty One".  Heru (Gr. Horus) is the most ancient Sky-God, and Hwt-Her is His residence, His mansion, the sanctuary or womb in which He dwells(17).  That womb or dwelling can only be the Sky, where Heru is its divine master.  But who in fact gave Him such mastery, such a hallowed domain?  Hwt-Her, of course, who gave Him birth, and united with Him as both creatrix and lover.

I feel it only prudent of me to broach the topic of Hwt-Her's physical appearance, not only in regards to Her anatomy and shape, but also in terms of skin tones and possible racial identification.  My comments here should only be taken as a very brief approach to what could be a racy and involved debate.  Though I feel that each viewer has a right to their own private experience of my sacred work, I choose to assert my moral right as the artisan of this work to explain my intentions and the ultimate meaning behind my labors.

What are the Gods made of?  Are their bodies at all like ours?  Do they have race, even as they appear to have gender and sexual orientation?  Some of these questions may stir passionate emotions in those who see the religion of the ancient Egyptians as indicative of their racial and cultural origination.  Humankind tends to experience its gods as made in its own image, thus Asian gods appear Asian, and African gods appear African.  Those who subscribe to the Afrocentric view of history would reiterate the apparent African-ness of the Kemetic or Ancient Egyptian deities, while others might choose to sweep racial origination aside and view the Gods as ultimately spiritual beings, devoid of racial identification.  My own view, within the framework of my vocation as an iconographer, does not fit within either of these modes of thinking.  The Gods are surely manifest in both physical and spiritual forms, and they certainly look human, at least in part, regardless of which animal head they may be wearing.  Egyptian deities are more often than not seen in anthropomorphic guise, thus they have bodies that match our own mortal ones, and we recognize their anatomy and sympathize with it.

In terms of my previous works, I have certainly given racial profiles to some of my icons.  There is no denying the very dark, tanned appearance of the God Reshpu in "Reshpu Lord of Might", where my intention was to honor the Canaanite origins of this deity.  My feeling as I worked at achieving a skin tone was that Reshpu, being a dweller in the desert, and in this capacity being affiliated with other desert and/ or storm gods like Seth, should reflect the dark reds and red-browns the ancients associated with the violent and barren places of the desert.

"Reshpu Lord of Might"

There is no denying the African appearance of the God Bes in "Bes the Magical Protector", where my intention from the outset was to depict this god as wholly African.  It has been suggested by some scholars that Bes was of Sudanese / African origin(18), though this is disputed by other academics(19).  As a Kemetic Reconstructionist I look to the works of scholars, archaeologists and professional Egyptologists as a means for creating a foundation upon which to restore an authentic practice of the ancient Egyptian religion; however, as a priest and spiritualist, I believe that opening one's self to the guidance of the Gods is important, and, for the iconographer and symbolist, imperative.  Sometimes this can mean a divergence from the currently accepted academic opinion, and what can one do?  When one feels compelled by the spirit of a goddess or god to achieve a certain end in one's ritual or sacred practice, one must eventually give way to the Divine, not the mortal.  The ego must give way to the higher intelligence.

"Bes the Magical Protector"

Thus I went with what I felt to be the strong guiding hand of the God Bes, and I gave Him precisely what He asked for, an African skin tone and appearance.

"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra" gives us a fiery lioness goddess whose skin tone, instead of being the traditional and lighter yellow ochre used by the Egyptians in representations of women/ goddesses, is instead the dark red-brown hydrated iron oxide generally used for males/ gods.  What pictures of this icon cannot capture in its fullness is the effect of rich iridescent copper brushed over the entire surface area of the Goddess' skin.  With highlights carefully picked out in iridescent gold, my intention was to show that the Goddess, unlike mortal women, is not composed of flesh, but rather of burning metal.  Though She may appear very human in Her breasts, limbs, torso and legs, and though Her skin may appear to be dark as an indication of ethnicity, this goddess is, in fact, not human.  She does not have human skin, nor is Her anatomy composed of the same bone and muscle as ours.  She supersedes the human condition, its mortality and limitations, even while taking on an anthropomorphic manifestation.

"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"

Come Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky.  What other form could read so undeniably human as this sensual, nubile vessel given to the Goddess?  She at once has all those attributes so desirable to men; full and round breast, high and firm buttocks, and long, toned legs.  Every inch of this very noble lady appeals to the sensual nature of humankind, the sex instinct and a certain aesthetic sensibility that screams human.  And yet we are constantly reminded that this woman is not a human woman, but is rather something from a world beyond our own.  Her crown and regalia tell us that She is a heavenly beauty being reflected through the lens of human perception.  She is not like us, but rather an otherworldly force meeting us on terms we can compute and resonate with.

In my depiction of Hwt-Her I used a variety of hydrated iron oxide (yellow ochre) that reads to the eye much more like red ochre, the pigment used by the ancient Egyptians to represent the male flesh tone(20).  Need I remind my readers that Hwt-Her, the Daughter of Ra, is also His Eye, His Wedjat, that fiery goddess whose fury is unbounded, whose warlike power is also embodied in the divine lioness Sekhmet.  This active, aggressive power is also symbolized by the use of red ochre.  Here, the active "male" color suggests the role of Hwt-Her as the solar Eye of Ra, whose power can be represented by the presence of red(21).  This being said, I would like to point out that there is a reference to geography and/ or race in my giving Hwt-Her a very dusky, tanned, if not African appearance.

One of the most significant episodes in the mythos of Hwt-Her as the Eye of Ra is the event of Her travels south in Nubia, where She becomes the "Distant Goddess", an episode observed by the ancient Egyptians every year at the time of the Winter Solstice.  This is symbolically a time of darkness and loss, as the days grow ever shorter, embodying the absence of the Goddess, and thus of the sun's light, from Egypt.  Not until Spring will the Eye of Ra return to the Nile Valley, bringing with it the revivifying power of the "Distant Goddess"(22).  It is precisely this communion with Nubia in the south, this retreat and return of Hwt-Her as the Eye of Ra, that is symbolized by the darker coloration of the Goddess' skin.  Since the Goddess has come to us from Nubia, She appears with the darker skin of that region.

On the morning of June 1, 2015, the day after this icon was completed, the Goddess Hwt-Her received a ceremonial blessing of the first rays of light at sunrise.

Half in darkness, half in light, the first rays of the morning sun bestow this icon of Hwt-Her with the sacred radiation of Her Father Ra.
The sunrise light strikes the gilded hieroglyphs that say "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky, the Lady of Contentment"

However, it is unfortunate that my camera is unable to faithfully record the "special effects" I have given to the skin of the Goddess, that is, a fantastic wash of iridescent gold pigment that shifts its brilliance depending upon the light in which She is viewed, and the vantage of the viewer to the icon panel.  I have also added shades and highlights in an orange-gold and copper-gold blend, which create an effect of the Goddess' skin having a metallic golden sheen to it, or rather being made of precious metals.  This goddess bears the epithet the Golden One (Nubet), and though scholars seem to be unclear as to the origins of this epithet(23), it is well established that Hwt-Her was venerated by the ancient Egyptians as a goddess of all precious metals and stones, the most precious of these being gold, silver, and copper, lapis lazuli and turquoise(24).  Scholar Geraldine pinch states:

She was the goddess of all precious metals, gemstones, and materials
that shared the radiant qualities of celestial bodies....(25)

As has been previously noted, Hwt-Her took a special role in the Sinai region, where She was affiliated with the turquoise and copper mines there, and appears to have a clear association with the mountains and geography of the region.  Here She was honored as the "Mistress of Turquoise" (Nebet Mefkat)(26).

It was, therefore, important for me to stress Hwt-Her's embodiment of these natural elements, which have always been significant aspects of Her worship, in my creation of this icon consecrated to Her cult.  Thus when it came to depicting Her skin tone, I used gold and other metallic effects as an embodiment of Her traditional role as "the Golden One" and patroness of the copper mines of Sinai, but also as a clear indication that this image is a cult image, an image which is directly inhabited by the deity, representing the materials the ancient Egyptians used to describe the anatomy of their gods.

This brings me to the crux of the matter, and that is that the Gods, whatever else they may be, and however anthropomorphically they may manifest in their visual forms, are not human, after all, and are not composed of the same flesh and blood we are(27).  Essentially, the Gods transcend such relative concepts as race, ethnicity, and mortality.  They cannot be fixed in one anatomical form, as their multitudes of artistic representations demonstrate, and we know from legions of texts, stories, hymns, and prayers that the Netjeru or Gods are physically very different from the human race, though the Gods may at times choose to appear indistinguishable from mortals.

Praises to you, king of kings
and lord of lords, ruler of rulers,
Who took the Two Lands for his own in the womb of Nut
and ruled the regions of the dead;
With fine-gold limbs, a head of lapis lazuli,
turquoise upon his arms-the pillar of millions-
Broad-chested, with a handsome face;
now he is in the sacred kingdom of Ta-djeser.

- From the Introductory Hymn to Ausir (Gr. Osiris) Wennefer
(Ch. XV, Papyrus of Ani)(28)

A pectoral from the 18th Dynasty tomb of Tutankhamun showing the King in his coronation regalia being received by the Goddess Sekhmet and God Ptah.  The coloration of the inlays here is highly symbolic, the God Ptah given a face and hands of turquoise, emblematic of rejuvenation and fertility.  Likewise the lioness Goddess Sekhmet has head, arms and feet composed of blue turquoise.  The face of the King has been colored black, signifying his magical rejuvenation, while the remainder of his exposed limbs are given the usual red-brown reserved for males.  From the collection of the Cairo Museum. 

A very well known narrative styled the Book of the Divine Cow (preserved in part on the first great burial shrine of Tutankhamun and in a more extensive version in the tomb of 19th Dynasty king Seti I) begins with a very interesting piece of information concerning the body of the elder Sun-God Ra (or Re):

Then it came to pass that the majesty of Re, he who created himself...having been king of men as well as of the gods.  Then men began to devise evil plans against him.  As to his majesty, let him live, be safe and in good health, he had grown old, his bones became like silver, his flesh like gold, his hair like real lapis lazuli.(29)

Scholar Alexandre Piankoff notes in his presentation of the text from the Book of the Divine Cow that "the old god is described here as a divine statue made of precious materials".(30)  I will revisit this concept of the divine statue (or cult image) in a moment.  What this text and others like it tell us is that the Egyptians wished to distinguish between the flesh and blood of mortal beings and that precious, divine body possessed by the Gods; namely that the Gods, being composed of substances that endure (like gold, lapis lazuli and turquoise) are set apart quite radically from human beings, who are made wholly of corruptible meat.  

The Egyptians, in their ceremonial hymns and cultic texts (such as that honoring the God Ausir above), use the most valued substances in their world to describe the radiant beauty of the Gods when they take shape.  Not only are the different limbs of a god's body fashioned from different stones and metals, the very presence of a deity's "flesh" or "skin" bestows a radiant light made of turquoise(31).  Thus it is said of the Goddess Auset (Gr. Isis) that She possesses coppery skin, and of the Sun-God that His open eyes are electrum(32).  

Are we to assume, then, that the ancient Egyptians believed in the literal manifestation of their Gods as actual gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and electrum?  Or, are these descriptions merely poetic license, the subtle language of symbol and allegory?  I think the textual evidence provides an answer that is neither one or the other, but something much more complex, which highlights the very fluid nature the Egyptians acknowledged in their deities.  We should understand that the Egyptians recognized divine properties in the materials found in the natural world(33), and that precious commodities such as gold, turquoise, and lapis lazuli had spiritual value because they came from the natural world, an environment believed to be the repository of the Gods and their powers.  To create an object from gold, for instance, was to link it directly with the Sun-God Ra, Whose very skin was composed of gold(34).  This meant that gold was linked to the bodies of all the Gods, who were the descendants or children of Ra(35).

This brings us to the moment of the divine statue or cult image, the physical vessel (sekhem) of the netjer's (god's) omnipresent essence (ba)(36).  Of course, I am referring to the special statues of the Gods maintained in the shrines of temples that were the beneficiaries of what academics term the cult.  We should understand that cult in these instances refers to the daily activities of serving the deity (netjer) through rituals, prayers, and offerings, as well as to the annual festivals and celebrations observed by the priesthoods of the temples.  Central to these activities was the image of the god (called bes or sekhem), which was no ordinary, inanimate image, but rather an image composed of sacred substances that had been ritually activated to receive a portion of the manifest power or essence of the deity(37).  It was by way of the highly charged magic fluent in the Opening of the Mouth ritual that the principal cult image of a temple, together with the temple's other statues, walls and reliefs, was opened to become the repository of the God's power(38).  

A gold-plated and silver statuette of the God Amun-Ra, almost certainly a cult statue provided with ritual worship and offerings.  26th Dynasty/ From the collection of the British Museum

As such, it was imperative for that repository to be crafted under the correct circumstances, and, even more importantly, from the correct materials.  If gold was the "skin of the Gods", the mark of Ra and His progeny, and lapis lazuli was the "hair" of the Gods, it so goes then that any image desiring to become a seat for the divine presence must replicate those divine qualities as closely as possible.  To become the body of a god, the image of the temple had to become the body of a god.  This was accomplished, of course, by the use of solid gold, or precious wood overlaid with gold, silver, and semi-precious stones of lapis lazuli, turquoise, and any and all stones held to be vessels for the qualities of the living Gods.  Egyptologist Emily Teeter provides us with a text describing such a cult statue of Ramesses VI:

"...of good nib-wood and persea-wood, the torso colored and all of its limbs of faience like real red jasper, and his kilt of hammered yellow gold; its crown of lapis lazuli, adorned with serpents of every color; the uraeus of his head of six-fold alloy inlaid with real stones; its sandals of six-fold allow; its right arm bearing the mekes-symbol...his left arm furnished with a scepter"(39).

A text on the stela of Ikhernofret, a high official during the reign of Senwosret III (c. 1881-1842), provides us with a sumptuous and rare description of the cult image of Ausir, (Gr. Osiris) and the dazzling panoply of accoutrements used in the official service of the god:

"I did all that his majesty commanded in executing my lord's command for his father Osiris, Foremost-of-the-Westerners, lord of Abydos....
I furnished his great bark, the eternal everlasting one.  I made for him
the portable shrine that carries the beauty of the Foremost-of-the-Westerners, of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, bronze, ssndm-wood, and cedar wood....
I directed the work on the neshmet-bark, I fashioned the cabin.
I decked the breast of the lord of Abydos with lapis lazuli and turquoise, fine gold, and all costly stones which are the ornaments of a god's body."(40)

Over and over in Egyptian texts from all periods we find an emphasis on gold, silver, and other costly materials in the making of images for the divine cult, which are the vessels serving as magnets, drawing the divine ba or manifest power down into the temple environment.  Without such images, the deity has no resting place in our physical world, no point of contact.  It is just such a point of contact that became the focal point of the ancient Egyptian temple system and the cults that served it.

We return now to "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky", a contemporary cult image created by my hand as a repository for the ba of the Great Goddess.  Here we find an echo of the ancient cult images that served the Gods of Egypt for thousands of years in their monumental temples.  I find myself in the same position of many Kemetic Reconstructionists today, for gone are the grandiose state temples supported by the royal largesse, and gone are the solid gold statues inlaid with a king's ransom in semi-precious stones.  Such resources no longer exist in our little communities of devotees, who each strive to recreate the authenticity of a sacred tradition stretching back thousands of years.  What we can do is be true to the spirit of our Ancestors, thus true to the internal meaning behind the ancient symbols and god-forms.  We may not have the financial resources to recreate such forms in solid gold, but we can at least achieve an approximation of this beauty through dedicated craftsmanship, recreation of the traditional forms, symbols, and glyphs, and materials that still hold reservoirs of the sacred presences of the Netjeru.

"Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky" was created using primarily genuine mineral pigments, together with a minority of the highest quality man-made pigments to extend the range of tones not found in the ancient Egyptian palette.  Lapis lazuli (sourced from Chile) was used for all areas of the icon requiring blue/ deep blue as a description of the divine regalia, jewelry, the pet or "heaven" sign upheld by the Goddess, the ankh-life sign slung around the arm of the Goddess, and the entirety of the outer icon panel with its 22 karat gold hieroglyphs.  All of the gold used on this icon is the finest 22 karat gold available to the modern iconographer.  Other genuine mineral pigments used in this icon are as follows:  Amethyst (Soladad, Brazil), Bloodstone (Alaska, USA), Jadeite (Alaska, USA), Piemontite (Alaska, USA), Rhodonite (Bellahorizonte, Brazil).  Hydrated iron oxide (red and yellow ochre), used by the ancient Egyptians for the skin tones of males and females respectively, was used as a base color for the face, arms, breast, and feet of the Goddess.  All of the crystal elements found in this icon are genuine Austrian crystals made by the Swarovski Company



Dunand, Francoise & Zivie-Coche, Christiane.  Gods and Men in Egypt.  Ithaca and London, 2004, pp.14-15. 179.
Wilkinson, Richard H.  Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art.  London, 1994, pp. 32.
See also Bleeker, C.J.  Hathor and Thoth:  Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion.  Leiden, 1973, pp. 53. 
  Ibid, pp. 18-20.
Wilkinson, Richard H.  Reading Egyptian Art:  A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture.  London, 1992, pp. 120-121. 
Ibid, pp. 85.  See also Redford, Donald B.  The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology.  New York, 2002, pp. 238.
6  Bleeker, C.J., Ibid, pp. 58.
Ibid, pp. 31-34.
8  Redford, Ibid, pp. 159. 
Wilkinson, Ibid, pp. 108-109.
10 Ibid.
11  Ibid, pp. 88.
12  I have developed my own identifications for the various components that make up my icons.  These are created on archival wooden panels which I refer to as the kar or shrine, visualized as representing the rectangular shrines (commonly referred to as a naos) in which three dimensional cult images of the Gods are traditionally housed.  The innermost portion of each icon panel, that is to say, the actual space inhabited by the deity for whom the icon is consecrated, is referred to as the "deity house".  This corresponds to the interior of the kar-shrine where the cult image is maintained.  Secondly are the "doorjambs", the raised and gilded "framing" surrounding the inner icon panel or "deity house".  Following this is the "outer panel", composed of two "columns", the left and right borders, and the "upper lintel" and "sledge", the top and bottom borders of the icon panel.  The two "columns" are used to depict the primary names and/ or epithets of the deity in traditional hieroglyphs, these being rendered as slightly raised reliefs which are gilded with 22 karat gold.
13  Faulkner, Raymond O.  A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian.  Oxford, 2002, pp. 275.
14  Wilkinson, Ibid, pp. 126-127.
15  Bleeker, Ibid, pp. 46.
16  Ibid, pp. 47.
17  Ibid, pp. 25.
18  Ions, Veronica.  Egyptian Mythology.  Feltham Middlesex, 1968, pp. 110-111.  See also Watterson, Barbara.  Gods of Ancient Egypt.  Godalming, Surrey, 1999, pp. 118-119.
19 Wilkinson, Richard H.  The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt.  London,   2003, pp. 102.
20 Tiradritti, Francesco.  Egyptian Wall Painting.  New York, NY, 2008, pp. 50-51.  See also Wilkinson, Richard H.  Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art.  London, 1994, pp. 114-115, 125.
21  Wilkinson, Ibid, pp. 106-107, 116.
21  Wisner, Kerry.  Pillar of Ra:  Ancient Egyptian Festivals For Today.  Newport, New Hampshire, U.S.A., 2011, pp. 71-72.
23 Redford, Ibid, pp. 158.
241  Pinch, Geraldine.  Egyptian Mythology.  Santa Barbara, California, 2002, pp. 137. 
251  Ibid. 
26 Redford, Ibid, pp. 159.
27 For an excellent discussion on this topic of the bodies and physical/ spiritual anatomy of the Gods, see "Divine Bodies" (chapter three) of Meeks, Dimitri and Favard-Meeks, Christine.  Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods.  London, 1993, pp. 53-80.
28 Foster, John L.  Hymns, Prayers, and Songs:  An Anthology of Ancient Egyptian Lyric Poetry.  Atlanta, Georgia, 1995, pp. 99.
29 Piankoff, Alexandre.  The Shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon.  New York, N.Y., 1955, pp. 27.
30 Ibid, footnote no. 69. 
31  Meeks, Ibid, pp. 57.
32 Ibid. 
33 Wilkinson, Ibid, pp. 82-83.
34 Ibid.
35 Ibid.
36 Teeter, Emily.  Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt.  New York, N.Y., 2011, pp. 43-45.
37  Dick, Michael B.  Born in Heaven, Made on Earth:  The Making of the Cult Image in the Ancient Near East.  Winona Lake, Indiana, 1999, pp. 179.
38  Meeks, Ibid, pp. 125.  See also Shafer, Byron E.  "Temples, Priests, And Rituals:  An Overview"  in Temples of Ancient Egypt, Edited by Byron E. Shafer.  New York, 1997, pp. 7. 
39  Teeter, Ibid, pp. 43. 
40  Lichtheim, Miriam.  Ancient Egyptian Literature:  Volume 1:  The Old and Middle Kingdoms.  Berkeley, California, 1975, pp. 123-124.         

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