"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, June 3, 2015

Photo Essay: A Goddess, From Start to Finish

"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

Homage to You, Hwt-Her, Lady of Life,
Enveloped in turquoise with the lotus
as your diadem!
O Golden Lady, how can men approach you?
How can the Gods behold your glory,
shining as electrum in the Eastern heaven.
To look upon You is to be blinded
by the fire of your body, casting the
shadow of the Sun as that Great Cobra Goddess.

The Sun's light does not reveal your completeness,
Though your embodiment is the circuit of the
Wedjat Eye in its time;
it is unknowable, and the Gods cannot fathom
your strides across the Imperishable Stars.

O Goddess, the Mistress of the Sky,
how fair is your countenance,
how dazzling your lips,
your eyes of green malachite,
your eyebrows like the iridescent plumage
of the Sacred Falcon.
How He comes to you, erect upon His perch,
His lofty standard shining with your love.
He embraces you, the One of the Two Horizons,
His two wings not spanning the length of your
divine body.
Smitten, the Lord of Valor becomes yours,
as you, the long-legged Goddess, cause the
faces of the Gods to be turned away,
Ensnared by your beauty.

Homage to You, O Lady of Love
who bestows rapture by the very sight of Her,
whose body challenges the Sun for His light,
whose Father is born through Her,
whose brother becomes the Lord of the Earth
by way of Her thighs!
You, O Hwt-Her, are the sovereign Mistress
before whom the Gods submit their powers.
Mysterious One, who in secret gives birth
to the Sun in His moment of becoming.

Let me, too, come near to You in the hour
of your rising, when in shards of turquoise
your face becomes the illumination of the
May my two eyes behold You,
may my ears hear the shaking of your papyrus reeds,
may my nose inhale the intoxication of your lotus-fragrance,
and may I be one of those in your entourage
who lives forever on account of You.

- From the Hymns of Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky
By Master Iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

The creation of an icon (at least my creation of my icons) is a long and involved process requiring a number of steps, not least of all is that which cannot be properly represented by photographs, namely the cultic offerings, devotional prayers, and ritual acts through which a small, flat panel of wood becomes a living incarnation of a deity.  There is much more to the production of an icon than the layering of paint and application of gold and other precious substances.  If that was all that were required, I should think that anyone with reasonable artistic skill could paint an icon and call themselves an iconographer.  But such is not the case, in my opinion, for in my many years of study and practical application (oh, 35 or so years at this point) I have learned the truth that icon painting is an intimate collaboration between the artisan and the deity.  

An iconographer is called upon to establish a direct link or dialogue with a deity, and it is through this exchange, requiring both faith and devotion, that a two dimensional work receives the divine spark of life, acquiring the power to manifest the presence of the deity represented by it.  Without such an interdependent relationship, a true icon cannot come into being.  This is literally a magical process, during which the iconographer, as priest/ priestess and servant of the deity, opens or awakens the image to an interior divine life that separates it from the inanimate, and makes of it a living image suitable for cultic service. 

Of course, each iconographic tradition deserves to speak for itself, and each will naturally have its own language in the carrying out of its visual duties; therefore, I can only speak for my own tradition, which is that of Kemetic Iconography.  Thus my comments here must be read as coming from that vantage and not from any other.  I do not speak for the Russian Orthodox iconographic tradition, nor the Greek, nor the Buddhist, or the Hindu.  I am a Kemetic, a practitioner of the original and ancient faith of Egypt (Kemet, hence Kemetic).  Thus my comprehension and practice of the art of iconography stems from a theological vantage that often differs quite substantially from other schools of iconography, and here I am thinking of those of the Christian persuasion.  Kemetic iconography, as I understand and practice it, has much more in common with Hindu and Buddhist iconography than it ever will with the Greek or Russian Orthodox traditions.

My Kemetic icons begin with a petition to the netjer (or deity) intended for representation, which is presented in the form of traditional prayers and their accompanying offerings.  My intention is firstly to honor the netjer, and to receive their explicit permission for using their physical likeness in the formation of a cult image (sekhem).  This may seem somewhat strange to individuals not following in the footsteps of Kemetic Reconstructionism or Kemeticism, but it is known that the most fundamental stage in the consecration and awakening of any sacred image (as practiced by the ancient Egyptians)- be it a temple, wall relief or three-dimensional representation of a god- is to call forth the deity and ask them to take ownership of the image, which must be properly prepared through the ritual actions of purification and the performance of the cultic acts of Opening the Mouth(1).

I do not, of course, begin the creation of an icon by bestowing the Opening of the Mouth (or Wen Ra).  That would not be appropriate at the beginning stages of a sacred image.  What is vital for the initial stages of icon production is the honoring of the deity through the bestowal of the appropriate offerings and cultic prayers, which are performed as the fresh icon panel is placed on a bed of sand in the presence of an awakened cult image of the deity being so honored.  An unused wick of twisted fibers is offered in a vessel of precious onyx, into which olive oil is poured and the wick set aflame, thereby creating an oil lamp signifying the initiation of creation, cosmologically and magically through the birthing of a new sacred image.

Viewers of my icons are not privy to the sacred processes through which I activate my images with divine life, or rather, engage the netjer in the process of co-creation with me.  A viewer sees the completed icon, and perhaps has seen photographs of the icon in its various stages of production, but has not seen the tremendous spiritual/ ritual process that goes into the evolution of such images from beginning to end.  It is easy to forget, when art lovers appreciate the visual presence of my icons, that these are in fact cult objects, highly complex ritual objects whose sole purpose is to give physical form and habitation to the manifest essence (ba) of a god or goddess.  The icons I create are not intended for hanging on a wall in an art gallery or home so that they can be admired as art objects, as decorative showpieces.  Such would defeat the goal and function of an icon as a vital component of cult and daily service to a living deity.

It is difficult, I think, for modern people, who are accustomed to the values and modes of modern art, to comprehend why any artisan would go to the massively time-consuming lengths of creating an intricate image from expensive and precious materials without intending it for public display and consumption.  It boggles the mind, then, to see incredible works of art like the solid gold death mask of Tutankhamun, or the astonishing, vivid bas-reliefs in the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and realize that these things were never intended to be seen by human eyes once they had been sealed away in the tomb.  Their purpose was entirely cultic, that is, ritual and magical.  These were not created as works of art to be enjoyed by mortal eyes, but strictly as pieces of magical technology through which an interior purpose could be accomplished.

Thus my icons are not created with the intention that the masses should enjoy them as art, although photographic reproductions are made available for consumption, and of course can be seen on the Internet and social media.  But the originals are not available for mass consumption, as that would, again, defeat the ultimate aim of their creation.  Such icons are crafted, first and foremost, as earthly bodies for living gods, and that is why so much time and energy, to say nothing of expensive and precious resources, is put into their making.  Each detail, layer of precious color, leaf of pure gold, and semi-precious stone is painstakingly worked into an object of devotion and magic (heka), whose ultimate purpose is to entice the deity to enter it, and in so doing establish a permanent and vital presence within the activities of the temple cult.  These icons are pieces of machinery, setting into motion a dynamic meeting place between the divine and mortal worlds.  The icon, then, belongs first to the deity, and is created strictly for their use.  Always, the intention behind the commission and maintenance of an icon is that the deity will choose to inhabit and utilize the image, giving worshipers ready access to forces that might otherwise be beyond the scope of our often limited human cognizance.

In celebration of the completed icon "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky", I would like to present my readers with this collection of photos that documents, from start to completion, the creation of this icon.  In the past almost six months it has taken me to produce this cult image, I have at intervals posted pictures and essays on my progress with Hwt-Her, which are scattered between various other ramblings I have chosen to share on this blog.  Now I would like to present these photographs as a collection that can, I hope, give the reader a sense of the tremendous work and technical skills required in the creation of my icons.  These pictures are not a credit to myself, nor a testament to my advances as an iconographer or visual artist, but are instead a testimony of a collaborative co-creation between my heart and hands and those of the Goddess Hwt-Her.  This is Her icon, not mine.  It was by way of Her passionate, loving presence that this icon has come into being in our material world, for it was first created in Heaven, and we are only able to view it because the Goddess wishes it so.


Shafer, Byron E.  Temples of Ancient Egypt.  New York, 1997, pp. 7-8.


The fresh icon panel, after ritual purification and consecration on a bed of sand,
is deposited on the Altar to receive the spiritual charge of the Goddess Hwt-Her. 

A precise under drawing is completed on the icon panel.  Every detail
of the sacred composition has been measured out on a grid
according to exacting standards. 

Using gesso in liquid form, highly significant details of the deity composition
are slowly built up into bas-reliefs (raised reliefs).  These will receive
gilding with 22 karat gold.

The bas-reliefs are now painstakingly gilded with 22 karat gold.

Using precious mineral pigments, layers of rich color and details
are built up on the icon panel.


Details of the completed icon "Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky"



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