My name is Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa. I was born a native of San Diego, California, where my father received his Master's Degree in anthropology and the humanities. He was also an artist, a very talented watercolorist and painter of male and female nudes. His focus in some of his work was the figurative art of the Greeks and Romans, which also was central to his research for his degree and studies in the arts and humanities. His den where he drew, researched, and painted was full of books of antique art and ancient Mediterranean civilizations.
It was there in his den that I uncovered, at the age of seven or eight, the massive scholarly volumes on ancient Rome and her art. It was there that I first saw the famous Farnese Antinous, that sensual and divine exploration of the nude male form. I was hooked. Despite my very young age, even then I remember being conscious of my sexuality and my attraction to the Gods of Classical antiquity. Antinous always represented for me the promise of immortality and resurrection, agelessness, and continuity of the Soul. But also, he embodied the innocence of a noble mind untainted by time or human experience. He was a representative of a quest for the Highest Nature to which humankind is the heir. Even as a boy, I knew somehow that Antinous was my god, or rather one of them, for I have always been deeply rebellious against the idea of monotheism.
I was raised in a very traditional Baptist upper-middle-class family, with a very long history of males who turned out to be Christian missionaries and evangelical preachers. I remember sitting on my grandfather's knees as a young boy and listening to his hopes that I too would join the army of Christ as a disciple of the Gospel, bringing others into the fold. Needless to say, those hopes have not been realized!
However, in another very unexpected way, my grandfather's desires for me to be a missionary have been brought to light, but not within the Christian faith he and my family ardently follow. Sometime around 1982-83, I had my spontaneous call to the Goddess Isis and the Egyptian religion. In my father's extensive library of ancient art and civilizations, I came across a volume with lavish color photographs of famous Egyptian temples, sculptures, and artifacts. Among them were pictures of the magnificent Temple of Isis at Philae, which the ancient Egyptians called Aaw-rek. Here were images of pylons in which the Goddess Isis and Her holy family told the story of Egypt's ancient resurrection myth...the Osirian drama in which the Goddess Isis, Great of Magic, brings to life Her murdered husband Ausir-Osiris so that She may conceive His son, Horus, the Egyptian Heru, the falcon-headed defender of Truth and divine justice. It was Auset, Isis the great Mother Goddess who had the power to restore a murdered god back to life, and it was by Her miraculous magic that the seed of the resurrected god was drawn forth in order to conceive the very child who would grow to manhood in order to renew the balance of justice and divine order in Egypt.
But there were many other gods in Egypt whose images ensnared my heart when I sat for hours with that volume in my father's den. Among these was the God Ptah, craftsman, and Divine Architect of creation, Patron of all painters and artisans and Creator of the Gods, and Amun-Ra, the King of the Gods. I became obsessed with these pre-Christian deities and the culture that fostered them, and in my heart I began to say little prayers to them, timidly hoping that these strange gods would hear me, and somehow give me a sign.
My father and mother were fundamentalist evangelical Baptist Christians, so their tolerance for any non-Christian belief was nearly non-existent, so in their eyes, their eight-year-old son could not possibly be praying to Egyptian gods, those "false idols" of the Pagan world. Of course, my parents treated my obsession with Egyptian religion, magic, mummification, and hieroglyphs as a passing childhood interest- you know, one among those many things that children pick up, enjoy the novelty of for as long as that lasts, and then move on to the next passing fancy. I had had the usual enchantments with cowboys and Indians, dinosaurs, and a very strange fixation with flags, so they assumed that my obsession with ancient Egypt was one of those and not the metaphysical passion that it really was.
I checked out every book on things Egyptian from my school library and spent every night reading under the covers about Egyptian gods, temples, mummies, and hieroglyphs. Before I went to bed each night I propped one of my Egyptian picture books on the desk next to my bed and said my prayers to Isis, Osiris, Horus, Ptah, and Sekhmet. I asked the Gods to reveal their secrets to me, and then, one night prior to my 9th birthday, I asked those ancient Gods to reopen their temples for me...to send me a path to them in this world.
One Saturday morning my parents and I were taking a walk through the touristy shopping district in historic Old Town San Diego, and as we passed the massive Bohanan's Pottery yard, full of its Mexican ceramics and outdoor fountains, I caught sight of a large sign that had a picture of Michelangelo's David on it and said Dergance Sculpture Studio. Curious because of the presence of the very recognizable David, I went up to a large window of the studio and peered inside. What I saw stole my breath and made my heart beat faster. Inside the small but beautifully appointed studio space were bookshelves, tables, and display stands filled with gilded replicas of the King Tutankhamun treasures, Egyptian gods and goddesses, and Classical and Renaissance marbles. A large marble reproduction of Michelangelo's David stood proudly in one corner of the studio, and beside it stood various other Greco-Roman sculptures, including a magnificent version of the famous Farnese Antinous, and several sizes of equally famous busts of Antinous. Roman gods peered out from every angle, including the Venus de Milo and Botticelli's Birth of Venus. A splendid Pan played His pipes and wagged His erection proudly. I couldn't believe my eyes. There was an entire shop filled with the gods and treasures I thought of as mine!
Dergance Sculpture Studio was owned by a charming senior couple, Maxine and Robert Dergance, who had traveled extensively throughout Egypt and Europe, collecting historical replicas and museum reproductions, including the extensive line of high-quality knock-offs of the Tutankhamun treasures produced by the Artisans Guild International company. Though their studio was closed on the day I first peered in the window, gushing to my parents how we just had to get inside, my mother took down the business phone number and called that week to make an appointment with Maxine Dergance. When finally the next weekend we walked into that studio, it was for me like that seminal moment when Egyptologist Howard Carter gazed into the treasure-crammed tomb of Tutankhamun for the first time. I felt I had come home, there in one place where the gods, my gods, and the kings who had first worshiped them, were represented in their golden and jewel-toned icons.
Maxine Dergance was a very unusual lady, a fascinating eccentric who talked to me about reincarnation and past lives in ancient Egypt, as I sat down with her at her large working table in Dergance Studio. As she described her travels in Egypt to me, she talked about feelings she had as she visited various temples and monuments, feelings of having been there before, in a different time thousands of years before. I whispered to her that I had had those same feelings and experiences when contemplating pictures of Egyptian locations and objects- that I also prayed to Egyptian gods.