Words to be spoken: The fire is laid, the fire shines;
the incense is laid on the fire,
the incense shines.
Your perfume comes to me, O incense;
may my perfume come to you, O incense.
Your perfume comes to me, You Netjeru;
may my perfume come to You, You Netjeru.
May I be with You, You Netjeru;
May You be with me, You Netjeru.
May I live with You, You Netjeru;
May You live with me, You Netjeru.
I love You, You Netjeru;
may You love me, You Netjeru.
- Pyramid Texts, Utterance 269 (1)
Monday September 6, 2021 saw the first new moon after the heliacal rising of Sopdet (Sothis,
Sirius, the Dog-Star), thus ushering in the first month of the lunar festival calendar, the holy month of Tekhy, whose divine patron is the God Djehuty. This is the day of the renewal of our temple program, when the new festival year is declared before the Gods and the old (or weary) year is laid to rest. Our local tradition is the New Fire Ritual, which sees the lighting of a bonfire in the presences of our protective deities, the recitation of the previous years' troubles so they may be consigned to the flames, and the swearing of oaths to perpetuate the sacred service embodied in our temple rituals throughout the year. A list of prayers and petitions is recited to the Gods and They are asked to hear these and act upon them for the benefit of the temple and the larger community of the faithful.
This is also an offering ceremony, visualized as a presentation of the community's adoration, prayers, and desires into the hands of the Gods. With the circumambulation of the fire dais and procession of offerings, the greenery, produce, wine, and bread- embodiments of the gifts the Gods have given to sustain us the previous year- are consecrated to the service of the Gods and are asked to be returned to the religious community in the form of boons, answered prayers. This activity is called zehotep, "appeasing" the Gods, and it is, in a sense, our material expression of the concept of do ut des, giving what rightfully belongs to the Gods so that They will be provoked to continue Their generosity to us.
But there is much more present in this act than the merely contractual, for our service to the Gods is bestowed first and foremost because They are the Gods, and have already provided us with the most precious boon imaginable, our very life. Within the ritual framework encompassing sacred space, the life force of beings is contained within the offerings of floral tributes, produce, alcohol, and grains and cereals. Each of these, being valuable commodities of the household, holds within it a portion of the essence of life, which is transferred to the sacred images of the Gods brought out beneath the New Year sky to partake of the festivities. This year a black basalt cult image of the God Ptah-har-set-wert- newly arrived from Egypt- joined the white marble icon of Sekhmet Mistress of the Sky, the two of Them enthroned as the divine sovereigns of the High Seat, the Mound of Creation.
Also present to receive veneration and feeding were four of my icon panels in progress: The Akem-
Shield of Sekhmet the Eye of Ra, the Akem-Shield of Sekhmet Who Incinerates the Rebels, the Akem-Shield of Sobek-Ra and the Egg of Creation, and the Akem-Shield of Henut Mistress of the Sky. The birthing of cult images requires a sustained ritual effort aside from the hands-on work of craftsmanship taking place in the studio. The Gods- being ultimately Numinous beings of dynamic spiritual movement throughout creation- must be attracted, finessed, and provoked into entering these manmade objects whose purpose is to serve as sacred lenses through which the Gods may be clearly seen and directly experienced by humans. At any moment a deity might become displeased with an image, disinterested in the process if it is not being conducted correctly, or simply bored with the experience of possessing the material. It is for these reasons that cult images in progress must be lavished with offerings cherished by the deity, imbued with celestial power, and merged with the living essence that flows from dynamic religious engagement.
Formal rituals and pilgrimage are accomplished in conjunction with heavenly correspondences such as lunar festivals or stellar appearances (like the heliacal rising of a holy star), these done with the intention of sanctifying an image so that it becomes part of the vital process of divine manifestation. Such images become points of contact between the Gods and Their celebrants, as significant to the relationship between Gods and humans as the human body is to our ability to interact with the world around us and life as a sensual, tactile experience. Polytheism is a framework for engaging gods that are inherent to creation, not separate from it, and this includes the senses of sight, taste, smell, and touch. It is accepted that the Gods work through the material world without, however, being constrained by it or captured by it. The Gods enter and exit the material world at will, and it is to our advantage to inspire Them to enter, to enter, and more importantly, to stay. When the Gods are inspired to take up residence in a particular image or holy site, the experience of sustained religious engagement such dwelling provides is essential to the human experience of religion and spiritual awakening. Thus cult images are the bodies through which the Gods dance with us, sing to us, and walk with us in a world we comprehend through all our senses- physical and spiritual.
1. Adapted from Utterance 269 of the Pyramid Texts of King Wenis. See Raymond O. Faulkner. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Warminster, England: Oxford University Press, 1969), 77. See also James P. Allen. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts/ : translated with an introduction and notes by James P. Allen ; edited by Peter Der Manuelian. (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, c2005), Recitation 176, 49. For the hieroglyphic transcription see Kurt Sethe. Die altägyptischen Pyramidentexte (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1908), Erster Band (Volume 1), 196. See also James P. Allen. A New Concordance of the Pyramid Texts (Brown University, 2013), Volume 3, 45-46.