Photo Essay: Wep Ronpet 2022: Opening The Year With The Gods of Kemet
Each year in August the holy star Sopdet (Sirius, Sothis, the Dog Star) makes Her reappearance in the east just before dawn to shine as the brightest star in the sky, until being obscured by the light of the rising sun. This event- known as the heliacal rising- signals the beginning of a new year for Kemetics around the world, and ushers in the first day of the first month of Djehuty (Thoth). Called Wep Ronpet "Opening of the Year" by the Ancients, New Year's Day is, for Kemetics, a religious festival signaling the renewal of the world and the Houses of the Gods, and a time for returning to Zep Tepi, the "First Occasion" when creation is pristine and the forces of chaos have been balanced by the Gods. In ancient times temples observed Wep Ronpet with a procession of the most holy cult images to the roofs of the temples to greet and be radiated by the rising sun of the new year. This action was known as the khnem-aten or "Union With the Sun." Kemetics today follow in the footsteps of the Ancients with processions of cult images on Wep Ronpet morning, awaiting first the heliacal rising of Sopdet, closely followed by the rays of the New Year Sun.
The heliacal rising of Sopdet was visible from our longitude this year on August 16th at 5:45 a.m. (MST). My household's usual custom is to remove the primary cult images of the God Ptah and His family from Their sanctuary, together with some of our most cherished temple treasures, and take these on pilgrimage to the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats in the northwestern Utah desert. Here in our local holy landscape, dominated by glittering white stretches of salt, sand, and amber mountain peaks, we circumambulate the temporary outdoor altar, present the elaborate offerings of the New Year, and chant hymns to the Gods as Sopdet and the sun make their holy appearances. But this year we were forced to change our plans due to the flooding of the Salt Flats by late monsoons. We were reminded that in very ancient times in Egypt the heliacal rising of Sopdet once coincided with the annual inundation of the river Nile, two auspicious natural events ushering in the civil New Year. We had to laugh inwardly at our own local inundation coinciding with Wep Ronpet time, and decided to celebrate New Year's morning at our backyard shrine space with fire altar and torches.
Even at 4:30 a.m. it was considerably warm outside as we brought out the Gods and cult objects to greet the New Year sky. In my work as an iconographer I call these sacred moments "sky meetings" or "showing the God(s) the sky." As I go through the slow and painstaking process of birthing a cult image, there are specific ritual events paired with each stage of the work, and one of these is the sky meeting or sky showing, the union with the sky during which the cult image in the making is brought out during significant phases of the lunar cycle or on feast days. The image is then radiated by the Full Moon (called the khnem-iah or "Union With the Moon"), stars, or the rejuvenating presence of the New Moon. By compounding such "showings" or "unions", an image becomes a proper cult image by way of its participation in the most sacred events of the year, thereby making the image acceptable for possession by the deity(s) in question.
This year marks the second Wep Ronpet during the birthing of the Akem-Shield of Sekhmet the Eye
of Ra and Mistress of Heaven, but it is especially significant because the birthing of the Goddess is nearly complete. The divine image Herself has been finished; what remains to be done is the Mouth Opening Ritual that formally activates this body as a living home for the Goddess and a proper body worthy of worship and cultus. She has already seen one Wep Ronpet and received the Union With the Sun Ritual at sunrise on New Year's morning. She has now seen a second, which means that this image is already the container of powerful forces generated by these moments of significant renewal.
My profession as an iconographer is not limited to the skills of a craftsperson or artist, though such skills are a constant requirement. The creator of cult images must have a sound comprehension of materials and techniques surpassing the merely artistic, these being the lunar phases and their symbolic and magical correspondences; local deities and land spirits and the appropriate days and times to invoke these; offering types acceptable to the Gods/ spirits and the most efficacious days and times to bestow these; rites of divination through which the Gods/ spirits will make known Their preferences or demands; colors, pigments, stones, and minerals attractive to each deity/ spirit; the appropriate hymns and prayers corresponding to each phase of work specific to the deity/ spirit being birthed in an image. These are but the rudimentary metaphysical/ cultic facets of the iconographer's arsenal. There are many others, and it is a constant study to refine and further develop one's knowledge by putting into practice every possible variation of the above and many others besides.
At the end of the day the raison d'être of the iconographer is to craft a divine image so beautiful, so perfect and enticing to the deity that the deity will be compelled to enter the image and dwell there, and in so doing to provide the religious community with all the boons that come from sustained cultus and sustained ritual engagement. It is not only the materials composing the cult image that make it attractive to the deity, but equally as important the spiritual/magical framework provided for the image's existence by the ritual specialist(s) who create it. This means that even before a scratch or mark is made on a virgin panel, I must put into place a solid cultic foundation for the divine body to be brought into being. This is accomplished through the correct prayers, offerings, and pilgrimages being fulfilled, all with the consent and participation of the deity concerned. Without these vital components no image, however beautiful, will be acceptable to a deity or proper for formal worship. It is not my intentions or inspiration that sanctify or make a true cult image, but only the permission and direct participation of the deity, who will grant the image the empowerment and awakening that make an inanimate object a living manifestation of the divine bodies.
Wep Ronpet morning is one of those invaluable moments when celestial and earthly conditions coincide to produce the most ideal conditions for empowering and sanctifying divine images. In ancient times the primary cult images of the Netjeru (Gods) remained secluded in near darkness within private temple sanctuaries, excepting those high days when the Gods were carried out of Their houses in fabulous processions attended by royalty and commoners alike. On New Year's morning the divine images were processed to temple roofs where they received the radiation of the New Year sun, the rejuvenating power of Ra on the day of solar renewal. Today we repeat these ancient traditions by bringing out the images of our gods to kiss the face of the sun on the day when Sopdet returns to crown the sky with Her twinkling glory. And this year we were treated to an unprecedented (at least for us here in Utah since we've celebrated Wep Ronpet here)occurrence as Sopdet arose brighter than we've ever seen Her, and remained visible in the sky for several minutes after the east had become bright with the pre-dawn light of the sun.