The Gods Are Where We Are: Living Polytheism in the 21st Century/ Part 5
Why are westerners attracted to ancient Egyptian polytheism, and how can they approach its Gods in traditional ways? How is your work as an iconographer representative of that?
Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: Speaking from my own experience and connections with other Kemetics, it is the netjeru, the Goddesses and Gods of Kemet, that spark a deep fascination and move people to investigate ancient Egyptian religion- called Kemeticism by many of its adherents. I think this comes from some primordial reaction to the iconographic forms Egyptian deities take in ancient images people are exposed to at a young age through the mediums of film and blockbuster exhibitions of Egyptian artifacts. The bimorphic- half-human, half-animal- representations of the netjeru provoke strong reactions that nonetheless attract as very natural ways these Gods communicate the scope of Their powers, and these are forms that touch upon people's attraction to the natural world, to its creatures and what these animals embody. One might think that the very alien appearance of ancient Egyptian deities would work against westerners being drawn to Them, seeing as how everything about the netjeru is so far removed from the mainstream Christianity prevalent in the west, but it is by virtue of Their unusual forms in iconography that people are intrigued on a very deep level, which makes them want to understand why that fascination is there in the first place.
As I said before, Kemetics tend to be fiercely attracted to their Gods, loyal to Them because there is a powerful sense that these Gods want to connect, want to be present in the lives of human beings, and intervene directly in the lives of Their devotees. I think many Kemetics felt those things quite lacking in their experience of monotheism growing up, and so many Kemetics I've talked to express this conviction that their Gods manifest tangible signs and messages through daily life experiences, and this is definitely nothing new in the history of humankind's interaction with these Gods. The historical record is full of monumental inscriptions, letters, stelae, and ex-votos describing encounters with the netjeru through life events or boons granted by the Gods as an answer to prayers. Something the netjeru are not is removed from Their creation, distant from humankind, or unconcerned with the maintenance of the material world.
My work as an iconographer has evolved from a number of factors present in my spiritual life. The first of these comes from the nature of my Patron deity and namesake Ptah, Creator of the material world, the Gods, and all living things, and patron of painters and craftspeople. Something that tends to happen in Kemeticism is that devotees are attracted to the deities that embody the prominent characteristics present in themselves, so my attraction to Neb (Lord) Ptah was most natural for me because of who He is, and how He manifests the excellence of divine craftsmanship in the arts. In what has been referred to as the Memphite Theology, recorded on the monument known as the Shabaka Stone, it is said that the Creator Ptah gave form to all things by speaking them into existence, and that He placed the Gods in Their bodies of wood, stone, and clay; so it was the God Ptah Who created the divine images of the Gods, Their cult statues or idols, and established the worship of the Gods as it should be conducted by human beings.
Fundamentally, one of the most traditional ways Kemetics can come to their Gods is through the veneration of the netjeru in Their traditional iconographic forms. These are forms that have a tremendous buildup of power in them due to their continuous use as cult images over a period of more than five-thousand years, and the same can be said for the ancient prayers, hymns, and ritual texts offered to the Gods in worship. These are tools for proper religious engagement that Kemetics use to maintain the sacred threads of connection established by the Gods Themselves at the very beginning of recorded history. But the iconography of the Gods is quite significant in our worship because these are the actual forms the Gods entered when They first entered material forms, and these are the forms They are attracted to. Since our religious life is grounded upon our connection with the Gods as living beings, it follows that maintaining the presences of the Gods in sacred spaces is to our benefit, and the way we accomplish this is through the maintenance of the sekhemu or power-images, the cult images or idols, our mūrtis.
One of the most important aspects of my work is the actual ritual process I have assembled from ancient sources as the cultic framework sustaining each part of a God-image's creation. These are the prayers, hymns, ritual utterances and gestures, offerings, and pilgrimages accomplished for every stage of the work, which is executed in a highly controlled ritual environment where standards of divine purity are maintained throughout. The work I do is not decorative art or art expressive of my personal ideas or experiences, but is rather a divine framework for receiving the actual spiritual essence and powers of the Gods, Who possess or inhabit sekhemu as the beneficiaries of the Divine cult. This concept of Divine images is instantly recognizable to practitioners of Sanātana Dharma, who would never refer to a mūrti as a mere work of art, but understand that idols are awake with an interior life provided by the presence of the deva inside it.