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The Gods Are Where We Are: Living Polytheism in the 21st Century/ Part 1

Updated: Jun 5, 2021

NOTE: This feature was originally published on April 13, 2021 by Aparna Sridhar in Soft Power Magazine

Ptahmassu K.M. Nofra-Uaa is an internationally noted iconographer whose celebrated work has been featured in publications including best-selling author Nicki Scully's book Sekhmet: Transformation in the Belly of the Goddess. He is the founder of Icons of Kemet, dedicated to the crafting of unique God-images for use in worship of the ancient Gods of Egypt. A spokesperson for devotional polytheism, his poetic hymns have been published by Neos Alexandria/Bibliotheca Alexandrina. He is a priest of the Temple of Isis California, a legally recognized sanctuary of the Goddess Isis in the United States, and a Priest-Hierophant in the international Fellowship of Isis, whose aims include the celebration of the Egyptian Goddess Isis and related Goddess traditions from around the world.

O Devī, who spreads out this world through her own

power and who embodies herself as all the powers of the

hosts of gods; to Ambikā, who is worthy of worship by all

the gods and great seers, we bow down in devotion. May

she grant us that which is auspicious.

-devīmāhātmyam 4.3/ In Praise of the Goddess: The Devīmāhātmya and Its Meaning, translated by Devadatta Kālī, 82.

Let me worship the Golden One to honor her Majesty

and exalt the Lady of Heaven;

Let me give adoration to Hat-Hor

and songs of joy to my heavenly Mistress!

I beg her to hear my petitions....

Let me consecrate breath to my Goddess

that she give me my Love as a gift!

It is four days now I have prayed in her name;

let her be with me today!

-Prayer to Hat-Hor as Goddess of Love [Papyrus Chester Beatty I]/ Hymns, Prayers, and Songs: An Anthology of Ancient Egyptian Lyric Poetry, John L. Foster, 123-124

Center for Soft Power is privileged and grateful for this Interview with Master Iconographer Ptahmassu K.M. Nofra-Uaa

You say you have experienced the power of Kali ma and that you had a book of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa which helped you in your life. How did they come into your life?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: I first encountered the Goddess Kāli as a boy in a book on the religions of

India given to me by one of my teachers, and I admit I was hooked. There is something captivating about Ma, and Hers is the power to split open the most resistant of hearts, to conquer the most adamant ego, to open up wide the most closed of spaces. She finds your sadness and walks with you through those terrible places which the human mind creates, the illusion of material life and suffering as permanent phenomena; and She tears down those illusions, revealing that it is the spiritual life, the non-physical state, that is the Ultimate Reality, the highest goal possible. It is through this realization that human beings can strive for union with the Divine, which can be achieved through bhakti yoga, the profession of one who thirsts for the Divine above all things.

As a young man I came into some misfortune and became homeless for a number of months. Sometimes I was offered a temporary place to stay by friends or friends of friends, and survived primarily on handouts from kind people who frequented the coffee shops I spent my daylight hours in. At this time I was very devoted to my meditations and spiritual studies exclusively, and my days were spent reading the cache of books I carried around in my backpack. I went into a used bookstore one afternoon and was perusing the religious philosophy section when I came across The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna published by the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center. I sat down with it for over two hours, utterly captivated by the life of Sri Ramakrishna and His devotion to Ma Kāli, and finally decided to spend the last bit of money I had on the Gospel of Ramakrishna, instead of saving it for food.

Though I was at that time familiar enough with the philosophy of bhakti, something about the personality and message of Sri Ramakrishna touched me in a way no other guru or teaching had. I was in a certain amount of intense emotional pain at that time, a profound loneliness and depression, and also a fair amount of physical pain from an abscessed tooth, so I poured that pain and loneliness and depression into my relationship with Divine Mother, Whom The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna inspired me to reconnect with. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna spoke to me of a human soul compelled by intense, painful longing for a true vision of Divine Mother, the Ultimate Reality of the Universe. It spoke to me of a soul attracted to the Source of its own beingness, the Goddess Who reveals Herself to the bhakta as Ma Kāli. When Ramakrishna describes His heart "...being squeezed like a wet towel" during His first vision of the Mother, I understood that this is what it means to love the Divine so completely, so authentically that one becomes immersed in the very object of one's devotion, until there is no division between subject and object. This was the love I found for Divine Mother at this time in my life when real love was a chimera to me. Love as lust, desire, and attachment was something I knew all too well, but what I really wanted was a love not rooted in the ephemeral, a love not attached to that which is destined to dissolve. This is the kind of love Divine Mother wakes us up to, and it is such a shocking phenomenon when it happens, it can only come from the being of a Goddess with a sword that cuts through all attachment woven through the ego.

One of the great gifts of Sanātana Dharma to the world is this path of bhakti, the principles of which can be found in and applied to other religious/ spiritual paths; that is, the path in which the devotee gives over their heart wholly to the Divine, and places the Divine at the center of all activities and goals. This is something I post about constantly on social media, because I think it exemplifies how we as devotees of our Gods can experience the presences of the Gods directly in all our life, not just in temple, shrine, or during special ritual times. I think it's easier to think about the Divine when one is in a sacred environment, surrounded by incense, flames, and in the presence of beautiful mūrtis or idols. But what about the rest of the time? What about our busy workaday lives that consume so much of our time and energy? How can we experience our Gods then?

The path of bhakti- and in particular bhakti yoga - bridges the gap between Sacred and profane, spiritual and material, in that the bhakta trains their mind to bring itself back to the Gods at the center no matter what the devotee is doing- household chores, stuck in traffic, taking care of the kids, running errands, grocery shopping in a crowded store, sitting in class during a lecture. When the Gods are recognized as being the Source of all activity, worldly or spiritual, and when the world is recognized as being composed of the spiritual, as a vehicle for it, in fact, then there is no separation between the human soul and the Divine. There is no differentiation between the Personality of the Divine and the human condition. We see that all our life is directly connected to our Gods, that the Divine is the root of all life and activity in the material world, that there is nothing that is not the Divine. This realization in us transforms our "mundane" experiences into opportunities for Divine engagement, whether or not we are in a sacred space such as a temple or stuck in traffic in the middle of a congested city center. If our mindfulness is present with the Divine, then our most mundane actions can be filled with the Sacred.


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