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What I Deserve: The Completed Sekhmet Reliefs

Come, come O Eye of Ra,

come in renewed strength,

in the bright and shining glory of Your Father!

Upon His apex You blaze as the Enflamed One, the Rearing One,

Whose breath spits fire

to consume the enemies of Ra.

Homage to You O Sekhmet,

may You come in peace and strength

to make protection flourish round about all my members;

my enemies living in fear of You,

the deeds against me failing because of You.

For You are my health and my power,

my life and my rejuvenation.

Come, come in peace O Eye of Ra,

renewed and young again,

brilliant like Ra on the two horizons,

Causing to live those Who dwell

with the sacred things of the Gods.

I will live as You live, O Sekhmet!

I will be strong as You are strong, O Sekhmet!

And I triumph over my enemies as You triumph, O Sekhmet!

I am pure. I am pure. I am pure. I am pure.

-Utterance For Bringing the Protection of Sekhmet as the Eye of Ra

By Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

When I began work on the Akem-Shield of Sekhmet the Eye of Ra and Mistress of Heaven a year ago, I had no idea how difficult the process would be or the challenges I would face, technically and spiritually. All of my works have presented their own unique challenges, and there are always small setbacks due to aspects of the work that wind up demanding more of my time and resources than I initially thought. The work cannot be but a labor of love and a striving for excellence in spite of whatever shortcomings I possess as a craftsperson and ritual technician.

The Gods must be served, Their desires met with the very best effort of which I am capable, and my own wishes placed at the back of the room. These are not my images, my bodies. These works are not expressions of my ideas or desires, nor are they embodiments of my personal ideals representing how I see the Gods. As cult images my works serve as material bodies for the Gods, the physical appearances of the Gods as They alight in our sphere of influence and make it Their own. These sacred images are adopted by the Gods and become the homes for aspects of Their personalities. Since the Gods are going to dwell in these works, They must be ideal for Them in every way, so my personal tastes and desires are of no merit and cannot be considered as part of the process. These forms are those chosen by the Gods as They desire to be seen by human beings.

My process is governed first by cultic necessity and second by the allowances and constraints of the mediums I work in. Cultic necessity is dictated by the patterns for religious engagement through which right relationship is established with the Gods. These are the offerings and feedings, pilgrimages and lunar festivals, the stellar observances and blessings that slowly but surely evolve the image from mundane manmade representation into divine embodiment suitable for habitation by the Gods. This is not an easy process, as, depending on the mandates of divine oracles, the deity in question might require a pilgrimage out of state to a specific river or mountain, or a specific number of lunar festivals to be observed before the image can be possessed. Always the Gods make Their desires known in conspicuous ways, not least of which is the governance of events taking place around me, and how these impact my ability to carry out the work. Each deity has spheres of influence concurrent with our own. It is the overlapping of these spheres that becomes the guiding principle for the iconographer, for whom the mundane and Numinous are more often than not conjoined.

Patience is the torturous lesson of my labors, for I am dealing with beings whose estimation of time is vastly greater than my own. I contend with physicality, the inevitability of mortality, illness, monetary requirements, the constant burden of time itself; whereas the Gods deal with cycles of time incomprehensible to the human condition. They are not mortal and do not have a finite perspective of what is possible through materiality, nor do They have the constraints of bodies that necessitate constant care. What does it take to imbue the material with the Numinous, with divine consciousness? The Ancients developed their own technology for addressing these questions, which is where complex rituals such as the Mouth Opening Ritual came into the equation and were adopted as the means for waking up inert substances to the dynamic presence of interior divine life. The craftsmen and priests of Kemet continuously evolved these rituals to incorporate the ever-expanding process through which the Gods interacted with and inhabited the world utilized by human beings. Two and three-dimensional images could be alighting places by the visible aspects of the Gods, and such images, if maintained through constant feeding by offerings and cult, would be alive with the powers of the Gods and act as generators of life essence for human communities.

The Mouth Opening Ritual as depicted in the Papyrus of Hunefer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

People are able to see the outcome of my process, and to a certain extent to see the technical,

physical process as it unfolds, but I could never convey to viewers the full measure of the metaphysical process involved, which dictates even the minutia of my craft. These images are like newborn babies from their inception, crying out to be fed and nourished at all times as they develop. Once the deity acquiesces to having an image crafted, the deity is invested in the image as if it were already complete, and expects my investment to be equally as strong. My emotional and energetic output into the image's proper development is expected by the deity, and it is through my daily struggle- full of its frustrations, mistakes, and sheer will to create- that the image ceases to be inanimate and becomes animate. It is nigh impossible for me to convey how this is possible, since it would require my readers to approach consciousness from a quite alien perspective; that consciousness can be transferred from one source to another, that objects touched by a deity's presence can themselves become deities, that cult images are not symbols of deities but are manifestations of a deity's consciousness.

It is the iconographer's (literal) sweat, blood, and tears, and will to push through the challenges posed by the manipulation of materials, that transfers the seeds of consciousness to a budding image. It is the iconographer's intimate proximity to the image that instills within it the sacred essence of power we have been granted by the Gods. Our power is the ability to create according to a sacred framework consecrated by the Gods during Zep Tepi, the initial period of the earth's and humankind's creation, when the pattern for representation of all beings was established by the Gods. An iconographer must know and follow these patterns for representation in the creation of god-images in order to weave a direct link between the image and the deity whose presence is desired by the image. Iconography itself is the art of replicating divine patterns whose continual replication passes down- via the creative impulse- the essence of dynamic life present in sacred forms.

I have faced my fair share of struggles during the relief process of previous icons, but none so

fiercely as those present during my execution of the reliefs on the Akem-Shield of Sekhmet the Eye of Ra and Mistress of Heaven. She is indeed a goddess of struggle, conflict, and explosive will. It was almost as if She were requiring my challenges because of the intense emotional energy they forced me to pour into Her image as She was developing; this energy of conflict being Her tempestuous presence blowing through medium and circumstance. Sekhmet is a complicated goddess, a presence that will always stir things up and disturb the surface of the water. She does not sit in satisfaction or rest in the peace of an easy day, but explodes with life and manipulates death, bellowing through our air as a desert storm, a terrifying phenomenon that demands our obeisance and our deepest humility. She is not always the benevolent mother indulging us, but rather the protective mother who gives us what we need, and what we deserve. Those are not always easy to swallow, for what we need isn't usually what we want, and what we actually deserve is always much less than what we want. But Sekhmet roars with divine justice in the cause of what is cosmically right, that which is Ma'at. Whatever we deserve, we're going to get it without a spoonful of sugar to make it go down easy. Cosmic justice just doesn't work that way. In my struggle to give Her a body worthy of even a fraction of Her terrifying greatness, I ask myself what I deserve, and how I'll wind up getting it.


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