Honoring Imhotep

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Imhotep is something of a phenomenon in the course of Egyptian history. His deification- as a mortal elevated to godhood- is certainly a rarity, however, Imhotep presents us with one of the very rare examples of a mortal man being given a divine parentage and pedigree. “Imhotep the Great, son of Ptah”, as he is hailed in a text from Philae(1), is said to have been born from a human woman named Kherdankh, who somehow managed to catch the attention of the God Ptah, who became the child’s biological father(2). Imhotep was cited as having a mortal father named Kanefer(3), but this small detail seems not to have made its way into the official cult of Imhotep, which was formal and constant from the time of the sixth century B.C. onward(4).

Imhotep the man was the architect, chief builder and vizier of King Netjerykhet (Djoser/ circa 2687-2668), a priest of the God Ptah, and high priest at Annu (Gr. Heliopolis)(5). His most renowned accomplishment is, of course, the monumental Step Pyramid of King Djoser and its imposing surrounding cult complex. It must have been on account of these architectual wonders that Imhotep was recognized as something quite special, quite on a par with the Divine Craftsman Ptah, Whose ancient cult center was always Mennefer (Gr. Memphis), near the vicinity of Imhotep’s brainchild.

Some time prior to the New Kingdom, Imhotep had begun to be titled “the son of Ptah”,(6) which one might be forgiven for thinking was simply an honorary epithet granted to a priest of Ptah who authored a tremendous piece of sacred architecture for his King. But the status of Imhotep is a thing quite unique, even for a priest of Ptah and vizier. Imhotep was given his own sanctuary at Philae, where, on the western facade, he is called not only “Imhotep, the great, son of Ptah”, but is also said to be “…glorious, god whom Tatenen created and his beloved sister bore”(7). Tatenen, “the risen land”, is perhaps the oldest name of the God Ptah as the Creator God par excellence, embodied in the primeval pyramidal mound of earth from which the Gods and creation were given birth.

It is certain that Imhotep was honored during the reign of King Djoser(8) as the architect of the king’s Step Pyramid, and it is also certain that that pyramid embodied in its shape the symbolism and power of the hillock of creation, the ben-ben. So, it would have been quite natural for the Egyptians to have made a theological correlation between the creation of the Step Pyramid and the hallowed parentage of the man who brought it into being. As a son of Ptah, Imhotep would have embodied the creative power of Ptah-Tatenen, Who, as the primeval mound, gave form and shape to the artistic endeavor of creation.

Imhotep’s power as an architect and innovator, an artist and a priest of Ptah seems to have bolstered his credibility to the community of artisans, who especially revered him as a divine patron of the arts, and academics are not shy in calling him a “patron saint” of the arts(9). However, it was as a healer of the sick, physician and a worker of miracles that Imhotep came to be renowned during the Ptolemaic era, where it appears to have been a common practice for the afflicted to seek healing dreams from Imhotep in special sanatoriums that had been reserved for such purposes(10).

It should be self-evident why Imhotep is of some special significance to me. Yes, the brilliant architect of a great and innovative monument. Yes, a wise counselor, vizier and overseer of works. But of course, the prodigious scholar and scribe, author and designer. But it is as a compassionate hearer of prayers, an answerer of the aches of hearts and bodies, that I seek Imhotep and always find Him attentive. There is a reason why, many centuries after his death, couples unable to conceive, the seriously ill, and those desiring answers, signs, and miracles came to the shrines of Imhotep. They appealed to a demigod who was not only the son of a god known as the Hearer of Prayers, but, more significantly, had been a living and breathing man who knew the suffering and challenges of being in a mortal body, and yet possessed a link with the immortal Gods. It is precisely because Imhotep had been in a body like ours, had walked in the human community, and had risen to greatness based upon his own unique merits, that Imhotep embodies a deity we can readily relate to, and rely upon for human compassion.

If you look at the lap of every single statuette of Imhotep (the famous bronzes that are scattered throughout museums of the world), you will see his ever-present trademark: the unrolled scroll that singles him out as the divine scholar and scribe, the patron of learning, scholarship and the arts. As a Son of Ptah, Imhotep was the inheritor of his divine father’s artistic acumen. This was well recognized by the Ancients, who recorded of him that “the Great God, Father of the Gods (Ptah) rejoices at the sight of him (Imhotep)”(11).

For me, Imhotep, as the Son of Ptah and Patron of artisans/ painters, is the iconographer par excellence, the creator of one of the largest pieces of iconography to have been envisioned by the mind of man, the Step Pyramid of King Djoser. Throughout the ages artisans, stonemasons, architects, sculptors and painters have looked to the genius of Imhotep for inspiration. His life and story are the hallmarks of one of the great artistic moments in humankind’s history. Still, Imhotep sits with his unrolled scroll, silent and ready to hear our prayers.

Before I sit down to work on an icon I have a little ritual that I always perform before any pigment or gold can be applied. I light a candle in front of our votive cult figure of Imhotep from Egypt, and I offer a few drops of my watercolor water in honor of the God Imhotep, the Son of Ptah, Who is well pleased by beauty. This is the prayer I composed in his honor:

Anedj her-ek Imhotep sa Ptah
Imhotep neb hemu nefer netjer

Homage to You Imhotep the Son of Ptah,
Imhotep the Master of Artisans, the beautiful god!
Come and shine, receive, O You beautiful offspring
Of Ptah Who is South of His Wall.
Take unto Yourself all things good and pure,
And give all things good and pure to this
Servant of the workshop of Ptah.

O Imhotep, glorious in Your sanctuaries,
Fashioner of splendors, radiant in Your
Body, make of my hands the hands of
Tatenen.
Make of my fingers the fingers of
Ptah-wer-kherep-hemu
(“Ptah the Great Director of the Artisans”).
Make of my heart the vessel of Ptah the
Beautiful Who is Himself Atum.

May I give form to what is perfect,
May I give breath to what is good,
May my endeavors manifest the sky,
May immortality stream from my earth.
For I am in Your company, O Son of Ptah,
Imhotep the Great Whom the Netjeru (Gods)
Have embraced as one among their entourage.

Bless You, O Imhotep the Beautiful,
The wise, the merciful, the hearer of prayers!
May that which lives in You live in me.
May Your boons be upon my hands,
And the works of the Netjeru come forth
From my heart!

Anedj her-ek Imhotep sa Ptah
Imhotep neb hemu nefer netjer

Homage to You Imhotep the Son of Ptah,
Imhotep the Master of Artisans, the beautiful god!

Notes

1) Holmberg, Maj Sandman. The God Ptah. Lund, 1946, pp. 195.
2) Holmberg, Ibid.
3) Ibid.
4) Holmberg, Ibid., 194.
5) Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London, 2003, pp. 111. Also Holmberg, Ibid., 194.
6) Redford, Donald B. The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology. New York, 2002, pp. 79.
7) Holmberg, Ibid., 195.
8) Wilkinson, Ibid., pp. 112.
9) Redford, Ibid.
10) Wilkinson, Ibid., pp. 113.
11) Holmberg, Ibid., pp. 196.

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

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In the Noblest of Cities: Antinous is Received in the House of Ptah

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Antinous had thus far beheld the wonders of various sanctuaries and monuments- colossal statues hewn from blood-red stone that were the equal of any in Roma, the sprawling urban centers choked with imports from every corner of the earth, a harvest of gold and goldsmiths, whose crafts became the ornaments of the affluent from Roma to far more distant, barbaric lands- yet he had seen nothing that made him gasp in astonishment as did “the noblest of cities”, Memphis, and its very ancient grandeur.

Hadrian’s ship had landed at the water steps of the great southern portal of one of the several imposing palaces that fronted the Nile, scintillating in the fierce heat of the sun that seemed to shatter over everything and everyone in this most hallowed of cities. As their craft had entered the famous port of Memphis, his local guides had enticed Antinous with stories of the renowned shipyards of the God Ptah, the workshops of the goldsmith’s guilds whose handicrafts were well known in Roma, and the elephantine, fortress-like walls of the Temple of Ptah. Here were obelisks piercing the liquid azure of the afternoon sky, with their pyramidions sheathed in glowing electrum. Beyond them rose mountainous pylons, gates and royal statues that seemed to dwarf all else for miles around. It was all very enthralling. And yet Antinous had come to receive the counsel of the High Priest of Ptah, the God for whom all of these marvels had been consecrated.

What perfection was to be seen in the craft of man’s hand…enormous and yet sensual alabaster colossi, sphinxes, divine images, and every other splendid and costly thing the mind could fathom…yet it was the ancient Mysteries of Memphis that had caused mighty Hadrian to make inquiries on behalf of Antinous, whose thirst for high learning knew no bounds.

A retinue stood waiting for Antinous beneath the blessed shelter of the palace portico. Antinous approached, bowing his head, not knowing which of these distinguished foreigners was the High Priest of the God Ptah. A tall, shaven headed and linen draped man came forward, and raised his hands in the gesture of reverence.

“Welcome and blessing to you, Antinous, heart-friend of our Lord Hadrianus Caesar, who is the Lord of Crowns and ruler of the Two Lands! I am Neferkaptah, and I am the Chief of Priests of the God Ptah in the Soul-Mansion of Ptah. Is the noblest city in Egypt fulfilling your expectations and satisfying your heart?”

Antinous relaxed and smiled, noticing the kindness and curiosity evident in the faces of the other priests. “Satisfy?…why no, much more than satisfy! I am stunned by all I have seen of this city of marvels. Our guides today pointed out the endless outdoor market as we approached, which I am told is the largest in Egypt…perhaps in the whole world! There are the giant sphinxes that look like marble, but I am told they are alabaster…and the high walls of the city itself, which our guide told us are the oldest and tallest in the entire land. Alexandria is a wonder of the mind, it is true, but this, Memphis, is a wonder of the eyes!”

The High Priest smiled knowingly, waving Antinous to follow him beneath the bulk of the portico and through an imposing gate in the high wall. Everywhere he looked were to be seen sculpted and painted reliefs of the highest quality, delicately carved statues of glittering stone, columns and tiles that shined a glossy sky blue. Everything around him seemed to focus one’s attention upon the crafts of the hands…that of stone masons, goldsmiths, jewelers. Antinous was taken aback almost to the point of speechlessness, however, he was here to receive the initiations of Ptah, and to take back with him a portion of their wisdom.

“I have seen at a distance the Pyramid that our guides told us was built by Imhotep-“
“Oh, but of course, you want to hear about Imhotep!”

Antinous blushed, but Neferkaptah smiled enthusiastically. “The Holy Pyramid was constructed by an army of the finest craftsmen in Egypt in the service of King Netjerykhet, but it was Imhotep the Son of Ptah who imagined how it could be accomplished, and it was his genius that made what you have seen possible.

“Homage to You Imhotep, Son of Ptah, the Good Physician, the Kindhearted God!

“Imhotep was born to a woman named Khreduankh, whose beauty caught the eye of the God Ptah Himself, and it was from His seed that Imhotep came forth, having even at his birth the powers of a Seer together with all the knowledge of a priest of Ra. He knew the stars in their courses, and the measurements of creation, and he had the knowledge and blessedness to heal the sick and cure the diseases of the flesh. Did they point out to you the temple where the God Imhotep, as the Son of Ptah, reveals cures to the sick as they dream? Well, then perhaps you know already the fame of Imhotep throughout the known world, for not only do the people of this city and Egypt come to be healed in His shrine, but also people from across the Great Green Sea….”

“I know that the Hellenes associate Imhotep with Asklepius“, Antinous said, “and that they believe He cures barrenness and impotence, and even fatal conditions. Aren’t there miracles attributed to Imhotep during His life?”

Neferkaptah nodded. “And you saw it!…the Holy Pyramid, from which King Netjerykhet was sent aloft to the Imperishable Stars, to be the divine leader and guide of Egypt for all eternity. My son, Imhotep was an innovator, not merely an architect who followed in the footsteps of others. Memphis, Alexandria and Egypt entire is filled with scholars and architects…so many trained monkeys who mimic what they read and see in the genius of others. What Imhotep did was excel beyond the great works of his predecessors, taking the original design for the tombs of hallowed persons, and shaping it into something truly sublime. His is a miracle of the mind, the imagination, which is one of the greatest testaments to his divinity.

“Your own Hadrianus Caesar is said to be such an architect and visionary…one who takes what he has inherited and pushes it beyond what others thought possible. To exceed the limitations imposed by the lower mind, the mundane intellect…that is the course of one who has received the direct blessing of the Gods. It is that way in your Roma, and so it is that way here in my Egypt, which is the House of the God Ptah, Architect of the World!”

Antinous recalled some of the things his tutors had told him about the origins of Egypt and the Great God Ptah. “Speaking of the House of Ptah, is it not true that the Hellenes gave Egypt its name, or rather, that the name Egypt is taken from the language of the Hellenes, when they beheld the wonders of the Temple of Ptah at Memphis and recognized its universal importance?”

“That is so, my son. The Hellenes knew that the most ancient city of Memphis- which was hailed as Men-Nefer by the Ancients- was the first capital of the Egyptian state, and that it was here, in our very own Temple of Ptah, where every king that has sat upon the throne of Egypt has received the Double Crown. Aleksandras, whom they call Great, the Son of Zeus-Ammon, was crowned as Pharaoh of Egypt in the Temple of Ptah, as was your beloved Hadrianus Caesar, Lord of the Two Lands. For Ptah is the King-Maker, the Establisher of Laws, who founded the first temple in the first city of Egypt, and that city, this city, was known as Ibebu-hedj, the ‘White Walls’, where at its heart rose Hawt-ka-Ptah, ‘The Soul-Mansion of Ptah’.

“The Hellenes pronounced the name of Ptah’s holiest temple Aigyptos, and it was from their speech that the name of our Egypt came forth. And Ptah is the King of the Gods in His temple here, because it is recognized in Memphis that Ptah is the Genius from Whom speech, intellect and thought came into being. Without Him, the Hellenes, Romans, the Egyptians, and indeed the peoples of all the world would not have intellect or speech or even existence itself, for Ptah is the Great God Who gave birth to the Cosmos and all the things dwelling in it!”

Antinous and his hosts had finally arrived at the Great Temple of Ptah, which was just south of the primary enclosure of the ancient capital of Egypt. Its great white walls (from which the oldest district of ‘White Walls’ received its name) were crenelated like some military fortress, and Antinous recognized that its massive corners gave way to high watch towers that were likewise crenelated. Tall flagstaffs sheathed in gold stood proudly before soaring pylons into which were carved, in exquisite relief, images of the God Ptah receiving abundant offerings. The heady fragrance of myrrh incense rose in a palpable cloud above the entourage, and then the sound of chanting, which echoed off lofty stone ceilings.

“Hail to Ptah Who is South of His Wall, who created in the beginning in His loneliness, when there was no one beside Him. Who came into existence by Himself and fashioned in the beginning, in that neither father nor mother had made His body. The truly lone one. He who made the gods and who created, but who indeed was not created”.

Antinous braved a remark as they approached the entrance proper, the hallowed Soul-Mansion of the God Ptah. “The Hellenes know Ptah as Hephaestus, I have been told by my tutors, while my people know Him as Vulcan, and we see Him as the Wielder of the blacksmith’s hammer and fire. We know Vulcan as the creator of the blacksmith’s arts”.

“It is certainly true that the God Ptah is the divine patron of all handicrafts”, Neferkaptah answered, “…which include the arts of the forgers, goldsmiths, metal-smiths and jewelers. All of these are the products of the heart and tongue of Ptah, Who spoke them into existence, but so too are all the labors of the hands…stone masonry, sculpting, painting, architecture, mining and ship building. You have seen the famous ship yards of Memphis, which equal any in the known world, including Alexandria. Here too are the ateliers of the Temple, whose divine images in gold, precious stones and electrum are found in every temple in Egypt, and in the Royal Court.

It is known that the Servants of Ptah, that is to say His craftsmen, are among the finest in the world. They certainly have no equal in all of Egypt; for the God Ptah is not solely the patron of artisanship or craftsmanship, but rather the Progenitor of the finest quality work of which men are capable. It is excellence itself…this quality of having perfected a thing to the point where it cannot be improved upon…that is the hallmark of the God Ptah throughout creation. The very activity or attitude of striving for excellence in one’s work is the very nature of the God Ptah, Who has selected the perfect forms of all creatures and plants, given them birth through the speech of His tongue, and bestowed upon them the breath of life”.

Just then the entourage entered the sanctified outer courtyard of the Temple of Ptah, where grandiose and more humble stone images of the God Ptah stood in the presence of flaming braziers and tables choked with delicious offerings. Priests and acolytes moved to and fro with diligence, trimming wicks and lighting lamps, and dropping pellets of myrrh over the hot coals of the braziers. A presence of devotion and solitude pervaded the atmosphere, which spoke to the heart of Antinous of the first-fruits of the human heart.

“Is love part of the creation offered by the Great Ptah to His servants upon the earth?”, Antinous queried, his heart fluttering with admiration for the beauty and harmony of the images surrounding him.

Neferkaptah placed a warm hand on Antinous’ bare shoulder. “In our ancient teaching- which comes from the time when the Holy Pyramid was envisioned by Imhotep- it is said that the God Ptah thought the names of every thing to be created within His heart, which was then repeated by His tongue, and that it was through this divine miracle that all created things came into being.

“The heart and the tongue are the two instruments by which Ptah the very Great God brought out His vision for the created world, thus making it a reality. It is the heart that is the mind of all creatures in the world, for the heart speaks and the limbs obey. And when the tongue repeats what the heart has engendered, then life proceeds…activity shapes progress, and events unfold. This is the handiwork of Ptah, Who gave form to the heart that it might direct the limbs and the passions.

“But know too that Ptah is called the King of the Gods not merely because of His creative power, which makes kings in the world of men, but because He created the Gods. It was the desire, the passion…the love of Ptah that made the Souls of all the Gods, and determined that they should come to rest in their statues of stone and wood and metal, and it was Ptah Who ordained the cults of all the Gods, Their temples and worship, so that the Gods could receive the first-fruits of the earth from humankind. But also, it was through the love of Ptah that the Gods should receive the offerings of humankind, and intervene on their behalf, for men and women, together with all the creeping creatures of the earth, are the handiwork of Ptah’s heart and tongue. We, Antinous…you and I and revered Hadrianus Caesar, are the thoughts of Ptah’s passion, and the desires of His heart, and the fruit of His tongue…and so it shall always be!”

Antinous was filled with awe and humility in the presence of such a teaching, which inspired within his own heart the desire to receive the Mysteries of Ptah more fully and deeply. And so Antinous followed Neferkaptah into the dim inner court of the Temple of Ptah, and there received an answer from the very Great God Ptah.

All text copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Kemeticism, A Frame of Mind

Bes the Magical Protector
“Bes the Magical Protector”/ An original Kemetic icon by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa. Acrylic and 22kt gold on 8″ x 10” archival panel.

My feeling is that Kemet and Kemeticism are almost as much a frame of mind as they are a physical place. On the level of Spirit, Kemet is the Eternal embodiment of the Netjer, manifest in the sacred images, scents, gestures and words of the Ancients. Our task is to imbue these ancient treasures of the Netjer with a new life, to continue to pass these down to those who are starving for at-one-ment with the Netjeru.

Every day, we have the opportunity to engage in a thread of sacred creation that in its linear, outward manifestation is at least 4,000 years old, and, I believe, much older. The ancient texts, prayers and rites are not just flies stuck in amber on temple and tomb walls, but are the actual fabric of a technology of the Spirit through which humankind has direct access to Netjer. That is the true and Kemetic meaning of “religion”. When we recite these prayers today, and partake of the offerings and ritual gestures of the Ancients, we and they are linked, and we enter immediately into the Presences of the Netjeru.

When we carve or paint or sculpt the Sacred forms and the Medu (or hieroglyphs), we are “turning on” the gears of a most ancient technology of the Spirit, and permitting access directly to the Gods. We are partaking of “Sacred Time”, and engaging in immortality. This, then, is our focus through our Kemetic art and practice. To be Kemetic means we live Kemet here and now; it means we live with the Netjeru in each and every moment of each and every day.

All text and image copyright © 2015 Rev. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Coming From the Heart: A Conversation With Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa & Anna Applegate~ Part Two

Ptahmassu Portrait

Anna Applegate: Do you feel that polytheism should be incorporated under a broad, encompassing “Paganism,” or should it be its own tradition distinct from Paganism? If distinct, how do you see the communities relating to each other?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: This is a complicated and controversial question. If by “Polytheism” we agree that this refers to all traditions that accept the validity of many gods…that include the worship of many gods as a vital component of their identity…then yes, in these regards we might very well label all Polytheistic traditions as “Pagan”. Academics certainly do, when they are referring to the ancient pre-Christian religions of humankind. Academics almost always refer to all pre-Christian and/ or non-monotheistic beliefs as “pagan”. However, they mean pagan not with a capital p, as is used by modern adherents of Neopaganism, but as in not Christian, before Christianity, or gods and practices falling outside the domain of the Abrahamic faiths.

My personal experience is that many individuals who refer to themselves as Polytheists try to distance what they believe and practice from the labels of Pagan and Paganism, simply because so many people instantly associate these terms with Wicca and Witchcraft, which are in many ways very different paths from, say, Hellenic Reconstructionism or Heathenry. There has also always been a rather negative connotation tacked on- admittedly very unfairly- to the term pagan, as used historically by Christians in order to denote and slander those not belonging to the army of Christ.

This all gets very sticky when you start canvassing today’s spiritual communities for their definition of precisely what Paganism is, and what it means to be Pagan. Is Paganism the practice of Witchcraft? Are Wiccans Pagans? Are all who believe in many gods Pagans, or is Paganism simply another wider term for anyone practicing an earth-centered religion or spirituality? Who, then, has a right to decide who is Pagan and who is not? With a lack of a central authority, as if there could ever be such a thing in today’s spiritual climate, how can we place an absolute division between Paganism and Polytheism?

It seems to me that there are so many grey areas, so many instances where Paganism and Polytheism mesh or intermingle, or at least share some similar components. I honestly feel that this has to be an individual question, left to each practitioner’s discernment and ideals. I know a number of practitioners of various traditions who describe themselves as both Pagan and Polytheist, and plenty of others who like to draw a distinct line between the concepts of Paganism and Polytheism. Each has their own valid argument for the language they use or the terms they invoke.

How about we start with respect? It all comes down to respecting the choices of others to belong or label or identify themselves in the way that is healthy for them as individuals. We may choose a different path or expression from others, but there needs to be a basic respect for the right of others to choose, just as we have our right to choose. This seems to me to be the best way to form healthy spiritual communities; communities that are strong and can accomplish Sacred Work more fully together, as peers and equals.

I think it would be near impossible, and perhaps undesirable, for all who define themselves as Polytheists to be lumped together under one communal umbrella of belief. Even within Reconstructionist communities, such as Kemetic and Hellenic, there is fierce debate concerning use of the term polytheism. Multiply this by the number of groups, communities, and individuals who might identify themselves as Polytheists, then add to that the number of people who subscribe to both Polytheist and Pagan identifications, and the question of one or the other just gets drowned in the hubbub over what Polytheism is; how a belief, group or individual practitioner fits into the dictionary definition of polytheism, as opposed to a less clinical understanding of Polytheism as understood in contemporary spiritual circles.

At the end of the day it all sounds like a bunch of noise to me, truth be told. Once again, I think we can get so caught up in the use of labels, identifications, and definitions of belief that we lose sight of our higher spiritual aims and Sacred Work. In my estimation, both Paganism and Polytheism serve very similar aims, and those are service to the Gods, and service to creation through communion with the Gods, together with our Ancestors. Ultimately the philosophical ramifications and debates must take a back seat to the work of actually engaging and honoring the Sacred Powers. If someone’s idea of spiritual work is sitting in a corner and arguing over “Polytheism” versus “Paganism”, should we or shouldn’t we, then I’ll opt to excuse myself so that I can get busy getting down to the real work of honoring my Gods and Ancestors.

Anna Applegate: A lot of Kemetic Goddesses have been adopted by traditions and philosophies outside of historically informed Kemetic practices. Goddesses like Sekhmet have been co-opted by the women’s spirituality movement/Dianic Wicca and related views as a symbol of female emancipation from patriarchal mores. For example, I recently made the acquaintance of a Hermetic teacher here in Chicago who argues that Sekhmet is a “tantric goddess” like Kali and that “desire, ecstasy, and illumination are interrelated and fundamental to understanding Sekhmet and tantra.” What is your take on that?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: Firstly, I think it’s very important for us to acknowledge how vast the Netjeru are, how vast the deities of all pantheons are. Attempts are often made to constrict deities into the roles we humans have assigned to them. We want a goddess of love to play her role with grace, and we somehow expect that she’ll always show up in that capacity. We want a “mother goddess” to remain a mother, to adhere to those foremost qualities we’ve come to expect from our own biological mothers. We feel most comfortable with deities when we can label them…”god of war”, “fertility god”, “goddess of the household”, et cetera.

People are often attracted to a specific goddess or god because that deity manifests traits or qualities they themselves have. For example, I am an iconographer, painter, sculptor and craftsman, and obviously a great part of my attraction to my patron and namesake Ptah is due to the fact that Lord Ptah is the Divine Artisan, historically venerated as the protector of painters and sculptors. So, it goes without saying that it was a very natural relationship to develop between an artisan and the Father of all artisans.

My experience is that most Polytheists and Pagans share this kind of affinity with the gods they’ve chosen as their own. However, something that also happens is that people fall into a comfort zone with their gods, desiring to see and experience only those aspects that first attracted them to their divine patrons in the first place. The gods wind up being stereotyped, put into neat little boxes that fit comfortably into one’s preconceptions and notions. Sometimes, the gods become almost one dimensional in the way their devotees see them…the old “goddess of love”, “god of war”, “goddess of healing” labels that may or may not have the significance to the deity we think they have. People are often threatened by the dynamic nature of the Gods, when the Gods demonstrate that they aren’t going to operate according to the neat and tidy little labels we’ve tried to paste on them.

In the case of the Netjeru of Kemet, these are gods who each have their own unlimited arsenal of names, forms, epithets, iconographic features, and powers or spheres of influence. The Netjeru cannot be pinned down with limited frameworks or labels such as “goddess of love”, “god of war”, “fertility god”, et cetera. Scholars and academics have always attempted to do this to some extent with the Goddesses and Gods of Egypt, and I think it’s quite futile and grossly inappropriate.

Each deity, each netjer has basic qualities or attributes that demonstrate a prominent aspect of its nature, however, these natures are fluid, changing from circumstance to circumstance of the deity’s manifestation. Each geographic location, town, village, temple and shrine in Egypt has localized forms that are particular to that space, and these local forms each have powers, attributes, and iconography specific to that location, and these may or may not be visible in other locations.

If one makes a true and detailed study of the iconography and names or epithets of any given deity in the Kemetic pantheon, one will recognize very quickly the futility of slapping one overall label on any netjer. Literally hundreds, and sometimes thousands of epithets, names or forms of some deities can be found in a single location source. Magnify this by the number of temples, shrines, papyri and artifacts that may exist in reference to that deity, and you are faced not only with an overwhelmingly complex pantheon of deities, but also individual deities who each have vast quantities of forms and names and attributes. So much for “god of war”, “goddess of love” labels!

The reason I’m going into all of this is because your question touches on a sense of framework, a historical framework, for recognizing and accepting the roles the Netjeru of Kemet have to play in our lives. Reconstructionists are faced with the difficult task of trying to piece back together and recreate authenticity in the systems we develop for engaging our gods. We want to be as faithful as we can be to the way in which our Ancestors honored the Netjeru, and our motivation is meeting the Gods on Their own terms, according to the sights, sounds, tastes, gestures, and modes of worship the Gods have responded to for thousands of years.

These are practices that have maintained the presences of the Gods actively in our world for immense stretches of time, and our goal as Reconstructionists is to strive to maintain that presence as strongly as we can, using the time honored and time tested tools handed down to us by the Ancients within the historical record.

What happens if we disregard this? What happens when we remove the Netjeru from Their Kemetic context, and install Them within another cultural, spiritual framework? What happens when we strip that Kemetic framework away…that legacy of sights, sounds, smells, and gestures through which these deities have engaged humankind for thousands of years? Is anything lost or sacrificed in the process? Is something lost in translation, as it were. My first response is yes.

The Netjeru first made Themselves known to human beings in Kemet, in that specific location, and used that land, and all of the attributes it possessed, in order to communicate Their powers to human beings. One can quite accurately say that the Netjeru as we know Them are the spiritual legacy of the ancient Egyptian land and people. Without these people and their land the Netjeru would still exist, of course, however, the system or technology for engaging Them would not have come down to us in the form it has.

The Gods chose the land of Kemet for a reason, and They chose the people of Kemet as the custodians of that framework, that technology or tradition, through which They could be engaged. A near five-thousand year track record exists that shows us exactly how we can maintain these gods in our world, commune with Them, co-create with Them, maintain creation with Them.

The ancient Egyptians believed that their system of writing, rites, rituals and temple traditions were handed down by the Gods during Zep Tepy, the First Time of the Gods, and that the proper maintenance of creation, Ma’at, depended on these things being continued and preserved. The original names of the Netjeru, the means of invoking Them, and the tools for accomplishing Their work in our world have all been preserved in the historical record. This is the record we have for direct access to these goddesses and gods, and I think we would be quite foolish not to use it.

So, you have Kemetic deities being removed from Their native system of engagement and dropped into another. Do I think that works? Yes and no. I think it works for those who are doing it, otherwise they probably wouldn’t do it, if they felt no response at all…if they could not achieve anything in the spiritual work they were trying to accomplish. Kemetic deities have always been borrowed by non-Kemetic spiritualities, including Wicca, Witchcraft, New Thought/ New Age circles, Golden Dawn…and the list could go on and on.

I think people have always been attracted to certain Kemetic deities, especially Auset/ Isis and Sekhmet. We know the track record of the Goddess Auset throughout history, and have seen how this Goddess transcended geographical and cultural boundaries, language barriers and religions, and became one of the most celebrated cults of the Mediterranean world. This went far beyond the borders of Egypt, speaking to the hearts of people who had never heard of or experienced the ancient rites of Isis in Her native land. Isis became as much a goddess of the Roman world as She had been a goddess of the Egyptian world, in Her name of Auset.

Continue reading “Coming From the Heart: A Conversation With Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa & Anna Applegate~ Part Two”