‘O Egypt, Egypt, of thy religion nothing will remain but an empty tale, which thine own children in time to come will not believe; nothing will be left but graven words, and only the stones will tell of thy piety. And in that day men will be weary of life, and they will cease to think the universe worthy of reverent wonder and of worship.’ — To Asclepius, The Hermetica
Back in 2010 I started a series of paintings of Egyptian deities, intending to do eight in total in the particular style I had in mind. Each image is framed by the arching body of the Egyptian sky goddess, Nuit, and a winged Wadjet eye, and inspired by various passages from the Normandi Ellis translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Something about Egyptian mythology and religion has always intrigued me, but that particular book really set my mind on fire. The emphasis on the mystical and the life affirming combined with respect and adoration for the natural world is spellbinding. It has taken me a while to finish the series between paid projects, but I made it, and it has been quite the journey.
So, here they are:
The well known psychopomp of Egyptian mythology. This has the obvious connotation of escorting the souls of the dead safely into the otherworld, coming from the association of jackals with burial sites, but for me he is also a figure of transformative power. Every moment can be considered a death, and certain events in life will change us profoundly. This dark and powerful figure has a sense of tension between foreboding and attraction that I wanted to capture. ‘Come with me into the light, face me and be transformed.’ The sky overhead contains the constellation of Sirius, in which we find the Dog Star associated with Anubis, among others. It is nebulous for a feeling of mystery. In his hand he holds the feather of Ma’at, against which the heart is weighed. The heart must be pure in order to go forth and transform. If it is weighed down with fear it will be devoured.
The ‘Bad Guy’, or is he? Set has two main roles in what we know of Egyptian myth. The role he seems best known for is as murderer of his brother Osiris in order to take his thrown, only to be cast out by Osiris’s son Horus when he comes of age, and for Osiris to attain immortality and become ruler of paradise. The other role Set plays is as the slayer of Apep, the serpent of darkness and ignorance that attempts to devour the Sun God Ra each night, and would devour the world if not perpetually slain. Set seems to get a bit of a hard time for killing his brother, considering he saves the world from darkness each night, and if we look at the role he plays in the killing it could be viewed as a necessary pruning that was required in order for Horus to be born and Osiris to transform. Set, to me, embodies the chaos necessary to catalyse our evolution, he is also our shadow, our dark side, which we must come to terms with or be swallowed by our own ignorance and the illusions of the ephemeral world. As well as chaos he is associated with lightning and desert storms.
The divine child of Isis and Osiris, Horus the infant personified the newborn/rising son/sun, depicted as a boy with his finger to his lips. I wanted to portray his evolution from child to pharaoh, so depicted him beginning as living fire, with the stubs of wings starting to grow from his back. As a man he is depicted as a peregrine/hobby therianthrope, in this form he becomes the God of light, battling Set, avenging his father and eventually becoming pharaoh, and patron of pharaohs. The statue of him in the form of a falcon wears the crown of Egypt, and is surrounded by swallows, the bird his mother became to lament his father. He was seen as a great falcon with outstretched wings whose right eye was the sun and whose left eye was the moon, this is depicted in the sky above, as he is crowned by both and they are united by the rearing Uraeus serpent, symbolising sovereignty, royalty, deity, and divine authority. To me he embodies the evolution of consciousness, and the triumph of the higher self.
Beloved protector and mother figure, Bast is primarily the Egyptian goddess of cats, but also perfume, women, dance and secrets. I love cats, so she is a favourite of mine. She too is a slayer of Apep, probably because cats were prized in Egypt for killing snakes, rats and other pests, protecting the people and their food supplies. They were also revered for their fertility and mothering ability. For me Bast personifies sensual joy and the capacity to revel in who and what you are, she is protective and loving, appreciating luxury but ultimately wild.
God of the moon, magic and writing, Thoth’s many roles included acting as mediator between good and evil, messenger and scribe of the Gods, and playing a vital role in the judgement of the dead. He was considered the heart and tongue of Ra, as well as the means by which Ra’s will was translated into speech and writing. He has also been likened to the Logos of Plato. He appears with Anubis in the form of a jackal and the Ape of Thoth, his other form. As the Ibis to me he personifies the open intuitive joyous timeless higher self, the Ape personifies problem solving time bound individual consciousness, or the mind, and the jackal personifies animal instinct. He is the soul perfecting its vessel, through truth, balance and illumination.
‘Lady of Flame’ ‘Lady of Terror’ ‘Lady of Life’. Both a creative and destructive force, Sekhmet personifies the wrath of the midday sun, blood thirst and plague at her most brutal. In her benevolent aspect she acts as protector of Ma’at (balance or justice) curer of disease and the fiercely protective divine mother. Often associated with Hathor and Bast, but seen as their harsher counterpart, as the ‘Eye of Ra’ she acted as divine retribution against mankind for failing to preserve Ma’at, but got a little carried away, causing Ra to repent in order to save humanity. She is woman in her most dangerous and intoxicating aspects, benevolent if appeased. I relate her to the Sword of Flame, or Lightning Path, as described in the Qabalah, as well as justice and the unquenchable fire of the spirit. She is the light within that we must come to terms with or be consumed by.
The Goddess of Magic and motherhood, I chose to combine her with Hathor in this image, thus she is crowned with horns as well as the throne that shows her to be the source of the pharaoh’s power. The flooded and fertile Nile River rises behind her, and the magical majestic pyramids. She is protected by Thoth in the form of seven scorpions, and wears the tree of life laid over an ankh, as well as Khepri the sacred scarab, representing creation and rebirth. She is dressed in red, associating her with the mother figure, more specifically Babalon the Redeemer, as well as the veiled mystery of being. For me she represents unity and dissolution of consciousness with the All, compassion and True Will.
The once and future king, Osiris was said to have brought civilisation to Egypt, only to be slain by his brother Set. He rose from the dead and became god of the underworld. He is a fertility god and god of transformation, associated with crops and the flooding of the Nile. He personifies the notion that life and death are inseparable cycles, and that the soul may attain to immortality.
Eventually it’s my intention to create a graphic novel comprised of eight interwoven stories featuring each deity in a more modern context. I love the idea of bringing them to life in the modern world. We have such need of the mystical, the magical, and the transformative. From what has survived of their ancient wisdom we know that the Egyptians held the Good and the Beautiful in the highest esteem, and it was purity of the heart and the ability to face and transmute the darkness that they valued most. Their texts speak of the joy of life, the loving acceptance of its ephemeral nature, and what we might attain to if we walk the path of light.
Contact me if you’re interested in prints. They will be available through my website eventually.