Akem-Shield of Khnum-Ptah-Tatenen
and the Egg of Creation
2021. Genuine semi-precious mineral pigments, 22kt gold, 23kt gold, platinum, copper, semi-precious & precious stones on 5"x7" museum conservation wood panel
The Akem-Shield of Khnum-Ptah-Tatenen encompasses the dynamic creative forms of Khnumw (or Khnum) the most ancient ram-God venerated in the temple-town of TA snt (Ta-Senet or Esna) and on the holy Island of Abw or Elephantine, paired with the Creator Ptah and the earth-God Tatenen. We should understand that in this instance the God Khnum is passing through the spheres of influence governed by Ptah and Tatenen, and has, as a result of taking upon Himself the qualities of these gods, become infused with Their powers. Khnumw Himself is a creator-god, known as having mastered the physical form of humankind on His divine potter's wheel, molding the flesh of human beings and filling it with life. But Khnum is a master of all life, human, animal, and vegetation; He produces the vital life inherent to semen, blood, and marrow, quickening these with the breath of life from which the forms of beings develop and grow. The conception and birth of humans and animals is within His scope of powers, and He is known as the God Who grants virility and functionality to male and female genitalia. United with the powers of Ptah and Tatenen, Khnum becomes the driving hands behind all creative acts, and the very Source of life in creation. He is the Sustainer of material life in creation, the Facilitator of intelligence, form, drive, energy, and reproduction. He is the God Who came into being of His own volition in the utter darkness of the Abyss (Nun) before the first act of creation was initiated, and the dynamic power projecting the forces of life into being.
Divine protection and propitiation are the aims of these Akemu-Shields, which are in no way out of keeping with the spheres of influence governed by Lord Khnum. In the hymns to the God preserved at Esna we find not only a virile creator, but also a god who slays rebels and conquers wherever He desires, who grasps His staff of war and smites His attacker, who is fierce and physically strong, and master of valor on the battlefield. These hymns tell us that Lord Khnum is not only concerned with the acts that bring life into the universe, but also with the maintenance of order in creation and society; He is a god of justice and punishment, who decides between peace and war, life and death, pardon and execution. This Akem-Shield petitions Lord Khnum as the Master of Life to safeguard the life of the religious community in His keeping, and the physical and spiritual protection of those who place themselves in His care.
The Netjer (God) appears here in the guise of the long-horned sheep Ovis longipes, whose horizontal and undulating horns are crowned with double plumes colored with 22kt gold and genuine semi-precious mineral pigments. A rearing Cobra-Goddess sprouts a drop of Tibetan turquoise set in gold, emerging from a sun disk of light yellow-green chalcedony set in gold. A pair of Cobra-Goddesses rear up on each side of the God's plumes, their hoods painted with genuine lapis lazuli, garnet, and turquoise, each carrying upon Her head a solar disk of carnelian set in 22kt gold. The God sprouts another horn, that of the Ovis platyra, which curls around His ear, highlighting the fact that the ear is positioned to hear the prayers and petitions put to the God. So often images of the God Khnum depict His ear falling forward towards the face, a feature quite visible when one looks upon long-horned sheep; yet the Akem-Shield or Aegis serves a specific cultic and ritual function, and very much a magical one concerned with the transmission of power, boons, and patronage for the religious community. This is a God-image not unlike those placed on devotional stelae, where the open and hearing ears of the God are placed prominently to transmit the prayers of the faithful to the Gods. There can be no doubt that the God Khnum-Ptah-Tatenen present in this cult-image is a Hearer of Prayers, like the God Ptah with Whom He is associated.
The elaborate broad wesekh-collar with suspended pectoral is a prominent feature of the so-called aegis, a cult object most often seen crowning the prow and stern of the sumptuous golden barques in which the statues of the Gods are transported during festivals. These are insignia of protection, for the broad collar itself is a feature of dress granting its wearer divine protection; in the case of the God wearing it here, He is the protection, the source of divine power transmitting the kind of protection specific to the Gods. This is life-affirming, life-sustaining power, which in this case is exemplified by six tiny cabochons of onyx, each being the amuletic form of the Scarabaeus sacer or sacred scarab beetle. The central device of the collar is a splendid carnelian cabochon flanked by a pair of Cobra-Goddesses with ankh life signs suspended from their bodies. The design of the wesekh-collar inlays features papyrus umbels, lotus leaves, and lotus flowers springing open, all of these being emblems of verdant life, the proliferation of which is a special function of Lord Khnum.
The God's pectoral is shrine-shaped, picked out in 22kt gold and platinum with a painted background of two types of genuine turquoise pigment. The central motif is the Egg of Creation, a profoundly beautiful faceted blue topaz drop set in 22kt gold, which itself is covered in minute pearls of 22kt gold in a sunburst design- not visible in head on views of the image. Flanking the Egg of Creation are two kneeling figures of the God Khnum as a ram-headed and shrouded deity holding His distinct khnm ritual oil vase, depicted here pouring out its holy contents. The Egg of Creation is also a double for the sun here, because it has been set atop the sign for horizon, where the sun rises and sets, and one of the aspects of Khnum present in this image is Khnum-Ra, the fiery Creator Whose illumination feeds all created things life and motion. This springing of life and upholding of the fabric of creation is indicated by the presence behind the God of the Four Pillars of Creation in the form of four papyrus wands of 22kt gold inset with Tibetan turquoise. These are the quadrants of north, south, east and west, placed in alignment with the Fourfold Ram directly above. This is the "engendering ram with four faces" hailed in the Esna texts and embodying the Gods Ra, Shu, Geb, and Ausir, together with serving as a rebus for the epithet of Khnum declaring Him as the Khnum Who Creates the Four Khnums. These aspects of the Akem-Shield summarize an important part of the aretalogy of Khnum-Ptah-Tatenen: That He is the Source and upholder of the cosmos and its stabilizing attributes; He has manifested the northern, southern, eastern, and western quadrants and established the Gods Who have custodianship over these as Their spheres of influence, and is Himself the Source of these Gods, Who each carry part of His essence with Them.
The lower half of the right side of the panel presents a rebus series which can be interpreted as The ba, Khnum-Ra the living. The rather onomatopoetic word ba denotes the sheep or ram, the sacred animal of the God Khnum, but also the spiritual essence of human beings and deities which passes in and out of physical forms or manifestations. Khnum is called the ram, ba, but He is at the same time the creator of the spiritual essence that enlivens beings and the forms of creation. The word ba as spiritual essence is written with the human-headed bird before which burns a pot of incense from which smoke rises, and this same sign may be seen in the spelling of the word ba for ram. It is also used in the word for incense, sntr, "to make divine". The use of this sign here- done in 22kt gold set with fire opal- is symbolic of all these meanings simultaneously, and being set before the God's flared nostrils it highlights His role as the Creator of the breath of life, together with the divine essence present in all living things.