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Bes the Magical Protector

2012. Acrylic and 22kt gold on 8"x10" museum conservation wood panel

The image of Bes has a long and esteemed place in the history of Egyptian iconography. Regarded first and foremost as an apotropaic, magical deity, Bes appears frequently in the domestic sphere, on household accouterments such as chairs, beds, headrests and cosmetic implements. His presence in these regards is hardly whimsical or merely decorative, but reflects, rather, the petitioning of Bes in His role of defensive deity- a deity who controls the forces of the noxious and lethal.

The image of Bes seen here depicts the God with His most common and prominent attributes, essentially a god of magical protection. His magical nature is highlighted by His gesture of grasping two cobras, a form of Bes echoed on the surface of ancient apotropaic wands made of hippopotamus ivory. In such depictions, Bes stands in the place of the divine magician who wields power over violent and chaotic forces. Such wands were used for tracing protective circles around the beds of infants and children or mothers during labor. We see such a wand in the God's hand, covered in protective hieroglyphs and capped with images of a jackal and leopard head.

It was the presence of Bes that ensured the best possible protection of both mother and child. In these regards, Bes remained throughout Egyptian history the principle deity of protection for pregnant mothers and their children.

Bes also has, slung over one of his four muscular arms, the sa amulet, representing a rolled up reed shelter which came to be regarded as a fundamental amulet for preservation of health and the life force. Bes is often associated with the sa, which almost acts as a talisman of His presence and indication of His great power at preservation.

Bes almost always takes the form of a pygmy or dwarf, most often naked excepting a lion or leopard pelt slung across His shoulders. Bes adopts leonine characteristics from the beginning of His historical iconography, including a flowing lion tail, feet, mane, whiskers and ears. His forehead is nearly always profoundly wrinkled. However, one of Bes's most common attributes is His tongue, which hangs out of His mouth in a violent gesture of protection, warding off adversaries or forces of harm from those He protects with His magic.

Our image of Bes also holds a large curved knife, another divine weapon used in the dismantling of chaotic forces. His head is ornamented with a crown of lotus petals, which in this instance signal the magic of rebirth, the defeat of impotence and death. Bes is also associated with fertility and sexual potency, both qualities being resident in the lotus as a symbol for the renewal of life.

Flanking the God's spectacular crown are a pair of Wedjat Eyes, which always signify the wholeness and completeness of divine power. In magical terms the Wedjat Eye embodies the reconstructed power of the Gods, brought back together again after a period of separation. This bringing back together, this wholeness, becomes a great cosmic force, a magic through which all wounded things may be healed and weakness be transformed into absolute power.

Bes stands upon the backs of two crocodiles, both symbols of the violent and chaotic forces surrounding the created world. These creatures emerge from the un-created realm of the abyss of chaos, and it is through the magic of Bes that they are brought under control, and their latent power harnessed for magical procreation. Bes in all His greatness channels the wild forces of the chaotic world in order to give cohesion and protection to the world inhabited by humankind.

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