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Giving Bodies to the Gods
Creating an Icon

A Brief Overview

"Ptah is called 'He who created the All and brought forth the gods'. He is indeed Tatenen, who created the gods, and from whom all things have come forth in the form of food and nourishment, divine offerings, all good things.


Thus it was determined and recognized that his power is greater than that of the other gods. Thus Ptah was content after he had made all things and all god's words.


He had indeed born the gods, made the towns, founded the provinces, and placed the gods at their places of worship. He had determined their offerings and founded their sanctuaries; he had made their body as they desired.


Thus the gods entered into their bodies of all kinds of wood, all kinds of minerals, all kinds of clay and all kinds of other things that grow thereon, in which they had taken shape."

-From the 'Memphite Theology' of the Shabaka stone, 

Ptah by Maj Sandman Holmberg, pp. 22.

"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra" in progress prior to the application of Austrian crystal elements

I regard my work as a Kemetic iconographer as the continuation of a five-thousand-year-old tradition of crafting sacred images that become the repository of the very Gods they represent.  In these regards, I do not see my work as an exercise in modern art, painting for the sake of expressing the view my human ego has of my world.  Although this is a perfectly legitimate and respectable profession, the profession of icon making comes from a completely different impulse, and it should be- if being applied correctly- an impersonal act to glorify the deity, not the artist.

My icons are not Egyptology/ archaeology art, nor are they "mythological" art.  I have maintained a lifelong passion for ancient Egyptian culture, art and archaeology, which of course includes the avid study of Egyptology and the discoveries and scholarship of academic Egyptologists; however, my practice of Kemetic iconography is not part of an intellectual exercise or exploration of Egyptian history and "mythology".  It is instead a vital component of the living practice of my religion, which is the original and ancient religious tradition of the Egyptian people.

The Goddesses and Gods I paint and gild through my craft are the same Gods worshiped by the Egyptians millennia ago, and these are gods who receive our worship, hear our prayers, heal our bodies, provide joy and redemption, and grant us eternal life.  They are not the superstitious byproducts of a defunct civilization and dead religion, nor a "New Age" concept of divine archetypes of a single, unified Supra-consciousness. 


The Gods, the Netjeru I consecrate in my icons, are living gods with their own personalities, powers, spheres of influence, and unique relationships with their devotees.  They exist, each in their own right, independent of human thought and human will, and yet interact with us, court our worship and our devotion, and interact with us through our prayers and desires.  To know their love is to know the unconditional love of a parent to a child, and the ultimate reality of creation through which immortality is possible.

The "Akem-Shield of Sekhmet Who Incinerates the Rebels" in progress after the completion of gilding

The process undertaken to execute an icon from start to finish is very involved and can sometimes be of considerable duration (anywhere from 3 months to 2 years), but I would like to offer here a very brief highlight of the principal stages in my production of an icon panel, for those who may be interested in what it is that I as a Kemetic iconographer actually do.

Upon being commissioned to create an icon by a patron or client, prayers and offerings are made on the clients' behalf to the goddess or god being commissioned.  The deity is petitioned for their permission to "awaken" an icon panel in their name and requested to bestow blessings of approval upon the project.

Dream incubation is performed by the iconographer inside the shrine/ sacred space consecrated to the deity.  The iconographer sleeps in the presence of the deity's cult image in order to receive a dream or vision or indication of the proposed icon's attributes.


Once a satisfactory experience indicates to the iconographer the direction the project should take, the iconographer blesses the "raw" icon panel- a museum conservation wooden panel surfaced with an acid-free archival clay- to the service of the deity, using the appropriate liturgy from ancient temple sources.


The "raw" or "virgin" icon panel is now prepared to receive the deity image.  The panel is marked out lightly in pencil with borders and a grid that allow the correct proportions of the divine image to be rendered.  The inner panel, that is, the central portion of the icon panel where the deity proper will be painted, is called the "deity house".  The four outer corners of the "deity house" are dotted with holy water upon the completion of the working grid.  The deity can now be invited to lend its sanctified image to the panel.


A very precise, detailed under drawing of the deity is laboriously drawn in pencil in the precise center of the "deity house".  All additional symbols, figures or accoutrements are added after the correct deity proportions have been established in their final forms.


Now that the deity has been placed in the "deity house", the icon under drawing is blessed by the deity in a shrine containing their awakened cult image, which will loan the new icon panel its potent energy.


Using a liquid gesso, the iconographer will now build up significant portions of the divine image- usually crowns, jewelry, scepters, weapons, and headdress ornaments- into bas-reliefs which will then be gilded.  As a preparation for gilding, all gessoed surfaces are lightly sanded using the finest grit sandpaper.  All gessoed surfaces are then sealed using a professional grade shellac.  Shellac will provide a smooth, glass-like surface for the gilding stage to follow.


The bas-reliefs are now gilded using 22 karat gold.


Gold, being the very embodiment of the indestructible power of the Gods, is represented by the Sun and solar radiation. The first morning after the deity image has been gilded, the icon panel is set up in the shrine containing the awakened cult image of the deity so that it can receive the first rays of the Sun's light, and thus receive the holy radiation of Ra, Progenitor of the Gods and the human race.


Painting of the deity image can now begin.  This always starts with the deity's eyes and moves outwards in a clockwise manner.  The deity's feet/ toenails are always the last features of the divine body to be painted.


A deity is painted using precious genuine mineral pigments such as lapis lazuli, amethyst, turquoise, malachite, serpentine, Amazonite, jadeite, carnelian, hematite, garnet, rhodonite, and piemontite.  Since lapis lazuli is the holiest stone within the Kemetic tradition, this is used as frequently as possible, especially on the deity's hair, eyebrows, cosmetic markings and jewelry.


Once painting of the deity proper has been completed, the "deity house" and all its elements are accomplished.


The outer panel of the icon, including a "frame" surrounding the "deity house", is now drawn lightly in pencil.  Each deity has names, epithets or titles traditional to its veneration, and these are selected by the iconographer to pair with the deity aspect requested by the patron.  These are drawn first in intricate hieroglyphs on each side of the "deity house", and then made into bas-reliefs using liquid gesso.  The "frame" surrounding the "deity house" is also made into a bas-relief.


After light sanding and sealing with shellac, the bas-reliefs forming the hieroglyphs of the deity's names/ epithets are gilded with 22 karat gold.  The "frame" of the "deity house" follows in like manner.


The background of the outer icon panel (behind the gilded hieroglyphs) is painted using precious lapis lazuli or the stone/ mineral used in closest association with the deity represented on the icon panel.


In like fashion, the use of highly polished cabochon gems of either precious or semi-precious stones is used to ornament the inner and outer icon panel, and to add the spiritual charge of earth-based materials held in veneration as repositories of the deity's power.  These may include lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, fire opal from Mexico, amethyst from Brazil, Star Ruby from India, emerald from India, topaz, and turquoise from Tibet.  Austrian crystal elements by Swarovski® may also be added.


The icon panel is now finished and is ready to be framed prior to consecration and delivery to the patron.


Only archival museum conservation materials are used in the framing of an icon, including Museum Glass® and acid-free mats.  Elaborately carved and gilt wooden moldings complete the framing of an icon panel.


The icon is now consecrated and "awakened" using the authentic temple text and ceremony known as the Opening of the Mouth.  This is the ancient ritual text that magically infuses the inanimate painted icon panel with the animating Ka or spiritual "Essence" of the deity depicted.  It is at this time that the deity takes possession of the icon and bestows a portion of its dynamic energy to it.  The icon is now a spiritually sanctified object, and a representative of the deity suitable for prayer, worship and the ritual offerings of the Daily Cult.


Finally, after months of intense labor and love, the completed and consecrated icon panel is handed over to the patron for installation in a temple or shrine.

"Hwt-Her Mistress of the Sky" From Start To Finish

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