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Living In a World of Symbols

With Adriano Bulla
Part 7

Adriano Bulla
What some people may not know is that in icons and in symbolism, direction is as important as position and the shape and color of what is depicted. Could you explain the importance of space and directions in "
Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa
Both space and direction play significant roles in all my icons. In the Kemetic, ancient Egyptian approach, left corresponds to east while right corresponds to west; so, in 'Sekhmet the Eye of Ra' the Goddess sweeps in from the east as the representative of the Sun-God, and dispatches the serpent-demon Apep to the west. The west, the land where the sun sets and is swallowed up by the Sky Goddess Nuit, is symbolically the land of the dead. This is the direction where the dead are sent in order to undergo the metamorphosis from mortal to immortal.

The west is always symbolic of the sacrifice the Sun-God makes each night when He is consumed by darkness, in order to be reborn in the east the following morning.

"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra" presents us with one of the key episodes in the solar mythos. Sekhmet is known from a sacred drama as a enraged, fire breathing and bloodthirsty lioness, whose terror is unleashed on the enemies of the Sun-God. This is the episode being illustrated here; however, we also have a reference being made to the theology of Annu or Heliopolis which states that at dawn, Ra as the Great Tomcat slays the serpent-demon Apep with His knife beneath the sacred persea tree, the Ished. The Ished has not been included in my icon for space considerations, but the Goddess here is certainly the very embodiment of the destructive power of the Sun-God Ra, whose flaming Wedjat Eye She carries in the sun disk upon Her head.

Sekhmet is here an embodiment of the eastern direction by virtue of Her being depicted facing the western or right side of the panel. She also carries the sun on Her head, which insinuates the rising sun. We know it's the rising sun, the eastern sun, because the time of day when Ra slays Apep beneath the Ished Tree is precisely at sunrise. So, here we have Sekhmet, the newly birthed eastern sun, sending Apep into the darkness of the west. But the entire thrust of this icon is obviously moving towards the right side of the panel, which of course is intentional for the reasons I just described. I've also 'cheated' on the proportions of Sekhmet's anatomy in order to make Her right side appear larger than the left. Her right leg is definitely longer and larger, which makes Her appear to be stepping out of the canvas in order to pin down the coils of the serpent. Her right arm is also grasping the golden lance with the fist pointed downward, which means toward the west...toward the direction of Apep's impending

doom. Her downward turned arm directs the eye quite naturally to the direction of the action, which is the lance being thrust by the Goddess into the neck of the serpent-demon. A downward turned fist in this instance is also a magical reinforcement of the action of dispatching Apep and gaining control over his wild power. Sekhmet has him in hand, as it were.

Quite subtly, the lower right wing follows the precise line of the golden lance, and appears to be bursting through the neck of Apep as well. The direction of the wing in this case too is magical. It's part of the anatomy of the Goddess crossing over into the space being held by the serpent-demon. Her power and authority is obviously overtaking his. Her magic is subduing him.

The fire-capped lance of the Goddess is the largest directional line in the moves the eye very naturally downward, to the bottom right corner of the icon panel. This directional line, the golden lance or spear, embodies the destructive power of the Goddess, which of course is one of the primary magical themes of the icon. The Goddess has the power to control and destroy the ability of chaos as it attempts to undo the work of creation. She is the fire of the Sun-God's Wedjat Eye, His representative, His swift justice.

There are some very subtle directional lines placed in this icon. In the lapis lazuli border at the top of the panel, I have painted a little lightning bolt like squiggle, which comes from the very outer edge of the icon and touches the fire shooting out from the pommel of the lance. This leads the eye, then, down right across the composition and to the bottom right corner of the panel, where the point of the spear juts out from the pierced neck of the serpent-demon Apep. Notice the tiny streams of blood pouring down from the lance tip, which meet one of the seven arrows piercing Apep's neck.

This also has a stream of blood dripping down from its tip, which takes the eye down to the bottom of the panel. Both spear tip and arrowhead point at the rearing solar cobra with its angrily extended hood. This is the fire-spitting cobra that sits on the forehead of the Sun-God Ra, and magically, in this context, the presence of the cobra acts as a bookend to the body of the Goddess, closing in the negativity of the serpent Apep from both sides.

Space, both positive and negative, are always important considerations in any icon. Of course, as a general rule of thumb, the deity must always take up the largest amount of space in the icon panel. My icons have two major space components or divisions. The first is what I call the 'outer panel'. This is the border framing in the deity. The two side portions of this outer panel are usually reserved for the hieroglyphs containing the names and epithets of the deity depicted. These are appropriately placed with each of the hieroglyphs facing inward towards the deity, as is natural in the traditional use of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Then we have what I call the 'deity house', that is to say, the inner panel where the deity's image is actually painted. Because each deity is different in terms of their anatomy and the size of their crowns or accoutrements, the amount of positive and negative space in each icon changes. In 'Sekhmet the Eye of Ra' my challenge was to fill the inner panel with as much of the Goddess as possible, to reinforce the sense of Her awesome power pouring out of the icon...shooting out like fire, in an almost uncontrollable manner.

The large X created by the Goddess' wings was of central importance to me in the initial stages of production. It was the guiding factor as I blocked in the other proportions of these would consume space to the left and right of the panel. This consumption of space is very much magical; as in the more space taken up by the deity, the greater Her power and magic. The negative space in the top portion of the X created by the wings actually frames in Sekhmet's head, providing a pair of directional lines that move the eye into the body of the Goddess.

The fiery energy of the Goddess moves downward with the directional lines provided by Her bottom pair of wings; however, this energy flares upward in the form of dancing and curling, spiralling flames. These flames take up almost all the negative space in the icon, and their direction leads the eye upward into the sky, the dwelling place of the great Eye of Ra.

Everything I do in my icons serves a magical and symbolic purpose. Absolutely nothing in these sacred compositions is purely ornamental or arbitrary.

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