Blog Archives

Second Submission to Hoenir’s Agon

For Hoenir
by Dr. E. Kelly

hoenir image

(the birds pictured are sandhill cranes)

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Painting Updates

For the first time in months i got to my painting studio, first last weekend and then today. I rarely paint much during the spring semester (for some reason it always seems so much more exhausting than the fall) and with my summer placement at the uni, I’ve been too busy working to get to any art classes, so the past two weekends have been a special treat.

Starting last week, I began work, which I finished today, on an icon of Apollon. In my work with the castrati and their cultus, two Deities had stepped forward, Dionysos and more recently Apollon. The castrati seem to have taken Them as Patrons and I’m not going to argue with them over it! When I started painting, I had no clear thought that this was for their shrine, but before I got too far in, I was flat out told that when the icon was finished it would be theirs, a way of honoring Apollon in their space, i.e. their shrine. They also insisted that He have black hair (I wanted to make Him blond and got told ‘He’s Italian. Give Him black hair,” very firmly, which made me laugh because of course one can be Italian and blond, not to mention He’s a god, but I did it). This is their Apollon, Apollon as God and Patron of the castrati (or as a friend pointed out, perhaps a castrato horsing Apollon). Either way He is there, present in the eyes.

Castrati Apollon

I used a variation of the Apelles palette (I added ultramarine and i’ll admit i cheated a bit with the laurel crown and at the very end using iridescent gold) and gave Him skin tones that look almost as though He has the remnants of stage paint on. The eyes in this one haunt me, and did for the entire week until I finished the painting today. The highlights in the eyes are usually the last thing I do prior to varnishing a painting, but not with this one. His eyes brought the painting to life for me.

I’ll make a prayer card out of this one and if there’s interest, I’ll sell larger prints, but the original is going on their shrine, for them to honor a God that understands the great sacrifice they made for their art.

IMG_6979

I also have a painting in progress of Ariadne in the labyrinth. This one is maybe half finished, but it’s already sold. Here is an in progress photo. I’m painting Her as one of my strange shaman figures.

Oh, there is roughly another week left for the Asklepios agon. If you’re thinking about submitting something, now is your chance.

That is all for now.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

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Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

PtahPortrait_2v2 - CopyI first became acquainted with Ptahmassu several years ago when I commissioned a series of icons for my prayer card series. His work was stunning and it was very clear immediately that his icons were living embodiments of divine energy. The Gods had blessed him as a craftsman and artist. He is a fierce polytheist and I am delighted that he was able to take the time for this interview.

GK:  Tell me a little bit about yourself and your work. Who are you and what do you do?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  My life as a servant of the Gods has taken me on a very windy road.  It feels like each stage of my life has witnessed the Gods calling me to another level or mode of service, and with each level has come a more wholesome understanding of who the Gods are and what They have to say to humankind.  I was legally ordained as a priest of the Temple of Isis California in 2001 by the Rt. Rev. Lady Loreon Vignè, and a priest of the Fellowship of Isis by Lady Olivia Robertson.  The spiritual visions of the TOI and FOI have played a significant role in the development of my spiritual work, which has become- more and more- the path of devotional service to the living Gods.  

 I regard myself as a devotional Polytheist, primarily in the Kemetic tradition, though there are other pantheons I serve with cultus.  My direct experience has demonstrated to me that the Gods are unique and individual manifestations of the Divine.  They each have Their own powers and spheres of influence, material and spiritual forms, personalities and methods for revealing Their presences to devotees.  I reject entirely the rather New Age concept of the Gods as merely different faces of the same inscrutable god, and the ever popular neo-Pagan ideal that views all gods as one god, and all goddesses as one goddess.  In these regards you could call me something of a hard Polytheist. 

My calling to Kemetic Polytheism has found its most profound outlet in my work as a ritualist and an iconographer, both of which I see as two sides of the same coin.  For me, Kemeticism is bound to our immediate relationship with our Gods, the Netjeru, Who engage humankind through the actions of cultus, which revolve around the divine presences inherent in ritually awakened images.  It was through a very gradual process spanning a number of years that I was directed to use my priestly skills in conjunction with my skills as an artist and crafts-person.  The result of this process is my vocation as a Kemetic iconographer, which is my sole vocation, in the place of secular work.  My goal is to eventually establish a guild of Kemetic iconographers to carry out the continued revival of Kemetic ritual practices via the iconographic arts of the temple.  Innate to this goal is the philosophy of Kemetic polytheism as a body of religious practices to which the living Gods are central.  I want my work, more than anything, to be a voice for devotional Polytheism.

 GK:  How did you come to polytheism? Do you maintain venerative practice to any particular Deities?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  I was raised in a very strict, conservative Christian family, one in which a fairly literal, black and white interpretation of the King James translation of the Bible held sway.  My siblings and I were raised to fear hell as a physical reality for the damned, that Satan and his demons were a continual threat to every Christian soul, and that even to question the infallible and inerrant truth of the Bible was to jeopardize one’s soul.  But even as a very young boy I found myself rejecting the very notion that only a single god existed, and had this overwhelming sense that Christianity was wholly flawed, and wholly incompatible with my intellectual and spiritual beliefs.

My father was a student of the arts and humanities and maintained a fantastic library, and it was in his library that I found books on the Classical and antique worlds, which introduced me to the religious art and architecture of the ancient Egyptians.  I was about six years old when I had my first taste of ancient Egyptian iconography, and became fixated on this idea that these people were my people, and these gods were my gods.  It happened very suddenly- upon seeing pictures of Kemetic deities- that I began to pray to the Goddesses and Gods of ancient Egypt, which felt more natural to me than I had ever felt in a Christian church.  There was this powerful response whenever I looked at pictures of Kemetic deities, a response that embraced and answered me, and this became a solid call to follow these Gods as my religious path.

A few years later, through a mutual acquaintance, I was introduced to Lady Loreon Vignè, founder of Temple of Isis and Isis Oasis Sanctuary in California, and began a feverish correspondence that changed my life forever.  Lady Loreon and her partner Paul Ramses had established themselves as pioneers of the metaphysical community, with a strong focus on the revival of ancient Egyptian spirituality.  It was through their generous guidance and tutelage that I was able to access both mainstream academic, Egyptological publications on ancient Egyptian religion, and the more esoteric materials I desired to study seriously.  They also introduced me to Lady Olivia Robertson, co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis, who took me under her wing and nurtured me in my budding relationships with the ancient Gods.  Lady Olivia was especially vocal concerning the natures of the Gods, that They were physically real, not simply the spiritual archetypes of New Age thought.  In a nutshell, that is how I came to Polytheism.

I maintain venerative practices, cultus, to all the Kemetic Netjeru, believe it or not.  I’m very much a polytheist, and my daily life revolves around maintaining the practices of prayer and offering to the Netjeru as comprehensively as possible.  There seems to be a trend among some Kemetics to choose one Netjer to whom they feel especially drawn, and focus an almost monotheistic zeal on this deity, while leaving the other Netjeru to the wayside or primarily as figments of lips service.  I consider myself fortunate in these regards not to have fallen prey to this mode of thinking, which I feel is a carryover from monotheism, and is not authentic to ancient Egyptian spiritual life.  I was ordained a priest of the Goddesses Auset and Sekhmet, and I have taken priestly vows to the God Ptah, Whom I regard as my patron and protector, and I am certainly faithful to the vows and levels of commitment I have made to these Netjeru as my most personal deities; however, I am a polytheist, and my polytheism embraces all the Gods, and sees offering and cultus to all the Gods as a joy and priority.  I really want to emphasize that, that while my love and ties to my patron Netjeru are fiercely strong, I experience polytheism as the constant engagement of many, many gods, and perpetual service to many, many gods.

 GK:  Your art is, by your own words, a powerful devotional act. Talk to me a little bit about that. This is your service to your Gods. I think that’s an important thing and one that my readers would be very interested in learning more about.

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  Service is the perfect word here.  The kind of polytheism I practice- the kind of polytheism I feel compelled to share with others- is devotional polytheism grounded in hands-on and active service.  For me this means the worship of the hands, which cups my vows to the God Ptah, the Creator of substance, form, and all things crafted.  It is said in the famous theology inscribed on the Shabaka Stone that Lord Ptah, as the Creator of all things and all words, carved the bodies of the Gods from all manner of wood, stone, and clay, and that He created the Kas or Souls of the Gods and established Them in Their bodies.  He then organized the cults and festivals and temples of all the Gods, and because of this Ptah is known as the greatest of the Gods.  Quite naturally my veneration of Ptah has called on me to use the cult of craftsmanship for divine service, to restore and perpetuate the traditional iconographic forms through which the Netjeru have made Themselves known, through which They have maintained a dialogue with the human world.  Central to ritual and devotion from a Kemetic perspective is the cult of images, for it is the sacral image- sanctified and awakened to an inner spiritual life all its own- that connects us directly and immediately to the invisible world of the Gods.  In essence, they, images, make the Gods and Their world visible, and establish a point of contact between human and divine.

In these regards I have been called to create my own practice of iconography, which at its heart is a devotional act, a cultic act, which, like prayer or ritual worship in sacred space, draws the Gods and myself together.  Iconography is the practice of infusing material substances and forms with sacred meaning and power.  It is the art that elevates human beings into the dynamic presences of the living Gods. So, as an iconographer, a craftsman of cult images, my vocation serves my personal spiritual aims of walking closely with my Gods, and at the same time fulfills part of my official duties as a priest of the God Ptah through service to His Royal Workshop.

Something I feel we’ve been separated from through the corrosive authority of monotheism is the vitality and sacred power of our Ancestral God-images.  We’ve grown up in a culture that teaches the falseness of all images and falseness of all gods save the one god of the Abrahamic faiths.  From the religions of the book we’ve inherited the prohibition and derision of images, and the fear of divine retribution for venerating forms crafted by the human hand.  But our ancient polytheisms were all established on the knowledge that the Sacred, the Gods and Their powers, were directly manifest in the material world- not only in nature, but in reflections of the natural world as viewed through the lens of man-made forms.  God-images have a central role to play in almost every polytheistic society our planet has known, and all of them have maintained that craft fueled by human devotion is abundantly powerful and fused with holiness.  Only the Abrahamic faiths- which are relatively new to our world- have disdained human ingenuity and intuition when it is expressed through the sacred arts.  This monotheistic disdain has been our inheritance, and it is an inheritance I am eager to smash in its entirety.

So, my work as a priest-iconographer is that of reintroducing the sanctity of our Ancestral God-images as the foundation of a living service and cultus to our Gods.  Prayer, meditation, offering, sacrifice, ritual dance, the recitation of hymns and chants; these are all modes of sacred service that revolve around the holy presence of cult images, which are much more than symbols or reminders.  Cult images that have been ritually awakened and received by a deity become part of the Gods they represent, and therefore have the power to listen, speak, and intercede for us.  We have a persistent idea imposed upon us by monotheism that man-made images or idols are inert and powerless representations of false gods; and yet for thousands of years human beings have known through their intuitive faculties that our Gods have the power to transform inert matter into something living and vital, infused with a sacred life force that answers prayers and dispenses boons.  This feeling is much older than monotheism, and my belief is that the history of God-images in polytheism discounts the prohibitions of monotheism absolutely.

 GK:  What would you tell someone just coming into polytheism? What do you feel are the most important points of attention and praxis?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  We’ve inherited so much spiritually obstructive baggage from monotheism, that my first and biggest piece of advice to polytheism newcomers is to avoid- at all cost- falling into monotheistic patterns of thought and belief, and projecting these onto the polytheisms they are trying to adopt.  I see this happen so often.  A person fresh out of monotheism comes to Kemeticism or Hellenic Reconstructionism or Polytheism in general, and instead of embracing the experience of pluralism that Polytheism is, they extract one deity in a pantheon and focus the bulk of their energy on worshiping that one deity.  People do this for one big reason, in my opinion; they do it because although they’re unhappy with the concept of monotheism, and although they may sincerely wish to leave that way of thinking behind, it’s still what they’ve always known, what they’re surrounded by in the families and society in which they’ve grown up, so in a sense it’s what they’re most *comfortable* with.  

The concept of Polytheism is no longer part of our social nature, because monotheism has overtaken our awareness of our own history and cultural identity, and erased any sympathy with other modes of thinking or belief.  We’re automatically conditioned to believe that monotheism is intellectually and spiritually superior to any other form of belief; in fact, we’re taught that monotheism and veneration of the singular (of oneness) is the only valid perspective to have.  Because of this preconditioning, people have a really hard time accepting the actual practice of Polytheism, despite their intellectual willingness to belong.

My strongest advice is to begin with a clean slate.  Come to Polytheism prepared to abolish the entire framework of religious beliefs you’ve been conditioned to believe are valid, and open your mind to the vast experience that worship of many deities provides.  Somehow people expect that if religion is overwhelming or uncomfortable or unfathomable, it isn’t good.  Something you learn very early on when you adopt an ancient Polytheism is that the Gods are overwhelming and unfathomable and mysterious, and that a certain amount of bewilderment and discomfort comes with the territory.  Don’t expect an easy ride, when you’re rejecting your monotheistic upbringing and adopting a very foreign spiritual framework.  

Pluralism and multiplicity are by their natures overwhelming because they present us with unlimited possibilities of experience and interpretation simultaneously, and in our predominantly monotheistic society we’re used to the concept that ultimately there is and can be only one right way to believe, cupped by one right way to express that one belief.  Polytheism presents us with the exact opposite; it shows us not only thousands upon thousands of deities who each have their own unique personalities and powers, but also, and perhaps even more overwhelming, the truth that truth itself is plural and vast, and cannot possibly be boiled down to only one point of view or creed.  Polytheism is vastly flexible and fluid.  It isn’t static the way monotheism can be.  It bends and grows and demands a certain kind of resilience in our manner of expressing its many and imaginative forms.

What I advise any newcomer to polytheism is to avoid the monotheistic pitfall of choosing that one deity you feel closest to in a pantheon and stopping there- simply because it softens the edge of Polytheism and makes it more comfortable.  In the end, this will only wind up cutting you off from the richness of Polytheism and the limitless blessings of its many Gods.  I say dive right in, introduce yourself to your pantheon and ask the Gods to introduce Themselves to you.  Don’t be afraid of feeling overwhelmed because feeling overwhelmed is actually part of the mystery and majesty of the Gods; a certain feeling of awe, and even terror, is part of what the Ancients experienced through the Mysteries, the process of initiation, of being adopted by the Gods into Their community of celebrants.  Some awe and fear and bewilderment is good, because it means you’re connected to the sensation of feeling the Gods, instead of just parroting a belief in Them.  Explore the presences of a number of Gods at the same time, and always resist the temptation to settle back into any monotheistic tendencies you may still be carrying with you.

By far the most important point I can make is praxis, that is, establishing a regular daily practice of offering and veneration of the Gods.  One of the most common things I notice in contemporary Polytheist and Reconstructionist communities is an over emphasis on theory, on research and reading and intellectualizing the Gods, while seeing actual ritual, worship, and offering as somehow less vital than cerebral engagement.  Yes, it’s important to study and embrace philosophy, to understand the roots of our ancient Polytheisms and strive to honor the Gods through the art of learning; especially in Reconstructionism, where the intention is to recover authentic texts and modes of worship via the historical, Ancestral record.  I embrace this and understand its vital role.  However, I see a less balanced dialogue taking place today between theory and practice in many Polytheist groups and individuals, and I think this needs to be addressed by our priesthoods and clergies.  At the end of the day living religion means direct experience, not mere theory or book learning.  No amount of study or research can replace the actual presence of sacred relationships as the fulfillment of our spiritual life.  This means we have to open up our intuitive, emotional faculties to the existence of the Gods, which in devotional Polytheism is awakened and enhanced through cultic acts, praxis- ritual worship, offering, sacrifice, sacred dance, and the recitation of hymns or sacred texts.

Offering and sacrifice are what I regard as the key ingredients of cult and praxis.  Truly, they are two sides of the same coin.  Offering has to be a root part of how we establish active relationships with our Gods, and cultivate those relationships continually.  Without offering, there is no energetic link between our human nature and the immortal natures of the Gods; offering provides the link of communication that ties us to the Gods, from which we give and They give in return.  Our relationship with Them is based on reciprocity, and this exists in every single mode of Polytheism I have ever studied.  All Polytheisms maintain this awareness that our Gods give because we give, and that They engage us because we engage Them, and that this cannot be taken for granted.

So, I tell all my students that the first framework we put into place is the devotional framework constructed through daily offering, which flows from the notion of sacrifice.  Sacrifice is the offering of that which we hold most valuable, which can be our time, energy, and material resources.  Our time is certainly, in the modern world, one of our most valuable commodities, so this is something we need to be prepared to give to our Gods.  When we give up something that is precious to us, something it pains us to give, then we are performing sacrifice, and this is the holiest form of offering that exists.  When we pour out a libation of wine or beer on the shrine, or make a presentation of food and flowers, we are creating an energetic bond between our Gods and our human life, and we are asking the Gods to enter into that life and partake of its essence.  Without offering, without sacrifice…without this vital exchange of energy and intention, there is no connection between our life and the Divine world, and we cannot hope to benefit from it.

Secondly, I think it’s vital for us to establish some kind of Ancestor veneration, some legitimate recognition of those who have gone before us to pave the way for our sacred life and relationships with our Gods.  This is another of the practices monotheism has stripped from our life in the contemporary west; but in all ancient Polytheisms, recognition of the Dead, the Ancestors, and the Forebears of the tradition forms a most significant part of daily spiritual life.  I think this comes in two parts.  The first is honoring ones’ immediate blood family and personal relationships with the dead, which is done through offerings and prayers, and actually talking to the dead through the medium of sacred space- a shrine, a photograph, or visitation to a grave site or memorial.  The second form of Ancestor veneration, and the one which for me is most powerful in my Kemetic practice, is veneration of the Ancestors of one’s faith line, that is, the people who have served the same Gods you are serving now.

Since we as Polytheists are most often coming out of monotheistic families and monotheistic preconditioning, it’s often hard for us to feel *rooted* in our ancient Polytheisms in the modern world.  It’s sometimes hard for us to maintain that feeling of immediate connection with very ancient traditions from which we have been separated through our upbringing in predominantly monotheistic modes of thinking and behaving; so, there is a need now more than ever for Ancestor veneration practices that bring us back into the framework of a daily experience of walking with our Gods.  So, what I recommend is an investigation into the individuals and communities that have served the same Gods and traditions we are now striving to serve, and creating a regular practice of prayer and offering in order to generate the blessings of souls who have the advantage of being directly in the presences of our Gods, who can help us bring through those blessings more easily.

 GK:  What do you feel are the greatest challenges facing our communities and the restoration of our traditions today?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  One of the greatest challenges I see facing the restoration of our ancient Polytheisms is the currently trending notion that some way, somehow, we can circumvent the worship of the Gods and still call ourselves Polytheists or Kemetics or Heathens.  The root of this issue is a heated debate over the very notion of worship and reverence, and the role the Gods have to play in our contemporary world.  There is this deeply disturbing notion being voiced- especially on the Internet- that worship and devotion to the Gods is on a par with humiliation and degradation and subservience, which we as almighty, all important humans should be exempt from.  Why should we serve the Gods?  Why should we acknowledge the Gods, let alone acknowledge Their greatness as exceeding our own?  Why should we bow to anyone or anything, since we are at the top of the food chain, after all, and see ourselves as the center of importance in the created world?

The Ancients lived in a very different world than our own.  They saw the Gods as living through the natural world and its awesome powers, its life and changes and death; and the Gods were experienced through all the pangs and suffering life had to offer.  There was no sense that human life was separate or could be separate from the influence of the Gods.  But today we live in a very secular society, though a society still dominated by the influence of monotheism.  This is a society in which human beings take precedence over all, and there is nothing so great as our mind, our ambition, and our will to control and change and harness our environment.

The restoration of Polytheistic traditions faces these attitudes en masse, and a profound part of that is this overwhelming sense of self entitlement, this sense that the human ego is matchless in the universe and deserves to take center stage.  Polytheism as it was expressed for thousands of years is the polar opposite of this attitude.  Ancient Polytheisms placed the Gods at the center of creation and humankind on the periphery, and urged that it was humankind’s responsibility to engage and honor the Gods, and to draw the Gods out into Their creation for the benefit of all life.  The Ancients realized that humankind was in an interdependent relationship with its Gods, and one in which both sides of the equation had a vital role to play.  This kind of interdependence- between Gods and the ongoing work of life as sacred creation- is the backbone of the Kemetic tradition to which I belong, but it can be seen in other ancient Polytheistic societies, where there is an acute awareness of the sacred law of reciprocity- the Gods giving because humankind gives.

But we seem to have cut ourselves off from this awareness possessed by our ancient Ancestors.  We’ve replaced the Gods with ourselves, and have made giving to ourselves, and mass consumption, the modus operandi of our civilization.  So, what I see happening to the discussion of Gods and devotion is more of a focus on what we- human beings- are going to get from it, and why the Gods are worthy of our worship in the first place, and even if the Gods are really necessary to the continuance of our spiritual life.  What we’re fighting for right now, it seems, is the right to proclaim Polytheism as the veneration of many gods; Gods who are not only worthy of our worship, but entitled to it because of Their innate greatness as gods and the gift of life They have given us.

The reclamation of devotion, and of the rich thread of cultic traditions that go with it, is what I see as one of the greatest challenges facing our Polytheist communities today.  We seem to be engaged in a fierce debate over the relevance of our Gods, and even over the simple dictionary definition of what Polytheism is, when I feel we should be strengthening the training of our laypeople and clergies alike in the process of reviving our devotional cultic practices.  By practices I mean everything from daily rituals, offerings, and Ancestor veneration to rites of passage such as births, marriages, and funerary rites.  We need more rites of passage and empowerment for those in military service and inmates in prison, and we need to strengthen our Polytheist communities, not just through open dialogue and discussion, but through inviting one another to actively participate in holy rites that unite us in service to our living Gods.  But I see these things are being hampered and set back by this ongoing debate over why or if we should venerate our Gods in the first place.  It should go without saying that actual worship of the Gods is what makes Polytheism a religious experience in the first place; but we can’t take that for granted when we have voices from within our communities that are striving to dismantle our devotional relationships with our Gods.  This really needs to be the focus of our efforts if our traditions are going to survive.

 GK:  How do you pray? Why do you think it’s important?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: I pray all the time!  Prayer means many things to different people, but for me, from the point of view of a devotional Polytheist and Kemetic, prayer is a form of direct communication with the Gods.  It is a vital tool for cementing and maintaining my relationship with my Gods, for keeping that channel of reciprocity open between my daily life and the boons of the Netjeru.  My prayers come in many forms.  There are my very personal prayers offered in front of our shrine to the Household Gods.  These aren’t necessarily formal or eloquent or poetic.  They take the form of whatever words I feel I need to say to my Gods; complaints and requests for healing, getting some worries off my chest, expressing gratitude, or simply calling on various deities to be present and commune with me.  I come before the household shrine several times throughout my day, to light a candle and make an offering of incense or to pour out a libation.  I’ll recite simple prayers during the day that are my own personal prayers, or abbreviations of the official prayers I say as part of my duties as a priest.  

Of course, there are the official prayers of the Daily Ritual, which I chant in the ancient Egyptian language, and are accompanied by the formal gestures and offerings of the cult.  These are some of the most ancient prayers of the Kemetic religion, which were chanted in every temple every day in ancient times.  They are part of the devotional and energetic legacy handed down to us from the Ancestors of our tradition, so to speak these prayers today is to connect the actions of the present with the holiness of the past; and in Kemeticism, the past is part of an ongoing cycle of divine repetition flowing from Zep Tepy, the “First Occasion” immediately following the creation of the ordered world.

Prayer can be very formal and very solemn, a means of bringing my mind and consciousness into that space of resonance with the Gods, which I feel is essential in the modern world where we are so often asked to step away from any feelings of solidarity with the Sacred, with mindfulness on the realm of stillness and power that is the dwelling place of the Gods.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the problems and momentum of our daily lives and lose our grounding in the Sacred, especially those of us serving very ancient Ancestral traditions and paths.  So, my view of prayer is that it can be that tool for stopping everything and bringing ourselves back to the center of our holy practices.  Through the vocalization or silence induced by prayer, we step back into the Sacred moment, imbuing the present moment with the immediate presences of our Gods.  

These moments of devotion are- for me- what nourishes Polytheism and makes it the richest expression of religion.  Our ancient Polytheisms are rooted in communion with legions of deities and Ancestors Who are accessible to us at any time, and prayer is the instrument by which we ask our Holy Powers to step into our sphere of life and fill it with Their essence.  There’s such an awe-inspiring strength in this; speaking directly to our Gods and Ancestors and sharing a dialogue with Them that gives meaning to every moment of our lives.

I think one of the reasons you asked me this question is because of the push back against prayer that is part of a larger debate concerning the essential meaning of Polytheism and its relationship with its Gods.  Enter our ever-present burden of baggage from monotheism.  Those of us who grew up under the influence of evangelical strains of Christianity have a rather different and sinister experience with prayer that has nothing whatsoever to do with devotion.  How many readers have been told by a Christian relative or acquaintance “I’ll pray for you” or “I’m praying for you”?  We all know what I’m talking about here, and it’s not the kind of concern that prompts someone to sincerely pray to their deity on your behalf.  This is the kind of statement evangelicals often make when condescending and talking down to those they view as sinners, and it’s an act that implies the superiority of their god and religious system above those they are trying to “help”- or rather convert to their way of thinking.  For many Polytheists today, prayer is a dirty word, a word that carries with it an instant gut reaction of “no!”, and is synonymous with control.  For many, prayer is a tool of abuse wielded by the Christian dogma they are desperately trying to escape, and it’s a very difficult process to transform the meaning of that word into something wholesome, let alone something that comes natural.

Something I feel is vital- if we are to succeed as individual Polytheists and as communities- is for us to make a concerted effort to reclaim our Ancestral traditions and practices from the oppressive hand of monotheism, and this means taking back words, too, and refusing to sacrifice vital spiritual meaning because of associations with systems of belief we’ve experienced as being destructive.  We have to take back the concept and action of prayer, if not the very word itself; because in essence prayer is the action of communicating directly with our Gods, and is an active ingredient in the foundation of cultus and praxis, these two essential components of living the Polytheist life today.  All our ancient Polytheisms use prayer in conjunction with offering and sacrifice; Polytheism is inseparable from these activities, and, from my perspective, there is no Polytheism without the three roots of prayer, offering, and sacrifice.  Polytheism is a living religious system grounded firmly in the worship of many gods, and it is the Gods Who give us our spiritual life cupped by the physical life in which the Spirit dwells.  Our physical and spiritual lives are two sides of the same coin, and they are joined together through the marriage of belief and practice.  How else can we practice, establish praxis and cultus, without addressing our Gods directly?  And how else can we address our Gods if not through the medium of prayer, which itself is a form of offering and personal sacrifice?

So, I want to encourage people to reexamine their fears or dislike of prayer, and to see prayer very differently from the agent of control that so many of us have experienced at the hands of evangelicals.  The action of prayer predates the advent of monotheism by millennia.  Our Ancestors used it as a tool of direct communication with Their Gods, to consecrate Their physical lives to the Gods, and to invoke the Holy Powers into the material world.  We are following in Their footsteps, and we need Their guidance and empowerment if our reestablishment of Polytheism is to succeed.  Prayer is and can be that binding thread between our current lives and the ever-present sacral past inhabited by our Ancestors.  Prayer is and can be that source of divine inspiration that never runs dry or fails to revitalize; but, like anything, it takes work in order to make it grow and flourish.  The effort has to come from us, and our Gods and Ancestors will never cease to meet us half way if our effort is sincere in the things we do for Them.

 GK:  You’re also an accomplished poet. Do you feel that there is a unique connection between the Gods, devotion, and practice of the arts? If so, please elaborate.

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  For me, the practice of the arts is, quite literally, the practice of my religion, and is a direct extension of my priesthood and the expression of my spiritual life.  Since my namesake and patron deity is Lord Ptah, the consummate Creator and craftsman of the Gods, it so follows that the worship of the hands carries with it the Heka or Magick of my Netjer, Who created the very acts of sculpting, painting, and poetic expression.  It is said of Lord Ptah that He created the Gods and all living things through the profession of words, which are His craft and carry with them the magic through which all created things came into being.

When I sit down to write my verses or engage in the holy craft of iconography, I am, in fact, engaging in powerful acts of worship that are- in a manner of speaking- emulating the divine and creative acts of the God Ptah.  I am taking on myself the role of Lord Ptah, Whose actions and words wove the substance of the cosmos and gave breath to the Gods.  The Ancestors of my tradition used hymns and poetry to celebrate the moment of the Daily Ritual offered by the cult of each god, and married to these holy words is the premise that words on their own contain the vibrational potency of the creative act.  The ancient hymns are often complex poems containing elaborate descriptions of a deity’s names, epithets, and physical characteristics, which were echoed in the exquisitely wrought images of the cult in which the deity’s spiritual essence resided.  The ancient temples were themselves massive pieces of sacred art, for lack of a better word; but these expressions of art were manifestations of the impersonal Sacred, not the ego of an individual artist.  The Ancients saw all man-made artistic forms as carrying the potential for an inner divine life to grow, and when these forms were married to the ritual activities of the cult, they actually became the Gods resident in terrestrial matter.

Aside from my vocation as an iconographer, it is through poetry that I express my longing to see and experience the Gods directly.  Writing sacred verses forms part of my daily practice of prayer and offering, since my verses are being given to the Gods as an aspect of veneration.  The process of writing itself is an activity of profound meditation on the Gods, because it requires me to remove myself from the surroundings of the mundane world and enter into a frame of mind where the Gods hold sway and are the predominant reality.  The result of these sessions is a form of religious ecstasy expressed in words, which can then be absorbed by others who desire to enter into the spiritual ethos.

It almost goes without saying that I believe all the arts can bring us closer to our Gods, and can be the springboard for achieving that ultimate relationship where our Gods are revealed as a physical, tangible reality in our daily life, instead of remaining abstract or distant.  We are raised in a society where the pervasive monotheistic perspective is one of the separation of the Divine from the physical world of humankind.  Christianity especially has given us an intellectual legacy of seeing the world of sight and senses as clearly divided from the ultimate blessing of the Sacred; it teaches the fall of humankind from god.  But our ancient Polytheisms urge us into a very different understanding of the Holy Powers, one in which the Gods work directly through matter, the natural world, and the senses of the human condition.  Neither nature or the world of the flesh have fallen away from the Divine, but have instead emerged from it, and are married to the Gods through a reciprocal relationship of give and take.  It is through the arts- through painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and dance- that our senses and intellect are elevated and refined, and ripen into a deeper, more mystical consciousness of what it means to be human.  The arts can unite us with our higher selves, and, at the same time, remove us from ourselves and into the presences of the living Gods.

 GK:  What projects do you currently have in the works and where can people find your work?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  I am currently working on a new series of smaller icon panels I am calling the Aegis Series.  These are more like *portraits* of the Kemetic Gods, whose purpose- aside from being the recipients of devotion and active cultus- is to serve as focal points for prayer and meditation on the Netjeru as personal protectors.  So, these icons are magical images linking devotees with aspects of the Gods specifically attuned to healing, personal safety, defense from diseases or external enemies, fertility and creation, et cetera.  Their main source of iconographic inspiration are the images of the head and shoulders, crown and regalia of the Gods seen on the prow and stern of the sacred boat-shrines carried in religious festivals, or worn as protective amulets.

Something I am very excited about is the idea to use the Aegis Series, together with my other icons, in a full color devotional art book being conceived by myself and Her Holiness Rev. Tamara Siuda (AUS), Nisut of the Kemetic Orthodox Faith.  Tamara approached me with an inspiration she had had to compose guided meditations for each of my icons, which would lead devotees through the symbolism and sacred meanings resident in my icons.  Her feeling is that people should experience my work not only through its aesthetic or artistic qualities, but more importantly from the perspective of going inward to meet the Gods directly, and thereby receive Their wisdom.  Her idea for the guided meditations will be paired with prayers and hymns and other devotional writings that will serve Kemetics, devotional Polytheists, and students of sacred art in their desire to understand this vibrant spiritual tradition of cult images, and experience it through the lens of its initiatory symbols.

Secondly, I’ve just finished editing my new book “Sacred Verses:  Entering the Labyrinth of the Gods”, which will be published by Asphodel Press in the near future.  I consider Sacred Verses some of the best writing of my life, and it’s certainly my most profound exploration of devotional poetry to date.  Interestingly enough, it is not entirely Kemetic in its tone or use of language, and is meant to be an experience of poetic initiation into the realm of recovering our Polytheistic memory.  The premise I have is that if we go back far enough into our family tree, we will reach the time in human history when the civilizations of humankind were Polytheistic; and it is this process of reaching back, of journeying through the sacred tree of spiritual memory, that Sacred Verses presents to its readers.  It gives us a set of keys for setting aside the paradigm of monotheism, and returning to our original and ancient spiritual traditions- which of course are those of Polytheism.

 Interested readers will be able to find my work via the following links:

Official Icons of Kemet website

Official Icons of Kemet blog

Sacred poetry and verse blog

Kemetically Speaking blog

Kemetic deities prayer cards

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Interview in Wild Hunt with Markos Gage

Check out this awesome interview at Wild Hunt with Markos Gage. He’s an awesome artist. His work is beautiful and at times mind-blowing. He and his partner Wayne have created several of the beautiful icons that I’ve turned into prayer cards. (He takes commissions, folks). Making art is a sacred thing, all the more so when it’s done directly and mindfully for the Gods. Check out the interview. I might have asked other questions, but overall, it’s pretty good and you get to see lots of pictures of Markos and his art. 

Ahhh the smell of racism in the morning

So I was just informed that it’s basically ok when my traditions are co –opted by pop culture because any harm that comes from that doesn’t matter because I’m white. But oh, I should be up in arms every time an artist is inspired by a Native artist and utilizes elements of that art style in their art. Doesn’t work like that, sweetheart.

Anyone who thinks like this, by the way, can go fuck yourselves. Please. Preferably with a chainsaw dipped in salt. Normally I might try to frame that in less offensive language, but nope. Not today.  Racism works both ways, bubbele.

Over on my facebook, I’m having an argument/discussion with several people about an incident that recently happened in Canada. Here’s the link go read it for yourselves.

This is way too similar to what happened in NY last month. Read about that here.

There is only one question I ask about art: does it move you? Does it turn you inside out? Does it make your heart weep or rejoice? Does it evoke something? If it does, then good. That’s exactly what art is supposed to do. It doesn’t belong to any one people or culture. It is universal and I care a hell of a lot more about good art than I do about any group of people. Art does not provide you with safe prepackaged answers either. The arts are the best our humanity has to offer. They are the collected genius of our people. The best art is more important than any one of us.

I have a huge issue with pop culture taking the stories of my Gods and turning them into entertainment that makes a mockery of those Gods. I don’t however think that those things should be destroyed. I simply choose not to see them. The day we start calling for the destruction of art and the silencing of artists – especially those we dislike or disagree with — is the day we lose part of our humanity, the best part; and the day that call goes forth and is not challenged is the day we’re doomed as a species.

 

 

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Two More for My Spirits

A small note

For those of you
whose voices shattered in the making,
who failed to enchant
the world’s stage,
who struggled away
in church choirs …
or worse:

I remember you.

It is a small thing, but I remember you.

You served that Muse
that exquisitely demanding daimon.
Though it drank your marrow
warm and new and young
you served it still –
bloody mortar
securing its awesome edifice
for another generation.

It is worthy work,
a worthy sacrifice,
and I remember you,
always.

 

The God of Sacred Monsters

A face used to masks
I see You twice over:
lounging and languid,
slender, sculpted,
all smooth alabaster
and smoldering hunger,
ash and lust.

I can never look for long,
though desperately I want to,
want You.
I am too aware
of those perfect lips
and that sly smile
remote, exquisite
perhaps a little cruel—
pain is necessary after all
for such perfection—
and all it promises.

I see You, Enorches,
a wicked knot of movement
dancing a harlequinade
whispering in dulcet tones
“Everything I am
take to yourself
and my mouth,
full of honeycomb,
will pour nectar for you”*

Divine and noble
You have feasted upon Your own heart.

No one sees the strings,
unforgiving as ivy,
when You take them.
Like a paper thin stiletto between the ribs,
You slide in,
pouring Your sweet voice
through that flesh.
like honey
like nectar
stained with blood.

final_cover

(line adapted from “La Calisto” by N. Cavalli. Image by Δ from the cover of “Toys of Dionysos” by H. Jeremiah Lewis)

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Apollo and Marsyas: The Nature of Art

Bartolomeo_Manfredi_-_Apollo_and_Marsyas

(Bartolomeo Manfredi’s “Apollo and Marsyas.” Source: wiki commons)

I have a fascination with operatic castrati and since I’m currently doing quite a bit of research for an academic project that involves them, their music has been the subject of much conversation in my house lately. Add to that a meme a friend of mine posted on facebook wherein one of the choices was “because a human did something better than a God and that God threw a hissy fit” and I knew I had to write about the conversation my husband and I had the other day.(1) Somehow the subject of the contest between Apollo and Marsyas came up and the lessons this might hold for musicians.

In this story, Marsyas, a satyr and master musician hubristically challenges Apollo to a music contest. The contest is to be judged by the Muses and the winner would then be permitted to treat the loser anyway he wished.(2) Both God and satyr play, Apollo wins, and in punishment for his hubris Marsyas is flayed. Customary interpretations of this story revolve around the flaying specifically as a punishment for hubris, for the satyr daring to challenge a God (and thus to put himself above the right and natural order of things) and this is not an incorrect interpretation but there are other lessons to be had in this tale as well.

Allowing that one of the major lessons of this story is in fact the need for piety and humility before the Gods (amazing how “don’t be an asshole” covers so many situations in which we might find ourselves, devotionally and otherwise), I’d like to discuss here one of the other lessons, and this is where the castrati come in.

In my research I’ve noticed that there is a standard way in which historians seemingly must approach this material. Before they go into whatever it is that they want to discuss about the castrati, they must first state how barbaric or inhumane they find the practice.(3) They must first separate themselves from any hint that they might approve of the process, particularly if they are writing positively about the result (and given that the influence of the castrati pretty much defined opera for two hundred years and shaped contemporary opera too, there’s quite a bit to celebrate there).

The question is endlessly asked (by academics and other researchers): why would someone do that to himself? Why would someone allow that to be done to a child? What was the allure of the castrati (they were the equivalent of sex symbols and rock stars)? I find these questions boggling: for the voice. Are you people deaf? Have you never listened to a top-notch counter tenor? It’s like listening to the voice of God. It’s like having the heavens crashing down around you and these men don’t come close to the vocal quality of a well-trained castrato superstar.(4) I completely understand why someone would have sought to become a castrato and certainly why they were so attractive to their listeners. I mourn the fact that we can’t hear them today.

If the sounds harsh, consider my own background: I was a professional ballet dancer for the first part of my adult life. I started working with a regional company at thirteen and retired in my early twenties. I retired with crippling injuries. I knew at thirteen that I was choosing to commit to a career that would likely leave my body broken irreparably. I knew that I would have to make health and nutritional choices that were ultimately damaging. I didn’t make this choice blind and I did make it over parental objection. The call of that daimon – dance – was too strong. I have crushing pain now and very limited mobility and while I did soloist roles in the regional company for which I worked, I didn’t make it past apprentice in the New York company. I’ll go down in no history books as a competent dancer and…I would make exactly the same choice again.

I suspect that is incomprehensible to someone who hasn’t been infected with that hunger, been taken up by that daimon, felt what it is like to push the body past its limits, past pain, to fly. I know that if at twelve, someone had said to me, if you mutilate your genitals you’ll have a chance to be one of the truly great dancers, I’d have done it without question. I would have considered it a worthy trade. There are things more important than what’s between our legs and far more important than our ability to procreate or the limits of our bodies. Being in service to art, in service to something far bigger and more important than ourselves supersedes all of that. That’s what moderns don’t comprehend.

Of course, that the castrati had to be castrated before puberty complicates things. There are questions of a child’s ability to make such a long-term choice for himself (see my comments above for where I stand on that) and certainly there were children sent under the knife against their will. The consequences of early castration are not just loss of fertility. (5)I also find the way Castrati were treated socially by the same communities that idolized their voices to be repellent (the church, for instance, forbade them to marry and in regular society they were often viewed as freaks, mocked for the very procedure that gave them the angelic voices so celebrated). By the nineteenth century with “enlightenment,” industrialization, more focus on binary gender roles, more focus on ‘nature’ as opposed to constructed brilliance, and certainly the elevation of both childhood and the individual over any common good the castrati were fast becoming a thing of the past. The last operatic superstar was the castrato Giovanni Velluti for whom both Rossini and Meyerbeer composed but operatic tastes were changing along with everything else and by 1913 not even the Vatican choir allowed for them. (6)

So what does all of this have to do with the story of Apollo and Marsyas? One of the many ways that I interpret this story is as a clear indication of what is required for excellence in an art. It doesn’t matter what the art form is (dance, singing, music, painting, etc.), to truly reach the heights of greatness, sacrifice is not just required, it is demanded. Excellence has a price. Art brings us into communion with the Gods like nothing else can. The Platonic philosophers wrote about the ennobling effects of Beauty, how it had the capacity to elevate the soul and I very much believe that is true. To be in service to the arts is to be in service to the Gods when it’s done right. It’s to move in sacred currents. That carries a demanding price and sometimes the consequences are irreparable. Devotion is like that too, if one wants to do it well.

We are owed nothing, yet opportunities are given. Devotion is an art just as much as dance or opera. It’s the art of the soul and it often carries as great a price as that any performer will pay. Excellence requires sacrifice. Mediocrity doesn’t. Make a choice. I read once of one castrato (and I can’t recall which one at the moment. I’ve been reading * a lot* on the topic) who was once asked if he regretted having been cut. He laughed in the interviewer’s face. He was one of perhaps half a dozen men who could do what he did at the level at which he performed in the entire world. He was feted across Europe. His name would go down in music history. He was as close to a god as a mortal has any right to be (barring apotheosis!).

Ironically I have seen some of the same criticisms of ballet children that I’ve seen about the castrati: it’s abuse. How can a child make that decision, etc. etc.(7) One such included a documentary about a leading Russian ballerina. The narrator could not stop talking about the brutality of the training and the sacrifice required. Yes, and she’s one of maybe ten women in the world who can do what she does. She had some of the best training in the world, and it’s training she herself wanted. I find it far more offensive that a second rate film maker is complaining about her sacrifices than that she’s consciously making them. Excellence requires certain choices and sometimes those choices hurt.

I think that’s the second lesson to be found in the story of Marsyas and Apollo. It’s not just a warning against hubris, it’s also telling us what is required to reach the heights of a practice: sacrifice. Perhaps it’s a warning against the hubris of assuming we can find greatness without the work or the cost.

Far from being appalled by the castrati, I rather think that when we as a culture began putting the mediocrity of the individual over the glory of art, over arête, over those things that represent the best of who we are as a people, that was when the real moral and cultural decay began and that’s what horrifies me the most because it’s not just sacrifice for the arts that modernists find problematic, it’s veneration of and sacrifice for devotion too and yet, if we wish to truly find excellence in our devotion, it’s going to require hard work and sacrifice on par with that of the best of the castrati or the best ballet dancers. We should be willing to bleed for our devotion, to bleed for our art, to bleed for our dreams. That’s Marsyas’s lesson: nothing is free, and one doesn’t reach the top of one’s game without painful hard work. We all have those talents and skills that we were given. The gap between that and excellence is what we choose to do with them and how much of ourselves we’re willing to bet in the bargain.(8)

Notes:

1. The meme in question meant to be humorous, and I found it funny but it edges well into territory that while not impious necessarily bears watching. Humans do not do things better than the Gods and I think to allow that idea to take deep root in our minds is problematic. A joke is one thing but we’re constantly being bombarded by pop culture movies and tv that even when entertaining put forth the idea that humans are superior to the Gods and it’s important to recognize when that’s happening.
2. One source implied that of course the Muses would vote in favor of Apollo but I think that rather They would vote for the better musician. To do otherwise would be to violate the very Arts whose mysteries They govern. It is also to ascribe to Gods our own pathetic lack of integrity.
3. The Castrati were the rock stars of the 17th and 18th centuries. Castrated before puberty (often by their own request), they were men with pure, powerful soprano and alto voices. They commanded great applause and even greater fees and dominated the opera stage for two hundred years. The phenomenon began in the Byzantine church (the earliest recorded castrato singer that I’ve been able to document so far is a Byzantine choir master in 400 C.E.) and ended in the Papal Choir of the Vatican in 1922. We actually have recordings of the last known castrato: A. Moreschi. Unfortunately, they don’t give any sense of what his voice was actually like. Not only was he never an operatic virtuoso, but the recording technology of the time was in its infancy and could not capture the main bulk of his range. You can hear this with contemporary recordings of female stars like Nellie Melba too: the main part of the tessitura, its frequencies couldn’t be recorded so the voice sounds thin and given the limitations of recording, also out of tune. It’s unfortunate but early video recordings of the great dancers of the imperial ballet, like Pavlova and Spessivtseva show similar issues and in no way do justice to their subjects.
4. A couple of my favorite counter tenors include F. Fagioli, P. Jaroussky, A. Scholl, and the winner of this year’s Metropolitan Opera prize, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen. Then there’s natural soporano M. Maniaci, who is in a class by himself. Each of them is singing work originally written for the greatest castrati of the baroque age and a the recent interest in baroque music has allowed for a mini-renaissance of counter tenors. 🙂 The counter tenor voice is a very different voice from that of the castrati, and both are different again from female sopranos. They’re very different instruments.
5. The ends of the bones don’t harden and so most castrati were, for their time, very, very tall. Depending on when the castration was done, they may or may not be able to have sex. If the operation was performed when they were very small, their genitals might not have grown to adult size. The results, according to way too much medical literature that I’ve had to read for my research, varied significantly. If their voices didn’t hold, if they didn’t have what it takes to be truly great, they were resigned to church choirs. Some became priests. I think it’s likewise important to note that ‘childhood’ was not then the cossetted state that it has become now for better or worse. There were different expectations of children and many parents gave their children over to the knife so that the boys would have a better future than the parents could otherwise give them.
6. I often wonder what it must have been like for Velluti…a generation before him, castrati were super stars and while he had an extensive career, he was the last of his kind and knew it and was often greeted as much with horror as acclaim…not to mention Meyerbeer and Rossini don’t hold a candle to Porpora and Handel when it comes to showing off a high voice.
7. Like with castrati, there is a time limit to the training. If a dancer doesn’t make that decision young, they’re not going to have a career and they certainly aren’t going to reach the heights of that career. A childhood is a small sacrifice to pay for such an opportunity, in my opinion (having made that choice). There are rare exceptions. Melissa Hayden for example, one of Balanchine’s stars began dancing at sixteen. She is a rarity and frankly not in the same league as the best Russian or French dancers who began as children. I began my ballet training at ten and that was at least three years too late. There’s a sweet spot with certain elements of the training too. If a girl, for instance is planning to go on pointe, that should happen after two years of near daily training (in the west, I’d say around 12, but in major ballet schools, if they’re training for several hours a day from the time they’re seven or eight, you might see it earlier, around ten. Without that multi hour daily training regimen though, putting a child on pointe before twelve is criminal. The bones just aren’t ready.). Going on pointe too early without proper preparation can severely damage the feet but going on too late, after say 15 can also be problematic. It is much, much more difficult to develop the competence and fluidity on pointe that one needs for professional work if the feet aren’t broken to it young. As the bones harden, it’s that much more difficult to gain that combination of strength and flexibility that makes proper pointe work possible.
8. Here is a BBC documentary on the castrati that is useful for those with no prior knowledge. Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. The whole thing is about an hour.

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New Prayer Cards

I have added two new prayer cards to my Etsy shop

ragona3-1

Ragana, Baltic Goddess of Fate, Prophecy, and Healing by Halldora

Turan Ati lykeia

Turan Ati, Etruscan Goddess of love, fertility, and vitality by Lykeia.

I’ve also uploaded an assortment of greeting cards, which may be purchased singly or in groups of five (i can also set up a reserve listing if you want a larger one time order). I have two sets: my shaman series and my still life series. 

I’m slowly uploading several of my photographs and paintings. If you’re interested in owning a piece of original art, check them out. 

Krasskova_Still Life With Pears6-krasskova-sunflowers

7-krasskova-still-life-with-teapot8-krasskova-dionysos

 

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Censorship is Never Ok: Whitney Museum and Artist Dana Schutz Face Attacks Over Key Piece in the Whitney’s 2017 Biennial.

Apparently there is a small furor brewing over at the Whitney Museum in New York City. It all centers around a painting featured in their 2017 Biennial: “Open Casket 2016” by artist Dana Schutz.

Firstly, here is the painting in question:

dan schutz Open Casket 2016

(“Open Casket 2016” by Dana Schutz)

It is a memorial piece, her interpretation of the horrific murder of Emmett Till, which helped spark this nation’s Civil Rights movement.

The photo of Emmett Till in his casket has become iconic, a symbol of the fight for justice that galvanized this nation, a fight that is still going on. Till’s mother, having lost her only son in a most horrific manner, insisted on an open casket saying, “Let the people see what I have seen.” He was murdered for supposedly whistling at a white woman. The woman in question admitted that her accusations were false just this year.

I still remember my own response when, early in my twenties I first saw the iconic photograph of Mr. Till in his coffin (it is extremely graphic and I am not posting it here, but this link will take readers directly to the photograph). It was like a punch in the gut. It leveled me. It apparently left quite an impression on Dana Schutz too, and her painting shows that the death of Emmett Till still has the power to affect us today. When I saw that she titled it ‘Open Casket 2016’ I was even more moved, because it’s a clear statement that what happened to Till is still happening. It’s an acknowledge of the pain of ever mother who has ever lost her child to racism and violence. The artist herself said that she responded viscerally as a mother to Emmett Till’s death.

Art critic Hannah Black has a problem with that and has started a campaign not only to have the painting removed, but to see it destroyed. Not only has she started a petition to that effect (recently amended to show only the names of black signatories) but she is also encouraging her non-black supporters to vandalize the painting having recently updated her post to say the following, “Non-Black people super very welcome to help get painting destroyed tho [sic] in other ways.”

She doesn’t like this piece and she is calling for it to be destroyed. She is advocating for others to try to destroy it. She is calling for the willful silencing of an artist and the destruction of that person’s art. She is willfully trying to shut another artist down.

Hannah Black and those signatories are saying this painting is exploitative because the artist isn’t black. From the day of the opening last week, there have been protestors lined up in front of Ms. Schutz’s painting purposely blocking it from being viewed by those attending the exhibit. Its sole offense? The artist isn’t black. I’m not a fucking basket of fruit but that doesn’t stop me from painting the occasional still life. Art is that thing which crosses all boundaries after all. One does not need to be a particular anything in order to paint it.

Apparently “Open Casket 2016” is racist and exploitative though because the artist isn’t herself black. That is the objection, not the nature of the art itself. Seriously, if you would find this piece acceptable if the artist were black, then you’re not worried about exploitation, you’re just a racist. You, Ms. Black, are the worst kind of racist and I sincerely hope that you are arrested for attempting to promote vandalism and destruction of Museum property. You are a disgusting human being.

I also hope the Whitney doesn’t cave here and I hope to Gods they have security on this painting, which represents one of the most horrific events in the American Civil Rights movement. We should remember this event. We should be struck and moved and rendered by art. What we shouldn’t do is censor it. Ever but most especially when it upsets us.

We’ve seen this play out before. How many cultural icons do these deluded people need to destroy before we learn our lesson? Can anyone say Inquisition, Cultural Revolution, Soviet Russia? The moment you begin advocating for the destruction of artistic freedom, you lose. NO SUBJECT SHOULD BE OFF LIMITS TO AN ARTIST. I hope this makes Dana Schutz’s career.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

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Submission to Hermes Agon

Here is another [gorgeous] entry to my 2017 Hermes Agon.  Ellen, the creator, is willing to send this to the first person to make a minimum $50 donation to the Mothers Prayer Card Project. Any takers? (The image de Morgan’s painting “Mercury,” the same as on the cover of my Hermes devotional). 

ellen-hermes