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27 November, 2012

I is for Icons

Here's a thing that's pretty popular: statues and other representations of gods.  I tend to refer to this category as "icons", in part for reasons I've gone into before.

There are, of course, several different ways of interpreting what an icon is or how it works.  There is of course what, in many ways, is the most superficial: This Is A Portrait Of The Deity.  The representation is both literalised and limited to what can be achieved in the medium, and here we find the echo of the people who talk about "idols" - the use of images to limit and constrain the divine, to provide a refuge for the literal-minded.

In Egyptian thought, the statues are not images of the gods, but ways in which people choose to represent and symbolise the gods.  The gods have many forms, many appearances and manifestations; we select from among them.  In fact, not all of the appearances of the gods are known even to other gods, and they will introduce themselves by adding familiar attributes to their appearances or deceive each other by appearing in an unfamiliar manner or even trying to pass themselves off as other gods.  (And certain amounts of Egyptian ritual magic depend on a human managing to pass themselves off as a relevant god, besides.)

An icon is a particular kind of tool, one which can help a person come into relationship with a god by giving them a framework for understanding a portion of that god.  It is a particularly powerful type of tool for that purpose, because icons can themselves become ways that the gods reveal themselves - rather than a theophany in a dream, a chance encounter in the natural world, or something like that, the icon itself is a form of the god, and can be related to and respected as such.  In Kemetic practice there are of course ways of "opening" icons, to make them a literal divine presence at all times; personally, I find that the theophany of a simple icon - so long as it is the right icon - is entirely sufficient to anchor a sense of presence, of relationship.  It gives me someone to talk to, y'know?

The right icon matters a lot.  Years ago I commissioned a portrait of Hetharu: she stands before a great heap of modern-world musical instruments cascadng in glorious profusion, clasping her hands together with joy.  Here is a world of abundance, an amazing wealth beyond flute and drum and harp and sistrum.  Saxophones and bagpipes and electric guitars, oh my.  This is an important image to me - not a central icon, but an icon nonetheless, a reminder of joy in abundance.

When I can sculpt again, one of my projects is a Heru-Sa-Aset icon.  Because I could not formulate anything to relate to him for a long time with traditional iconography, until I found something that fit, something a little askew but still in tune with what is said about him.  And so there is the space to make the queer bit of statue that will serve me as an icon there, where the traditional poses and forms will not do.  So that I can build relationship there.

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