Egyptian Art and the Sacred

Statue of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet,

Last week I went to the Art Gallery and Museum in Bristol. I originally went there to meet up with my friend and my partner. But, as soon as I entered into the main hall, my mind was on other things.

To my right, there were two enormous statues of Gods and Goddesses from Ancient Egypt.  Having long studied this ancient culture, I was familiar with these objects from books and movies; but, actually seeing them in the flesh was not an experience I could have prepared myself for. It was a life-changing experience.

But that was just the intro. The two statues just signaled the entrance to a whole exhibit on Ancient Egyptian artifacts. Within, the exhibit had been carefully crafted to give the visitor a sense of the numinous, the sacred, the mysterious and dangerous. The lights were kept so low that everything except the artifacts was enshrouded in darkness, and overhead speakers played ambient sounds of the birds and other wildlife one would expect to here in The Land of the Nile.

As I entered, I was filled with fear, dread, and awe. I came face to face with ancient sarcophagi, ushabti, and other ritual objects, all engraved with sacred hieroglyphs. Such was my reverence for them that I could scarcely bring myself to look at them. I felt like one of the prophets in The Old Testament or The Book of Enoch, who, coming face to face with an Angel or a Watcher, were unable to look directly into their shining faces. Though these things were fashioned many millennia ago, they still had a living presence, and the prana of those long-passed tingled through my body. The collected veneration, awe, faith, and mystic feelings of millions commingled in my being, demonstrating that time is an illusion for that which is eternal.

The best however, was in the Assyrian exhibit adjacent, which included several walls taken directly from The Palace of Nimrud, including this Gryphon:


The chi still emanating from it was intense. It made me want to fall to my knees and weep, and I came very close to doing so. Even when I came back the next day, the effect had not diminished, and I still felt unworthy and terrified in its presence.

In comparison, the exhibits of the European masters were disappointing. In their paintings (except for one or two masterpieces) I did not find a numinous or living energy; only the dead ego and pomp of vainglorious artists searching for fame, renown, and wealth. There was no spirit in these paintings, and it was a misery to look at them.

Art is never just art for its own sake. Until it is imbued with the sincere and devoted spirit of those who create it, it is just a meaningless exhibition of talent, waiting to filled with truth and life.