Penn Museum and Open Statues

Last weekend, I braved crowds of sportsball fans so I could spend time at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology with someone who is both a friend and a member of my religious community.  They’d never been, and I always jump at the chance to visit because of how amazing the museum is.  In addition to having one of the largest collections of Egyptian artifacts in the United States (including the first mummies I ever saw), their other galleries are equally interesting.

(Incidentally, I highly recommend anyone interested in Ur spend time at the Penn Museum – they always have some sort of exhibit on it (right now, it’s on the Royal Cemetery) and one of the world’s foremost experts on Ur is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

So, my friend and I visited the museum and were full of squee and religious discussion and overall joy.  We talked about the Amarna period, and boggled over the timeline of Ancient Egypt as compared to what was going on in the rest of the world, and discussed the concept of soul and ma’at (and Ma’at, and the difference between the two), and I was in my element.  And then, we went to the third floor gallery so I could introduce my friend to Sekhmet. Sekhmets?  Sekhmet, in duo?

You see, the Penn Museum has two open statues of Sekhmet on display…and they’re placed across from each other.

For those who don’t understand the concept of an open statue, I’ll borrow words from another blogger:

“…To those who don’t know what an open statue is,  the nutshell description is such: It is a statue utilized as a home for a deity. An open statue is different from other statues in the sense it needs to be taken care of as a person is. Food, clothes, water, bathing are some of the basic needs. It is a TON of work, and  I mean a TON…” –
Within the Watery HeavensThe Path onto the New Decade.

(I do not have any open statues, myself, and I don’t know at this point if I ever will.  The ritual for Opening the Mouth is filled with complexities, and once opened they cannot be closed.  Since I don’t believe I manage my own life effectively for more than a few days in a row, I don’t think I am ready for be responsible for the sustenance of a god.)

As I said, the two statues of Sekhmet are placed across from each other in the third floor gallery, and so, in the Penn Museum, Sekhmet is effectively looking at herself while she looks at herself.  In addition, she has been without care as befits a netjeret for centuries.

(This is not the fault of the museum, obviously, but it still bottoms me to the bone.)

Standing in the presence of an open statue (never mind two open statues) is…well, it’s incredible.  Another friend of mine put it this way: “…it’s not, oh wow, this is a nice representation of a god.  It’s “OH WOW, HI GOD.”  When you look into the face of the statue, you are looking into the face of a god.  You are staring into infinity and all of its possibilities and, from all reports, you don’t need to be an epic sensor of woo to notice there’s a difference.

In the case of Sekhmet (Sekhmets?) at the Penn Museum, one is distinctly desert and heat and wind and something not unlike water before it bursts into a rolling boil.  This is Sekhmet Justicar, in her splendor as Eye of Her Father, ready to mete out justice and restore order, and to ensure ma’at is upheld through any means required.  She is Sharp of Knives, Sekhmet Overwhelming, and Distant Goddess all in one.

The other, across the hall from the first, is the Returned Goddess.  She is cooler, and more constrained, and the breezes in the hall contrive to wrap themselves around her.  This is the Returned Goddess, Patron of Physicians, Lady of Science.  The calculation is there, as is the upholding of ma’at, but in a quieter way.  She is Sekhmet Chastener, Beautiful One, She Who Loves While Pointing Away.

To stand by one of them is overwhelming.  To stand between them is to be caught up in the whirl of what Sekhmet is and what she can be – caught in the limitless.  Words cannot do it justice, and I am trying so hard to do it justice!

Today, almost a week later, I am still riding some of the emotions I felt, and wondering if all experiences with open statues are like this, or if I am sensitive to these because of who they are.  I’ve never come across another one, although I’ve heard that most open statues in museums are Sekhmet and it makes me wonder why.  Why so many reports involving Sekhmet?  Are there more that I could go and visit?  Are there open statues of other netjeru in museums?  And also, do the museums know that these statues are open and, if they did, would they change anything?

I’d love to hear about your experiences.


3 responses to “Penn Museum and Open Statues

  1. I’m working on my response to this experience too. I have to say, it’s incredibly comforting to be near a center of energy and not feel like /I/ have to work at feeling it, if that makes any sense. Like the difference between wrapping yourself in a blanket and letting your body heat do the work versus standing by a space heater and just /being/ warm. I am not broken!

  2. Pingback: Philadelphia and What I Found There | Sage and Starshine

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