Thoughts on Creating a Cover
By Carowyn Silveroak
The original design that Lady Shannon Gallowglass (Pikestaff editor) and I were putting our heads together over back in June was that of a Hindu goddess, and each hand would be holding a different tool for making the varied A&S things that we cover. I tried seven times to draw it, and it just didn't want to be created!
So I took a (belated) hint, and looked into designs from other cultures....
My grandmother and my uncle were both archeologists, and along with family history, I learned about the Iroquois and Maya and Sioux and Aztec and Lenni Lenape and Inca...and Egypt. My uncle was teaching me Egyptian Heiroglyphic while other girls were learning about makeup (which incidentally, is why I can't wear the stuff to this day - I never learned!). I also learned snippets of Hieratic and Demotic and Cuneiform, and became fascinated with languages and how words were perceived as magic by early cultures, and how that early fascination still echoes through the oldest (and sometimes simplest) words in the language. Is it any coincidence that "love" is only 4 letters and 3 phonemes? "Hate"? "It"? And our constant struggle to take complicated concepts and shorten them - and our modern preoccupation with the TLA, or Three Letter Acronym? Or that we try to find new names for ourselves that fit our inner selves better, or shorten our given names with nicknames?
Or our fascination with symbology - people who wear their football team's logo, which with only heraldic colors and a particular shape, no words at all, can convey the concept that this is *their* team. And you know which one it is! Tavern signs, license plates, livery badges, images carved on tombstones - all meant to pack a wealth of information into one tiny symbol or shape.
Languages still retain their magic, even if it's not in the same manner as the original designers intended. And no language is ever dead, not while we can still translate them, and wonder anew at meanings and syntax.
It gives us hope, which is another short word....
I mentioned color as well. It's no surprise when black is meant to symbolize death for most of us, red for anger (or courage, depending on which side of the coin you're looking at), white for purity, green for faith (or jealousy, the other side of the coin), etc. There are cultural differences - red for luck and white for death in the Oriental symbology, which must have really shocked them when they first started seeing American weddings! - but once a group agrees on a color system, it tends to stay.
How many bards still wear deep blue, and those with healer personalities wear green, in the SCA? Yeah, guilty as charged!
So the fascination I have with both the language of the old Egyptians and what colors they chose for each of the symbols they carved should come as no surprise. Since this was the language that got you into the afterlife - and you had to say each thing just right at each point on the journey, to each creature that you met (which, heretically enough, strikingly reminds me of the video games we play today), in order to be deemed worthy of having your heart weighed against the Feather of Truth (neat symbology!), to see if you could enter into Paradise....wonderful! And each symbol that each carver put on the walls of your tomb had better be right, with the right colors, to give you the best chance of succeeding. I wish I could go back in time, to find out why each symbol was chosen to be that color, and not another: "flax twist" being yellow I can see, that's its natural color, and "open mouth" being red is obvious too, and "river" being blue - but "triangle hut" being neon orange I don't understand (don't say "traffic cone transported in time!"). It must have made sense to them, otherwise we wouldn't have the reports of artisans being executed for carving the wrong symbols, or of painters for painting the wrong colors. Though I always wondered if the artisans weren't paid off by the deceased's enemies, to try for one final act of rather permanent revenge....
So when I decided to redo the stela for the A&S issue, I wanted to keep certain elements that lent themselves to evoking one or more of the arts and sciences. The "bundt cake" - which has been interpreted as bread, which makes sense as the staff of life, but I didn't realize bread was shaped that way in Egypt, nor that it was cut the same way we cut cake - the arrow, the fish, the skulls, the falcons, etc. I added a lot more elements, and kept very little of the original text. Even if their religion is considered dead, I admire their culture too much to seem like I was mocking their beliefs.
In Egyptian color symbology, yellow is the female color, and brick red is the male color. So the cartouches denote who is King and who is Queen, without ever saying the title. The fact that their names are also enclosed in the sacred circle is enough to identify them as royalty or diety. Notice my name earlier in the text is not enclosed, but the seated woman facing my name designates my name symbols and my gender.
The heiroglyphs across the top saying "Pikestaff A&S Issue" were done phonetically, not by actual Egyptian words, since I couldn't find the right word for "Pikestaff" and I have no idea what the complicated word "issue" would have looked like. So it really says "Pikstaf A-N-S Isu" with an ankh on the end (because I could!). Yeah, OK, so I come from the "Rock 'n' Roll Forever!!" generation, can you tell?? ;-) But the writing down the side is actual Heiroglyphic, and could be read by an ancient Egyptian. And then they'd look at me, point, and say, "Me-Re-D'th?" Yep, that's my name, don't carve it out!
-Carowyn Silveroak / Meredith Harmon
P.S. I have a painting on papyrus of the goddess Maat with the Feather of Truth on her head in my living room, and a statue of the goddess Selket guarding a carved soapstone heart scarab that was given to me by a friend who was dying of cancer. Selket also guards an abalone bowl filled with broken pieces of the clamshell known as Angel Wing, which I collected from the Assateague beach a month after 9/11. Symbology lives on wherever we call "home" - another short word - so that we can remember what we've lost - still another short word - whether it's the loss of loved ones, or of a nation's innocence, or of a culture buried beneath the sand.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead, E. A. Wallis Budge, 1967, Dover Books, ISBN 0-4862-1866-x
Ancient Egyptian Myths & Legends, Lewis Spence, 1991, Dover Books, ISBN 0-4862-6525-0
Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art, Richard H. Wilkinson, 1999, Thames & Hudson, ISBN 0-5002-8070-3
The Handbook of Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Philip Ardagh, 2001, Scolastic Books, ISBN 0-4392-8313-2
Used by permission.