Seshat in Egyptian Mythology
Seshat, the Egyptian goddess of writing, mathematics, architecture and knowledge, featured in the stories, myths and legends in Egyptian Mythology. Seshat also plays an important role in the legend concerning the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life was believed to hold the Knowledge of the Divine Plan or the equivalent to a map of destiny which existed from when the world was created and marked the beginning of time. Seshat and her counterpart Thoth kept a record of the pharaoh's name and the length of his reign on the Tree of Life which protected the ruler and perpetuated his name. Thoth and Seshat were the guardians of the sacred hieroglyphs.
Seshat the Goddess of Writing
The following picture depicts Seshat holding the palm reed scepter that was used for keeping records of time and the tools used by an ancient Egyptian scribe. As a guardian of the sacred hieroglyphs she was known as "She who is the scribe" and in role as a keeper of time and mathematics she was known as the "Lady of Years".
Seshat the Goddess of Writing
The ancient Egyptian scribes were considered important and held prestigious positions in society. Scribes were highly respected members of the community in view of their importance in the transmission of religious, political and commercial information. Only 1% of ancient Egyptians were skilled in the writing of hieroglyphics which could take up to ten years to master. Scribes used a scribe's 'kit' for writing and these are shown in the following pictures which also show the hieroglyph for a scribe. Reed pens were used for writing and stored in a bag which was attached by flax cord to a container for water. Also attached was a palette for ink, usually red and black.
The Role of Seshat
The attributes and accreditations given to Seshat, in her role as the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, were numerous and complex but included:
- The keeper of historical records and accounts
- Guardian of the sacred hieroglyphics
- Keeper of Records and Accounts
- Female Scribe
- Goddess of passing time, the lunar cycle and the movement of the stars
- The goddess of mathematics, astronomy and architecture
The profession of scribes was under her protection, as the writing of hieroglyphics was a sacred and magical act. A picture of a notched palm reed for keeping accounts is shown below.
Seshat the Keeper of the Library of Thoth
Thoth was believed to have created a great library of scrolls containing all of his knowledge and his magic spells. His consort, Seshat the goddess of writing, was the "Mistress of the House of Books" indicating that she also took care of his great library of spells and scrolls.
Seshat the Architect
Seshat was revered as the goddess of architects as the "Lady of Builders" and as such featured in re-enacted rituals by priestesses when new temples and other important new structures were to be built. The 'stretching the cord' ceremony, ritual and measuring process was known as Pedjeshes during which the reigning pharaoh and a high priestess personifying Seshat attended a ceremony at the site. A peg and cord were used to mark the position of the axis of the future temple. This ritual involved the Pharaoh aligning the site with Ursa Major, the "Great Bear" apparently seen through the visor formed by the headdress of Seshat. A description of the 'stretching the cord' ceremony is inscribed on the walls of the temple of Horus in Edfu (c.237BC):
"I have grasped the stake along with the handle of the mallet. I take the measuring cord in the company of Seshat. I observe the progressive movement of the stars. My eye is now fixed upon Meskhetiu (the large distinctive 7-star of the 'Big Dipper', in the constellation Ursa Major). The god of time-keeping stands by me, in front of his merkhet. Then, I have established the four corners of the temple."
The 'Stretching the Cord' ceremony is also referred to in the Palermo Stone.
Symbol of Seshat - The Seven Pointed Star
Seshat was a lunar goddess and linked to astronomy. The Moon enabled the ancient Egyptians to measure time without the sun. The phases of the moon gave it a significant importance in early Egyptian astrology and astronomy. The cycles of the moon were central to the organization and timing of both civil and religious ceremonies, rituals, and events.
The hieroglyph of the inverted horns represent the moon after having completed the number of thirty days. The seven pointed star symbol is believed to relate astronomy signifying the Sun and the Moon with the five planets that are visible to the naked eye: Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury.
Symbol of Seshat - The Leopard Skin Robe
Seshat is often depicted wearing a robe made of leopard skin. A high priest of ancient Egypt was called a 'sem priest' and it was only these priests of exalted ranks that were allowed to wear a leopard skin which commemorated the defeat of the evil god Set. The leopard skin robe of Seshat therefore symbolizes as the highest priestesses in Egypt.