Egyptian Gods: Seshat

Seshat is the ancient Egyptian deity for wisdom, knowledge and writing whose following date back as early as the Second Dynasty. She hailed from Lower Egypt yet her following embraces the whole nation. She is the seen as a wife, daughter and sometimes a female aspect of the god of writing and moon, Thoth and mother of Hornub. Her name may also be spelled as Sesat, Seshet, Safkhet, Sesha, Sesheta or Seshata whose meaning is “she who scrivens” or “she who scribes”. She is credited to be the inventor of writing.

She is the goddess and patron of architecture, astrology, astronomy, building, measurement mathematics, historical records and surveying. She is also patron of all types of writing like accounting, the taking of census and auditing. According to a certain myth, Seshat invented writing, but it was her spouse, Thoth who brought and taught writing to the people.

Her Many Titles an Roles

She is represented in art as a woman wearing a long sheath dress made of leopard, cheetah or wildcat skin that resembled that of funerary priests. However, the pattern of the spots on the hide is believed to be representative of the stars – a symbol of eternity. She often wears a headdress made of a stylized papyrus plant – symbolizing the role of papyrus plant as paper for ancient Egyptian writing. The papyrus plant may be seen with six spurs resembling that of a seven-pointed star. In some cases, her head may be seen with a seven-pointed star over two inverted horns that looked like crescent or a crescent (in homage to her moon god husband, Thoth) with two falcon feathers. This aptly connects with her epithet Sefket-Abwy meaning “She of seven points” or “Seshat opens the door of heaven for you”. Another variety is when the crescent moon degenerates into two horns. This time, Seshat is known as Safekh-Aubi that means “She who wears the Two Horns”

She is seen as holding the palm stem that bears notches or the scribe’s pen and palate in her hands. This signified her role as record keeper of the passage of time. In fact, she is a royal scribe who keeps track of the rule of the pharaoh including his achievements, and triumphs. She also records all the speeches the pharaoh has made especially during the crowning ceremony and approves the record of foreign captives and supplies acquired in military campaigns. She is often seen offering palm tress to the pharaoh to signify a long reign. Her most important function in this aspect is recording the pharaoh’s regnal years and jubilees. She would help pharaohs celebrate 30 years of reign in the Sed Festival of the New Kingdom.

She is also known as “Mistress of the House of Architects” and “Seshat, Foremost of Builders”. In this aspect, she is seen holding other tools including wound cords used by stretching for surveying land and structures. She assisted the pharaoh in the ritual of stretching the cord that will serve as basis for laying the foundations of a temple and other significant structures. The cord is the mason’s line used to measure the dimensions of the building.

She is known as the “Mistress of the House of Books”, “She who is Foremost in the Library”, and “Mistress of Books” because she guarded the library of the gods. She is often seen arranging Thoth’s scrolls and spells. Because of this, she became the patron of all earthly libraries and librarians.

As a funerary goddess, she is believed to keep the memories of the dead alive by keeping a tab of the happenings of the life of each person by writing down accounts of their lives. She has the power to grant the pharaoh immortality by writing his name in the Tree of Life.

Her priests were known guardians of scrolls where the most important knowledge and spells are preserved and handed down to generations. This made her the goddess of history as well.

There is no evidence of a temple ever built to her honor. However, there is proof to her following because in the fourth dynasty, on his Slab Stela, Wep-em-nefret was known as the Overseer of the Royal Scribes and Priest of Seshat whose principal sanctuary was found in Heliopolis.