The Goddess Seshat

Seshat

Seshat is the Egyptian Goddess of scribes and writing, and was also associated with arithmetic and architecture. Her most common epithet is “Mistress of the House of Books,” because she was in charge of the library of the Gods. She is a patron of all forms of writing, not just of stories and everything else that would appear in the Gods’ library. Seshat is a patron of accounting, auditing, and taking the census. She is also the guardian of scared hieroglyphs. Some consider her a female counterpart to the God Thoth, because he was the one who taught the people to write. Others believe she is either Thoth’s wife or his daughter. Seshat was the daughter of Nut and Geb, and the sister of Osiris, Isis, and Set.

Seshat appears in the legend of the Tree of Life. It held a map of destiny, or knowledge of some kind of divine plan. Seshat and Thoth kept track of the Pharaohs’ names, and length of their rule, on the tree so that the Tree of Life would protect them and perpetuate their names. Seshat also recorded the spoils of war, as well as the number of captives and treasures taken from lands the Egyptians conquered. Other legends describe her as a funerary goddess, because she recorded the lives of the dead so they would be remembered. Some describe her as being pregnant with the deceased because of this duty.

Seshat has another epithet as “Mistress of the House of Architecture,” which also afforded her the nickname, “Lady of the Builders.” She was often featured by priestesses in building rituals when new temples were being built. In particular, Seshat was associated with a ritual known as “stretching the cord,” a ritual used during the laying of a building’s foundation. The cord is the mason’s line, used to measure dimensions. In spite of this association, there is no temple that specifically honors Seshat. She was depicted on several temples, and did have her own priests that were also Scribes, or oversaw Scribes. Unfortunately, it seems that her role was eventually overshadowed by Thoth’s, and her priests eventually became his priests.

Seshat is often depicted wearing leopard skins, because they are her sacred animal, and leopard spots were associated with the stars, and Seshat was responsible for astronomy as well as writing. Seshat is a moon goddess, and the moon was how the Egyptians could measure time without using the Sun. The phases of the moon were very important to Egyptian astronomers and astrologists, because it helped time important events and religious ceremonies, so they needed to be recorded. She also wears a head dress that is a seven point star on top of thorns. Some believe that the horns are supposed to be shaped like a crescent moon, but others suggest it to be a bow. Since Seshat is a lunar goddess, the inverted horns seem more likely to be a moon after a thirty day cycle.

One myth describes Seshat as the Goddess who invented writing. Out of all the Goddesses portrayed in Ancient Egyptian art, Seshat is the only one who is shown actually writing. Some of them are shown with writing utensils of the time (scribe palette and brush), but only Seshat is shown writing. Scribes were very important in Ancient Egyptian society, and highly respected members of communities, especially since writing hieroglyphs was a skill that could take at least ten years to truly master. In these times, Scribes were the people who could be relied upon to transmit information to people, whether it be political, religious, or commercial. So it is unsurprising that Seshat was so venerated by the Egyptian people.

 

-Shannon Tricia

shannontricia.wordpress.com

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