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Seshat

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Title: Seshat  
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Subject: Ancient Egyptian Religion, Maat, Ancient Egyptian concept of the soul, Ancient Egyptian funerary practices, Amduat
Collection: Egyptian Goddesses, Knowledge Goddesses, Scribes, Wisdom Goddesses
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Seshat

Seshat
Goddess of writing and wisdom
Seshat, depicted in a leopard skin, inscribing the years of reign for the king on the palm-leaf rib which served for tallying up the years and so had become the hieroglyph for "year".[1]
Name in hieroglyphs
Symbol Unknown seven-pointed emblem above her head.[2][3][4][5]
Consort Thoth (in some accounts)
Parents Thoth
Siblings presumably Maat

Seshat, under various spellings,[6] was the Ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing. She was seen as a scribe and record keeper, and her name means she who scrivens (i.e. she who is the scribe), and is credited with inventing writing. She also became identified as the goddess of architecture, astronomy, astrology, building, mathematics, and surveying. These are all professions that relied upon expertise in her skills. She is identified as Safekh-Aubi in some late texts.[7]

Mistress of the House of Books is another title for Seshat, being the deity whose priests oversaw the library in which scrolls of the most important knowledge were assembled and spells were preserved. One prince of the fourth dynasty, Wep-em-nefret, is noted as the Overseer of the Royal Scribes, Priest of Seshat on a slab stela. Heliopolis was the location of her principal sanctuary. She is described as the goddess of history.

In art, she was depicted as a woman with a seven-pointed emblem above her head. It is unclear what this emblem represents.[2][3][4][5] Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1479-1425 BCE) called her Sefket-Abwy (She of seven points). Spell 10 of the Coffin Texts states "Seshat opens the door of heaven for you."

Usually, she is shown holding a palm stem, bearing notches to denote the recording of the passage of time, especially for keeping track of the allotment of time for the life of the pharaoh. She was also depicted holding other tools and, often, holding the knotted cords that were stretched to survey land and structures.

She is frequently shown dressed in a cheetah or leopard hide, a symbol of funerary priests. If not shown with the hide over a dress, the pattern of the dress is that of the spotted feline. The pattern on the natural hide was thought to represent the stars, being a symbol of eternity, and to be associated with the night sky.

As the divine measurer and scribe, Seshat was believed to appear to assist the pharaoh in both of these practices. It was she who recorded, by notching her palm, the time allotted to the pharaoh for his stay on earth.

Seshat assisted the pharaoh in the "stretching the cord" ritual. This ritual is related to laying out the foundations of temples and other important structures in order to determine and assure the sacred alignments and the precision of the dimensions. Her skills were necessary for surveying the land after the annual floods to reestablish boundary lines. The priestess who officiated at these functions in her name also oversaw the staff of others who performed similar duties and were trained in mathematics and the related store of knowledge.

Much of this knowledge was considered quite sacred and not shared beyond the ranks of the highest professionals such as architects and certain scribes. She also was responsible for recording the speeches the pharaoh made during the crowning ceremony and approving the inventory of foreign captives and goods gained in military campaigns. During the New Kingdom, she was involved in the Sed festival held by the pharaohs who could celebrate thirty years of reign.

Later, when the cult of the moon deity, Thoth, became prominent and he became identified as a god of wisdom, the role of Seshat changed in the Egyptian pantheon when counterparts were created for most older deities. The lower ranks of her priestesses were displaced by the priests of Thoth. First, she was identified as his daughter, and later as his wife.

After the pairing with Thoth the emblem of Seshat was shown surmounted by a crescent moon, which, over time, degenerated into being shown as two horns arranged to form a crescent shape, but pointing downward (in an atypical fashion for Egyptian art). When the crescent moon symbol had degenerated into the horns, she sometimes was known as Safekh-Aubi, meaning she who wears the two horns. In a few images the horns resemble two cobras, as depicted in hieroglyphs, but facing each other with heads touching.

See also

Gallery

References

  1. ^ Seshat in Luxor. H. Peter Aleff. See also Huh (god).
  2. ^ a b Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003). The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. p. 166. ISBN 0-500-05120-8.
  3. ^ a b In Search of Cosmic Order: Selected Essays on Egyptian Archaeoastronomy. Editors: Juan Antonio Belmonte, Mosalam Shaltout. Contributor: Zahi Hawass. Publisher: American University in Cairo Press, 2010. ISBN 9789774794834. In chapter 7 on page 197 it says, "The sign held by Seshat over her head has given rise to many attempts to offer an explanation for this rare feature, but none has yielded a definitive conclusion."
  4. ^ a b c Seshat and her tools. H. Peter Aleff. From his article: "Many Egyptologists have long speculated about the emblem which Seshat wore as her head dress. Sir Alan Gardiner described it in his still category-leading 'Egyptian Grammar' as a 'conventionalized flower (?) surmounted by horns'. His question mark after 'flower' reflects the fact that there is no likely flower which resembles this design. Others have called it a 'star surmounted by a bow', but stars in the ancient Egyptian convention had five points, not seven like the image in Seshat's emblem. This number was so important that it caused king Tuthmosis III (1479 to 1425 BCE) to call this goddess Sefkhet-Abwy, or 'She of the seven points'." In the same article Aleff himself describes the figure as "an accurate image of a hemp leaf".
  5. ^ a b Egyptian Grammar (Dictionary). By Sir Alan Henderson Gardiner. ISBN 978-0900416354.
  6. ^ Including Safkhet, Sesat, Seshet, Sesheta, and Seshata.
  7. ^
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