Seshat was the ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing. Ancient Egyptians saw her 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 accounting, architecture, astronomy, astrology, building, mathematics, and surveying.
She was depicted as a woman with a seven-pointed emblem above her head in art. This emblem originates from an alternate name for Seshat, Sefkhet-Abwy, which means “seven-horned”. It is unclear what this emblem represents.
Mistress of the House of Books is another title for Seshat, the deity whose priests oversaw the library in which scrolls of the essential 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.
Usually, she appears 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 pharaoh’s life. She was also depicted holding other tools and, often, having the knotted cords stretched to survey land and structures. She is frequently shown dressed in a cheetah- or leopard hide, a symbol of funerary priests. The design on the natural hide represented the stars, a symbol of eternity, and was associated with the night sky. If not shown with the fur over a dress, the pattern of the dress is that of the spotted feline.
Roles of Goddess Seshat
As the divine measurer and scribe, ancient Egyptians believed that Seshat appeared to assist the pharaoh in these practices. By notching her palm, she recorded 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 vital structures to determine and assure the sacred alignments and the precision of the dimensions. Her skills were necessary for surveying the land to reestablish boundary lines after the annual floods. The priestess who officiated at these functions in her name also oversaw the staff of others who performed similar duties. Also, they were trained in mathematics and the related store of knowledge.
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 took a role in the Sed festival held by the pharaohs, who could celebrate thirty years of reign.
Seshat is the feminine version of Thoth, his daughter and his wife. Thoth (Djehuty in ancient Egyptian), the reckoner of time and god of writing revered as a god of wisdom, was closely identified with Seshat, with whom he shared some overlapping functions. At times she was recognised as his daughter and as his companion. Seshat is the inventor of writing, and Thoth taught writing to man. Seshat was reliable in designing the architectural layout of Egypt, keeper of the House of Life, and helping souls to ‘cross over’ during the transition. The priests of Seshat were trained to understand the powers of alchemy.
The Seshat emblem is a hieroglyph representing the goddess Seshat in ancient Egypt. The symbol was a long stem with a seven-petal flower on top and surmounted by a pair of horns. The archaic form had seven petals (the vertical shaft as 8), (like an upright, with two crossed lines-(4), as a ‘star’, and one horizontal, giving 7+ the 1-vertical shaft). This form was also surmounted by two enclosing sickle-shaped signs, with two falcon feathers on top. As the emblem symbolises this deity, it sits atop her head.
The Seshat emblem in Egyptian is the name of Seshat (sš3t). It is thought her origins also involve the stars and ancient Egyptian astronomy.
Palermo Stone usage
The famous 24th century BC Palermo Stone has multiple uses of Seshat’s emblem. It occurs on the obverse of the Palermo Piece (at Palermo Museum), 1 of the two large pieces of the 7—piece Palermo Stone. The stone is used on the obverse, Row III (of VI rows), and is used twice in King Year Record 34 and 40 of King Den. It is also used elsewhere on the stone for God Seshu, the male counterpart of Seshat (Seshait or Sesha-t).
The reading is approximate: “YEAR: To create (a) Statue for Seshait, Statue for Mafdet”. The King Year 34 register has the clearer of the two styles of Seshat Emblem, with larger spacing between the two vertical feathers. A large renpet (hieroglyph) for YEAR precedes the register (forms its starting border).) Note: the Gardiner font reads left-to-right; the Palermo Stone is written opposite: right-to-left.
An iconographic example of Goddess Seshat
One famous example of the iconographic use of the Seshat’s emblem is from Pharaoh, and Queen, Hatshepsut‘s Red Chapel.