Seshat – Egyptian Goddess of Writing

Consort to the God Thoth (sometimes sister, sometimes wife) who brought writing and Hieroglyphs to the Egyptian people, the goddess Seshat was tasked with presiding over all that was written. She ruled the domain of the written word, overseeing its use in the mortal world, the celestial heavens, and the realm of the dead.

“Known as ‘she who is foremost in the library'”(1) Seshat was the collector and cataloger of all the works stored in the Library (Egyptian – House of Life) where all of the important and sacred texts were kept; it was in the House of Life that scribes and scholars would discuss concepts such as religion, cosmology, astronomy and mathematics.

Library
The word library in Hieroglyphs shown above was made up of the Ankh – the symbol of life – flanked either side by floor plans that represented the word house = The House of Life

The texts Seshat collected on earth were also mirrored and collected in the celestial House of Life in the heavens. Here, texts were given immortality through their eternal storage in this library and scribes could earn a form of immortality via their words if Seshat retained them – a blessing for any writer who manages to impress the Goddess.

As well as collecting works, Seshat also took on the role of a scribe alongside Thoth. The Egyptians saw writing as a form of magic, believing that if something could be created in the form of the written word, it could also manifest into the world through the word as a medium, something that holds true for many magical systems to this present day. Her work as a scribe often meant recording and tallying the passing of years, and she is often depicted holding a palm frond which she marks with notches to designate the passage of time.

She also functioned as a guide in the underworld (a Psychopomp); as the keeper of books she could help the newly dead interpret the spells written down in each individual’s unique Book of the Dead (more properly known as the Book of Coming Forth Death), and hopefully navigate safely through the underworld. Another reminder of this is the fact that she is often depicted wearing a cheetah or leopard hide, both of which are symbols of funerary priests.

Seshat
Seshat marking her palm frond. This figure of the goddess is carved on the back of the throne of the seated statue of Rameses II., author Jon Bodsworth.

Another important task Seshat performed was helping the Pharaoh hold the knotted cord which was used for the measurement of buildings; laying the foundations and aligning the sacred geometry with the heavens above. This ceremonial task was known as the Stretching of the Cord, and expanded Seshat’s patronage to builders as well.

Building and writing were seen as related processes; after all, they both involve the conception and creation of something that has not existed before. This is a poetic understanding of the process of writing, as well as architecture, though it could be extended to any of the arts.

So, the next time you create something from nothing (including, but not limited to accounting, architecture, astronomy, astrology, building, mathematics, and surveying), remember the Goddess with the Seven Pointed Crown, the Lady of Writing, the wife of Thoth, the incomparable Sheshat.

Goddess_Seshat,_ca._1919-1875_B.C.E.,_52.129
 Goddess Seshat, ca. 1919-1875 B.C.E. Limestone, 20 11/16 x 23 1/4 in. (52.5 x 59 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 52.129

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(1) Handbook of Egyptian Mythology by Geraldine Pinch pg 190

For more reading we recommend: Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt Revised by Rosalie David

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