The meaning of the Seshat symbol
Abdur Rahman asked recently about the meaning of my Avatar symbol. I started to write a reply to his comment, but then it ran away with me, so I thought I would answer in a separate post.
The symbol is representative of the Egyptian goddess, Seshat. There are differing opinions over the exact meaning of the symbol, which is made up of two elements: the star form and the over-arching “bow”. The star is unusual in having seven points, whereas the stars painted on walls in Egyptian art are five-pointed. So it is unlikely that it is just a star. Sometimes it is said to represent the papyrus flower, as the papyrus plant was used for making scrolls which are one of the materials used in record keeping and Seshat is goddess of record-keeping and scribal arts. She is often depicted marking off the years on a palm leaf stalk:
Others say it is representative of the hemp leaf, as hemp was used to make rope and ropes were used as measuring cords. Seshat is one of the few goddesses to have never had a temple dedicated specifically to her and yet, she is at the core of each temple as it was her powers of mathematics and geometry that were called upon to measure out the ground plans for every stone building. This was expressed in a ritual “pedj shes” (stretching the cord) which was conducted during the laying of foundations. Apart from her association with scribal arts, it was this aspect that appealed to me in taking her name. In my profession as translator, we are the invisible workers integral to communication and industry and yet we never get the recognition we deserve. We are invisible tongues, shadow speakers clothing other people’s words, just as Seshat was hidden in the foundations of every temple and her skills were used to the glory of the other gods. Some people say that the symbol actually represents the tools of geometry, and that the over-arching bow is not a bow, or horns or feathers (as has been suggested) but that it represents the number 10. I like the idea of that, but don’t quite understand how they came to that conclusion.
Seshat was identified variously as daughter, sister and wife of Thoth, or even as the female aspect of Thoth. In this context she was said to wear a crescent moon (as representative of Thoth). Typically the crescent moon was shown with the tips pointing up, so this is unusual in Egyptian art for the tips to point down. Some suggest that this is just the way that symbols change and morph from their original meanings over time. She was sometimes known as Safekh-Abwy, which means She Who Wears the Two Horns. In some images the horns resemble cobras. There is no evidence to suggest that the interpretation of the arch as a bow is correct. Horns were often associated with the crescent moon, and so there would be no contradiction in seeing the “arch” as representative of both of these.