… a thought making crooked all that is straight.

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.

seshat-symbol2

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:

seshat2

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.

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4 responses

  1. Peace Seshat

    Thank you for the explanation. 🙂

    December 21, 2008 at 1:27 pm

  2. You’re welcome. 🙂

    December 21, 2008 at 5:00 pm

  3. Arizona

    Please forgive me for sharing with you the meaning of the symbol as far as I understand it.

    The upper part of the symbol is essentially a bracket like this {
    A single aspect, represented by the knob at the top, acts as an unseen guiding force over everything covered by it.

    The symbol in it is a stylized tree, it represents living things and the bracket is also alive, for this reason they are green representing a concept of nature or naturalness, which is indicative of the symbol involved being portrayed as an aspect of nature. This is also used for other gods and goddesses that are personified representations of aspects of nature, such as those of the Ogdoad.

    However despite this most of all the tree, which can also be a star branching from her head, represents consciousness and knowledge in particular. The symbol arises from the head of the goddess for that reason.

    The symbol says that Sheshat is a natural living yet unseen force or aspect guiding and overseeing knowledge, and at the same time it represents that force as having its own knowledge and awareness.

    In many representations she is seen recording time and the staff she does so on is a form of was, representing the domain or power of time and awareness of it. The was in this symbol is depicted as arising from a shen ring symbol, which represents eternity and or infinity. A frog is typically depicted on the Shen ring, representing the symbol as an aspect of the Ogdoad as well as representing Heh who is an aspect of the Ogdoad pertaining to time. His symbolism is particularly profound, but I will not address it.
    The frog also relates to the meaning of Heqet and Khnum. All are aspects that compose or arise from Ra in terms of the system of knowledge they pertain to.

    However the primary symbolism of Seshat is that all forms of knowledge are guided by an unseen intelligence, this concept later becomes both Logos in philosophy and is personified as Aletheia by the Greeks, who maintained the system and transmitted it further

    December 15, 2015 at 6:26 am

  4. Apologies for taking so long to approve your comment.

    I really appreciate you taking the time to share your interpretation of the Seshat symbol. I agree with you wholeheartedly. You have explained it perfectly. Thank you so much!

    December 19, 2015 at 1:36 pm

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