Seshat ~ Opener of Heaven’s Door

In African oral tradition we have a communication concept surrounding the power of the word to generate and/or aesthetize life. In BaNtu culture, this is referred to as Nommo. This same concept in Khemet was referred to as Hekau – “words of power” which were key to the alkhemical authority of god-as-magician. Often viewed as the female version of Djehuti (Khemet’s god of magical arts and foremost scribe of the gods) goddess Seshat accompanied Khemet’s widowed Queen Auset in guarding murdered King Ausar‘s reconstituted and mummified corpse to ensure that he would go on to become God of the afterlife. [It was said of Djehuti’s powers that without his words/oratory (nommo/hekau) the gods themselves would not exist.] Spell 10 of the Coffin Texts says, Seshat opens the door of heaven for you.” God’s word is as seed, and his Goddess is both the matriarchal womb and portal promising nurture and safe passage across her threshold into life. Together they are author and finisher – a transaction of complementary powers on a journey which affirms the cultural pact, “I am because we are… Since we are, therefore I am.” (UbuNtu).

Seshat ~ Goddess of Writing… Within the cultural concept of Nommo lies the understanding that a person’s name itself has meaning, purpose, and thus generative power when communicated. Khemetic culture distinguished conceptually between “words” (mdw… divine words/speech = mdw ntr) and “writing” (sesh). The written word was thought to give permanence and hence more power to concepts and events. Seshat’s name literally means “she who scrivens,” thus acting as Hekau – as an invocation or calling of the goddess into one of the roles she’s best known for. Seshat, who first appeared in records of the 2nd Early Dynastic Period [c. 2890-2670 BCE], remained the only Khemetic female ever depicted actually putting pen to paper. It is remarkable then that she would earn the prestigious epithet of Goddess of Writing within a select and largely-male community of scribes who recorded and transmitted information of spiritual, historical, social, and political consequence through hieroglyphics – a sacred and magical skill aligned to Khemetic oratory which took up to 10 years to master. The common interpretation of Seshat as Goddess of Writing is that in this aspect she represents the literal female copy/version of god Djehuti, the heralded scribe-of-scribes to the gods who was also close to her in other respects.

Per-ankh symbol

Seshat ~ Foremost of the Per-Ankh… The Per-Ankh or Houses of Life were learning centers attached to Khemet’s major temples that date back to at least the Old Kingdom reign of Pepi II (2246-2152 BCE). They were run by priests who were considered servants of the creator god Re. At the Per-Ankh different subjects such as medicine, magic, theology, astronomy, ritual, and dream interpretation were taught; liturgical texts (sacred books referred to as Souls of Re), and writings of the foremost scribe Djehuti were housed for people to consult for answers to the problems of the day. It was at the Per-Ankh where Seshat and her retinue of scribes – whose work was in service to the gods – learned and perfected their craft of preservation and dissemination of knowledge (often by copying texts such as the Book of the Dead, otherwise known as the Book of Going Forth by Day). Through such dedicated practice, they evolved and attained privileges as initiates in the spiritual and magical matters of the Hekau. Goddess Seshat distinguished herself in the Per-Ankh or House of Life and shared the prestigious epithet Foremost of the Per-Ankh with god Khnum.

Seshat ~ Mistress of the House of Books… Among Seshat’s duties at the Per-Ankh was her role in the temple Library of the Gods which housed the works of Khemet’s foremost scribe and alkhemist, Djehuti. Goddess Seshat is recognized as god Djehuti’s personal librarian… keeper of his writings and spells, or Hekau. Djehuti’s canon of writings included his renowned Emerald Tablets and 42 Books of Knowledge on all matters connecting the heavens and the earthly realm, with a notable forewarning of the fall of Khemet to outsiders. Seshat was widely venerated as a goddess up through the Ptolemaic Dynasty [323-30 BCE], an era roughly coinciding with the creation of the biblical Old Testament and Greco-Roman con-version of itself as the “cradle” of human civilization and knowledge – a fiction which still largely persists. The Library at Alexandria, which Hermetic scholars contend was built primarily to house and study god Djehuti’s writings, was burned down in 48 BCE during Roman-Christian invasions led by Julius Caesar. And somewhere during the conquest of land and humanity’s consciousness by these Euro-patriarchal powers, Seshat’s roles were absorbed, and Djehuti’s retrievable works were converted and collectively ascribed to ‘Thoth’ and/or ‘Hermes Trismegistus’ [Greek for “thrice-greatest Hermes”].

Seshat ~ Queen of Wands… Seshat’s role as keeper of the scrolls and spells of Djehuti – including the ones which resurrected and made Ausar God of the Afterlife – makes the case for some to interpret her signature seven-pointed crown as a “magic wand” and liken her to a “fairy godmother.” Opener of the heavenly portal, Seshat provided magical documents to the deceased for their safe passage through the afterworld: “You shall bring Djehuti to him in his shape and Seshat in her shape, and they shall bring him this writing” [Coffin Text Spell 849]. These documents were spells believed to be drawn up by magician Djehuti in his khem-mystery lab in which the Nile River Ma’atrix – referred to as Khem (hence Khemet) – revealed her heavenly secrets to him. The magical spells were scripted in the hekau of hieroglyphs, a pictographic communication technology (alkhemy) that was more organic to humanity’s image-ination than the abstract and linear Greek alpha-bet which came much later. These scriptural distinctions are in line with KuNtu in the BaNtu universe of forces, and bring to my mind the following proverbs inscribed on the walls of Amun’s Luxor Temple: “Images are nearer reality than cold definitions… Men need images. Lacking them they invent idols. Better then to found the images on realities that lead the true seeker to the source.” The true seeker may be a reference to the goddess in her aspect of Auset who had to search the wilderness in order to gather the mutilated pieces of her husband Ausar’s body after Seth’s brutal coup for Khemet’s throne.

Seshat ~ Mistress of the House of Architects and Builders After pieces of Ausar’s body were retrieved, reassembled and mummified, it’s thought that Seshat helped cast Djehuti’s resurrection spell for the missing 14th piece which enabled Auset’s posthumous conception of Heru. Interestingly the ‘t(kh)n’ [pronounced ‘tekhen’] glyph for obelisk – symbol of Ausar’s resurrection – is the identical word and spelling for ‘to beat a drum’ or ‘musician.’ Architecture and words served dynamically as Hekau to buttress the mysterious link between heaven and the human theater in the orally-based Khemetic consciousness, and it seems goddess Seshat played a significant role while gaining her remarkable status within the highest ranks of such male-dominated professions as surveying, scrivening and masonry. Seshat is depicted in a prominent relief at the Luxor Temple whose architecture is ingeniously designed to resemble the human frame and where proverbs inscribed on its inner walls teach from the cardinal concept of “Know Thyself” to nurture humanity’s organic consciousness: luxor“The body is the house of the God/dess. That is why it is said, ‘Wo/man know thyself’… If you search for the laws of harmony, you will find knowledge… The kingdom of heaven is within you. Whosoever shall know her/himself shall find it… If the Master teaches what is error, the disciple’s submission is slavery. If he teaches truth, this submission is ennoblement.”

Temple reliefs and inscriptions from the Early Dynastic Period further illustrate Seshat assisting in pedj shes (“stretching the cord” or mason’s line) – a pre-construction ritual in which the goddess ensured that laws of harmony were encoded in the foundation of the temple to be built to empower its sacred alignment. This important foundation ritual first required the use of an instrument called a merkhet to carefully acquire from a particular constellation of stars a north-south orientation for the temple’s short axis on the chosen area of land. Guided by the principles of sacred geometry – ‘as above, so below’ – the architectural dimensions of the temple would then be measured and the floor plan laid out through the pedj shes as described in an inscription on the walls of the temple of Horus in Edfu (c.237BC):

“I have grasped the stake along with the handle of the mallet. I take the measuring cord in the company of Seshat. I observe the progressive movement of the stars. My eye is now fixed upon Meskhetiu [the 7-star ‘Big Dipper’ or ‘Plough’ of the constellation Ursa Major – called ‘the Drinking Gourd’ by Africans following the North Star to escape slavery on the Underground Railroad]. The god of time-keeping stands by me, in front of the merkhet. Then, I have established the four corners of the temple.”

Though there were no temples built to worship goddess Seshat, she may have had priests such as fourth Dynasty Prince Wep-em-nefret who was described as “Overseer of the Royal Scribes” and “Priest of Seshat.” Nonetheless her prominent roles in the foundation ceremony as well as the Per-Ankh made Seshat an integral part of every Khemetic temple in the now and hereafter. Besides Edfu, major temples at Abydos, Heliopolis, and Dendera pay homage to Seshat as the goddess of their foundation, and spell 709 of the Coffin Text invokes her help to build a mansion in the afterworld for the deceased.

Seshat ~ Keeper of Time/Lady of the Years… Apart from measuring space (constellations & construction sites), Seshat was a measurer or reckoner of time, commemorating royal events such as accession, coronation, sed-festivals, etc. She’d also record the king’s speeches; inventory his additions to the royal coffers; record his years on the notches of her palm-rib; and offer the king a palm branch representing “many years” or eternal reign. Her importance to royalty thus grew, and to some her dedication to counting with detailed attention made her more the personification of numeracy than literacy. As a lunar goddess linked to astronomy, Seshat could use phases of the moon to measure time and organize both civil and religious ceremonies, rituals, and events. Time and space are an important category called HaNtu’ in the BanNtu universe of forces which is non-linear, unlike the Eurocentric thinking born in Greco-Roman times which holds later as better and the conqueror superior to the conquered. In Khemetic practice, Seshat reckoned life-spans along with Djehuti with whom she’d record a royal’s name and length of reign on the sacred ished or persea – the Tree of Life at Heliopolis that was believed to hold knowledge of the Divine Plan from the [pre-Greco-Roman] beginnings of time – thus protecting the ruler and perpetuating his name throughout eternity. Seshat would additionally commemorate royal events such as accession, coronation, sed-festivals, etc.

Seshat ~ Sefket-Abwy Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1479-1425 BCE) called Seshat Sefket-Abwy (“she of seven points”), presumably because it was unclear what her seven-pointed crown symbolizes. (The inverted horns atop Seshat’s crown are said to represent either an archer’s bow or – per the usual concession to fellow moon-deity Djehuti – a particular inter-planetary phase of the moon.) Other interpretations of her 7-pointed crown include magic wand, palm tree, ganja leaf, and papyrus scenarios, or yet another in which the points represent the rays of Sopdet – the brightest star in the night sky which is mysteriously linked to the flooding of the Nile River upon which Khemet was dependent. This latter theory plays off the patterns on Seshat‘s dress which resemble stars in artistic renderings. However, it is said that the signature gown the goddess wears is actually made of panther-skin. An ancient shamanic garment, leopard or panther-skins were worn by sem priests who officiated at funerary rites from 2134 BCE onwards, after the Old Kingdom [photo on right of split-screen is from Zimbabwe / photo below is of a ruler in Uganda]. Sem priests and legitimate rulers were said to assume the powers of the formidable predator they’d defeated who was synonymous with lower-nature Seth of chaos, the desert, plagues/storm, and foreign oppressors. Seshat’s aspect as Ma’at – goddess of reparations through truth, heavenly order and justice – represents the moral opposite of Seth who was responsible for murdering and mutilating king Ausar in his evil coup for the throne of Khemet. The Principles of Ma’at – precursor to Judeo-Christianity’s 10 Commandments – are humanity’s oldest written sources of moral and spiritual instruction. These principles are recorded as 42  declarations of innocence in the Book of Going Forth by Day – the funerary text used in the Judgment Halls of Ausar where the heart is weighed against Ma’at’s feather of truth in one’s journey to the great afterlife. Djehuti describes his relationship to Ma’at thus: “I am Djehuti, the perfect scribe, whose hands are pure, who opposes every evil deed, who writes justice and who execrates every wrong, he who is the writing reed of the inviolate god, the lord of laws, whose words are written and whose words have dominion over the two earths. I am the lord of justice, the witness of right before the gods; I direct the words so as to make the wronged victorious. I have dispelled darkness, and driven away the storm.” [Chapter CLXXXII / 182]

“…Since we are…” [UbuNtu] Re-membering Heaven‘s Sha[wo]man~Muse~God[dess] and Foremost of the Per-Ankh whose Ma’atrix of Truth~Order~ Balance helps to right the scales of justice… #ReparationsNow ❤ Let there be Light…

15 Comments on “Seshat ~ Opener of Heaven’s Door

  1. Really great post! You always have such informative posts on ancient Kemet. And you find such great images to go along with the post. You are very appreciated beloved. ❤

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the latest installment of my cultural-spiritual quest, King 🙂 We’re blessed that our ancestral guardians left us such a wealth of eternal truths and wisdom in Kemet to guide and uplift us even in the troubling chaos of today’s world; and the images have a language all their own. Thanks so much for your kind and encouraging words. ❤ M

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