image: Wikimedia commons (link).
The goddess Seshat of ancient Egypt is a divinity of tremendous importance.
In a volume entitled The Archaeology of Measurement: Comprehending Heaven, Earth and Time in Ancient Societies, edited by Iain Morley and Colin Renfrew and published in 2010 by Cambridge University Press, one of the chapters in this collection by various scholars, "Establishing direction in early Egyptian burials and monumental architecture: Measurement and the spatial link with the 'other,'" by Kate Spence, contains this discussion of the vital role of the goddess Seshat:
The link between the measurement of space and the measurement of time is also clear from early periods in the activities of the goddess Seshat, the goddess associated with the foundation ceremony, during which the orientation of buildings was established.
Seshat was a divinity of some importance at the beginning of the historical era in Egypt, as is clear from a record of a First Dynasty ceremony involving one of her priests inscribed on the Palermo Stone (a set of annals for Egypt's earliest kings) as well as the creation of a statue of the goddess during the same reign (Wilkinson 2000, 111-112, 118; see also Wainwright 1940, 32). After the Old Kingdom there is no evidence that a cult was maintained although Seshat herself appears in royal images and inscriptions with a limited set of roles. Foremost of these roles is that of recording the king's reign length: "her chief mission was to mark the king's life-period on the palm-stick. To cut notches, or to make marks, on a stick is the earliest of all forms of keeping a count or tally, and of itself would suggest an origin in the time before writing proper had been invented" (Wainwright 1940, 32); she is frequently depicted with a notched central rib of a palm frond. [. . .] During the Fifth Dynasty her symbol is found in images of the royal jubilee, she is described as "Before the House of the Books of the Royal Offspring" and she records booty brought from abroad (Wainwright 1940, 32).
Seshat's second important role was associated with the foundation ceremony for buildings (see Weinstein 1973 for discussion of the ceremony with references): she is repeatedly depicted performing the 'stretching of the cord' ritual in the company of the king. The first reference to this ritual is found on the Palermo stone, where it is said to have been conducted by a priest of Seshat (Wilkinson 2000, 111-112). [. . .] Seshat's role in the measurement of space and time is therefore clear. The Pyramid Texts describe Seshat as 'Lady of Builders' (Faulkner 1969, 119).
The act of aligning a building must also have been part of the foundation ceremony (see Weinstein 1973). Ptolemaic texts are explicitly in linking the 'stretching of the cord' ceremony with the stars (specifically with Ursa Major) and with the measurement of time. 176 - 177.
The recording of measure and of time, and the aligning of temples and monuments is clearly a role of tremendous importance, associated with proper alignment with the heavenly realm and thus (if the heavenly realm is, as can be established with great confidence, a visible manifestation of the Invisible World) with the realm of the gods.
Her role can thus be very clearly seen as assisting society in establishing a proper relationship with the divine realm, bringing it into harmony with the order of the universe. Her role in actively assisting the king in the "stretching of the cord" ritual when establishing the foundation of important buildings clearly dramatizes the fact that the pattern for human society comes from, and must be aligned in appropriate harmony with, the realm of spirit: the Invisible Realm, the realm of the gods.
The previous two posts dealt with the Greek myth of King Midas, who dramatizes the disastrous consequences of inverting the proper order: pursuing the material object of gold or physical wealth without proper respect for the divine spark of life (and thus becoming unable to sustain his own life through eating or drinking, as well as destroying his own daughter by turning her -- temporarily -- into a lifeless statue of solid gold), and judging the music of the satyr Marsyas or of the god Pan as more accomplished than the music made by Apollo himself, who is in fact the god of music and thus the divine source of it (another example of Midas' failure to appreciate the supremacy of the divine realm or to "give the divine source" its due).
The second of the two posts discussing Midas examined this failure of Midas even further, noting the economic folly of (like King Midas) pursuing wealth without giving the gods their due. Midas, as king, should have been trying to put his society in harmony with the divine pattern (as are the kings of Egypt who are shown following the lead of the goddess Seshat in establishing the measure and alignment of the foundations of their society) -- but instead he focused only on the physical trappings of wealth, ignoring the divine source of all blessing, failing to acknowledge the divine source and "give the gods their due," so to speak.
Note that the description of the roles of Seshat cited above points out that she is described in some ancient texts as counting out the wealth brought from abroad -- and some have suggested that implicit in this role was the admonition to the nation to be sure to give the gods their due part of all the increase, in recognition that the divine realm is the first source from which all increase flows.
For example, Geraldine Pinch in her Handbook of Egyptian Mythology (2002) writes:
As goddess of writing, Seshat was the keeper of royal annals and genealogies. She was shown recording the booty gained by kings in battle, perhaps as a reminder that a share was due to the gods. Seshat was even said to descend into the underworld to record everything in the realm of the dead. 190.
It stands to reason that a society which fails to acknowledge the realm of the gods, in which those in power try to seize the blessings from the gods for themselves alone, is dishonoring the goddess Seshat, and embarking upon the disastrous path of Midas instead.
Seshat exhorts us to acknowledge the realm of the gods and to give the Invisible Realm its proper due, and to align ourselves with that Invisible Realm, to establish harmonious integration between the material and spiritual aspects of our own nature and of the dual material-spiritual universe in which we find ourselves in this incarnate life.
Note that her role as keeper of the measure of both time and space, and her specific association with the "stretching of the cord" ritual, also imply a connection to the harmonious waves and frequencies that become sound and light at different wavelengths and frequencies (wavelength relating to distance, and frequency relating to time). A stretched cord, vibrated, will produce a certain frequency and a specific wavelength: if the length of that cord is changed (as by a finger pressing down on a guitar fret or a violin string), then the frequency and the wavelength will change.
As the brilliant John Anthony West observes in Spirit in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, the name and symbology of the goddess directly implies her connection to wavelength and to harmonious music. He writes:
Seshat, also called Sefhet, which means seven, is the female counterpart of Thoth, therefore mistress of measure, and always attends the foundation ceremonies of the temples. Her emblem is the seven-petaled flower. Seshat is found on the earliest inscriptions. Thus it is clear that the correspondence between seven (harmony) and measure was known to Egypt from the onset. [. . .]
Phenomena tend to completion in seven stages, or are complete within their specific stage. There are seven tones in the harmonic scale. It is the harmonic scale, and the human function of hearing, that give us direct access into the process of growth, of creativity manifesting itself. It is for this reason -- not chance or superstition -- that led the Pythagoreans explicitly, and the Egyptians implicitly, to employ the harmonic scale as the perfect instrument for teaching and demonstrating the workings of the cosmos.
Consider a string of a given length as unity. Set it vibrating; it produces a sound. Stop the string at its midpoint and set it vibrating. It produces a sound one octave higher. Division in two results in an analogue of the original unity. [ . . .]
Between the original note and its octave there are seven intervals, seven unequal stages which, despite their inequality, the ear interprets as 'harmonious.' 60 - 61.
The goddess Seshat, as the goddess of measure, celestial alignment, and harmony between the realm of the material and the divine, thus is represented with a distinctive plant of seven leaves above her head, even in the very earliest First Dynasty portrayals of the goddess.
This symbology can be observed in the image at top, from a throne of a seated statue of Rameses II.
In that image, we see the goddess -- who is characteristically depicted as tall and slender and very beautiful -- wearing the leopard-skin that denotes priestly function (and which is also associated with the symbology of Dionysus and of the sadhus of India, as discussed in this previous post); the two flaring lines at the bottom of her dress are probably stylized representations of the two legs of the leopard-skin, and this iconography is characteristic of depictions of the goddess Seshat.
In the imagery above, we see Seshat holding two linear implements, which are both indicative of her role as divine goddess of measure and record, and also (as we shall see) clues to her probable celestial identity -- a celestial identity which has gone unremarked-upon in any of the literature which I have examined, but which will become fairly obvious in a moment.
She is carrying a tall notched staff, usually identified as the stripped central rib of a palm frond, notched with sixty-four notches (and with a sacred shen symbol beneath it, which is pointed-out and discussed on pages 38 - 39 of Ancient Egypt: the Primal Age of Divine Revelation, Volume I, by Mostafa Elshamy, in images which you can see online here). She is also in the act of writing, apparently upon the notched palm-rib, with a reed.
As noted in some of the passages cited above, Seshat is the counterpart and in some sense the consort of the god Thoth or Djehuty (Dhwty), the god of records and of scribes and also a god associated with the Moon and with wisdom and with imparting hermetic wisdom to mankind. Both Seshat and Thoth are characteristically depicted with the writing-reed, in the act of writing or recording.
Seshat in particular is also associated with the holy Tree of Life of ancient Egypt, the Ished tree, sometimes identified with the persea tree although not all scholars agree on this identification. She is often depicted or described inscribing upon the leaves of this sacred tree, particularly in her role as the determiner of the lifespan of the kings of Egypt, but to record other divine records upon the holy tree as well.
All of the above information helps us to identify the celestial figure with which Seshat is (I believe) almost certainly associated. The most important clues to her celestial identity include:
- the fact that she is tall, slender and beautiful
- the fact that she carries not one but two long, narrow implements simultaneously
- the fact that she is a consort of Thoth, god of writing and records
- the fact that she writes upon a heavenly Tree
- the fact that she is involved in the "stretching of the cord" ceremony
- the fact that she is also associated with the foundation of temples
- the fact that she is described as being "Before the House of the Books of the Royal Offering" and in other texts is described as building the mansions of the gods in the divine realm
A visual clue which will help those who are very familiar with the common system of celestial metaphor which forms the foundation for the ancient myths and sacred stories of virtually every culture around the world may be seen in a depiction of Seshat together with Thoth on the walls of the Ramesseum of Rameses II, in Upper Egypt:
In the above image, the most visible three figures from left to right are Rameses II (seated, facing towards the right), Seshat (facing towards the king and in fact writing upon a leaf of the holy Ished tree which can be seen behind both her and the seated form of the king), and finally Thoth on the far right, also writing upon a leaf of the Holy Tree and in this case also holding a notched palm-rib just as Seshat does.
The illustration below of the above relief does not do it full artistic justice (in the illustrator's defense, the level of artistic quality in these ancient depictions of the gods is extraordinary), but it does serve to help us to observe some important details -- specifically, I would call attention to the location of the reed stylus held by Thoth in his upraised right hand (see how close it gets to the shoulder of the goddess). This reed is barely visible in the photograph above (although it is visible), but it is much easier to see in the drawing below -- and the fact that the writing implement of the god is located where it is above the shoulder of the goddess may be a clue to the celestial identities of both Thoth and Seshat:
I believe that the multiple clues cited above regarding the celestial identity of Seshat (and Thoth) , as well as similar celestial patterns which I have observed in other Star Myths from around the world, strongly support the following interpretation:
Note that, at the outset of this explanation, it is very important to point out that I do not believe that the constellations are the gods and goddesses themselves -- I believe the stars were used in the system of ancient wisdom found around the world as a way of conveying to us actual truths about the Invisible Realm itself.
The god Thoth and the goddess Seshat inhabit the Invisible Realm, the Divine Realm, the Spirit World, the realm of the gods. The esoteric Star Myths of ancient Egypt convey to us truths about the Invisible Realm, including all the assertions about harmony, measure, and aligning with the pattern of the divine realm in our dealings "here below" -- including the importance of acknowledging that this material realm actually has its source in the realm of the gods, and therefore we must always remember that "a share is due to the gods."
In the diagram above, I argue that Thoth the god of writing is associated with the figure of the constellation Hercules in the heavens. Hercules actually appears to be reaching down to write -- I have outlined the portion of his "downward-reaching" arm in red, to indicate what I believe represents the reed stylus always carried by the god Thoth.
Note that Thoth's name in ancient Egyptian writing was actually conveyed by symbols specifying the sounds Dhwty or Djehuty (Wallis Budge spells it TEHUTY in a footnote on this page of his Legends of the Gods, from 1912). As has been argued elsewhere, this formulation actually relates to the name DAVID or DAOUD. This fact is actually very strong confirmatory evidence for the argument that Thoth is associated with the constellation Hercules, for as I establish beyond (I believe) reasonable doubt in Star Myths of the Bible, the figure of David in the Old Testament is absolutely associated with the figure of the constellation Hercules as well, in almost every episode of the David-cycle of sacred stories.
Close by the celestial figure of Thoth is the constellation Ophiucus, who actually plays the role of a goddess in other Star Myths as well (including in many of the myths of ancient Greece). Ophiucus is in fact a very tall and narrow constellation when viewed in the night sky. Furthermore, Ophiucus carries the two "halves" of a line of stars usually envisioned as a serpent (hence the constellation's name, Ophiucus or "Serpent-holder"). In some myths, this long linear figure that Ophicus is holding can be envisioned as two spears -- and in the iconography of the goddess Seshat, I would argue that the two sides of the serpent give rise to her two implements of recording: the notched palm-rib and the reed stylus.
Note that I have outlined in red the part of the constellation which probably corresponds to the reed stylus held by Seshat, just as I have with the reed belonging to Thoth. Look back up at the drawing of the scene from the walls of the Ramesseum to see how well the position of the reed held by the goddess in the artwork aligns with the position of the reed held by Ophiucus in the sky.
Nearby to Ophiucus rises the glorious column of the Milky Way galaxy, which I believe is almost certainly the figure of the holy Tree of Life, upon which Seshat is seen to be writing. You can see that Ophiucus (and the red stylus as outlined) appears to be writing on the Milky Way "tree" as well -- and that in fact the outline of Ophiucus protrudes into the shining column of the galaxy in the sky.
Once again, look back and forth between the star-chart shown above, with its outlines and labels, and the drawing of the scene from the wall of the Ramesseum, in order to truly appreciate the correspondence.
Note also that the constellations Hercules and Ophiucus are very close together in the sky -- as befits the god and goddess of writing, who are heavenly companions. And note also that the stylus of Hercules as depicted reaches down towards the shoulder of Ophiucus, just as the stylus of Thoth in the scene from the Ramesseum also appears to be pointing towards the shoulder of the goddess!
Again, I believe that when we look into the heavens at night, we are actually looking out into Infinity -- and that the ancients saw the specific figures they saw in the infinite celestial realm above their heads to as giving them a way of conveying to our understanding very real truths about very real goings-on in the divine realm, which we cannot see with our eyes (under ordinary circumstances).
The goddess Seshat demonstrates to us that we are to align ourselves (and indeed, align the society we build) with the divine pattern -- a pattern that is intended to bless and uplift us, because it is the very harmony which informs everything else in the material realm, and the very foundation upon which everything in the universe is in fact built.
The fact that she assists the king in the "stretching of the cord" ceremony dramatizes this truth, and the necessity of harmonizing and aligning everything we do with the true measures given to us by the powers of the Invisible Realm (in this case, given to the king by Seshat).
We can even envision Seshat assisting the king in the "stretching of the cord" ritual, when we look up to the heavens: if the constellation Hercules also plays the role of the pharaoh or king of Egypt (as indeed this constellation can be shown to do in many episodes in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures), then we can see the "western side" of the serpent held by Ophiucus as the "cord being stretched" by the king, assisted by the goddess.
Everything about Seshat symbolizes the vital task of integrating and harmonizing and "tying together" the divine realm and the material realm.
And the seven-petaled or seven-leafed plant depicted over the head of the goddess is no exception to this. As John Anthony West points out in his discussion of the Pythagorean symbolism in the sacred number Seven, this number joins together Three and Four: Three is symbolic of the divine realm, while Four is symbolic of the material and earthy realm (see page 62 in Serpent in the Sky, as well as the discussions of Three and Four which precede the discussion of Seven).
Of course, it cannot be ignored that the distinctive symbol above the head of the goddess Seshat appears to be strongly suggestive of the outline of a cannabis leaf.
Is it possible that the cannabis plant was also seen as symbolic of uniting the infinite realm (Three) with the mortal realm (Four)?
The possibility cannot be simply dismissed out of hand.
For one thing, as Alvin Boyd Kuhn has convincingly argued, the very sound "K - N" appears to have anciently symbolized "linking" or "connecting" (and note the presence of the "K - N" phoneme in both of those words, linking and connecting). Kuhn argues that this sound-pattern also forms the basis for the Egyptian word ANKH, the symbol of life which also can be seen as linking or connecting the infinite realm with the material realm. Much discussion on this topic can be found, along with numerous examples, at my previous posts entitled "The Name of the Ankh" and "The Name of the Ankh, continued."
It hardly needs pointing out that the name cannabis also contains this same sound, as does the word Ganja, which is also used to refer to this plant.
And, as Mircea Eliade documents at length in his encyclopedic examination of the techniques used in shamanic cultures around the world to achieve states of ecstasy, cannabis is sometimes used in shamanic practice -- thereby explicitly linking the infinite realm and the ordinary realm yet again. Some aspects of this discussion can be found in "How many ways are there to contact the hidden realm?"
Furthermore, and even more difficult to dismiss, the very mummy of Rameses II himself contains traces of cannabis (as well as traces of tobacco and coca). See the previous discussion in this post from all the way back in 2011.
In other words, the very king whose Ramesseum and whose statue together feature the images of the goddess Seshat shown in the images above actually still has cannabis on his person! This fact also supports the strong possibility that the seven-part leaf depicted above the goddess may be suggestive of sacred Ganja.
And, it may not be remiss to point out that there is in fact a connection between the tradition of Rastafari in the Caribbean islands and the sadhus of India, which may explain the use of the term Ganja among Rastafari for this sacred plant (a name which connects to the sacred river Ganga in India).
The larger point is that the goddess Seshat is profoundly and powerfully associated with the integration of heaven and earth, material and spiritual. Her vital role must not be overlooked, ignored, or forgotten.
In fact, our civilization in many ways can be seen to have grievously ignored the powerful message of this ancient goddess, and the importance of her role to our own harmony and well-being and integration.
And yet, ancient records going all the way back to the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt continue to patiently proclaim her timeless message, and patiently invite us to rediscover the wisdom that was imparted to humanity, which we can still hear today -- if we will listen.