Divine Family and Friends
Seshat hails from a famous pantheon of gods and goddesses from one of the most celebrated ancient cultures in the world. The deities of Egypt were known as "Neteru." Many of their individual names are as well-known as Superman. They include Hathor, Isis, Osiris, Sekhmet, Bast, and many more.
Independent scholar and spirituality expert Rosemary Clark describes them in The Sacred Tradition in Ancient Egypt: The Esoteric Wisdom Revealed. "The Neteru can be understood as archetypical, as both cosmic and personal principles are universally recognized through myth and legend," she writes. "In the thousands of hymns and litanies which belong to the great reservoir of Egyptian literature, the enumeration of the qualities of the Neter is expressed to demonstrate the realms in which the Neter manifest, sometimes seemingly unrelated contexts. These enumerations represent more than religious adulation. Each is a metaphor for the Neter's power in a distinct realm – human, cosmic, in the temple, and in nature. By examining their individual aspects in detail – as well as their places in the cosmological scheme - insights may be gained into the possibilities and meaning of human experience that the ancients understood through these symbolic vessels."
Thoth, Maat, and Seshat
In the pantheon of divine beings that make up Egypt's pantheon, most have distinct roles or are known for special characteristics. Some have overlapping roles. But the three most closely associated with wisdom, truth, and scribal functions are Thoth, Maat, and Seshat.
The exact nature of their relations is not consistently clear. In some Egyptian mythology books, Seshat is not even mentioned. In others, she is described as an equal to Thoth, the Ibis-headed god of wisdom and scribes. Some say she created writing and he created hieroglyphs. Some people think that her attributes were transferred to him as history went on.
There are also various accounts that suggest Seshat was the offspring of the Scribe God of Wisdom, Thoth, and the Goddess of Justice, Maat. Some reporting says that Seshat is an embodiment of them both. Other accounts say she was the wife or consort of Thoth.
E.A. Wallis Budge says that at one point in history, evidence pointed toward Thoth and Maat being mates or partners. Their connection has remained through millennia, especially since they are both so intrinsically involved in the path of the soul as it attempts to move through to the afterlife, as described in The Egyptian Book of the Dead. But Thoth and Seshat have also been linked for the same many thousands of years. Budge suggests it could be because they have similar roles as the only official divine scribes. "Closely associated with Thoth in the performance of certain of his duties as the god of letters and learning, was the goddess whose name is generally read as Sefkhet-Aabut (also known as Sesheta)," writes Budge in The Gods of the Egyptians, Volumen 1. He also points out that Seshat has other roles, and that she is an independent deity. He is not quick to pair them as a couple.
How Close Are Seshat and Thoth?
Although it is not uncommon to see Thoth referred to as the father or husband of Seshat, he is sometimes called her brother. It's very confusing. I personally like to think of them as equal intellectuals and work colleagues, as neither gives off a married vibe. And if they are married, I think it is a marriage of souls, intellect, and dedication of service to humanity.
As for parentage, there is no creation story or myth that details exactly who birthed Seshat, but there is a first reference to "the birth of Seshat" on The Palermo Stone which is known as the Royal Annals of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. It reads more like a cosmic birth without parentage.
Maat and Thoth have been called her parents. They would be cool parents to have. However, reducing Seshat to being the "child of" the more well-known gods may also serve to reduce her sovereignty and power. I attended a class called Ancient Egyptian Stelea Master Class, offered by the Save Ancient Studies Alliance (SASA), and asked Egyptologist Stacy Davidson why Seshat's role is often reduced to a secondary character. She suggested it could be that, over time, the culture became more male-dominated and the main role of the scribal god went to Thoth. Seshat started out powerful but her role might be seen as more clerical over time.
Two Powers Who Stand Alone, and Together
While there are different stories about the exact relationship between Thoth and Seshat, historical evidence shows they worked together as scribal partners. They were both called upon to preside over the institution known as The House of Life. They were scribal deities thought to both train and guide their scribes. They are both deities of writing and wisdom. They may be called in as a pair, but they stand alone in their sovereignty. This exhibit will look a bit more at their shared history in images and words, as there are many depictions of them together.
Her Underworld Connections
Thoth, Maat, and Seshat may also be connected deities because they shared related duties and devotion to certain principles and responsibilities for keeping the world, and the next world, in good functioning order. Seshat is also sometimes affiliated with the funerary goddess Nephthys, in relationship to their work with the departed.