Seshat the Star Goddess
"Heaven is pregnant with the Seshat star. Heaven brings forth the Seshat star."
Seshat, the Egyptian goddess of writing, is always seen with what is often interpreted to be a star upon her head. Through her various realms and titles, it is believed that she connects us to the wisdom of all that is. This may be because she herself is considered a star in the heavens with access to all the known information and history in the universe.
This ancient goddess is connected to a spectacular stella nova, or stellar explosion of a star in the constellation Vela, that occurred many thousands of years ago. This cosmic event may explain why she is sometimes called "The Original." While her scribal counterpart, Thoth, is more famous, it is clear that she too is a heavenly source of Divine Wisdom and writing power.
Study of this supernova and the related Seshat theory was part of the life's work of George Michanowsky, the late New York‐based linguist who specialized in Mesopotamian astronomy and turned his research to comparing the eight-pointed star of Inanna in Mesopotamia to the seven-pointed star goddess Seshat in Egypt. He wrote a book called The Once and Future Star in the seventies. The author took readers far back in time, to the original cuneiform writings of Mesopotamia that recorded the explosion of a great star.
"My research indicates that this heavenly event actually became the source of creation myths, the cosmological concepts, and the cultural traditions of our civilization," he wrote. "Directly or indirectly, it produced many of the archetypal figures we encounter again and again in the world's greatest religions and it was somehow associated with the beginning of writing and the rise of science." This cosmic event also triggered Mesopotamia's deep interest in 'the starry heavens' and the beginning of understanding that human destiny has long been linked to the stars. Some scholars in comparative religion have called this age-old human propensity astrosophy— star wisdom."
In the book, he seems especially fascinated by the symbolism of Seshat's headdress and her position in the heavens. "She was usually depicted wearing a curious head ornament prominently featuring a seven-pointed star," he wrote. "In Egypt, stars were consistently represented as five-pointed. A seven-pointed star, on the other hand, signaled a Mesopotamian phenomenon and, specifically, the embodiment of numerological symbolism that my earlier finding had connected with Sumerian astral mythology about Vela."
Given the ancient belief that the Vela explosion occurred in the south, and that Seshat dwelled in the southernmost part of the sky, her starry roots went beyond the headdress. As Michanowsky put it, "She was regarded as personification of a single star rarely seen above the horizon."
It was fascinating to find a New York Times article from 1978, titled, "Egyptian Culture is Linked to A Star," in which Michanowsky was interviewed. The article included reporting on his findings and confirmed Seshat's importance in the ancient and cosmic worlds.
Penned by Boyce Rensberger, the story acknowledged her history and described Seshat as, "The inventor of writing and mistress of the House of Ankh."
This is a powerful statement because many fans of Egyptian mythology and religion perceive and often believe that the Egyptian god Thoth holds that writing title. Thoth is a superhero scribe and master of the universe. He is connected to the star goddess in more ways than one, but seeing this title given to Seshat seats her in a high place of importance within the Egyptian pantheon. Some people believe that when Seshat and Thoth combine their writing prowess, it is a big cosmic va-va-voom! But clearly, she also stands alone, sovereign, in her place in ancient Egypt and available to those who seek a divine guide who is feminine in nature.
"Evidence of an ancient tradition holding that the origins of writing and mathematics are linked to a special star, a belief first identified in Sumerian writings, has now been found in Egyptian hieroglyphic documents as well," Rensberger wrote.
"Perhaps the most tantalizing Egyptian link to the supernova is Seshat, the patroness of scribes and architects," he continued. "The seven‐pointed star, affixed to her head by a vertical stem, is strikingly like the Sumerian cosmic tree, which has seven fronds. Images of Seshat clothed her in a leopard skin, a probable symbol of her southern origin. More significantly, she was also identified as 'Mistress of the Book House of the South.' In her right hand she holds a writing instrument, possibly a pen or stylus. The Egyptian word for 'write' is 'sesh.' Seshat's home was said to be at the foot of the cosmic tree."
Rensberger also reported that "Another suggestion of what Seshat meant to the Egyptians is a tomb inscription that was translated decades ago by the eminent Egyptologist Alan Gardiner as: 'Heaven is pregnant with the Seshat star; Heaven brings forth the Seshat star.'" The lines are from a song being sung by a harp‐playing poet, who is depicted apparently relating the myth. The rest of the song, according to Professor Gardiner, defies meaningful translation.
Michanowsky suggested that the "song refers to the ancient starburst, linking it through Seshat to the development of writing, mathematics and the other high arts of the world's earliest civilizations."
I am no astronomer, but discovering this article and Michanowsky's book, more than forty years after both were written, gave me the sense that Seshat's star is rising again. It was wonderful to find these insights that connect the goddess so clearly to both the invention of writing and the ancient wisdom of the heavens.
Knowing a bit of history about the goddess who is linked to the development of writing can help us develop ourselves as writers on spiritual and divine topics.
In ancient Egypt, writing was sacred and treasured. Many of the scribes were honored and feted with special privileges. They worked with the priests or directly with the pharaohs, and the scribes also worked with Seshat (and Thoth). It would be wonderful to bring back the sacred, magical nature of writing. And to honor the people who put words to page, as the scribes of ancient times were honored.
It seems fitting to close this exhibit with a bit of cosmic and ancient history, and include Mr. Rensberger's reporting. It is a great example of what a modern scribe might do in a day's work or on a book project. And it shows some interesting historical factoids about Seshat. Being able to draw down the wisdom of the heavens and express it in words and writings of all kinds is what this goddess is all about.
While the body of Michanowsky's work is much deeper than this encapsulated report it seems important to share his studies related to Seshat.