Monday, September 4, 2017

Seshat, the African Math Goddess, and the Stretching the Cord Ritual

Seshat is the ancient African Egyptian goddess of knowledge, wisdom, and writing.  She is the matron deity over seven scientific professions including mathematics, accounting, architecture, astronomy, building, surveying, and time keeping.

The name Seshat means “she who is the scribe”, and she held many titles in antiquity including:
The Mistress of the Library
The Mistress of the House of Books
The Head of the Mansion of Records
Mistress of the House of Architects
Lady of the Builders
Foremost of the Builders
Sefekhet-Abuy, She who wears the 7 horns
She who reckons life-time
The Lady of Years
The Lady of Fate
The Original One, Who Originated Writing at the Beginning
She who opens the doors of heaven

Seshat is depicted as a woman wearing a leopard skin dress, which is believed to represent the starry sky.  In some astronomical ceilings, Seshat is present as the personification of the star Sirius. Seshat’s headdress, which also was the hieroglyph for her name, was a seven-pointed emblem beneath an arch.  There are many speculations and interpretations about what Seshat’s symbol actually is.  Some believe it is a magic wand.  Some believe it is flower or plant with seven leaves, beneath a pair of inverted bull’s horns.  And. Some believe it is a seven-pointed star beneath an inverted crescent moon.  While all of these interpretations view Seshat’s symbol as a mere ornamental fetish, there is one interpretation of Seshat’s symbol which views it as a scientific instrument which was used in one of Seshat’s most important and practical functions, the “stretching of the cord” foundation ritual.

The Stretching of the cord foundation ceremony was performed prior to the construction of any building, temple, or pyramid in Ancient Kemet.  The cord that was stretched was the mason’s line, which was used to measure out the dimensions of the building and align the building with stars and points of the compass.  The stretching of the cord ceremony is mentioned on the Palermo Stone to have been performed as early as the 1st Dynasty by the Pharaoh Den, and Seshat has been depicted as part of the ceremony as early as the 2nd Dynasty, with the Pharaoh Khasekhemwy, father of the Pharaoh Djoser.  Since then, Seshat has been depicted as part of the stretching of the cord ceremony for many Pharaohs through the thousands of years of the long storied history of Ancient Egypt.  Although Seshat had no temple of her own, she was honored and revered at the creation of every temple, pyramid, and building in Ancient Egypt.

One interpretation of Seshat’s symbol is that it was used as a surveying tool during the stretching of the cord ceremony to mark the position of the axis and four corners of the future temple.  The reigning pharaoh and a priestess personifying Seshat, would proceed to the future building site, each with a golden mallet and a stake connected by a cord to another stake. Seshat would drive her stake home at the previously prepared spot, and the Pharoah directed his gaze to the constellation of Ursa Major "Great Bear". After aligning the stars as seen through the visor formed by Seshat's headdress, he would raise his mallet and drove the stake into the ground, thus marking the position of the axis of the future temple.  Once the observation of the stars had been made, the instrument would directly give the “four corners” of the temple

This is attested to by similar passages like the following, which have accompanied images of the pharaoh and Sheshat on many temple walls:
"I hold the stake. I grasp the handle of the hammer.  I grip the measuring cord with Seshat. I turn my eyes to the movements of the stars. I fix my sight on Meskhet(yu) [the Bull´s thigh, the Great Bear, the Big Dipper]. I count off time, I watch the clock, I establish the four corners of your temple"

When people admire the incredible accuracy that the Ancient Egyptians displayed in laying the foundations and orienting their buildings, it must be emphasized that the Ancient Egyptians accredited the math goddess Seshat for this accuracy. 

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