Note: I’m sorry for the variation in font size, I’m having a lot of trouble with WordPress right now. I hope it doesn’t make this post to difficult to read.
Tonight I celebrated the Festival of Seshat, Lady of Builders. This modern Kemetic festival, as observed by Neos Alexandria, is celebrated on World Architecture Day, which is the first Monday of October. Since my public rituals are on Fridays, my celebration fell on tonight. Unfortunately, no one from my regular group was able to make it tonight, so I celebrated alone.
First, a little information about Seshat Herself is in order, since She is often a lesser-known Goddess. Sesh means scribe, and so Seshat means “female scribe”. She is the Goddess of writing, mathematics, accounting, and learning. One of Her foremost titles was Mistress of the House of Books, showing She guarded libraries as well. Although Thoth is often considered the inventor of writing, in some stories Seshat invented writing and it was Her husband Thoth Who taught it to mankind. Seshat is alternately Thoth’s daughter or His sister. Considering Egyptian royal practices, She may be His sister and His wife.
Seshat typically wears a leopard or cheetah skin dress. She wears a headdress that is also Her hieroglyph. Her headdress could have many meanings. It may represent a papyrus plant, or a stylized flower or seven-pointed star. Above this symbol is an inverted set of cow’s horns. Henadology.com has this to say about the horns on Her headdress:
This sign is apparently indicated by a common epithet of Seshat, Sekhefabwy or Sefkhetabwy, ‘She who releases the two horns’, suggesting that the inversion of the horns—a typical headdress of Goddesses such as Hathor—implies their activation. The epithet may also incorporate the word sefekh, meaning seven, so that the epithet would mean ‘Sevenfold of the two horns’. According to Wainwright 1940, the ‘horns’ of her headdress were originally the month-sign with two feathers atop it1;
Others have suggested that it may have originally been a crescent moon, connecting Her to Her husband the Moon-God Thoth. She is holding a palm stem, into which She is making notches to record the passing of time. Seshat faithfully records everything that happens in the Universe, especially in the life of the Pharaoh.
Seshat is very important in a ritual known as the “stretching of the cord”, or Pedjeshes, which had to be performed in the foundation of a Temple. Seshat was closely related to architecture as well, She was called “Lady of Builders”.
The reigning pharaoh and a priestess personifying Seshat, the goddess of writing, proceeded to the site, each armed with a golden mallet and a peg connected by a cord to another peg. Seshat having driven her peg home at the previously prepared spot, the king directed his gaze to the constellation of the Bull’s Foreleg (this constellation is identical with Ursa Major, “Great Bear”, and the “hoof” star is Benetnasch, Eta Ursae majoris). Having aligned the cord to the “hoof” and Spica as seen through the visor formed by Seshat’s curious headdress, he raised his mallet and drove the peg home, thus marking the position of the axis of the future temple.
— Cyril Fagan, Zodiacs Old and New (1951)
Although I have written a few poems in honor of Seshat before (one of which was included in the ritual), this was my first time actively honoring her. I had soft flute music playing in the background throughout the ritual. As I always do on the public ritual nights, I made an entire meal, complete with sides, and set a plate on the altar for the Goddess. I also offered Her one of bell peppers from my garden that I recently picked. I had the last minute inspiration to offer Her a cup of coffee, instead of the more traditional beer. My reasoning for this is that as a Goddess of mathematics and other technical skills, she might appreciate a more clear-headed type of drink. Since I am a coffee junkie, there is the added level that giving Her coffee is more of a sacrifice for me than beer. Besides, I already know from experience that Anubis likes coffee, so I thought I might try it with another Egyptian Deity. After the ritual I shared a theoxenia meal with the Goddess by eating a plate of the same food myself while sitting in front of the altar.
The Neos Alexandria suggestions for this day say that perhaps this is a good day to reflect on how we are building our lives and how strong our foundations are. I incorporated this into the ritual by making a list of my goals for the next year, such as moving to Arizona and getting into nursing school, beforehand and meditating on it afterwards. I intend to burn the list at a later time. After the ritual and meal I read a section of the book “Builders of the Ancient World: Marvels of Engineering”, published by National Geographic. All in all, it was a good night. Even if no one else was able to show up.
I share the ritual below. It was written with a group in mind, but was easy enough to adapt to solitary worship. As always, I share so that you can snag it for yourselves if you like it. Feel free to take it. But if you share it anywhere else, please give me credit.
Cleansing the Sacred Space
Carrying the khernips, the Priest/ess walks around the ritual area, sprinkling everything with the water. Recite the following as you make your circuit:
“You are washed clean by the life-giving waters of the Nile! You are pure! No man has set foot on you, for you are the primordial mound rising from the broad depths of the Ocean at the First Time. You are pure!”
Take up the aparkhai and proceed to the shrine. Scatter the aparkhai and say:
“To the givers of life, life!”
Taking the Ankh
Take up the ankh. Hold it aloft for a moment, then touch it to your lips in a reverent kiss. Now turn to the four cardinal directions, pausing for a moment at each, before turning back to the shrine. Touch each of the items on the shrine with the ankh, including the veiled image of the Deity. Then place the ankh upon the shrine itself. Do this in complete silence, mindful of the mystery.
We come together today to celebrate Seshat, Goddess of writing, counterpart of Thoth. She is the Mistress of the House of Books, a Goddess of learning in all forms. She is the Lady of Builders, Goddess of architects.
In Honor of Seshat, a hymn by Amanda Artemisia Forrester
I sing now in honor of Seshat, All-seeing Goddess
The female scribe, inventor of writing, stylus in hand
She Who records
Since the beginning of the Universe, unto its end.
Lady of Builders, to Whose ears the pounding of hammers is as sweet music
The Engineer’s Goddess, Who inspired the architects of old Aiegyptos,
To build the great pyramids in the Valley of the Kings
Through which they achieved immortality
Goddess of architecture, of structures long standing
Of firm foundations and ancient stones
Numbering Goddess, Lady of Mathematics
Calculating Goddess, Lady of Measurements
Lady of education in all forms
Friend of Neith and my Goddess head-born Athene
Three Goddesses of scholars, of the marble halls of learning
Lady of the House of Books, Holy Librarian,
Record-keeper of the Gods, wife of wise Thoth
I offer this song of praise to Thy holy name,
Seshat Who wears the leopard-skin
As I embark on the scholar’s path
Be with me, Lady of Learning,
Open my mind to knowledge in all forms
Guide my pen as I scribe in Your name
Guide my mind in the pursuit of knowledge
Guide me, Goddess, in all my studies.
What we are building
As we honor the Lady of Builders, we recognize that this is a time to examine what we are building in our lives, to see if our foundations are strong. In the ritual of “the stretching of the cord” Seshat helped the Pharaoh to define the foundations of a new Temple before it was built. We are the architects of our lives. So today we examine our lives, and we will define what we are seeking to build in the next year. Come forward, and share your plans for the coming year. May Seshat give us Her blessings as we build our lives in the coming year.
Allow the worshipers to come forward, and speak their plans out loud while facing the altar. Alternately, you could have them write their plans for the year on a piece of paper beforehand, and ceremonially burn them at this time.
Great Seshat, Goddess of learning and building, come forth and enjoy these offerings we have prepared for You, this great feast. Share this feast with us, O Goddess.