Seshat Resurfaces - An Example of Ancient Goddesses Returning to Public View
Every once in a while there is a new discovery related to Seshat (the Egyptian goddess of writing, scribes, libraries, and measurements) reminding us she is alive, well, and blessing us with her ancient-yet-ageless prowess. And sometimes the news reminds us of ways in which goddesses have been erased from history or hidden and harder to find.
In 2020, an ancient anchor was discovered by a swimmer and it featured Seshat and related hieroglyphics. This is what The Daily Mail reported:
A veterinarian has discovered a 3,400-year-old Egyptian anchor while swimming off the coast of Atilt, Israel.
The limestone slab is etched with hieroglyphics and an image of the goddess Seshat, the deity of writing.
Experts believe the slab once adorned the wall of a temple or the inside of a royal room and was re-purposed.
The artifact that was discovered was just a fragment of a sacred relief and Seshat is in one corner. Although her full form is not there, you can see part of her telltale star headdress and her hand, holding her scribal tool, and writing. The hieroglyphs on the artifact reportedly speak of one of Seshat's traditional divine attributes: "Mistress of the house of books."
The artifact was raised from the bottom of the sea and added to an exhibition on Egyptian writing at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that was on display at the time. Shirly Ben-Dor Evian, the curator of Egyptian archaeology at the museum, is quoted in the article, and she suggests that the face of the goddess was noticeably chiseled away because those who turned this stone into anchor knew they were reusing something that was once considered sacred.
In a related article called "Mysterious Egyptian Artifact from the Bronze Age Found Off Israeli Coast" in Haaretz, an independent daily newspaper in Israel, Ben-Dor Evian's explained this as "an act of respect for the deity."
"When you take something sacred and reuse it for a secular purpose you have to make it non-sacred first," the curator is quoted as saying. "You cannot use the image of a goddess as an anchor, so you deface it, and then it's no longer a goddess."
She also considered that the Seshat relief may have been caught on "the wrong side of a political or religious struggle and fell victim to an iconoclastic campaign." These things sometimes occurred when new pharaohs came into power and tried to wipe away the memory and achievements of predecessors.
Archaeologists who examined this discovery determined it was used as an anchor and think it may have been lost in a shipwreck during the Bronze Age. These kinds of anchors were typical of that time period, and stone was valuable, and some reliefs were repurposed for what is called "secondary use." This may be the simplest reason why Seshat was etched out and transformed into an anchor. There is a hole right over her hand and beneath an ankh. If slung over a boat, she would have hung upside down in the water.
The Hareetz article made note of the historical time period: "Based on the style of the hieroglyphics, it was carved around the 15th century B.C.E, that is more than 3,400 years ago," Ben-Dor Evian says. This would have been during the 18th Dynasty, with the pharaohs who founded the New Kingdom and led to ancient Egypt's maximum expansion. So the Seshat inscription could have adorned one of the many royal reliefs that were set in temples across Egypt, she says. Which temple it came from is still unclear at this writing. "All we can say for now is that at some point that shrine was renovated, abandoned, or destroyed and the relief was deemed obsolete, allowing for the reuse of the raw material."
I see this discovery in a slightly more mystical way.
I think Seshat resurfaced from the sea to remind us that goddesses are sometimes goddesses are hidden or lost for a period of time, but they can reemerge.
It illustrates, or portends, a revival of this goddess and shows how she remains ever-present in the world.
Although she was not in her full form in this relief, even the fragments of sacred images have power; power enough to attract a random swimmer to notice her where she'd rested on the ocean floor for thousands of years. Finding this altered sacred image reignited public awareness and interest in Seshat and she was treated with respect.
The reporting on this discovery in different media outlets talked about her as a goddess of writing, a divine scribe, a librarian, a record-keeper, and an engineer. She was not looked at as just an image or an old piece of Egyptian art. Even when the damages to the image were discussed, most people focused on the idea that this was done out of respect for the goddess.
Seshat did not have her own cult or temples, but she did bless many temple walls in her time. It always is lovely when an ancient image of her finds its way into public view.
I was really touched by some of the things shared by the veterinarian who discovered Seshat. He was out for a swim when he saw the stone and decided to dive down and touch it. "It was like entering an Egyptian temple at the bottom of the Mediterranean," he said.
It is a reminder that a temple atmosphere can be created anywhere. And even if her image is not complete, or her scribal tools or star are missing, Seshat is an enduring divine female. She will reveal herself to those who seek her, and sometimes, even to those who happen to come upon her. If you want a great writing buddy, try Seshat. She will help you navigate the path of writing and publishing, as well as many other aspects of life.
Hail and welcome Seshat!
And since this discovery there have been many more in the Holy Land that has shown us that though the Goddess or goddesses may be lost or forgotten for a time, she shall return! And she is immediately treated with reverence and carefully brought into the public view in museums and historical venues where she can be admired by all.