This post is also available in: French
One of the most important and most misunderstood symbol of the Ancient Egypt, is the SEMA TAWY. The SEMA TAWY was represented carved on the throne of the Pharaohs and in a lot of other places. It is a a complex symbol therefore quite misunderstood.
As some of you already know, if you are interested in the symbolic representations from Ancient Egypt, SEMA TAWY represents, usually, the union of the two Lands : Upper and Lower Egypt. It is composed by a central axis: in fact the hieroglyph NFR meaning: perfect, perfection. This axis is coming out and going up from an open heart.This axis is also alike the main artery of the trachea. And knotted around this axis there are the two heraldic plants symbolizing the two lands of Egypt: The Lotus flower of the South and the papyrus of the North. SEMA means: to unify, and TAWY means: the Lands. So, SEMA TAWY is the union of both lands , the marriage of the North with the South. But not only as we will see...
These symbols are telling us other things too. As I use to say often, in Ancient Egypt, there are different levels of interpretations and meanings embedded in the writings,the sacred symbols and texts by the priests and scribes, different levels of possible understanding according to the levels of wisdom achieved by the observer.
Let us talk first about the papyrus. This plant is dedicated to the Goddess cobra Wadjet who is protecting the North of Egypt, the delta. The Cobra was sacred in Egypt on the crown of the Pharaoh because the cobra use to stay its head upright towards the skies, towards the Divine, and the other part of its body use to be lying on the ground, indicating the telluric energy grid of the planet. It is therefore, the image of an earthly being aspiring to the Divine, seeking to join the Divine. Therefore the papyrus and the cobra Wadjet, symbols of the North of Egypt, are somehow the symbol of all of us: terrestrial beings on planet Earth ideally searching to approch the divine, searching to get the skies, wishing answers to the reasons of our material presence on Earth….
Then, there is the Lotus flower: the symbol of the South in Ancient Egypt . During the sunset, the beautiful blossom of the lotus, full of he light of the day, is closing and is going underwater, reaching the black mud, staying in the shadow untill the dawn. Thus it is alike the Divine Principle coming down to Earth, coming to the material heavy plan. And the next morning the lotus is reaching the surface and the Light again. It is the divine principle illuminating the Earth again. And the patron goddess of the South is Nekhbet: the vulture goddess, considered as the mother of the divine aspect of the pharaoh. In Africa vulture is linked to lovers, for vultures are always seen in pairs.She is highly protective, living high in the skies and goddess of heaven.
Thus there are: the North with its symbols, the papyrus and the goddess Wadjet dedicated to our material plan and the South with its symbols, the lotus flower and the patron goddess Nekhbet dedicated to the divine plan.
First of all it is important to realize that the people of Ancient Egypt lived a completely different type of existence than we do today. The Ancient Egyptians lived each day with a complete devotion to what today we would call: the unseen world of soul and spirit that trancends our ordinary day to day existence. Time, for them, was built on a much larger concept which included not only their time on Earth but the afterlife as well. Because not only they wanted to reach the higher dimensions with a right and harmonious way of life but they wanted to do that with a perfect understanding of the laws of the universe.
Thus, the Sematawy, so magnificently represented by the vase of alabaster of Tutankhamon with its vase “athanor” and its god Hapy doubled on each side, emphasizes to us that the container of a vase (which is invisible in essence) passes its content in another density and thus raises it. The content is elevated while being protected. It is a beautiful image of the divine intervention in earthly affairs and of the primordial cosmic knowledge that persists through the centuries!
Now remember that in the perception of the Ancient Egyptians: Egypt was supposed to be reflected in the other world, in the Divine . To the point that when a pharaoh wanted to build a new temple, he just had to draw a sacred rectangular on the ground and it was said that the temple then, already existed in the skies, and then he could continue the special rites for the building… Before really building it, it already existed in the other world, in the skies…Therefore the principle of :
What is above is like what is below, and what is below is like that which is above. To make the miracle of the one thing.”
For my opinion, and after walking more than 20 years long in Egypt researching and studying ancient Texts, the Ancient pharaohs and priests dedicated the North, Lower Egypt to the terrestrial things, to the normal human life, to the material life, the tangible life and they devoted the South of Egypt, Upper Egypt to the Divine, to the invisible, to the non tangible…For that reason, at the overwhelming majority the great “temples of millions of years” (Hwt-n t-HH-m-mp.wt) are in the South (as well a good number of the “Mansion of the God” (hwt-nTr) for the cult temples). And the “temples of millions of years” are not mortuary temples at all for me, but they are dedicated to the “Ka” : our divine doble in the skies, or for the temples: the divine doble of pharaoh or of a god in the heavens, thus to the other divine world. (I will have the opportunity to speak to you in details of the ka in details in other articles).They had made a real contract with heaven for the spiritual advancement and protection of the whole territory of Egypt and forever.
For that the SEMA TAWY was so important because the symbol of a true agreement, a true contract linking the whole ground of Egypt, to the Divine dimension… For that they have created in Egypt itself a reproduction in the South of the earth of heaven, this divine place, to materialize a true marriage between the terrestrial and the celestial in Egypt, to bind Egypt forever to heaven. So this double agreement, this commitment, this allegiance is for me the most important thing we have to understand about Egypt. That is the meaning of the double Kingdom …If you look at the picture of the SEMA TAWY up in this post, you will see that the right side is like the left side. If you put a mirror in the center you will see exactly the same thing in the reflection. It is a double image: for the Ancient Egyptians one side reflecting the other speaks to us of the terrestrial reflecting the celestial.
And there are thousands of dual representations in Egyptian iconography whether in symbols, monuments, artifacts, such as double statues, double steles, double graves, double cities such as Nekhen and Nekheb in the South and Dep and Pe in the North etc …So many reminders that our world is the mirror of the other and that we are related. Each time, the Ancient Egyptians are insisting that everything is bound to the other world, that another dimension exists to which we are closely connected. (very soon another article about this dual representations in Egypt!)
It is a very sacred wish for Egypt to be always protected by the heavens but it is also a reminder that men don’t have to forget to take care of the divine and of their next life because the other world is strongly linked to our. The Binary Principle in Egypt is therefore teaching us a lot of things… Double : is a keyword opening their knowledge. And we can see that the SEMA TAWY is much more than a representation of the South and North of Egypt.
Texte, Photos, translation & collages ©AntoineGigal-2016
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Wengrow, David, The Archaeology of Early Egypt: Social transformations in North-East Africa, 10,000 to 2650 B.C., Cambridge University Press, 2006
Rania Y. Merzeban, Unusual sm3 t3wy Scenes in Egyptian Temples, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 44 (2008)
This post is also available in: French
Thank you very much, I was searching for these meanings since I’ve noticed the symbol in a lot of deity thrones.