Ancient Egypt: Its History and Culture
Ancient Egyptian symbols: the sa

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Ancient Egyptian symbols: the sa

Sa amulet, Middle Kingdom
Sa amulet made of electrum and gold
Middle Kingdom
    The sa, zA,[1] was an ancient symbol meaning protection. .
He has come to you, O Great One of Magic
This is Horus, surrounded with (?) the protection of his eye, Great One of Magic.
Pyramid Texts 220 [2]


    Originally it may have been a depiction of a rolled up papyrus mat, under which people away fom home may have sheltered. Alternatively, it has been suggested that it was a loop of papyrus stalks used by boatsmen as a floating device.[3] But any such suggestion is speculative, as it was a general symbol for protection from earliest times onwards.

Divine associations

    The sa was associated above all with the dwarf god Bes and the crocodile goddess Taweret, both protective deities more important in the worship of the common people than in official temple cults.


Sa, ankh und djed symbols
Sa, ankh und djed symbols, from a mural in Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el Bahri.
Excerpt. © Olaf Tausch on Wikimedia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
    The sa was far less common than other symbols like the ankh, the djed or even the tyet. During the New Kingdom it was at times depicted in conjunction with them. It was one of the symbols Bes or Taweret might be shown holding. During the Middle Kingdom it enjoyed some popularity as an amulet and was used as a decorative, often repetitive element in jewellery and on magical wands.[3] Before the New Kingdom the hieroglyph for the sa-amulet was zA, later generally zA,[4] though the older form was at times used as an archaism.
    The deceased needed protection even more than the living, having to pass through an unfamiliar, magical world full of unforeseen dangers. The Book of the Dead equipped the deased with the necessary charms. As Thoth he protected Osiris:
I shall give eternity as protection of your limbs. I have come with the protection amulet in my hand. My prot[ection is to you] a daily concern.
Book of the Dead [5]

[1] MdC transliteration zA, Wb vol. 3, 414.9-415.11
[2] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae web site: D. Topmann (ed.), Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Pyramidentexte => Unas-Pyramide => Sargkammer => Ostwand => PT 220, accessed 9th July 2010
[3] Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.248
[4] MdC transliteration zAw or zA, Wb 3, 415.12-17, Zettelarchiv DZA 28.528.510
[5] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae web site, Totenbuchprojekt, Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, B. Backes (ed.): pVatikan 38600/1+2 (pVatikan 63) => Tb 182; accessed 10th July 2010
Shaw & Nicholson 1995


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