Was Scepters, Earliest through Middle Kingdom

The Was scepter is seen at least as early as the First Dynasty, on an ivory comb of King Djet, (Cairo JdE 47176).

"An interesting point is that the bull's leg, like the was-sceptre to be discussed below, seems to have played a part in the local cult of Seth. Both in Ombos and in Sepermeru Seth bears the epithet "Powerful of forefoot"." (page 89)


"The spiral shaft of the djam-sceptre might be an imitation of lightning."(page 90)

Furthermore, TeVelde says,
"Gardiner holds that the head of these sceptres is probably the head of the Seth-animal. Wainwright drew attention to the special relation between these divine scepters and the god Seth. The nome sign of Oxyrhynchus, that was one of the nomes of Seth, consists of two was-sceptres, and an enormous was-sceptre was found in the temple of Seth at Ombos. Besides their function as sceptre in the hand of gods, was-sceptres serve to hold up the sky. As supporter of the sky Seth is appealed to in a prayer by Rameses II." (page 90)


Was scepters shown standing on the hieroglyph denoting earth (ta) and holding up the sky (pet hieroglyph),
from _Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art_, by Richard H. Wilkinson, page 139
The two-dimensional depiction is understood to represent three dimensions, thus two was scepters represent four.

De Lubicz via Paul LaViolette speaks of the was as "a living branch that conducts nourishing, vivifying sap, fluid that ascends..." and even found some was scepters "made from the living branch of a tree that had been cut so as to include a section of the lower source brance as well as two offshoots coming from its upper end (figure 2.5)". (Genesis of the Cosmos, page 30)

I'm not sure how they were formed, but the Metropolitan museum has wooden was scepter fragments:



(Fischer's photo shows a fragment with the forked end)
From a late Middle Kingdom burial, Met museum
"subsequently identified as coming from Pit 211 of the 'priests' cemetary' at Deir el Bahri,
belonging to a certain Snwsrt-'nh, no earlier than the end of the Twelfth Dynasty"

from _Notes on Sticks and Staves in Ancient Egypt_, Henry G. Fischer, Metropolitan Museum Journal, 1979
(color photo ©JAL 2008)

Usually only the gods and occasionally royalty held the was scepter, along with the priesthood, but there are a few rare scenes of commoners with the scepter:



"Two Eleventh Dynasty inscriptions, from Dendera and Thebes, show a hieroglyph in which the w3s-staff is held by a standing figure that is neither royal nor divine (Figure 35). In the first case (a) it serves as the determinative of hl3w 'chiefs' in the statement of an official: '[I acted as] stew[ard] for six chiefs.' In the second (b) it is an ideograph, evidently replacing _ _ _ in the word mniw 'herdsman,' and the context is: 'the herdsmans was beside his----(word lost)... the herdsman was beside his swine.' A third Eleventh Dynasty inscription from Thebes shows the w3s-staff in the hands of a mummiform determinative of twt 'statue,' where it is emblematic of the Osiride hereafter (Figure 35C)."
from _Notes on Sticks and Staves in Ancient Egypt_, Henry G. Fischer, Metropolitan Museum Journal, 1979

There's even an example of a craftsman sculpting a was scepter:


Sixth Dynasty Craftsmen
The was scepter is "among the equipment that is being manufactured for two of the Sixth Dynasty nomarchs at Deir el Gebrawi."

Fischer adds that "the w3s-column may have likewise have belonged to the equipment of the local temple"

The personified Was, which we see later in Seti I's temple and elsewhere, appears in the third Dynasty pharaoh Djoser's Step Pyramid. Djoser (Netjerykhet) really advanced Egyptian iconography, and introduced ways of depiction that would remain constant until the civilization's end. His Step Pyramid complex serves to ensure that he could celebrate his Heb Seb (Jubilee Festival) for eternity.

One of Djoser's personified Was scepters was originally beneath the Step Pyramid, and now is at the Imhotep Museum in Egypt. What is the entity which the Was scepter is holding so securely? Does it represent a physical entity such as a scorpion or a spiritual entity? Perhaps the Was scepter is supporting the Egyptian scorpion goddess Serqet. One of Serqet's roles was to guard coffins, which would be useful at his pyramid.


Traced from a detail in
a photo by “kairoinfo4u”:


The following detail comes from a scene in which Djoser is running the Heb Sed race, to prove his fitness to rule:


From _The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt_, by Dodson and Hilton

We see several was scepters. There's a jubilating Was scepter by Djoser's calf! As a bonus, another Was with a fan is about waist high. And an Ankh with a fan is there, along with two Shen, meaning 'eternity', as well. All are there to suggest (and encourage) long life, victory and strength to the ruler.