Widely worshipped as inventor of the written word and credited with the creation of different branches of knowledge, Thoth is a central figure in ancient Egyptian religion, filling various important roles in the mythological world. However, the worship of Thoth lasted only until the dynastic era. Regardless, the Egyptians and Greeks alike credit him as the inventor of all knowledge.
Popular myth has it that Thoth was self-created, while at least two alternate stories claim he was either born from the sun god Ra’s lips or from the war god Set’s forehead after Set swallowed the semen of his brother HORUS. He is associated with different consorts or wives, most notably with Ma’at, goddess of truth; Seshat, goddess of writing; and Nehemetawy, a protector goddess. Thoth and Ma’at are believed to have stood on either side of Ra’s boat while he travelled across the sky as the sun. Thoth and Ma’at had eight children, the most well-known being Amon.
He is commonly depicted in human form with the head of an Ibis, a sacred bird associated with wisdom. The name Thoth is the Greek version of the Egyptian name Djehuti, which means “He Who is Like the Ibis.” Sometimes he is pictured holding an ankh, a famous hieroglyph resembling a cross, and scepter; other times, he is pictured holding a scribe’s palette and stylus. He is also seen wearing the Atef crown usually worn by Osiris. When he took the form of A’an, god of equilibrium, he was depicted with the head of a baboon.
Considered to be the author of the Book of the Dead, Toth also acted as scribe to the gods and of the underworld. In this capacity, he stood by during the weighing of the hearts of deceased persons. Hearts lighter or equal to the weight of a feather could move on to a heavenly existence. Thoth’s just decisions in these and other matters made him a respected judge.
Appropriately, one epithet given to Thoth is “The Reckoner of Time and of Seasons.” He possesses the gift of measuring and recording time. In one popular myth, he earns an extra five days to add to the 360 day calendar. This was to enable NUT, the sky goddess, to have a child on each of these days after RA issued a decree that she was to have no children on any day of the original year.
Facts About Thoth
- Thoth was first worshipped as a moon god. The moon’s cycles played an important role in Egyptian life. The crescent moon resembled an ibis, the bird associated with Thoth;
- When Set killed Osiris, Thoth helped Isis to resurrect him and assisted ANUBIS with the first act of mummification;
- Invoked in many spells used in popular magic, Thoth is also seen as a god of magic;
- Thoth remains a well-known god in popular culture. In modern literature, for example, he is the character Mr. Ibis in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. He is also featured on his throne on the logo of the University of Cairo;
- Thoth’s main temple is at Khmun. Here he led the Ogdoad pantheon, the four gods and four goddesses who made up the principal deities before creation. He has shrines in numerous other cities;
- A festival of Thoth was held at Khmun, where his worshippers buried mummified baboons and ibises as votive offerings. Evidence of these have been found by archeologists at the necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel;
- Thoth was associated with Hermes, the messenger god, by the Greeks. They were combined to form Hermes Trismegistus. Thereafter, Khmun became Hermopolis;
- According to myth, Thoth wrote 42 books containing all the knowledge humanity needs. He was given the title of “Author of Every Work on Every Branch of Knowledge, Both Human and Divine.” Some of this knowledge was so powerful that it could not be revealed to everyone;
- The Mansion of Thoth was his home in the afterlife. Souls found a safe place to rest here, where they received magic spells to protect them from demons;
- Some of the disciplines the Greeks credit Thoth for include mathematics, astrology, geometry, botany, and land surveying;
- Djehuti, an Egyptian pharaoh of the Sixteenth dynasty, was named after Thoth. He ruled for three years.