Thoth was an ancient Egyptian god of the moon, wisdom, writing, magic, judgment, balance and the dead. He was one of the earliest and most important Egyptian deities who was revered from the Pre-Dynastic Period till the last dynastic age of Ancient Egypt. Egyptian name of Thoth, Djehuty, is defined as “He Who is Like the Ibis”. The bird Ibis was regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt and associated with wisdom. Thoth is most often depicted as a man with a head of an Ibis. There are several myths about how the birth of Thoth took place. Among other things, he was believed to have been born from the lips of God Ra; and from the forehead of the God Set. Thoth also plays an important role in the Osiris Myth, the most influential story in ancient Egyptian mythology. In the myth, Thoth was the judge in the contest between Horus and Set for the throne of Egypt. Know more about the ancient Egyptian God Thoth through these 10 interesting facts.
#1 HE WAS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT DEITIES OF ANCIENT EGYPT
Thoth was initially worshiped as a moon god. The cycles of the moon played an important role in ancient Egyptian astronomy and astrology. Many of the most important rituals and events in ancient Egypt were organized according to the cycles of the moon. Thoth can thus be regarded as an important Egyptian god since the earliest times. Worship of Thoth began in Lower Egypt most likely in the Pre-Dynastic Period, which was around 6000 BCE to 3150 BCE. His worship continued through the Ptolemaic Period, the last dynastic age of Ancient Egypt from around 323 BCE to 30 BCE. This makes the veneration of Thoth one of the longest for any Egyptian deity or for any deity of any civilization.
Over this long period, many other roles were attached to Thoth. Among other things, he became a god of wisdom, writing, magic, science, art, judgment and death. Although Thoth is his most common name, in different regions of Egypt, he is also known as Tehuty, Tehuti, Techu, Tetu, Tahuti, Zehuti and Djehuty. While Thoth was worshiped throughout Egypt, his cult was centered at Khnum or Khemenu, which later came to be known as the city of Hermopolis. Hermopolis was in fact named so because of the connection of Thoth to the Greek god Hermes.
#2 THOTH IS OFTEN DEPICTED AS A MAN WITH A HEAD OF AN IBIS
The Egyptian name of Thoth, Djehuty, is defined as “He Who is Like the Ibis”. The bird Ibis was a sacred animal in ancient Egypt which was associated with wisdom. This makes sense as being a god of wisdom was a primary role of Thoth. In ancient Egyptian art, Thoth is thus most often depicted as a man with a head of an Ibis. Another animal sacred to Thoth was the baboon. In his form as A’an, the god of equilibrium, Thoth is depicted as a dog-faced baboon or a man with the head of a baboon. Ibises and Baboons, the symbols of Thoth, were mummified and sold as a dedication to the God. Thousands of such mummified animals have been found in excavations.
In keeping with his role as a moon god, Thoth is also sometimes depicted with a lunar disc above his head. Thoth was believed to be the scribe, interpreter and messenger of the gods. The Greeks associated Thoth with Hermes, their messenger god. In Greece, he was referred to as Hermes Trismesgistos (“Thoth, the thrice great”). Thoth was the patron god of scribes, the writers who kept records. It is believed that scribes in ancient Egypt poured out one drop of their ink in Thoth’s honor before beginning their work.
#3 HE PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN THE BIRTH OF THE FIRST FIVE EGYPTIAN DEITIES
There are several myths related to the birth of Thoth. According to one of the myths, he is believed to be born from the lips of God Ra, who is regarded as the supreme power in the cosmic universe. In another myth, the birth of Thoth has nothing to do with any other gods or goddesses. It is believed that Thoth was simply self-created at the beginning of time. According to this tale, Thoth becomes an Ibis and lays eggs which then become the holders of all creations. An important myth regarding Thoth is that he played an instrumental role in the birth of the five original Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses.
Ra, the supreme God, ruled the world but was fearful of his throne being taken by someone else. When he learned that his daughter Nut, the wife of Geb, was pregnant; he commanded that Nut would not be able to give birth on any day of the year. Due to this decree, Thoth gambled with the God of the Moon, Iah, and won five days’ worth of moonlight. Nut was thus able to give birth to her five children in these extra days. Her children were the first five gods; namely Osiris, Isis, Horus the Elder, Set and Nephthys. Ra eventually realized his mistake and honored Thoth for his wisdom in getting around the curse.
#4 THOTH PLAYS AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE OSIRIS MYTH
The Osiris myth is the most important as well as most famous story in ancient Egyptian mythology. According to the myth, Osiris, and his sister-wife, Isis, were the rulers of the world shortly after its creation. Set, the younger brother of Osiris, became envious of the power Osiris held. He tricked Osiris into laying into a coffin, locked it and threw it into the river Nile. When Isis learned of this, she set out to find the coffin to bring her husband back to life.
Set became aware of this plan, cut the body of Osiris and threw the different parts on land and the river Nile. Isis then collected the different body parts of her husband to put the pieces back together and resurrect Osiris. It was Thoth who aided Isis in this task and promised her that Osiris would be resurrected from the dead. He then helped her to become pregnant with the child of Osiris. Thus Horus the Younger was born. Horus then fought his uncle Set for the throne of Egypt. It was Thoth who supervised the fight and made sure that neither of the two contenders had an unfair advantage. During the battle, Horus lost an eye and it was Thoth who gave him the wisdom he needed to recover it. The battle was ultimately won by Horus, who then took his rightful place as the King of Egypt.
#5 ACCORDING TO A MYTH HE WAS BORN FROM THE FOREHEAD OF SET
There is another popular version regarding the birth of Thoth. An Egyptian manuscript, The Contendings of Horus and Set, dated 1190 BCE to 1077 BCE, describes the birth of Thoth as a result of the fight between the two gods, Horus and Set, mentioned above. While the two gods were fighting for their right to rule, Set accidentally swallowed the semen of Horus and thus Thoth was born from the forehead of Set. Being the son of the two deities: Horus, who represents order; and Set, who represents chaos; Thoth is considered the equilibrium between the two and is known as the God of Balance.
Right after his birth, Thoth mediated the fight between the two Gods, Horus and Set. Being the God of Balance, it was his duty to ensure that the fight between Horus and Set is always on equal ground. By using his healing powers at different points during the fight, Thoth ensured that neither of the two has any undue advantage over the other. He makes both the sides equally capable and helps in keeping the contest between the two gods, fair and equal.
#6 THOTH IS THE MALE COUNTERPART OF THE GODDESS OF BALANCE
Thoth is also closely associated with the Principle of Ma’at (divine balance) and the goddess Ma’at who personified this principle. Ma’at is depicted as a tall woman who is the Egyptian Goddess of truth, balance, order, law, justice and mortality. Her crown is adorned by a huge ostrich feather which represents the white feather of truth. According to the Principle of Ma’at, one is supposed to follow harmony throughout one’s life, understand that one’s actions can have an impact on other people and should strive to maintain balance in life.
By honoring the Principle of Ma’at, a person can align with the divinity and be free of darkness and chaos after death. Thoth is seen as the male counterpart of Ma’at and in some of the myths, Ma’at is the wife of Thoth. According to a prominent Egyptian myth, the God Ra sailed across the heavens during the day time in his boat which they called the “Barge of Millions of Years”. It was Thoth and Ma’at who stood on either side of Ra’s solar barge. Thoth was given this honor by Ra due to his role in helping Nut give birth to her children.
#7 ALONG WITH OSIRIS, HE PRESIDES OVER THE JUDGMENT OF SOULS IN HALL OF TRUTH
Ancient Egyptians believed that in your journey through the underworld, you are led into the “Hall of Maat” where your heart was measured on a scale opposite Maat’s “feather of truth”. If the heart weighed less, the soul would be conducted into the afterlife; however if it it was found heavier, Egyptian demoness Ammut would swallow it and that would be the end of the person’s afterlife. Thoth presided over the judgment of the dead with Osiris in the Hall of the Truth while the God Anubis would weigh the heart of the deceased individual. In the Hall, Thoth is also the scribe who keeps the record of the souls of the deceased and the one who keeps track of the white feather of truth.
In the afterlife, the Mansion of Thoth is the place where souls of the deceased rest and prepare for their hard journey to paradise. They receive magic spells from Thoth which help them in fighting demons which stand on their way to the underworld. In the afterlife, his magic also provides the souls with spells that can bring them back from the afterlife and resurrect them. It is believed that Thoth had written these magic spells in various books and these books are hidden, to be only found by the initiators of the next generations.
#8 HE HELPED RA BY BRINGING BACK THE DISTANT GODDESS
The Myth of the Distant Goddess is a famous Egyptian myth in which the Eye of Ra, who is a solar deity and the feminine counterpart of God Ra, runs away from her father, Ra. The Eye is a violent force who is seen as an independent entity which is personified by different Egyptian goddesses and is also considered an extension of the powers of Ra. In this myth, the Eye leaves Ra to go to a far-off land because of disagreements between the two. Ra, who needs the Eye to be present with him at all times demands that she returns but fails to bring her back because of her power and her will.
Ra then sends Thoth to bring the Eye back by using not force, but wisdom, subtlety, humility and perseverance. Thoth used his mastery over words and his wisdom to convince the Eye of Ra. Nonetheless, it is believed that Thoth had to ask the Goddess 1077 times to return to Ra before she complied. As a reward for bringing the Eye back, Goddess Nehemetawy was given to Thoth as a consort. Nehemetawy means “She Who Embraces Those In Need” and she is a protector goddess.
#9 THE BOOK OF THOTH IS SAID TO CONTAIN ALL THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE
Thoth, being the god of Writing and Wisdom, was regarded as the author of books like “Books of the Dead” and the “Book of Breathings”, which consisted of spells used in Ancient Egypt. Moreover, there has been numerous mentions of a book named “The Book of Thoth”, which is said to contain all the secrets of the universe which include both mankind and the divinity. But, it is believed that the knowledge of this book is cursed. Anyone who finds this book and reads it will become the most powerful sorcerer in the universe. However, the knowledge that he gains will become the reason for his cursed life.
In the present age, many people believe that this book is kept in a secret chamber and hidden in the Great Pyramid. There are other theories which say that the origin of the Gods is mentioned in this book, which is the reason behind the curse of the knowledge of the book. Thoth’s knowledge on different subjects has led to him being revered as a God who is the “Author of Every Work on Every Branch of Knowledge, Both Human and Divine”. He is believed to have written 42 books which have all the knowledge that humanity would ever need.
#10 THOTH WAS BELIEVED TO BE THE CREATOR OF THE WRITTEN WORD
It was believed in ancient Egypt that, the written word, which the people of Egypt used to record history and to document their daily life was given to them as a gift from Thoth. There are many versions of the creation of the written word. In one version, it is believed that Thoth himself created the written word and then gave it to the humankind. In another version, it is said that while Thoth is the creator of the language and the words of the humans and the divinity, it was his consort, Seshat, who gave these words to the common people. Seshat was the goddess of writing; the keeper of books; and patron goddess of libraries and librarians.
In yet another version, it is believed that it was Osiris and his wife-sister Isis who gave the humankind the ability to write. However, in all the different versions of the creation of the written word, Thoth was the one who created the written word for all of humanity to use. Therefore, Thoth is also known as the record keeper of everything that happens in the world. He kept the record of the number of days and the years and is also credited for the formulation of the calendar.