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The Ancient Egyptian God Thoth

Representation of Thoth: Although Thoth is known for having many important roles in Egyptian mythology. He is mostly known as the God of knowledge and writing and is often shown with a head of an ibis or a baboon. These animals were said to be sacred to him.

Names and Titles: While he is most often known as Thoth, or the Egyptian name dhwty, he possesses many alternate names as well. Among these names are A’an, Asten, Hab, Khenti, Mehi, and Sheps. The Greeks believed that Thoth was the Egyptian version of their god Hermes. In addition to the many names that Thoth was known by, he also had many titles. Among these were “Lord of Ma’at,” “Judge of the Two Combatant Gods,” “The Pacifier of the Gods,” “Lord of the Divine Words,” and “The Timeless.”

Thoth's Roles:

Like many Egyptian gods, Thoth had multiple roles. One of the most important roles of Thoth was maintaining the universe. His role in maintaining the universe focused on mediation. He served as a mediator between the forces of good and evil. It was his job to ensure that neither side gained the upper hand, which would disrupt the balance of the universe.

He was known as the scribe of the gods, as he created the writing system used in Ancient Egypt. In addition to having created the hieroglyphs, it is said that he created the act of writing itself. It was believed that without his creation of words, the gods would not exist.

He was also often believed to have a role in the development of both magic and science. The Egyptians believed that he calculated the creation of the universe and directed the movement of all heavenly bodies. Between the Egyptians and the Greeks, he was claimed to be “the author of every work of every branch of knowledge, human and divine.” This meant that he was viewed as the true inventor of astronomy, geometry, medicine, theology, astrology and many other sciences.

Like his wife Ma’at, he was also known as having a part in the judgment of the dead. In Duat, he took the form of A’an, the god of equilibrium. In this form he appeared to be an ape, and he recorded the weighing of the hearts against the feather of Ma’at.

The Three Epic Battles:

These were three battles between the forces of good and evil that Thoth mediated. The first of these battles was between Ra, the sun god, and Apophis, the deification of darkness. It was believed that Apophis was a great serpent that lived within the underworld and would attack Ra each day as the sun went over the horizon. Their battles were at times used to explain thunderstorms, earthquakes, and eclipses.

The second battle was between Heru-Bekhutet and Set. Set was originally worshipped as the god of the desert, storms and foreigners, and he served an important role in the first epic battle, helping Ra against Apophis. He would later become known as the god of darkness and battle against Horus in the third epic battle. This demonization of Set came about due to his followers in Upper Egypt resisting against the followers of Horus in Lower Egypt, along with his role as the god of foreigners. This worsened as Persians, Greeks, and Romans came to power within their kingdom.

Thoth’s role within these battles was to ensure neither side won a complete victory, which would disrupt the balance of the universe. To prevent this from happening, Thoth would heal the wounds of the combatants.

Ogdoad Cosmogony:

Within the Ogdoad Cosmogony, four pairs were worshipped. Each pair represented one of the four concepts of the fundamental state. The first pair, Naunet and Nu, represented the primordial waters. Amunet and Amun represented air. The pair Kauket and Kuk represented darkness, while Hauhet and Huh represented eternity. These eight deities were believed to have always existed, but they lacked balance. This brought about the birth of Ra. These nine deities would then go on to create all other things.

In one variation of the myth, Ra hatches from an egg laid on the Milky Way by a cosmic goose. This goose would later be replaced by an ibis in the myth, and was said to be a gift from Thoth. It is also believed that within the Ogdoad Cosmogony, he gave birth to Atum, Khepri, and Nefertum by laying eggs in his ibis form.

Deification of the Moon:

In the Ogdoad Cosmogony, Thoth was the deification of the moon, which was believed to be the eye of Horus. It was darker than the sun, the other eye of Horus, because it was partially blinded in a fight against Set. From this role, in time he grew to being considered a separate god, receiving the name Thoth. The name is Egyptian for ibis, the bird he is associated with. This connection was made because a crescent moon resembles the beak of an ibis. He later became associated with the baboon as well because they were an intelligent, nocturnal animal.

Cult of Thoth:

The cult of Thoth was focused in Khnum, a major city within Ancient Egypt. During the Late Period, this cult gained power and adjusted mythology to make Thoth one of the prominent gods. Millions of ibis were mummified and buried within Khnum to honor Thoth. His role as the god of knowledge brought about an association with Seshat, an earlier deification of wisdom. This connection can be seen as either his wife or daughter depending on the various tales.

In addition to Khnum, in many cities there are shrines to Thoth. A few of these cities are Abydos, Amen-heri-ab, Hesert, Rekhui, and Talmsis.

The Book of Thoth:

The Book of Thoth appears in a tale that dates to the Ptolemaic period. It is said to have been written by Thoth and contained magical spells. One spell would allow the reader to understand animals, and another that would allow the reader to see the gods themselves.

A brief synopsis of the story indicates that the book was said to have been hidden in the Nile and locked inside boxes guarded by snakes. It was then found by Prince Neferkaptah, but he was punished for stealing from Thoth. The gods then killed his wife and son, which led to his suicide. The book was then taken from his tomb by Setne Khamwas, who then suffers a terrible vision of killing his children. He returns the book in fear of his vision coming true. The story was used to demonstrate that humans were not meant to possess the knowledge of the gods.

The Calendar:

According to one myth, the Egyptians believed that a year was originally 360 days long, and that during these 360 days, Nut was unable to bear children. Thoth spoke to Khonsu, the moon god, and made a bet for 1/72 of the moon’s light, which equated to five days. Thoth won the bet, extending the year to 365 days. During these five extra days, Nut was not sterile, and she was able to give birth to Horus, Isis, Nepthys, Osiris, and Set.