Egyptian God Thoth
The Ibis was the sacred bird of Africa that represented the Egyptian God Thoth. God of wisdom, knowledge and science, he was thought to be responsible for some of the most important findings and inventions of ancient Egypt. His name Thoth is the Greek version, with the ancient Egyptian being Tahuti or sometimes Djehuti.
He was the god of medicine for starters; with healing powers that helped to resurrect the dead Osiris long enough to impregnate Isis with Horus.
He bestowed the god Horus with the ability to turn into the winged sun-disk when he went looking for Seth to battle with him. He also helped revive Horus when he died as a child.
He was the inventor of hieroglyphics, math and writing systems in general.
Oh, and did I mention he is the father of astronomy as well? The ancient Egyptians loved the stars.
One of his symbols was the lunar disk and he was sometimes thought of as the good of the moon, though the moon was also its own deity – Khonsu.
A very interesting story involving the Egyptian god Thoth and the moon comes to us from Plutarch:
When Ra created the goddess Nut, he considered her his wife at first but then realized that she loved Geb. Angry at this, he decided to put a curse on her so that she would not conceive children.
Nut, devastated with this fate, went to Thoth for help. He devised an interesting little game in which he gambled against the moon to win a part of a day. He won 1/72 part of each day – and at that time the ancient Egyptian calendar was 360 days.
1/72 * 360 = 5.
Those 5 days were added to the calendar, but because they were not part of the original, Ra’s curse didn’t apply to them. And so Nut and Geb managed to conceive and birth her children. In order, they were: Osiris, Horus the Elder, Set, Isis and Nephthys.
Pretty cool, huh?
Forms of the Egyptian God Thoth
Thoth’s ibis statue is also one of the favorites in souvenir shops! It usually comes in bronze, in all sizes. For some reason, people love to buy more than one, each a different size.
But he also had another form that he took – that of the baboon. What could be a wiser animal than an ape?
And of course, the more common form he too was that of the ibis-headed man, taking the pose of a scribe. Sometimes in this form he would be shown wearing the lunar disk on his head.
With the stereotype of the wise old man at work here, Thoth had two sides to his personality. One was slow-paced, down to earth, and kind. The other was fierce and strict when it came to justice and defending the wronged.
Thoth’s Function and Worship
As with many ancient Egyptian gods, different myths attribute different lineages to each. For Thoth, he is mainly thought of as Ra’s eldest son and he is thought of as Maat’s counterpart, though they were never married nor did they have offspring.
In other myths, his consort is the goddess Seshat, who is a scribe and goddess of wisdom herself.
He was the scribe who recorded what was happening during the weighing-of-the-heart ceremony, and the great judge that made sure truth was told and all was fair.
He was also the protector and messenger for the gods, and as such he was associated with the Greek Hermes or Roman Mercury. In fact, being a messenger was one of the reasons he was depicted as a sacred ibis.
All of these roles were given to him as the assistant of Ra, who just had so much on his plate that he decided to delegate. And who better to take over such important tasks than such a wise and fair God?
So, with so many duties, Thoth invented a writing system in order to keep track of all the records. He was also the god that gave things their name.
Due to him being the god of writing and books, many great works of ancient Egyptian literature, especially religious texts, were attributed to him. Those works were appropriately named The Books of Thoth and were usually stored in the Houses of Life – the “libraries” of the temples.
His cult center was Hermopolis, though he was worshipped all over Egypt, with his depictions in tombs as well as temples. Statues of him as the ibis and the baboon are found abundantly.
The more interesting (and kind of shocking) method of worshipping Thoth was to mummify baboons and ibis birds in his honor. One tomb of a high priest of Thoth had an underground area of hundreds of acres all filled with sacrificed baboons and ibises.
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