Thoth, from: “Egyptian paganism for beginners”, by J.Almond & K.Seddon
Come to me, Thoth, O noble Ibis,
O god who loves Khmun;
O letter-writer of the Ennead,
Great one who dwells in Un!
Come to me and give me counsel,
Make me skillful in your calling;
Better is your calling than all callings,
It makes men great.
He who masters it is found fit to hold office…
You are he who offers counsel,
Fate and Fortune are with you,
Come to me and give me counsel,
I am a servant of your house,
Let me tell of your valiant deeds,
Wheresoever I may be;
Then the multitudes will say:
“Great are they, the deeds of Thoth!”
—Papyrus Anastasi V, in Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume II, by Miriam Lichtheim, p. 113.
I am Thoth, the perfect scribe, whose hands are pure, the lord of the two horns, who maketh iniquity to be destroyed, the scribe of right and truth, who abominateth sin. Behold, he is the writing-reed of the god Neb-er-tcher, the lord of laws, who giveth forth the speech of wisdom and understanding, whose words have dominion over the two lands. I am Thoth, the lord of right and truth, who trieth the right and the truth for the gods, the judge of words in their essence, whose words triumph over violence. I have scattered the darkness, I have driven away the whirlwind and the storm, and I have given the pleasant breeze of the north wind unto Osiris Un-nefer as he came forth from the womb of her who gave him birth. I have made Ra to set as Osiris, and Osiris setteth as Ra setteth. I have made him to enter into the hidden habitation to vivify the heart of the Still-Heart, the holy soul, who dwelleth in Amentet, and to shout cries of joy unto the Still-Heart, Un-nefer, the son of Nut.
I am Thoth, the favored one of Ra, the lord of might, who bringeth to a prosperous end that which he doeth, the mighty one of enchantments who is in the boat of millions of years, the lord of laws, the subduer of the two lands, whose words of might gave strength to her that gave him birth, whose word doeth away with opposition and fighting, and who performeth the will of Ra in his shrine.
—Book of the Dead, chapter 182, translation by E A. Wallis Budge.
Oh my twice-great master Thoth, The Only One,
Who has no equal,
Who sees and hears whoever passes.
Who knows whoever comes,
With the knowledge of everything that happens!
You have made my heart walk upon your waters,
He who walks on your road will never stumble.
—Petosiris, in The Living Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, by Christian Jacq, p. 42.
Thoth is the Greek rendering of the Egyptian name Djehuty or Tahuti. Thoth was also identified by the Greeks with their god Hermes and was called Hermes Trismegistus to distinguish him from the Greek form of Hermes. The title Trismegistus, meaning “three times great,” is a Greek translation of the Egyptian expression, pa aa, pa aa, pa aa, meaning “the great, the great, the great,” which was often applied to Thoth. He was also sometimes called “twice- great,” as in the closing prayer above. There are even texts that describe him as “eight times great” or “nine times great” The main cult center of Thoth was Hermopolis, which is now called el-Ashmunein. His totem animals are the baboon and the ibis and he is often represented as a man with the head of an ibis.
One of the most important deities of ancient Egypt, he was credited with being a creator god; the closing prayer above shows that he is indeed the Only One, the Supreme Being; specifically, in this case, the Divine Mind or intelligence of God, the Logos or Word of God (the ordering principle of the universe). E. A. Wallis Budge (1969 , VoL II, pp. 516-17) points to parallels between the Memphite, Hermopolitan, and Heliopolitan cosmogonies whereby Thoth, as the mental aspect of Ptah (manifesting through Ptah’s tongue, as we explained in the chapter on Ptah), can be seen as a form of Shu, who is the first emanation of Atum. This has led to Thoth’s and Shu’s respective consorts, Maat and Tefnut, also being identified with one another, and furthermore, to Ptah’s consort, Sekhmet, becoming identified with Maat and Tefnut.
Thoth is the god of wisdom, “lord of the divine words,” and patron of scribes and physicians. These qualities are very apparent from the texts selected above, particularly the invocation in which his “calling” refers to the profession of scribes who were much valued in ancient Egypt. It is Thoth who is said to have devised hieroglyphic writing, but his role as lord of the divine words probably means more than this: It was Thoth who prescribed the correct practices and appropriate forms of ritual to be carried out in all the temples and the sacred texts used there were written by him. In discussing the importance of Thoth’s writing, Patrick Boylan (1999, p. 95) quotes from a hymn that describes Thoth as “he who has given words and script, who makes the temples to prosper, who founds shrines, and who makes the gods to know what is needful (i.e., sacrifice and ritual).”
Thoth is one of several deities to whom special magical powers are attributed; the source of his magic is his great knowledge and his command of words – how to use and pronounce words with magical effectiveness. His medical knowledge is closely connected to his magical abilities. Magic was regarded by the Egyptians as an important aspect of medical treatment. Often, the reciting of a spell was required as the medicine was taken. In the texts that we have used above, Thoth’s purity and his reliance on right and truth are also stressed, ensuring that his formidable powers are only employed for just purposes.
Thoth is a moon god. It is notable that the Egyptians had lunar gods and solar goddesses, whereas many other cultures strictly see the sun as male and the moon as female. The Egyptians also had an earth god (Geb) and a sky goddess (Nut), which again is the reverse of what is found in other cultures. One of the myths about Thoth says that when Nut was pregnant, Ra forbade her to give birth on any day of the year, so Thoth played a game of checkers with the moon, Aah, and won enough of the moon’s light to create five extra days in which Nut’s five children could be born. This is a symbolic way of describing the fact that the lunar year, consisting of twelve months of thirty days each (the time from each new moon to the next), has 360 days, whereas the solar year (summer solstice to summer solstice, or winter solstice to winter solstice) has 365 days. Ancient agricultural societies kept track of the passage of time by noticing the phases of the moon (the first calendars being lunar) so the moon became associated with the measurement of time, and then with measurement in general such as the measurement of lengths, distances, and quantities. Thoth’s rational faculty and his discernment in judgment may derive from his abilities as a moon god to count and measure accurately.
Thoth was regarded as Ra’s night deputy, and was also one of the occupants in Ra’s solar bark. The reference to Ra setting as Osiris, in Thoth’s reply above, means that the setting of the sun was regarded as the death of Ra, who then became identified with Osiris as the god of the dead. (We shall return to this point in the chapter on Osiris.) Thoth, as lord of time and the divine order of the universe, could be seen as being in charge of this process of death and renewal.
When Osiris was a king of Egypt in mythical times, Thoth was his vizier. He was the protector of Isis after Osiris was murdered by Set, teaching Isis the skills of magic, and helping her to protect Horus, the son she had by Osiris, against the machinations of Set. When Horus was old enough to challenge the usurper Set for the throne, Thoth was his advocate, using his considerable skills of articulate persuasion to plead Horus’s cause at the tribunal of the gods. Thoth also defended Osiris against false accusations made by Set, clearing the murdered god’s reputation and declaring him “true of voice,” which enabled Osiris to assume his role as lord and judge of the dead.
An alternative strand of myth, which presents Thoth as the brother of Set and in league with him against Osiris, is generally played down (Pyramid Texts, utterances 218-19). Thoth is also, perhaps surprisingly, regarded as the son of Set and Horus, and more often, as the son of Ra. (This will be explained in the chapter on Set.) The association with Set does not in any way reflect badly on Thoth’s character, for in myths where the other deities are sometimes shown in a bad light, his conduct is consistently impeccable.
Other myths about Thoth show him to be the god who restores the Eye, whether it be the solar Eye of Ra or the lunar Eye of Horus. When Ra’s angry Eye took the form of a lioness and went raging off, abandoning Egypt, who better than Thoth to entice her back again with his soothing words and skill of eloquence. In this context, Patrick Boylan cites Thoth’s epithets: “soother of the gods,” “cool of mouth,” and “sweet of tongue” (1999, p. 128). Thoth also restores Horus’s Eye – often called the Wedjat Eye, meaning “whole eye” or “sound eye” – after it has been injured by Set during their long conflict. This Wedjat Eye represents the moon, which becomes small during its waning, as if consumed by the malign influence of Set, as god of darkness, but then grows larger and becomes whole again under the healing influence of Thoth. (This will be addressed in more detail in later chapters on Set and Horus.)
In the text chosen for the reply, Thoth is “lord of the two horns,” perhaps in the sense that the crescent moon may be said to be horned. Also, like other Egyptian gods, he was sometimes referred to as a bull. The terms “son of Nut” and “Still-Heart” refer to Osiris. As god of justice, reason, and balance, Thoth has an important role in the judgment hall of Osiris – where the heart of the deceased is weighed in the scales of Maat to see if he or she is of sufficient moral integrity to be allowed into the blessed afterlife, to live with the gods. He helps Anubis weigh the hearts and carefully
records the verdict on his scroll. The text also shows that Thoth “doeth away with opposition and fighting” in that he resolved the dispute between Horus and Set. He claims to have “driven away the whirlwind and the storm,” which are phenomena very much associated with Set, the god of chaos. In the reply above we also find Maat to be the wife of Thoth. Another wife of his is the goddess Sesheta or Seshat, who is a scribe and librarian, sometimes identified with Nephthys.
All scientific learning and sacred wisdom was attributed to Thoth, so in principle he was regarded as the author of the great books of knowledge, medicine, sacred texts, and spells that were collected in the temples and handed down for generations. In much later times, the Greek Hermetica were attributed to him under his name of Hermes Trismegistus (appear in translation by Scott, 1993).
Quoted from: “Egyptian paganism for beginners”, by J.Almond & K.Seddon, 2004