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Thoth: Egyptian God of Writing and Wisdom

Thoth, Temple of Edfu, Egypt

Thoth, Temple of Edfu, Egypt

Trickster, Recordkeeper, Sage of Ancient Egypt

Thoth, Tehuti or Djehuty in ancient Egyptian, is the god of wisdom, writing, speech, measurement, the moon, and magic. He serves as the vizier (prime minister) to Re, King of the gods. He's also the gods' official record-keeper. He's Mr. Science, the Answer Man, and divine Secretary-in-Chief.

The Name of Thoth (Hieroglyph)

A beautiful amulet with Thoth's name, the ibis hieroglyph, next to Ma'at, the Feather of Truth.

A beautiful amulet with Thoth's name, the ibis hieroglyph, next to Ma'at, the Feather of Truth.

The name "Thoth" seems to be a shorthand version of his name that the Greeks who conquered Egypt found easier to pronounce. Here is Thoth's name in Egyptian hieroglyphics. There's variant spellings, but they all feature this ibis-hieroglyph striding across a horizontal arm atop a flagpole.

He appears in three different forms. Sometimes he is an ibis-headed man (above). Sometimes he's a baboon. Sometimes he's an ibis, a wading bird found along the banks of the Nile.

Thoth in Baboon Form

Thoth statues in the Louvre. Scribes and government officials often commissioned portraits of themselves writing with the Thoth-baboon watching over them in approval: literacy was a sign of status.

Thoth statues in the Louvre. Scribes and government officials often commissioned portraits of themselves writing with the Thoth-baboon watching over them in approval: literacy was a sign of status.

Thoth statue, British Museum

Thoth statue, British Museum

Baboon? Ibis? What's With The Weird Animals?

We sometimes forget Egypt's part of Africa, but it is! A lot of old African cultures are very close to the natural world. For many of these cultures, animals are sacred, and people see no reason to assume that god keeps to a human-shaped form.

So most Egyptian gods have a few animal shapes as well as human ones, and often have animal heads even when they're walking on two feet.

There's two or three reasons for the baboon shape. First of all, like the Greek god Hermes (with whom he became identified), Thoth is a trickster. Baboons are clever animals. So that fits. Also, strangely enough, many bands of baboons line up facing east before sunrise and howl the sun up. The Egyptians worshiped the sun as Re, the King of the Gods and source of all life, so they thought the baboons were doing the same thing. Finally, some scholars guess that the Egyptians saw a "baboon in the moon" instead of a man's face, and Thoth is a moon-god.

What about the ibis? Well, in case you haven't met one, an ibis is a long-legged marsh bird that walks along slowly and deliberately scanning for small fish and other food. It finds things hidden beneath the water's surface. Thoth, as god of wisdom, sees deeper than most. Also, in ancient Egypt, after the yearly Nile flood that piled up fertile mud on the riverbanks, the king's scribes would fan out across Egypt re-surveying the fields and assigning boundaries, measuring the land one stride at a time. To the Egyptians, it looked like the ibis was out there surveying the riverbanks just like the scribes! Pretty smart for a bird.

At certain periods, animals associated with gods were kept in temple sanctuaries as honored pets and mummified after death, so archaeologists have found thousands of baboon and ibis mummies!

Three reasons to love the Egyptian God Thoth

  • He's a trickster. Who doesn't love a trickster god?
  • He's the god of magic. Dumbledore, step aside!
  • He's makin' a list, checkin' it twice; he knows if you've been naughty or nice -- and if you land in the "naughty" column, your heart gets eaten by a crocodile-headed hippo. So stay on his good side.


The Egyptians also loved Thoth as a trickster god. In one myth, Hathor, the hot-tempered goddess of love and destruction, stormed off across the desert in a snit. She was called the Eye of Re -- the personification of the sun's heat -- so Re needed her back. Thoth, as the moon-god and so-called second Eye of Re, was assigned to fetch his missing counterpart.

Thoth had a problem. In this myth, he took the guise of a small baboon, sent to fetch a goddess who had assumed the form of a huge ravening lioness with the devouring heat of the desert sun. Once he found her, he played the same trick later found in The Arabian Nights: "Please don't kill me, ma'am, until I've told you this wonderful story!" Inching towards Egypt a few steps at a time, he kept stringing her along with stories.

The moral of most of the stories was that powerful folks should be nice to the little guys. Hathor got the point, and decided that the little monkey had entertained her well enough that she wouldn't eat him.

I once worked on a Greek manuscript containing one of Thoth's stories, and adapted it for oral performance. Here you may listen to my re-telling of "The Tale of Two Jackals."

In another myth, Re grew angry with Nut the sky-goddess and wouldn't let her give birth to her children on any day of the year, because he knew her son, Osiris, might supplant him. Nut was cursed to stay pregnant... forever! In desperation she asked Thoth for help.

No problem! In this myth, the moon-god was actually a separate deity named Khons. Thoth challenged Khons to a game of senet, an ancient Egyptian form of backgammon. The Man in the Moon bet his own light as the stakes. Thoth won enough light for an extra five days. These days weren't part of the regular year, so Nut was able to give birth to her five children. The lost light accounts for the moon's waxing and waning, and the extra time explains why the year isn't an even 360 days.

The Egyptians invented one of the oldest writing systems in the world. They had to! Without organized record-keeping, they would never have been able to use Egypt's resources so efficiently and redistribute grain to everybody during the lean seasons. So writing was incredibly important.

The Egyptians also noticed that people and things from a few centuries ago were quickly forgotten and essentially disappeared, unless there was a record of them. So in Egyptian mythology, Re the Creator god first spoke the names of things to make them, and then Thoth wrote them down to make them stick. Egyptians would say, "In the beginning was the Word... and Thoth took note of it."

The Egyptians thought that turning sounds into pictures was a magical, almost alchemical process. So you can see how writing, speech, and "magic words" all came to be related for the Egyptians. Words have power! For the Egyptians, words were the stuff of creation itself.


According to legend, Thoth wrote the king's name on the leaves of the sacred tree of Heliopolis (city of Re) each year of the king's reign. He also recorded all happenings during the reign to "fix" them in history. His royal recordkeeping helped to maintain the reign's stability and to ensure the pharaoh's immortality. Many relief sculptures show Thoth (and Horus) pouring water over the pharaoh's head to establish him as king.

In the all-important Weighing of the Heart ritual shown in Egyptian tombs, where the deceased was brought before Osiris and the Hall of Judges to prove himself worthy of the afterlife, the dead man had to declare all his good deeds and proclaim himself innocent of sin. Anubis the god of mummification weighed the dead person's heart against the Feather of Truth (Ma'at).

Thoth recorded everything on a tablet. If all went well, Thoth announced: "What you have said is true. [X] is righteous."Without those magic words, the heart would be gobbled up by a monster lurking under the scales, and the deceased's soul would be lost.

Thoth's wife is sometimes said to be Ma'at, truth or "righteousness," the way things are or at least ought to be. The Egyptians are fond of visual puns, so you will sometimes see statues of an ibis facing a little figure of Ma'at. The empty space between them makes the symbol of Ma'at, a feather. Thoth challenges you to find the hidden truth.

Recommended Links on Hieroglyphs

  • Egyptian Hieroglyphs
    Good intro to Egyptian writing. Some of the vowel pronunciations are late. After the Greeks conquered Egypt, these were the signs used for vowel sounds, but earlier in Egyptian history the vowels weren't written or may have been pronounced differentl
  • Hieroglyphs.net's Name Page
    Hieroglyph.net's name transliterator. Note: it's using classic Egyptian, which didn't have signs for most of the vowels.
  • Egyptian Hieroglyphs Flash Cards
    Online flash cards teaching you the transliterations Egyptologists use for all the basic signs!


In the myths about Isis and Osiris, Thoth was the tutor of Isis, lady of magic, and later saved her son Horus when he was stung by a deadly scorpion.

In later myths, Thoth was said to have written a book containing all the secrets of the universe. There is a famous legend about a prince of Egypt who found and read the Book of Thoth. The god cursed him and his family for using knowledge forbidden to mortals. Later the prince's ghost saved a son of Ramses the Great from making the same mistake. Read the whole myth here.

When the Greeks conquered Egypt, they brought with them philosophers, early scientists and doctors. In those days science and medicine blurred into magic, since both involved secret and arcane knowledge. Greek and Egyptian scientists and scholars pooled their resources and began investigating the secret words and substances that they thought were the building blocks of creation. From this fusion of ancient lore, alchemy was born. The patron of the alchemists was Thoth, renamed Hermes Trismegistos, a combination of Hermes and Thoth.

Many magical texts were transmitted into the Middle Ages that were supposed to be written by Thoth. To this day, there are certain esoteric groups who believe they are preserving the wisdom and secret books of Thoth. If you Google "Thoth," you'll find a lot of odd websites and books put together by these groups. Here is one example. I suggest you treat these websites and books with a hefty dose of skepticism, but they do show one thing: Thoth isn't just a god of the ancient Egyptians, but an idea and symbol that still resonates with people today.

Hermes Trismegistros

Good Links on Ancient Egypt

  • Guardian's Egypt Portal
    Oldest and best index of Egypt on the web. Sometimes a bit out of date.
  • Ancient Egypt: The Mythology
    Myths, gods, and symbols of Egypt. Text of myths mostly lifted from Tales of Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green.
  • Theban Mapping Project
    Hardcore Egyptology: all the tombs and excavations in the Valley of Kings (where Tut's Tomb was found).
  • The Plateau: Zahi Hawass
    I don't always like his circus ringmaster style, but Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egyptian Antiquities, tells the world about Egypt and the latest discoveries.

© 2007 Ellen Brundige

Ankh If You Love Thoth

Ellen Brundige (author) from California on May 06, 2014:

@Fiorenza: Thanks! (Aww, a duck, that's the hieroglyph for "son of" in Egyptian.)

Fiorenza from UK on May 05, 2014:

Happy 7th Squid birthday and glad that serious articles like this are still on here. Take care and I hope your health improves this year.

sierradawn lm on August 13, 2013:

"As Above So Below". I love Thoth, how can one not? Did you know that the translation of the rubric of Chapter XXX "The Book of the Dead" says: "To be said over a scarab of green ston encircled with smu metal, with its ring of silver and placed upon the dead person at his neck. This spell was found in Hemopolis under the feet of the majesty of the god. (Thoth) in the writing of the god himself in the time of the king of the north & South, Menkaure by the royal son Hordjedef (brother of Khufu)" This is the spell carved on the back of scarabs that goes: "My heart, my mother, my heart, my mother, my heart of my coming into being---" I just thought that was very interesting. Hordjedef was inspecting temples when he found the papyrus. Khufu had closed all the temples to create more unity during his pyramid building project. But Menkaure opened them back up during his reign & his uncle was out inspecting them all.

Elizabeth Sheppard from Bowling Green, Kentucky on November 01, 2012:

I did not know much about Thoth before I read this great lens. I like it a lot, and will be back to absorb even more of this information. Thanks for doing all this work. ::::blessed::::

WriterJanis2 on September 23, 2012:

Really good info on Thoth.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on May 05, 2012:

Thoth may be looking down now on the Internet with amazement of how the world of writing has changed over time. A very happy 5th birthday Greek - we may not be Gods of writing but we are now becoming the old writers here at Squidoo ;)

ancient-wisdom lm on April 21, 2012:

"Tis true without lying, certain and most true.

That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.

And as all things have been and arose from one by the meditation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation."

- Isaac Newton, Inspired by Hermes Trismegistus

agoofyidea on March 01, 2012:

Cool. A god for writers. Neat.

Edutopia on February 15, 2012:

Great lens. Egypt is a true joy to learn about but we still know shockingly little about them.

Tom Gamble on January 27, 2012:

I like how this refers to the trickery( and perhaps cheekiness) of writing. As a published author, I thnk that this is one of the range of "intimate" feelings experienced when actually writing a story - and sums up nicely creativity in a nutshell. It's a devilish feeling to create your own world full of messages and surprises. Nice article - well done!

TrentAdamsCA on December 18, 2011:

I enjoyed your light touch with this. Made me think of that other trickster, coyote. Great details about the baboons and the storytelling. We have some of the same books.

sarahburges on December 10, 2011:

I love Thoth. I had a dream once and he told me to rebuild Egypt. Ptah and a few others were there too.

smicks on November 27, 2011:

nice lens ,I love all this sort of stuff. :)

efcruzarts on October 23, 2011:

great mythology reference lens

jenniferteacher1 on October 23, 2011:

This is a great lens! As an elementary school teacher, I periodically cover Egypt in class, so I love to find interesting bits of information to share with my students.

Rose Jones on October 22, 2011:

I am fascinated by Egyptian lore. There is an egyptian museum in San Jose that I love to visit. You can go down into a "tomb." I am fascinated by the religion too, the museum was started by the Rosicrucians but there is not much religious information there.

NidhiRajat on October 22, 2011:

great to have you on squidoo.....

NidhiRajat on October 22, 2011:

great to have you on squidoo.....

WorldVisionary on October 22, 2011:

I used to read the Egyptian tarot cards, so this is a great review of Thoth for me. Thumbs up!

RebeccaE on October 20, 2011:

love this, it's very cool, and I wihsed I read it months ago!

SaintFrantic on October 20, 2011:

Love Egyptian Civilization and their mythology.Thanks for sharing.

anonymous on October 19, 2011:

Great Lens !

DakiniCool on October 18, 2011:

Great research, appreciate all your information, especially about Isis.

MariaMontgomery from Central Florida, USA on October 18, 2011:

A really neat and informative lens. Good job!

TheNerdyPirate on October 18, 2011:

I really enjoyed reading this, and learned quite a lot from it as well. Thanks for putting this together!

anonymous on October 18, 2011:

This lens sure is a mythbuster. But I just love that Shameless Plug Widget. SquidLiked and Stumbled.

ErHawkns7100 on October 17, 2011:

I'm fascinated by all things from ancient Egypt. Good lens.

PeterStip on October 17, 2011:

thanks for the info, was fun

Badgermedicinespirit on October 17, 2011:

Great Lens, very very interesting, informative and it opened my eyes to what else i can write about, thanks a lot

souvikbrahmachary on October 16, 2011:

Nice One

lasertek lm on October 16, 2011:

I like reading stories and findings of Ancient history. Thanks for sharing.

TapIn2U on October 16, 2011:

Very educational. I have often wondered about this but was too lazy to read the books. Thanks for this interesting read. Fantastic lens! Sundae ;-)

myaxos on October 16, 2011:

I love the stories of the Greece and Rome of the past.

Great Lens!

Ellen Brundige (author) from California on October 15, 2011:

@zdaddyo: Feh. Thanks. I need to overhaul all my links on this page; I wrote it four years ago. Thoth is the god of writing who "establishes" things so they aren't lost to oblivion; it's too bad he can't keep webpages from disappearing! :)

BillSimmons on October 15, 2011:

Didn't know about Thoth, great lens!

OKWithMom on October 15, 2011:

I really like your lens. I enjoyed mythology in high school and find this topic and the items very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

zdaddyo on October 14, 2011:

Excellent lens. Just a note that you have a geocities link for Hermes Trismegistos which is no longer working. Obviously you don't have publish this note. :)

mintril on October 13, 2011:

Nice insightful lens over the Egyptian god topic.

shauna1934 on October 13, 2011:

bless you. wonderful lens.

parts2 on October 13, 2011:

Awesome lens!!!!!! interesting and inspiring. Very well done.

Ereinion on October 13, 2011:

Awesome lens! I love everything related with Egypt. Many thanks for making this lens!

anonymous on October 12, 2011:

Nice lens. I like all of the details. I feel like I just took a class. Thanks

anonymous on October 12, 2011:

Nice lens. I like all of the details. I feel like I just took a class. Thanks

Jennifer P Tanabe from Red Hook, NY on October 12, 2011:

Fascinating! I'll have to study more about Thoth. Blessed.

TheBestGadgets on October 12, 2011:

nice lens, I like the way you've managed to write about it in an entertaining style.

sweetstickyrainbo on October 12, 2011:

cool idea for a lens. well done

billfiddle lm on October 11, 2011:

very interesting and informative lens, well done!

decapod on October 11, 2011:

Good stuff here. I would love you to do a lens on Ra as well!

anonymous on October 11, 2011:

glad I browsed upon this today, gave you a 'thumbs up' too!

Shari O'Leary from Minnesota on October 11, 2011:

Great lens! Egyptian Mythology is a hoot.

Mclure2 on October 11, 2011:

I've always been an ancient Egypt fan

thecrabbynook on October 11, 2011:

This is a great lens! I love Egyptian history! Thank you!

anonymous on October 11, 2011:

Love studying up on the Egyptians - just wish I had more time to do it.

OvarianCyst-Treatment on October 11, 2011:

History is very inspiring.

Clare, http://www.ovariancyst-treatment.com/

wilfredpadilla on October 11, 2011:

Interesting

JMaltman on October 10, 2011:

My son Alex doesn't just love the Beatles like in our lens, he loves Ancient Egyptian stuff too!

TheGourmetCoffe on October 10, 2011:

Very interesting lens, especially since our family had an Egyptologist as a friend several years ago. Intricate history. Thank you for sharing your insights!

Paula7928 on October 10, 2011:

Great lens! My 9 year old loves Ancient Egypt and I cannot wait to show him your lens.

Kim from Yonkers, NY on October 10, 2011:

adding this lens to the featured ones on my Epic Ballad of POetry Lens (which I also have some creative writing stuff on it as well) (being as Toth is the god of writing..)

TZiggy on October 10, 2011:

Follow all gods of wisdom. Thank you for this information.

Fiona from South Africa on October 05, 2011:

I think all writers should spare Thoth a thought - he was the God for scribes after all.

Fiona from South Africa on October 05, 2011:

I think all writers should spare Thoth a thought - he was the God for scribes after all.

araxes on September 23, 2011:

Oh My, I really enjoyed reading this Lens. Have always had a soft spot for this guy, even at one stage used Thoth as my avatar name.

He's quite a character, and you make it all so very clear for us all.

Thank you.

SilmarwenLinwelin on August 17, 2011:

Great lens! Thoth was associated with the greek god Hermes (Roman: Mercury).

TriviaChamp on August 16, 2011:

Very interesting and well presented. Blessed.

ardinsyah on June 23, 2011:

nice info :)

anonymous on May 24, 2011:

Wonderful lens! I'm an avid student of ancient Egypt, and I love to write, so, "ankh-ankh"!

But my faves are Isis and Hathor.

JJNW from USA on May 19, 2011:

I am basing my son's Greek history homeschooling on your lenses! You are amazing (and appreciated!)

SandyPeaks on April 03, 2011:

Thoth is my personal favorite of the Pantheon! It's always better to write things down!

lelemoon3 on March 30, 2011:

Anything written on these subjects today is a wonderful example of how far and near we are to our infinite selves; One important and most valuable item to note is Greeks recognized the awesome truth and power of Egypt and her predecessor Kemet by stealing and renaming Gods and their writings (i.e Tehuti , Thoth somehow becomes Hermes) not by "pooling their resources" as you say.

indigomoth from New Zealand on February 23, 2011:

This an amazing lens, so beautifully written and so interesting! I enjoyed it thoroughly.

anonymous on November 09, 2010:

I love Tahuti. Nice Lens.

TheGoodSource101 on October 06, 2010:

I love the stories of the Greece and Rome of the past.

Great Lens!

anonymous on September 29, 2010:

I miss studying Egyptain History when I was in College, it was one of my favorite subjects and an easy "A", especially since I loved History!!

Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane!

Mohamed_Mughal on May 12, 2010:

Tonight I'll ask Thoth to help me finish my second novel. I'll do a follow-on post if it works.

Many thanks to you for this interesting lens!

Mohamed

grannysage on February 08, 2010:

One of my co-workers is really into Thoth. I'm going to have to share this with her. I'm more of a Hathor person myself. Although if he is the god of writing perhaps I should say some kind words to him too.

There is a lot of good info here and love the pictures.

Kate Phizackerl1 on December 30, 2009:

While I'm checking Egypt lenses I returned to bless this one.

VenusSatanas LM on November 01, 2009:

I like the Thoth Tarot Deck. Nice lens!!

Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on June 28, 2009:

I did a lot of reading in high school on Egyptian mythology, and actually made a piece of hieroglyphics on some real papyrus. It wasn't easy to draw or paint on. Great work! But shouldn't you be making lenses on Greek Gods??

anonymous on May 17, 2009:

Incredibly great lens! I'm reading a novel right now that kind of makes a big deal about the "Word of Thoth" and in the novel there are only two people in the world who can read and understand this ancient language. Now, I get the symbolism of it!!! I'll have to reference this lens on a book review I've done for the first book and also when I review the book I'm reading now.

Kate Phizackerl1 on March 01, 2009:

Great lens. Thanks for submitting it to the new Ancient Egypt Group. It's exactly what I am looking for. Your lens is featured in a brand new section on Gods. There was already one on goddesses which has a good lens on Bast.

Tammy Winand from McleodGanj HP India on September 21, 2008:

hey there! missed this from you til today... maybe since I've added my Isis and Hatshepsut and Scarab pages I have been more interested in this stuff!

Nive job (as always)

5* and lensrolled!

LeslieBrenner on May 03, 2008:

Another wonderful lens Greekgeek, 5 stars.

Victoreeah on January 28, 2008:

Can't go wrong with Thoth. Love the touch of humor here as well as all the great information. Truly inspiring.

kathysart on September 16, 2007:

~~*~~

REALLY wonderful! 5 Stars for sure, I feel enriched.

Visit me at:

Unlock Creativity|Critical Thinking Creative Writing Active Reading=Great Art

https://hubpages.com/art/createart

Aloha, Kathy

~~*~~

fefe42 on September 12, 2007:

Cool, I linked you on my God SquidWho

Robin S from USA on September 11, 2007:

As a writer I found this so interesting. Thank you for taking the time. I learned so much.