One of the most important gods of the Egyptian pantheon, Thoth is the god of writing, magick, wisdom, and the moon. His origin as a god is told two ways. In the lesser told version, he was born of the seed of Horus from the forehead of Set. Horus, the god of Order, and Set, the goddess of Chaos, created a son of equal parts, making Thoth, the god of equilibrium and balance. The more common belief of his origin is that he was self-created. He appeared, an ibis, and laid the egg that hatched Ra which led to all of creation. Some believe he was created through the power of language.
Thoth is one of the earliest gods of the Egyptian pantheon, with worship likely beginning in the Pre-Dynastic Period (c. 6000-3150 BCE) and continuing through the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 BCE). His worship began in lower Egypt and moved throughout the empire. His worship throughout dynasties, including his name being taken by several kings, scribes, and priests of Egypt, make Thoth one of the longest-lasting gods of Egypt and of any other civilization.
He is the patron god of scribes. To please their patron god and bless their craft, scribes would pour out a single drop of ink in Thoth’s honor before beginning work.
Name and Depictions
Thoth is the Greek (and modern) name for this Egyptian god. In Egyptian, his name is Djehuty (also dhwty) meaning “He Who is Like the Ibis”. Other names Thoth has been referred to by are Jehuti, Tahuti, Tehuti, Zehuti, Techu, Tetu, and Lord of the Khemenu (the later city of Hermopolis) which was the center of Thoth worship. Thoth is associated with the Greek god Hermes, which is why his cultural center was renamed Hermopolis.
Thoth is often depicted as a human with the head of an ibis. He is also depicted as a baboon or part baboon. Because of his association with the moon, he often has a lunar disc upon his head. Being the patron god of writing and scribes, he is most often depicted holding a papyrus scroll or writing tablet and a stylus or reed pen.
Importance in the Pantheon
The births of five of the original gods of Egypt are thanks to the wit and skill of Thoth. Two of Ra’s children, Nut (the sky) and Geb (the earth) were locked in an eternal embrace. Ra was angry at their bond, and when Nut became pregnant, he decreed that she would not give birth on any day of the known year. Geb and Nut turned to Thoth and asked for his wisdom. He went to Iah, the creator of the calendar. Iah had created a calendar with 360 days. Thoth made a wager with Iah. If Thoth won, Iah would gift him five days of his moonlight. Thoth won, making his winnings the extra five days of the year. On these new days, Nut gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys and Horus on these added days. Impressed as how Thoth had maneuvered around his decree, Ra honored Thoth with a seat of honor in the boar that crossed the heavens each day and night.
Thoth is linked to the cycle of day and night in other ways as well. Other than having a seat in the sky boat, and being a lunar god, Thoth helped save the sun god from Apophis. When the serpent Apophis set out to destroy the sun god, Thoth assisted in overthrowing and defeating him.
Thoth is also associated with the Distant Goddess, which is a recurring theme throughout Egyptian myths. Though the details change, the story always follows the same pattern. In Distant Goddess myths, Ra has a disagreement with his daughter, which leads to her leaving for a faraway and unknown land. Ra must always send someone to bring her home. Upon her return, she brings some sort of change or transformation to the people. Ra’s daughter always takes with her the Eye of Ra, his all-seeing eye, which he needs every day. Because she left with the eye, she had to be brought back quickly and safely. The task required subtlety, however, because she was too powerful to be forced.
Thoth is chosen to retrieve the Distant Goddess from a remote desert, Thoth disguises himself in his baboon form. He succeeds in his duties being humble, using his wisdom, and staying faithful to his task. Pleased with the result, Ra rewards Thoth with a new consort, the goddess Nehemtawy.
Thoth and Knowledge
All branches of knowledge are said to have come from Thoth. Writing, science, religion, philosophy, law, and magick were his gifts to mortals and to the divine. He created the hieroglyphics Egyptians used to record their days and introduced them to the tools to do so.
He not only recorded the lives of mortals, but was a scribe to the gods of Egypt and kept the record of their days. His counterpart is the goddess Seshat, the goddess of writing, keeper of books, and patron goddess of libraries and librarians. Seshat kept and protected the library of scrolls that Thoth recorded history on.
Thoth and the Afterlife
Thoth played a vital role in the afterlife. Because of his association with equilibrium and balance, he was believed to be a fair, just and truly impartial judge, thought to be incorruptible. Thoth had many forms. In his form as A’an, he was partnered with Osiris in the hall of truth, presiding over the judgment of the dead. He recorded the judgment of each in the Hall of Ma’at.
His role in the underworld made him a patron for those who feared judgment. Before death, those who feared they might not pass through judgment safely were encouraged to call upon Thoth for help, that he might guide them to a better path.
Thoth and Magick
Thoth was known to be a great magician. The spells in the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” and “Book of Breathings” are said to have all come from Thoth. There is also the legend of a third book, the “Book of Thoth,” containing all the mysteries and secrets of the universe. The book is a gift and a curse. Anyone who reads it will be the most powerful magician in the world, but will be cursed and haunted by the knowledge gained.
His knowledge of magick and language allowed him to help Isis. When Osiris was dismembered, Isis brought the pieces of his body back together. Anubis mummified the body, and Thoth gave her the words to resurrect Osiris so she could be impregnated. He also gave Iris the words to resurrect Horus after he was slain.
The Thoth Tarot is based on many different practices, but is named for Thoth because of his connection to magick and wisdom.
Thoth Symbols and Associations
Thoth is most closely associated with the moon and the ibis. Because of its association with Thoth, the ibis was a sacred bird in ancient Egypt, associated with wisdom. The popularity of Thoth, and his patronage, made the ibis a popular pet.
He is seen as equilibrium, making him tied to the principle of ma’at, which is divine balance. Because of this, he is often said to be the husband of the goddess Ma’at, who was the personification of balance. Scales are also a symbol of his because of this.
Thoth is associated with the celebration of Mabon. His color is white, so use white candles and cloth when invoking him. His day is Monday, and his element is air. Plants he is associated with are sweet flag, reed, and papyrus. His planets are the moon and mercury. Zodiac signs most closely associated with Thoth are Gemini and Libra.
Thoth in Modern Practice
Thoth has a place for modern Witches because of his association with magick, tarot, wisdom, writing, and the afterlife. He is a great patron for writing spells. His power is strongest when you call on him in moonlight or on Mondays. Invoking him with his corresponding goddesses, Ma’at or Seshat, increases the power of your invocation. When blessing your tarot or oracle decks, Thoth is the perfect deity to invoke, especially if you are using Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck.
While widespread worship of the ancient gods has dissipated, their magick and power are still here to be called upon. Next time you sit down to write in your Book of Shadows, to write a spell, or to journal, pour out a drop of ink to honor the great god Thoth and bless your writings.