Thot, the scribe god


Want to know more about Thoth, the god with a head of ibis? You wish to learn more about the different myths surrounding him: the myth of Osiris, the myth of Sekhmet, the myth of Set, and the myth of Anubis?

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The Egyptian ibis god, Thoth is the god of knowledge, writing, wisdom, and scribes. Thoth was most often depicted as a man with the head of an ibis, but could sometimes be represented with the head of a baboon.

In this article, you will discover:

  • The 4 myths involving Thoth
  • The characteristics and attributes of Thoth
  • The link between Egyptian hieroglyphs and the ibis god

Soon you will know all about the god of knowledge.

Let's start this article with the Egyptian myths involving the ibis god!

1) Who is Thoth?

Thoth played an important role in many Egyptian myths.

As a very wise god, Thoth oversaw two eternal conflicts between good and evil:

- The battle between Ra (the god of the Sun and the king of Egyptian gods) and Apep (the serpent of chaos). Indeed, this eternal battle has no end because Apep wants to eat the Sun every night, but Ra still prevents him from doing so.

- The battle between Horus (the god of all pharaohs) and Set (the god of chaos). In Egyptian myths, Horus fight against Set to prevent Set of exiting the Egyptian desert with the aim of overthrowing the current pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, in Egyptian mythology, Set has assassinated Osiris (the first of pharaohs and the father of Horus) and wishes to overthrow every "human pharaoh" who succeeded the god Osiris.

Egyptian antiquities arbitrated by ThotThoth watches and takes note of each great battle of the Egyptian pantheon. He is very careful that no outside help can intervene to assist either of the opponents.

A) Thoth and Osiris

Thoth was also very present in the myth of Osiris, being of great help to Isis. After Isis gathered the body parts of Osiris dismembered by Set, Thoth gave her the magical words to resurrect him so that she could become pregnant with Horus, the falcon god.

B) The Udjat eye

When Horus was blinded by Set while fighting him, it was Thoth who made him a new magic eye. It is this new eye which allowed Horus to see even better than before the loss of his eye (the famous "Udjat eye" of Horus allowing him to see the future).

C) Thoth and Ra

Thoth is known as the "Voice of Ra", Ra having entrusted him with the mission of pronouncing his divine wishes. Thus, just as "God" in the Bible pronounces some magical words to create the heavens and the Earth, Thoth is the god who pronounces the magical words necessary for the creation of the world in Egyptian mythology.

D) The creation of the Egyptian world

Egyptian mythology also attributes to Thoth the creation of the 365-day calendar. Originally, in Egyptian mythology, the year lasted only 360 days. The goddess of the sky, Nut was unfortunately exhausted during all those days and therefore unable to have children.

To remedy this problem, the astute Thoth held a riddle contest with the Egyptian Moon, the god Khonsu, and bet with him 5 days of the year.

Obviously, as the god of the knowledge, Thoth knew everything about the Universe. As a result, Thoth easily won the riddle contest (and so the 5 days). During these 5 additional days, Nut could give birth to Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.

The Egyptian scribe and guardian of the Egyptian museumWithout the ingenuity of Thoth, none of Osiris, Set, Isis, Nephthys, Anubis, and Horus would exist. 

2) The myths around Thoth

In ancient Egypt, Thoth is present in four great myths:

- The "myth of the lion goddess Sekhmet"

- The "myth of the assassination of Osiris by his brother Set"

- The "myth of the fight between Set and Horus"

- The "myth of the Weighing of the Heart"

A) The myth of Sekhmet

We first find Thoth in the conclusion of the myth of Sekhmet.

The myth of Sekhmet begins with the birth of the world, created by the Sun falcon god Ra. According to Egyptian mythology, in the beginning there existed only the primordial ocean Nun and the primordial Darkness.

From the encounter between Nun and the Darkness came a divinized call of life in the form of the god Atum. Atum was immediately joined by a profoundly benevolent being: the god Ra. The falcon-headed Sun god Ra mixed with harmony the Darkness and the ocean Nun to shape everything that makes up the universe.

Moved after having shaped the Earth and the stars surrounding it, Ra shed a single tear from which humanity was born. To guide humanity in a virtuous way, Ra creates other gods to come to humanity:

- Maat: the future winged goddess of justice. Maat will give just, fair, and clear laws to the world (in the form of 42 rules called the "42 Laws of Maat").

- Thoth: the future god of knowledge. Thoth will offer to mankind a wisdom that will distinguish it from animals.

- Osiris: the future god-pharaoh of humanity. Osiris' mission will be to guide men on the path to prosperity and peace.

Louvre museum rakeIt is Set's jealousy for his brother Osiris that will hurt Ra's plans for mankind. Indeed, Set is very disappointed not to have been chosen by Ra as the first pharaoh of humanity even though he is the older brother of Osiris

In the early days of men's existence, everything went well. However, a disastrous event intervened quickly: the murder of Osiris by his brother Set.

When Ra left to perfect some stars far from Earth, he did not immediately realize what was happening. Yet on Earth, the end of Osiris' perfect reign had upset the balance.

Deprived of the government of Osiris, men experienced for the first time great scourges from which they had escaped until now: war, hatred, falsehood, betrayal, and sin. The 42 laws of Maat were all violated, and the great knowledge given by Thoth was lost to a large extent.

When Ra returned to Earth, he saw the shadowy part of humanity and decided to exterminate it.

For this, he commanded his eye to transform itself and exterminate all life on Earth. His eye went out of its orbit to transform itself into a lion goddess: the goddess Sekhmet.

The latter began her disastrous mission with sadness, but as the massacre progressed, she began to take more and more pleasure in it. Sekhmet became more and more cruel and went so far as to drink the blood of her helpless victims. Ra, observing the carnage occurring on Earth, took pity on his human children.

Seeing Ra's distress, Thoth proposed to him a plan to help mankind: to pour 7000 barrels of beer and red grenadine into the Nile to lure Sekhmet and get her drunk and tired.

Sekhmet fell into the trap: she mistook the Nile for a river full of human blood and drank abundantly the mixture of beer and grenadine concocted by the ibis god. This large quantity of alcohol plunged her into a deep alcoholic coma for three whole days.

When she woke up, the lion goddess no longer had any murderous intentions and was able to leave the Earth: the ancient Egyptian people were saved!

Sekhmet Egyptology statueIn commemoration of the ingenuity of the god with the head of Ibis, the ancient Egyptians always drank beer mixed with grenadine on the banks of the Nile during the festival of Sekhmet.

B) The myth of Osiris

Before beginning this account, it seems that a brief recapitulation of Egyptian deities is in order. Here is a genealogical tree which will enable you to locate the various deities of the great family of the Egyptian pantheon:

Râ family treeThe events of the myth of Osiris stem from the jealousy of Set towards Osiris. This jealousy can be explained by two reasons:

- The first is that Osiris is considered a perfect, just, and good being. It is for this reasons that their great-grandfather Ra named Osiris (and not his older brother Set) as his heir to the throne of Egypt.

- The second reason is that Nephthys (the sister-wife of Set) is not insensitive to Osiris' charm and charisma. One night, taking advantage of the darkness, she disguised herself as Isis (the sister-wife of Osiris) in order to fool Osiris, who truly takes her for his wife. From this stratagem was born Anubis, illegitimate son of Osiris and Nephthys.

These two events made Set feel a terrible resentment towards his brother. He therefore decided to elaborate a ruse in order to assassinate Osiris. To do this, he organized a great banquet with many guests, including Osiris.

At the time of the meal, Set invites his guests to take part in a little game with a priceless gold chest as a trophy for the winner.

The rules of the game is simple: the person who manages to get into this gold chest would win it. Previously carved to Osiris's dimensions, only he manages to get inside this chest. Yet, as soon as Osiris was inside the chest, Set closed its lid and threw it into the Nile river, causing his brother to drown.

Bank of the NileIsis immediately set off in search of the chest in which her husband's body was lying. The gold chest had run aground down the Nile River, so she could easily find it.

Using her healing powers, Isis managed to revive Osiris, but only for one night. This single night will allow Isis to give birth to Horus, the son that she will have with Osiris.

Isis then did everything to hide the body of Osiris from the eyes of the terrible Set. Then, Isis began to prepare a ritual to bring back to life Osiris definitively.

Unfortunately, all her efforts to hide Osiris were in vain, because Set randomly finds the body of Osiris while participating in the great celebration of his coronation as the new pharaoh of Egypt.

Furious, Set cut his brother's body into fourteen separate pieces and scattered them throughout Egypt.

Isis, however, was not discouraged and went in search of all the pieces of her husband's body. With the help of Thoth, Nephthys, and Anubis, she finally finds thirteen of the fourteen body parts (the last piece having been eaten and digested by a fish).

With their help, she succeeds in assembling these thirteen pieces by tying them together with strips. This time, combining her powers with those of her sister Nephthys, Isis succeeds in bringing Osiris back to life for good.

Isis, however, realized that the missing piece of Osiris was his reproductive organ. Deprived of it, Osiris was considered "incomplete" and thus could not retake the throne of Egypt from Set.

Nevertheless, this story is not over: it is at this point that Horus comes into play. Indeed, 20 years after the death of his father, now an adultHorus vowed to avenge the murder of his father and to regain the power his uncle had usurped.

C) Horus and Set

When he felt he was ready, Horus summoned a divine jury to prove that he is the rightful king of Egypt.

This jury is composed of Thoth (the ibis god of wisdom), Shu (the god of wind), and Ra (the Sun god). Thoth and Shu immediately agree that the ascension to power of Set by murder (which is, moreover, a fratricide) is inadmissible. They therefore take the view that the throne should rightfully belong to Horus.

Nevertheless, Ra is offended that his opinion on the matter was not asked first (even though he is the first of the gods).

The Sun falcon god thus decides to go against the decision taken by the other two deities of the council. He declares that Set, as the brother of Osiris, is just as legitimate as Horus to rule the Egyptian land.

Thus, following this division, the divine council proclaims that Horus and Set must prove their worth by confronting each other in various trials. At the end of these tests, the jurors will be led to decide between the two rivals according to their respective performances during these tests.

Set and Horus in the myth of Thoth and GebIf Thoth and Shu had refrained from giving their opinions before asking Ra for his, no confrontation between Horus and Set would ever have taken place.

The confrontations are diverse and varied: trial of strength, test of intelligence, chariot races, and duels of all kinds. During these trials, Set constantly uses trickery and cheating: he wins each of the events.

Isis, the mother of Horus, noticing Set's numerous frauds to the rules, decides to intervene.

During what is called today "the hippopotamus trial," Set and Horus must compete in a freediving contest. They transform into hippos and dive into the Nile, holding their breath. The first one to come to the surface will then be declared the loser.

In order to help her son, Isis then created a magic harpoon to touch Set and take away his oxygen by piercing his lungs (so that he would be the first to get his head out of the water). Isis succeeded in touching Set, which resulted in the defeat of Set (and thus the first victory of Horus).

hippopotamus, a sacred Egyptian animalFollowing this famous part of the myth of Set and Horus, the hippopotamus became Set's sacred animal.

Despite this victory, Horus was far from satisfied because his plan was to win fairly. He then entered into an intense anger against his mother and beheaded her. Having learned of Horus' actions, Thoth immediately resuscitated Isis.

Yet, as punishment for Horus' unacceptable behavior, the divine council allowed Set to choose the theme of the last trial. Set then chose a very specific last event: a boat race on the Nile with the peculiarity that the boats used would be built only with stone. The person who would win the race would win Egypt.

Exhausted by this hard day, Horus decided to take a night's rest at the top of a mountain. Wanting to ensure his victory, Set discreetly followed Horus. After his rival fell asleep, Set gouged out his left eye and cut it into six pieces and scattered them across the Nile valley.

Again, Thoth, in the interest of fairness and justice, could not accept such an imbalance. He went in search of the fragments of the eye of Horus but found only five of the six. As a consequence, Thoth then completed the eye with a divine particle and returned it to Horus. Thanks to Thoth, the eye of Horus became the Udjat eye (an eye that sees "that-which-is-not-visible", that is to say the past and the future).

His new eye with divine faculties revealed to Horus that "he would not win the boat race." Concerned about the fate of Egypt, Horus had to find a ploy to get the upper hand over his competitor.

Horus decided to build a wooden boat, on which he applied a layer of plaster resembling granite. So, from the outside, it is easy to think that this boat is actually entirely built of stone.

On the day of the race, Set does not cheat. On the contrary, he thinks that he will naturally win by using the top of a mountain as a boat. However, as soon as he is launched, his "boat" sinks to the bottom of the Nile (against all expectations!).

In a fit of anger, Set throws himself on Horus' boat and destroys it. This is how the deception is revealed: the jurors realize that Horus' boat was not made of stone. Set loses the race, but Horus is disqualified.

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The three jurors cannot choose between the bad loser and the fraudster, so, they cannot decide who will be the new king of Egypt.

Ra, Shu, and Thoth then appealed to the wise and righteous Osiris, who became god of the dead after his death and resurrection.

Osiris cannot accept that his brother and executioner is in power. Osiris then sided with his son Horus. In order to make sure that the jury follows his choice, he asks all the stars of the sky to join him in his underground kingdom. The Sun, the Moon, and the stars being long-time friends of Osiris, they obviously agree to help him. The world of the living is thus deprived of everything that provides light.

Ra, Shu, and Thoth have no other option than to accept Osiris' decision.

Film Gods of EgyptThe movie "Gods of Egypt" retraces the myth of Osiris then the myth of Horus (modulo some approximations!).

Horus meets a fortunate end: he becomes the undisputed king of the kingdom of Egypt and takes Hathor, the goddess of love, as his wife.

Set, meanwhile, is exiled to the desert. He will begin an eternal journey of repentance alongside Ra on the "Solar Boat." His new task is to accompany the Sun god in his mission of illuminating the heavens and the Earth.

It is Set who protects the father of all gods against the evil creatures who want to devour the Sun that Ra carries on his head. Set is particularly distinguished in his battles against Apep, the giant star-eating snake god.

His moral redemption makes Set a popular and beloved god among the ancient Egyptians. Set became the symbol of the victory of good over the evil that had gnawed at him.

D) The Weighing of the Heart

Finally, Thoth is found in the Egyptian myth of the ritual of judgment of the dead called the "Weighing of the Heart".

Among the ancient Egyptians, paradise was described as being simultaneously underground, earthly, and celestial:

- The "Underground Afterlife" was the dwelling place of evil spirits containing criminals and heretics. They are doomed to endure suffering and deprivation for all eternity.

- The "Earthly Afterlife" was the paradise of the righteous and upright Egyptian spirits. These ancient Egyptians live a second normal life: they work in their fields (or at least do the work that was theirs when they were alive). However, this world is a paradise, because all crops are excellent and working conditions are always ideal day after day.

- The "Heavenly Afterlife" was the paradise of the former pharaohs. Indeed, the rulers of Egypt have the right to have a place in heaven alongside the gods. Here, the pharaohs can help the different gods to rule the world of the dead through the experience they gained from their living.

Thoth, the ibis god, intervenes to distribute the dead to these three different places.

The Weighing of Hearts, from the Book of the DeadThe myth of the "Weighing of the Heart" encourages good deeds while deterring bad ones by evoking a perpetual punishment through the goddess Ammit.

Thoth is present in the final stage of the Weighing of the Heart which closes the souls of the dead's journey. Here are the different stages of this long travel:

- When an Egyptian dies, his soul (his "ba") is separated from his body (his "ka"). The ba then descends into the underworld and must cross it entirely. The soul then seeks to reach the final gate where the gods Osiris, Thoth, Anubis, and Ammit are located.

- The judgment of the scales can begin: Anubis places the heart of the soul just arrived on one side of the scales. As a counterweight to the heart, Anubis delicately places a feather of Maat (the goddess of justice). The weight of the soul's heart depends on the sins and good deeds of the Egyptian to whom it belonged. Very quickly weighed down by a few sins, good deeds offer a small margin of tolerance for the weight of the heart. Since the feather weighs almost nothing, if the soul is a little too guilty, the scales will tip to its side.

- Anubis then announces the result of the judgment of the Weighing of the Heart. Thoth takes note of this judgment and verifies with the help of Osiris that no disturbance could distort the judgment.

- The judgment is then rendered. If the soul is good, it will have the right to enter paradise. Yet, if the soul's heart is too corrupted by sins, the soul will be devoured by the Egyptian soul devouring goddess: Ammit. A soul devoured like that will then be condemned to remain in the Egyptian hell (the "Underground Afterlife") for all eternity.

3) Thoth in Egyptian mythology

Within the Egyptian divine pantheon, Thoth was responsible for arbitrating disputes between gods, for magic, for the writing system, for the development of science, and for taking notes of the judgment of all the dead.

In the ancient Egyptian empire, Thoth held several titles:

- "He who measures the heavens, the stars, and the Earth"

- "Accountant of time and seasons"

- "God and master of balance"

- "The lord of the heavenly and divine body"

- "The scribe of the divine pantheon"

- "The voice of Ra"

- "The author of all works on all branches of human and divine knowledge"

- "He who has understood all that is hidden under the heavenly vault"

- "The counter of the dynasties of the pharaohs of Karnak, Thebes, and Luxor"

The ancient Egyptians considered Thoth to be a self-born being (just like the god Ra, the creator of all things). Only Thoth knew the explanation for the complex and senseless phenomenon of his birth, being the master of physical and divine laws.

Thoth is also credited with the calculations used by Ra to create the heavens, the stars, and the Earth and everything in them. It is also said that Thoth directed the movements of the celestial bodies.

Thoth, basis of the pharaonic archaeological discoveriesAccording to its legend, the creation of the plans of the Giza Pyramid Complex or of those of the tomb of Ramesses II would have been only formalities for Thoth.

Egyptologists (the modern historians of Egypt) have discovered that Thoth is credited as the author of all the works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. Ancient Egyptians further claimed that he was the true author of all the past, present, and future writings of the world. His myth also want that he had hidden a library under the Earth where all this knowledge is carefully stored.

The Greeks further claimed that Thoth was the inventor of astrology, mathematics, geometry, pyramids, medicine, Egyptian civilization, hieroglyphic alphabet, papyrus, and writing.

4) Hieroglyphs in Egyptian mythology

Thoth is commonly known as the inventor and creator of hieroglyphics. This writing was a real mystery for many centuries, because its translation has long been lost at the end of Egyptian antiquity.

It was necessary to wait several millennia for a French archaeologist and Egyptologist, Jean-François Champollion, to decipher them with the famous Rosette Stone.

The latter had the particularity to repeat 3 times the same declaration in 3 different languages proclaiming the coronation of king Ptolemy V (a text known as the "Rosetta Stone decree").

Champollion discovered the meaning of the hieroglyphic part of the text on the basis of the two other texts (in Greek and Demotic, which were well-known languages of the time).

We therefore owe Champollion a lot because thanks to this successful translation, all the hieroglyphics became decipherable. A whole section of the history of ancient Egypt that seemed lost forever could be rediscovered.

Champollion did not only allow us to learn a new dead language. He was also the one who allowed us to lift the veil on many mysteries of Egypt, whose meanings are hidden in the hieroglyphs. The embalming of the mummies, the history of the Book of the Dead, the legend of the Sphinx, and so many other great facts of the civilization of Upper and Lower Egypt!

The god Thoth

You now know everything about the god Thoth. Thus, you now master the following subjects:

  • The characteristics of the ibis god
  • The story of the 4 great founding myths involving Thoth
  • The link between Thoth and the Egyptian hieroglyphs

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