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Thoth (Old Kingdom tomb)

The Egyptian god Thoth (Old Kingdom tomb)

What was Thoth the god of?

Thoth was the Egyptian god of the mind – of intelligence, thinking, reason, and logic. He was originally a moon god.

Thoth as part of the god Ra

Egyptians often thought of Thoth as the heart and tongue of the sun god Ra. Thoth was Ra’s heart, because in ancient Egypt people thought the heart was where you kept your intelligence. And he was Ra’s tongue, because he used his intelligence to make great speeches.

(More about the Egyptian god Ra)

Crescent moon

Crescent moon (thanks to Wade Clark at Skychasers)

That’s the same as the Indian god Krishna was one part of Vishnu, or as Hermes is sometimes one aspect of his brother, the Greek sun god Apollo. Indeed, the Greeks themselves often thought that Hermes and Thoth were the same god.

Thoth as Logos

Thoth was in some ways like the “Logos” of Plato and the Christian Gospels, meaning order and knowledge. Or you could relate Thoth to the Greek concept of nomos.

What did the god Thoth look like?

Thoth usually had the head of an ibis, and his name probably means “like an ibis”, because the ibis was a smart bird. Egyptians may also have felt that the long curved beak of the ibis looked like a crescent moon.

Other times, when Thoth was the god of balance, he wore the head of a baboon, or a baboon with a dog face.

Thoth and the weighing of souls (New Kingdom, British Museum)

Thoth and the weighing of souls (New Kingdom, British Museum)

Who was Thoth’s wife?

Thoth’s wife was the Egyptian goddess Ma’at. The two of them often stood on either side of Ra’s boat. (No, Ma’at is not the same goddess as Mut). Together, Thoth and Ma’at represented truth, order, and justice, like the Zoroastrian god Mithra.

(More about Mithra)

Indeed, Mithra and Thoth may have at one time been related gods. Like Mithra, Thoth helped to settle arguments, especially arguments among the other Egyptian gods.

A story about the Egyptian god Thoth

One day, the god Ra‘s daughter Nut got pregnant. Ra was so angry about it that he swore Nut would not give birth on any day of the year. Nut was bursting with her babies but she couldn’t give birth! Thoth wanted to help Nut out, and he’s a smart guy, so he came up with a clever plan.

He gambled with Iah, the moon god, and won five nights of moonlight. Thoth transformed those nights into days, and found five days that were not in the year at all. Nut used all five days to give birth to her five children: Osiris, Isis, Set, Horus, and Nephthys.

What did Egyptians pray to Thoth about?

Because Thoth was so smart, he was responsible for things that needed smart people, especially writing hieroglyphs. In the top picture, you can see him holding a pen and a tablet. Thoth was also the god of science, and of magic (not too different from science in those days).

Weighing the souls of the dead

By the New Kingdom, Thoth also decided whether you should go to a good place or a bad place after you died. This had been the job of Anubis, and some Egyptians started to think of Thoth and Anubis as the same god, or related.

(More about weighing the souls of the dead)

Ibis mummies in clay jars, from the tomb of the architect Inhotep (ca. 200 BC)

Ibis mummies in clay jars, from the tomb of the architect Inhotep (ca. 200 BC)

Still later, during the Ptolemaic period in Egypt, people brought thousands of mummified ibis birds as offerings to Thoth. This is an Egyptian tomb with some of the ibis mummies that were in it.

When did people stop worshipping Thoth?

They kept on worshipping Thoth until they became Christians, in the 300s AD.

Learn by doing: Egyptian afterlife project
More about mummies

Bibliography and further reading about the Egyptian god Thoth:

Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, by Leonard Fisher (1999). For younger kids.

Isis and Osiris, by Geraldine Harris (1997). A retelling of the story for kids.

The Egypt Game (Yearling Newbery), by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (reprinted 1985). A great kids’ story about kids who pretend to be Egyptian gods and goddesses.

Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, by John Baines, David Silverman, and Leonard Lesko (1991). Pretty hard going, but it will tell you everything you need to know about Egyptian religion.

Isis in the Ancient World, by R.E. Witt (1997). Mostly about the spread of Isis worship to Greece and the Roman Empire.

Or check out this article on Thoth in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

More about weighing souls
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