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Thoth: Egyptian God of Writing and Wisdom

Updated on December 22, 2014
Thoth, Temple of Edfu, Egypt
Thoth, Temple of Edfu, Egypt | Source

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. | Source

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. | Source
Thoth statue, British Museum
Thoth statue, British Museum | Source

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.

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

Hermes Trismegistros
Hermes Trismegistros | Source

© 2007 Ellen Brundige

Ankh If You Love Thoth

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    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 9 years ago from USA

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

    • fefe42 profile image

      fefe42 9 years ago

      Cool, I linked you on my God SquidWho

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 9 years ago


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

      Visit me at:

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

      Aloha, Kathy


    • profile image

      Victoreeah 9 years ago

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

    • profile image

      LeslieBrenner 9 years ago

      Another wonderful lens Greekgeek, 5 stars.

    • CrypticFragment1 profile image

      Tammy Winand 8 years ago from McleodGanj HP India

      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!

    • Kate Phizackerl1 profile image

      Kate Phizackerl1 8 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      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.

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 8 years ago from Massachusetts

      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??

    • VenusSatanas LM profile image

      VenusSatanas LM 7 years ago

      I like the Thoth Tarot Deck. Nice lens!!

    • profile image

      grannysage 7 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Mohamed_Mughal 7 years ago

      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!


    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      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!

    • TheGoodSource101 profile image

      TheGoodSource101 6 years ago

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

      Great Lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I love Tahuti. Nice Lens.

    • indigomoth profile image

      indigomoth 6 years ago from New Zealand

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

    • profile image

      lelemoon3 6 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

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

    • JJNW profile image

      JJNW 6 years ago from USA

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      ardinsyah 6 years ago

      nice info :)

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile image

      SilmarwenLinwelin 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      araxes 5 years ago

      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.

    • fionajean profile image

      Fiona 5 years ago from South Africa

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

    • fionajean profile image

      Fiona 5 years ago from South Africa

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

    • TZiggy profile image

      TZiggy 5 years ago

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

    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 5 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      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..)

    • profile image

      Paula7928 5 years ago

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

    • TheGourmetCoffe profile image

      TheGourmetCoffe 5 years ago

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

    • JMaltman profile image

      JMaltman 5 years ago

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

    • wilfredpadilla profile image

      wilfredpadilla 5 years ago


    • profile image

      OvarianCyst-Treatment 5 years ago

      History is very inspiring.


    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • thecrabbynook profile image

      thecrabbynook 5 years ago

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

    • Mclure2 profile image

      Mclure2 5 years ago

      I've always been an ancient Egypt fan

    • sharioleary profile image

      Shari O'Leary 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Great lens! Egyptian Mythology is a hoot.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • decapod profile image

      decapod 5 years ago

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

    • billfiddle lm profile image

      billfiddle lm 5 years ago

      very interesting and informative lens, well done!

    • sweetstickyrainbo profile image

      sweetstickyrainbo 5 years ago

      cool idea for a lens. well done

    • TheBestGadgets profile image

      TheBestGadgets 5 years ago

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

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 5 years ago from Red Hook, NY

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • Ereinion profile image

      Ereinion 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      parts2 5 years ago

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

    • shauna1934 profile image

      shauna1934 5 years ago

      bless you. wonderful lens.

    • profile image

      mintril 5 years ago

      Nice insightful lens over the Egyptian god topic.

    • zdaddyo profile image

      zdaddyo 5 years ago

      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. :)

    • profile image

      OKWithMom 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      BillSimmons 5 years ago

      Didn't know about Thoth, great lens!

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 5 years ago from California

      @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! :)

    • profile image

      myaxos 5 years ago

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

      Great Lens!

    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 5 years ago

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

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      souvikbrahmachary 5 years ago

      Nice One

    • profile image

      Badgermedicinespirit 5 years ago

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

    • PeterStip profile image

      PeterStip 5 years ago

      thanks for the info, was fun

    • profile image

      ErHawkns7100 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      TheNerdyPirate 5 years ago

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

    • MariaMontgomery profile image

      MariaMontgomery 5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      A really neat and informative lens. Good job!

    • profile image

      DakiniCool 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great Lens !

    • SaintFrantic profile image

      SaintFrantic 5 years ago

      Love Egyptian Civilization and their mythology.Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      RebeccaE 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      WorldVisionary 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      NidhiRajat 5 years ago

      great to have you on squidoo.....

    • profile image

      NidhiRajat 5 years ago

      great to have you on squidoo.....

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      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.

    • jenniferteacher1 profile image

      jenniferteacher1 5 years ago

      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.

    • efcruzarts profile image

      efcruzarts 5 years ago

      great mythology reference lens

    • profile image

      smicks 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      sarahburges 5 years ago

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

    • TrentAdamsCA profile image

      TrentAdamsCA 5 years ago

      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.

    • Tom Gamble profile image

      Tom Gamble 5 years ago

      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!

    • profile image

      Edutopia 5 years ago

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

    • agoofyidea profile image

      agoofyidea 5 years ago

      Cool. A god for writers. Neat.

    • ancient-wisdom lm profile image

      ancient-wisdom lm 5 years ago

      "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

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      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 ;)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Really good info on Thoth.

    • ElizabethSheppard profile image

      Elizabeth Sheppard 4 years ago from Bowling Green, Kentucky

      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::::

    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 3 years ago

      "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.

    • Fiorenza profile image

      Fiorenza 3 years ago from UK

      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.

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 3 years ago from California

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

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