Thoth is the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom, writing, hieroglyphs, science, magic, art, and judgment.
Thoth’s Egyptian name was Djehuty (also dhwty) meaning “He Who is Like the Ibis”. The ibis was a sacred bird in ancient Egypt as well as a popular pet and associated with wisdom.
Thoth created the written word people used to record their history and keep track of their daily lives. According to some stories, Thoth invented the word and gave it to humanity while, in others, Thoth was the creator and his consort Seshat gave words to the people. In still other variations, Thoth was the creator but Osiris or Isis gave words to humanity. In every case, Thoth is the creator of written language and the literary arts both for humans and the gods. Geraldine Pinch writes:
Thoth, the “excellent of understanding”, observed and wrote down everything that happened and reported it to Ra every morning. As the record keeper of the gods he was paired with the librarian Seshat. Thoth and Seshat knew the future as well as the past. They inscribed a person’s fate on the bricks on which their mother gave birth and the length of a king’s reign on the leaves of the ished tree (210).
Thoth was therefore linked with the concept of fate even though this responsibility was shared, in different variations of the myths from different eras, with the Seven Hathors or other deities. As the record keeper of the gods, Thoth also kept account of the days of human beings. He is seen in a number of images keeping track of the days and numbering the years by which the Egyptian scribes were able to record the country’s history.
According to one story, Thoth was born “from the lips of Ra” at the beginning of creation and was known as the “god without a mother”. In another tale, Thoth is self-created at the beginning of time and, as an ibis, lays the cosmic egg which holds all of creation. He was always closely associated with Ra and the concept of divine order and justice. In a third story, The Contendings of Horus and Set (an Egyptian manuscript from c. 1190-1077 BCE), when Horus and Set are fighting for the right to rule, Thoth is said to have been created from the semen of Horus which was accidentally swallowed by Set during the struggle. Thoth was born from Set’s forehead and, in some versions, then mediated the struggle between the gods (in other versions the battle between Horus and Set is resolved by Neith and, in others, by Isis). In every version, Thoth is the scribe who records the events of the contest and offers advice to the gods. He heals both Horus and Set at different times in their battle in order to make sure that both sides are equally capable and none can gain an advantage over the other so that the contest will be fair. In this same way, Thoth presided over justice on earth among human beings. Egyptologist Geraldine Pinch writes:
Thoth set a divine example as a just judge and an incorruptible official. He lifted Ma’at, the goddess of justice, to her father, Ra. Thoth was responsible for framing and enforcing the laws of ma’at. In this role he could be either a gracious peacemaker or a merciless executioner (210).
As Thoth was credited with the creation of a number of branches of knowledge (law, magic, philosophy, religion, science, and writing) he was thought to be an infallible judge capable of rendering completely just decisions. The Greeks admired him so greatly that they credited him as the originator of all knowledge on earth and in the heavens. He was so important to the gods, and especially to Ra, that he was the god chosen to retrieve Ra’s daughter from the distant lands she sometimes fled to.