Thoth (his Greek name derived from the Egyptian *ḏiḥautī, written by Egyptians as ḏḥwty) was considered one of the most important deities of the Egyptian pantheon, often depicted with the head of an Ibis. His feminine counterpart was Seshat. His chief shrine was at Khemennu, where he led the local pantheon, later renamed Hermopolis by the Greeks (in reference to him through the Greeks' interpretation that he was the same as Hermes) and Eshmûnên in Coptic. He also had shrines in Abydos, Hesert, Urit, Per-Ab, Rekhui, Ta-ur, Sep, Hat, Pselket, Talmsis, Antcha-Mutet, Bah, Amen-heri-ab, and Ta-kens.
He was considered the heart and tongue of Ra as well as the means by which Ra's will was translated into speech. He has also been likened to the Logos of Plato and the mind of God. (see The All) In the Egyptian mythology, he has played many vital and prominent roles, including being one of the two deities (the other being Ma'at) who stood on either side of Ra's boat. He has further been involved in arbitration, magic, writing, science, and the judging of the dead.
According to Theodor Hopfner, Thoth's Egyptian name written as ḏḥwty originated from ḏḥw, claimed to be the oldest known name for the ibis although normally written as hbj. The addition of -ty denotes that he possessed the attributes of the ibis. Hence his name means "He who is like the ibis".
The Egyptian pronunciation of ḏḥwty is not fully known, but may be reconstructed as *ḏiḥautī, based on the Ancient Greek borrowing Θωθ Thōth or Theut and the fact that it evolved into Sahidic Coptic variously as Thoout, Thōth, Thoot, Thaut as well as Bohairic Coptic Thōout. The final -y may even have been pronounced as a consonant, not a vowel. However, many write "Djehuty", inserting the letter 'e' automatically between consonants in Egyptian words, and writing 'w' as 'u', as a convention of convenience for English speakers, not the transliteration employed by Egyptologists.
Djehuty is sometimes alternatively rendered as Tahuti, Tehuti, Zehuti, Techu, or Tetu. Thoth (also Thot or Thout) is the Greek version derived from the letters ḏḥwty. Not counting differences in spelling, Thoth had many names and titles, like other goddesses and gods. Similarly, each Pharaoh, considered a god himself, had five different names used in public. Among his alternate names are A, Sheps, Lord of Khemennu, Asten, Khenti, Mehi, Hab, and A'an. In addition, Thoth was also known by specific aspects of himself, for instance the moon god Iah-Djehuty, representing the moon for the entire month, or as jt-nṯr "god father". Further, the Greeks related Thoth to their god Hermes due to his similar attributes and functions. One of Thoth 's titles, "Three times great, great" (see Titles) was translated to the Greek τρισμεγιστος (Trismegistos) making Hermes Trismegistus.
Egyptologists disagree on Thoth's nature depending upon their view of the Egyptian pantheon. Most egyptologists today side with Sir Flinders Petrie that Egyptian religion was strictly polytheistic, in which Thoth would be a separate god. His contemporary adversary, E. A. Wallis Budge, however, thought Egyptian religion to be primarily monotheistic where all the gods and goddesses were aspects of the God Ra, similar to the Trinity in Christianity and devas in Hinduism. In this view, Thoth would be the aspect of Ra which the Egyptian mind would relate to the heart and tongue.
His roles in Egyptian mythology were many. Thoth served as a mediating power, especially between good and evil, making sure neither had a decisive victory over the other. He also served as scribe of the gods, credited with the invention of writing and alphabets (ie. hieroglyphs) themselves. In the underworld, Duat, he appeared as an ape, A'an, the god of equilibrium, who reported when the scales weighing the deceased's heart against the feather, representing the principle of Ma'at, was exactly even.
The ancient Egyptians regarded Thoth as One, self-begotten, and self-produced. He was the master of both physical and moral (ie. Divine) law, making proper use of Ma'at. He is credited with making the calculations for the establishment of the heavens, stars, Earth, and everything in them. Compare this to how his feminine counterpart, Ma'at was the force which maintained the Universe. He is said to direct the motions of the heavenly bodies. Without his words, the Egyptians believed, the gods would not exist. His power was almost unlimited in the Underworld and rivaled that of Ra and Osiris.
The Egyptians credited him as the author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. The Greeks further declared him the inventor of astronomy, astrology, the science of numbers, mathematics, geometry, land surveying, medicine, botany, theology, civilized government, the alphabet, reading, writing, and oratory. They further claimed he was the true author of every work of every branch of knowledge, human and divine.
Thoth was also prominent in the Osiris myth, being of great aid to Isis. After Isis gathered together the pieces of Osiris' dismembered body, he gave her the words to resurrect him so she could be impregnated and bring forth Horus. When Horus was slain, Thoth gave the formulae to resurrect him as well. Similar to God speaking the words to create the heavens and Earth in Judeo-Christian mythology, Thoth, being the god who always speaks the words that fulfill the wishes of Ra, spoke the words that created the heavens and Earth in Egyptian mythology.
This mythology also credits him with the creation of the 365 day calendar. Originally, according to the myth, the year was only 360 days long and Nut was sterile during these days, unable to bear children. Thoth gambled with Khonsu, the moon, for 1/72nd of its light (360/72 = 5), or 5 days, and won. During these 5 days, she gave birth to Kheru-ur (Horus the Elder, Face of Heaven), Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nepthys.
He was originally the deification of the moon in the Ogdoad belief system. Initially, in that system, the moon had been seen to be the eye of Horus, the sky god, which had been semi-blinded (thus darker) in a fight against Set, the other eye being the sun. However, over time it began to be considered separately, becoming a lunar deity in its own right, and was said to have been another son of Ra. As the crescent moon strongly resembles the curved beak of the ibis, this separate deity was named Djehuty (i.e. Thoth), meaning ibis.
Thoth became associated with the Moon, due to the Ancient Egyptians observation that Baboons (sacred to Thoth) 'sang' to the moon at night.
The Moon not only provides light at night, allowing the time to still be measured without the sun, but its phases and prominence gave it a significant importance in early astrology/astronomy. The cycles of the moon also organized much of Egyptian society's civil, and religious, rituals, and events. Consequently, Thoth gradually became seen as a god of wisdom, magic, and the measurement, and regulation, of events, and of time. He was thus said to be the secretary and counsellor of Ra, and with Ma'at (truth/order) stood next to Ra on the nightly voyage across the sky, Ra being a sun god.
Thoth became credited by the ancient Egyptians as the inventor of writing, and was also considered to have been the scribe of the underworld, and the moon became occasionally considered a separate entity, now that Thoth had less association with it, and more with wisdom. For this reason Thoth was universally worshipped by ancient Egyptian Scribes. Many scribes had a painting or a picture of Thoth in their "office". Likewise, one of the symbols for scribes was that of the ibis.
In art, Thoth was usually depicted with the head of an ibis, deriving from his name, and the curve of the ibis' beak, which resembles the crescent moon. Sometimes, he was depicted as a baboon holding up a crescent moon, as the baboon was seen as a nocturnal, and intelligent, creature. The association with baboons led to him occasionally being said to have as a consort Astennu, one of the (male) baboons at the place of judgement in the underworld, and on other occasions, Astennu was said to be Thoth himself.
During the late period of Egyptian history a cult of Thoth gained prominence, due to its main centre, Khnum (Hermopolis Magna), also becoming the capital, and millions of dead ibis were mummified and buried in his honour. The rise of his cult also led to his cult seeking to adjust mythology to give Thoth a greater role.
Thoth was inserted in many tales as the wise counsel and persuader, and his association with learning, and measurement, led him to be connected with Seshat, the earlier deification of wisdom, who was said to be his daughter, or variably his wife. Thoth's qualities also led to him being identified by the Greeks with their closest matching god - Hermes, with whom Thoth was eventually combined, as Hermes Trismegistus, also leading to the Greeks naming Thoth's cult centre as Hermopolis, meaning city of Hermes.
It is also viewed that Thoth was the God of Scribe and not a messenger. Anubis was viewed as the messenger of the gods, as he travelled in and out of the Underworld, to the presence of the gods, and to humans, as well. Some call this fusion Hermanubis. It is in more favor that Thoth was a record keeper, and not the messenger.
Thoth, like many Egyptian gods and nobility, held many titles. Among these were "Scribe of Ma'at in the Company of the Gods," "Lord of Ma'at," "Lord of Divine Words," "Judge of the Two Combatant Gods, "Judge of the Rekhekhui, the pacifier of the Gods, who Dwelleth in Unnu, the Great God in the Temple of Abtiti, "Twice Great," "Thrice Great," " and "Three Times Great, Great.
One of the most popular and cited works on tarot was connected to this deity. Written by the occultist Aleister Crowley, The Book of Thoth is a philosophical text on the occult usage of tarot and, most notably, Crowley's own created tarot Deck, the Thoth Tarot which he also referred to as The Book of Thoth, where the name is taken from a book in Egyptian mythology, believed to contain ancient knowledge originally brought to man by this deity. Translations from papyrus of an actual Book of Thoth claim to exist, titled 'The Ancient Egyptian Book of Thoth' by Jasnow and Zauzich. Crowley commissioned Lady Frieda Harris to assist him in painting the Thoth Deck.
One of the largest parades at the New Orleans Mardi Gras is the Krewe of Thoth.