Entity Type: Egyptian God
Historical Context: Ancient Egypt, at least 1500 BC, +/- 1500 years
Representation: either a dog-headed baboon, or an ibis (it’s a funny looking bird that bears no resemblance to a dog or a baboon)
Origin: Emerged as a god from the Nile River Delta, but became popular in Middle Egypt (Eshmunen or Hermopolis). Absorbed aspects of Aah, former god of the moon
Association with the Moon: Ra, the chief god, created the moon (or let Thoth create the moon) as a reward for returning Ra’s eye when it got away (note that Ra’s eye is also associated with the moon).
Other Notes: Thoth was called the “Measurer of Time” and generally became the god of measurement. This association likely came from the regularity and cycles of the moon. His association with math and astronomy also linked him to magic (in the eyes of the Egyptians), so he also became a “Lord of Magic”. Later, as Osiris assumed a more central role in Egyptian mythology, Thoth became the god of justice and law. Later, he even absorbed important ceremonial duties as Set became less popular. In short, Thoth was the polymath and “geek” of the Egyptian gods.
My Thoughts: Although I can’t identify with the dog head, I am a fan of Thoth and how he started with one little aspect (an eye of Ra) and turned it into quite a career. Without the rigor of the modern clock, there’s something nice about the idea of the moon as a symbol of time and measurement. It has 2 different cyclical properties (day/night and the monthly-ish lunar cycle) that make it almost as good as the sun for days and more useful than the season on a broader scale. The jump from time to magic is pretty amazing, too.
One quick caution about Egyptian mythology: it’s somewhat amazing how much aspects and stories change. Thoth isn’t just the moon god: he came after another moon god and moved onto other roles. From an outside perspective, it seems like a surprise that Egyptians could’ve believed that their gods were really the truth of reality, but it’s not quite that crazy. Remember: the Egyptians spanned at least 3000 years.
For some perspective, the Great Pyramids were constructed in 2560 BC. Cleopatra lived in the 1st century BC. That’s 2500 years. We’re in 2012 now, which is about 2100 years after Cleopatra. We’re closer in time to Cleopatra than she was to the pyramid builders.
So over the course of 3000 years, a lot can change in religion. The story of religion is the story of people as they conquer and assimilate others, with religion shifting to accommodate these attitudes. And of course, there are many different regional differences in religion as well, so trying to come up with a consistent story of Egyptian mythology would be like writing about Augustine and Joseph Smith in a single thought.
To get back to my point, though, Thoth was an impressively flexible god. I’ll need to investigate whether the moon was just a starting point for Thoth or whether it was a unifying theme.
(Author’s note: I don’t know if I ever mentioned this publicly, but I’m sort of working on a book about man’s relationship with the moon, so you’ll likely see a lot of posts about it as I think about and work on it, 500-1000 words at a time. Hope you enjoy, and if you don’t, let me know, and I’ll keep my regular posts come frequently enough as well)