By Brid Frawley, Hunt Museum, 4 minutes to read
Keywords: Thoth, Ibis, God of the Moon, Baboon, Ancient Egypt, Seshat, Afterlife, Gods, Goddesses
The Hunt Museum has a baboon figure in a squatting position with a hole in top of the head, which may also represent the Ancient Egyptian, God Thoth. These figures were also used to represent the hours of the night that the dead had to pass through.
Figure 3: STATUETTE OF A BABOON | Item Code MG 005 | poss. Early Dynastic Period (c. 3050–2686 BC) | Public Domain |
Thoth was the Egyptian God of writing, wisdom and magic. He was associated with order and justice and was an advisor and mediator to the Gods. Patron of the scribes, his female counterpart was Seshat, Goddess of writing and keeper of books, Thoth created language and Seshat gave his words to the People.
Thoth had two manifestations: as a Baboon and an Ibis, seen above.
Thoth as a baboon, is depicted as heavily maned seated animal, with paws resting on his knees with the lunar disc and crescent on his head. S, sometimes he is wearing the Atef Crown or the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Figure 2: Quartzite sculpture of a baboon (c. 1400 BC), depicting the Egyptian god Thoth, in the British Museum (London).
His Ibis depiction is that of an Ibis, or more frequently, of an Ibis-headed man.
Thoth as a Mediator and Advisor to the Gods:
The Egyptian Gods were a quarrelsome lot and Thoth’s role as a mediator and problem solver was frequently called upon. When Ra cursed his daughter Nut, forbidding her to give birth on any day of the year, she came to Thoth for help. Wise old Thoth overcame the curse by gambling with the Moon God (Khonsu) for some of his light. He won 1/72th of the moon’s light. Enough for five extra days in the year, allowing Nut to have her five children (Osiris, Isis ,Geb , Nephthys and Horus) and extending the annual calendar from 360 to 365 days.
Again when Set murdered his brother Osiris it was Thoth who helped his wife Isis to perform the ritual to bring him back to life and gave her the magic words so that Osiris could beget Horus. He later used his wisdom and magic to support Horus in the ongoing wars with Set.
Yet again when Tefnut Goddess of rain and moisture – essential to maintaining life in the desert environment of Egypt- became estranged from her father Ra and fled to Nubia. Ra sent Thoth with Shu (messenger of the Gods and husband to Tefnut) disguised as baboons to persuade her to come home, they succeeded in their quest and returned to great rejoicing in the land of Egypt.
Thoth and The Afterlife
Thoth also assisted Osiris and Anubis in the Hall of Truth by recording the outcome of the weighing of the heart against the feather of truth. Deciding whether or not a person could enter the afterlife. Joshua J. Marks writes:
“His home in the afterlife known as the Mansion of Thoth provided a safe place to rest and receive magic spells to help them against the demons that would prevent them reaching paradise. His Magic was also instrumental in the revitalization of the soul which brought the dead back to life in the underworld.”
There is evidence that Thoth isone of the earliest known deities and that worship of him dates back to the Pre-Dynastic Period (6000-3150 BC). His cult was accepted and venerated by later royal households as well and in the Second Intermediate Period the name Tuthmosis meaning “Born of Thoth” appears three times in the Chronology of the Pharaohs.
At Thoth Hill, the northerly point of the Theban Necropolis, is the oldest known temple in Thebes. Here three statues of Baboons and fragments inscribed with the name of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II (2055-2004 BC) were excavated .
At the ongoing excavations at the funeral temple of Amemhotep lll (1390-1352 BC) two large statues of Thoth as a baboon were found. It is thought that these may have formed part of an avenue of baboons leading to the temple, similar in style to the avenue of sphinxes leading from Luxor to Karnak. This Pharaoh also commissioned the two 30 tonne Statues of Baboons at Hermopolis.
However Thoth’s popularity extended far beyond the ruling classes. His Cult centre at Hermopolis, attracted huge numbers of pilgrims. Thousands of mummified ibises and baboons, used as votive offerings on festival days were found near here and also at Saqqara. Stone statues of the type found in the Hunt Museum would also have been offered by officials and other wealthy individuals.
Images of Thoth in both of his manifestations are found in tombs of the Pharaohs Priests and in those of the general populace. Amulets of Thoth as an Ibis, and more frequently as a baboon, have been found from different periods in Egypt’s history. It is thought that these were worn by scribes.
“the whole philosophy of the Egyptians”
It is evident that veneration of Thoth extended through the ages and throughout Egypt.
“Even today, Thoth is recognized as an important spiritual entity. Aside from those in the New Age, Wiccan, or Neo-Pagan communities who revere the god, he is one of the better known Egyptian deities in popular culture. The University of Cairo features Thoth on his throne as their logo and statuary of the god remains one of the most popular and recognizable, after images of King Tutankhamen Queen Nefertiti, and the goddess Bastet in the modern world. (Mark, Joshua. J., 2018)
- Mark, Joshua. J., (2018). Thoth. Ancient History Encyclopaedia. Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/Thoth/JoshuaJ.Mark [Accessed 2 Dec. 2018].
- Wilkinson, R. (2003). The complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson Inc.