Studies in Egyptian Mythology
by E. A. Wallis Budge | 1904 | 170,388 words
Volume 1-16 chapters including The Gods of Egypt, Primitive Gods and Nome-Gods, Hell and the Damned, Ra the Sun-God and His Forms, Hathor and the Hathor-Goddesses, The Horus Gods, and more. Includes 49 plates, 38 illustrations....
The hymns to Rā which are found in the Book of the Dead and in other funeral works of the ancient Egyptians state that the deities Thoth and Maāt stand one on each side of the great god in his boat, and it is clear that they were believed to take some important part in directing its course ; and as they were with Rā when he sprang up from the abyss of Nu their existence must have been coeval with his own. The conceptions which the Egyptians formed about Thoth and Maāt were both material and spiritual, and it is impossible to arrive at any conclusion concerning the functions of these deities without enumerating the facts about them which may be derived from the texts; speaking generally, Maāt may be considered the female counterpart of Thoth.
In the Pyramid Texts, our earliest authorities, the functions of Thoth are of a purely funereal character, that is to say, he appears only as a god who is willing to be a helper of the deceased kings, and, although it is certain from many passages that his assistance was eagerly awaited by souls in the Underworld, there is no description given in these early works of the functions of the god.
We must, then, rely upon the inscriptions of the later dynastic period for our knowledge of the powers of Thoth, and from these we learn that he was called,
“Lord of Khemennu, self-created, to whom none hath given birth, god One;”
“he who reckons in heaven, the counter of the stars, the enumerator of the earth and of what is therein, and the measurer of the earth;”
“heart of Rā which cometh forth in the form of the god Thoth.”
The chief shrine of the god was in Khemennu,, called Hermopolis by the Greeks, and Eshmûnên by the Arabs, but he also had shrines in
- Ḥesert, ,
- Urit, ,
- Per-āb, ,
- Reḥui, ,
- Ta-ur, ,
- Sep, ,
- Ḥāt, ,
- Pselket, ,
- Talmis, ,
- Ȧa-tcha-Mutet, ,
- Bāḥ, ,
- Ȧmen-heri-ȧb, ,
- and Ta-kens, .
As lord of these places he was
- “lord of divine words,” ,
- “lord of Maāt,” ,
- and “judge of the two combatant gods,” , i.e., Horus and Set;
and among other titles we find him called
- “Twice great,”,
- and “Thrice great,”.
From this last were derived the epithets “Trismegistos” and “ter maximus” of the classical writers.
The above facts prove that Thoth was regarded as a god who was self-begotten and self-produced, that he was One, that he made the calculations concerning the stablishing of the heavens, and the stars, and the earth, that he was the heart of Rā, that he was the master of law both in its physical and moral conceptions, and that he had the knowledge of “divine speech.”
From many passages we see also that he was the inventor and god of all arts and sciences, that he was the “lord of books,” and the “scribe of the gods,” and “mighty in speech,” i.e., his words took effect, and he was declared to be the author of many of the funeral works by which the deceased gained everlasting life. In the Book of the Dead he plays a part which gives him a unique position among the gods, and he is represented as the possessor of powers which are greater than those of Osiris, and even those of Rā himself.
Before, however, we go on to consider these the forms in which he appears on the monuments must be mentioned. Usually he appears in human form with the head of an ibis, but he also appears as an ibis. When in human form he holds in his hands the sceptre and emblem of “life” common to all gods, but his headdress varies according to the particular form of the god in which the artist wishes to depict him. As the reckoner of times and seasons he has upon his head the crescent moon and disk, ; as a form of Shu and Ȧn-Ḥer he wears the headdresses of these gods ; he is also seen wearing the atef crown,, and the united crowns of the South and the North. In the Book of the Dead he appears as the “scribe of Maāt of the company of the gods,” , and then he holds in his hands the writing reed and palette of the scribe; but his connection with Ra and his first rising in primeval times is indicated sometimes by the utchat, i.e., the power or strength, of the Eye of Rā, which he is seen carrying along in his hands.
The name of the god Thoth,, Teḥuti, appears to be derived from the supposed oldest name of the ibis in Egypt, i.e., teḥu, to which the termination ti has been added, with the idea of indicating that the king called Teḥuti possessed the qualities and attributes of the ibis. A derivation of the name which appears to have been favoured by the Egyptians connected it with the word tekh, , “a weight,” and in passages quoted by Lanzone we find the god actually called tekh, .
Now the determinative for the word tekh, a weight, is the sign for “heart,” , and we know that the bird called tekh or tekhnu, which closely resembled the ibis, the bird sacred to Thoth, was in the opinion of some ancient writers connected with the heart. Thus Horapollo says (i. 36) that when the Egyptians wish to write “heart” they draw an ibis, for this bird was dedicated to Hermes (i.e., Thoth) as the lord of all knowledge and understanding; and Ælian (De Nat. Animal, x. 29) supports his testimony by adding several curious and interesting facts about the habits of the ibis.
Other names given to Thoth were,
The commonest name given to Thoth is hab, “ibis,” a word which finds its equivalent in the Coptic and one of his commonest forms is the dog-headed ape, which occupies such a prominent position in the Judgment Scene in the Book of the Dead. Here we see him seated on the top of the support of the beam of the Balance in which the heart of the deceased is weighed, where his duty is to watch the pointer, and tell the ibis-headed Thoth when the beam is exactly level; according to Brugsch, this ape is a form of Thoth as the god of “equilibrium,” and he appears to be a symbol of the equinoxes.
The ape āān is also connected with the moon, for he is often seen with the lunar crescent and disk, , upon his head ; but there is no doubt that he represented Thoth in his character of “lord of divine words and the scribe [of the gods],” for in a scene reproduced by Lanzone we see him holding in one paw the god’s palette and writing reeds, and these titles are given to him.
Besides these forms of Thoth may be also mentioned those in which he possesses the attributes of other gods. Thus as a god of Mendes he has a human body with the head of a bull surmounted by a disk and uraeus ; as Shu he is depicted in the form of a man wearing the crown of Shu; as Ȧn-her he is depicted in the form of a man wearing the crown of this god ; as Sheps he has the head of a hawk; the ibis and the ape āān are his commonest forms. The principal seat of the worship of Thoth was Khemennu, or Hermopolis, a city famous in Egyptian mythology as the place containing the “high ground,” , on which Rā rested when he rose for the first time.
Here he was regarded as the head of the company of the gods of the city, who were eight in number:
- Nu and Nut,
- Ḥeḥu and Ḥeḥut,
- Kek and Keket,
- and Ḳerḥ and Ḳerḥet (or Nau and Nait),
i.e., four pairs of deities, each pair consisting of a male and a female deity. As to the importance of this company of the gods two eminent Egyptologists have held directly opposite opinions, for the late Dr. Brugsch thought that the four pairs of deities formed the oldest example of the ogdoad, while M. Maspero is of opinion that we must join the four pairs to Thoth, when the nine gods will form an independent paut, constructed partly on the model of the ỹaut of Heliopolis.
Dr. Brugsch thought that the eight gods of Hermopolis were primordial deities, but M. Maspero thinks that their character is entirely artificial, and that they are only
“gods formed according to the laws of grammar, four being masculine, and four feminine.”
The latter argues that because the high priest of Hermopolis was called by a title which indicates that he served “him that is chief of five,” the gods of the city were only five in number, i.e., Thoth and the four gods of the cardinal points ; to the four gods of the cardinal points were then assigned female counterparts, hence the “Eight gods” .
Thoth, according to M. Maspero, is to these what Tem or Rā-Tem was to the paut of Heliopolis, and the Hermo-politan paut was constructed after the model of the Heliopolitan paut; thus
- Nu and Nut = Shu and Tefnut,
- Ḥeḥu and Ḥeḥut = Seb and Nut, Kek
- and Keket = Osiris and Isis,
- and Ḳerḥ and Ḳerḥet (or, Nau and Nait) = Set and Nephthys.
This view is, however, not supported by the evidence of the texts, which, in the writer’s opinion, indicates, as has already been said, that the four pairs of gods of Hermopolis belong to a far older conception of the theogony than that of the company of gods of Heliopolis.
Another point to be remembered is that Thoth was intimately associated with the ape, as were also the gods of his company ; this takes us back to a very remote period when supernatural powers were assigned to the particular class of ape which was the companion of Thoth, and when the primitive Egyptian regarded the knowledge and cunning of the dog-headed ape as proofs of his divine nature. Between the period when this took place and the development of the Heliopolitan theogony, a very long interval of time must have passed ; the two conceptions belong not only to different stages of civilization, but probably to two distinct races of men.
One of the most interesting titles of Thoth is
“Judge of the Reḥeḥui, the pacifier of the gods, who dwelleth in Unnu (Hermopolis), the great god in the Temple of Ȧbtiti.”
A very early Egyptian tradition made a great fight to take place between the god of light and the god of darkness, and in later days Rā himself, or some form of him, generally one of the Horus gods, was identified with the god of light, and Set, in one form or other, was identified with the god of darkness. Thus the fights of Rā and Āpep, and Ḥeru-Beḥuṭet and Set, and Horus, son of Isis, and Set, are in reality only different versions of one and the same story, though belonging to different periods. In all these fights Thoth played a prominent part, for when the Eye of Rā, i.e., the Sun, was doing battle with Set, this evil power managed to cast clouds over it, and it was Thoth who swept them away, and
“brought the Eye alive, and whole, and sound, and without defect to its lord” (Book of the Dead, xvii. 71, ff.);
he seems also to have performed the same office for Rā after his combat with Āpep. At the contest between Horus, son of Isis, who fought with Set in order to avenge the murder of his father Osiris, Thoth was present, and when Horus had cut off his mother’s head because of her interference in the fight at the moment when victory was inclining to him, it was Thoth who gave her a cow’s head in place of her own.
In all these fights Thoth was the arbiter, and his duty was to prevent either god from gaining a decisive victory, and from destroying the other ; in fact, he had to keep these hostile forces in exact equilibrium, the forces being light and darkness, or day and night, or good and evil, according to the date of the composition of the legends, and the objects which the scribes intended to secure by writing them down. In the group of titles of Thoth quoted in this paragraph we see that he is called “great god in Ḥet-Ȧbtit,” or the Temple of Ȧbtit, which was one of the chief sanctuaries of the god, and was situated in Hermopolis.
The hieroglyphics with which the name “Ḥet Ȧbtit” are written prove that they mean the “House of the Net,” i.e., the temple where a net was preserved and venerated, but the questions naturally arise, what was this net, and what was its signification? We know from the two versions of Chapter cliii. of the Book of the Dead that a net was supposed to exist in the Underworld, and that the deceased regarded it with horror and detestation. Every part of it, its poles, and ropes, and weights, and small cords, and hooks, had names which he was obliged to learn if he wished to escape from it, and would make use of it to catch food for himself, instead of being caught by “those who laid snares.”
Thus in a prayer we read,
“Hail, thou ‘god who lookest behind thee,’ thou ‘god who hast gained the mastery over thine heart,’ I go a-fishing with the cordage of the ‘uniter of the earth’ (Horus ?), and of him that maketh a way through the earth.
Hail, ye fishers who have given birth to your own fathers, who lay snares with your nets, and who go round about in the chambers of the waters, take ye not me in the net wherewith ye ensnared the helpless fiends, and rope me not in with the rope wherewith ye roped in the abominable fiends of earth, which had a frame which reached unto heaven, and weighted parts that rested upon the earth.”
From this passage it is clear that the Egyptians possessed a legend in which one power or the other in the mythological combats was armed with a net wherein he tried to ensnare his adversary.
In Chapter cxxxiii. the deceased says,
“Lift thyself up, O thou Rā, who dwellest in thy divine shrine, draw thou into thyself the winds, inhale the north wind, and swallow thou the beqesu () of thy net () on the day wherein thou breathest Maāt.”
The meaning of beqesu is not quite clear in this passage, because from its determinative,, we should naturally connect it with some organ of the human body, but it is evident from its context that Rā possessed a net, and we are certain from the former extract that it was one of the weapons which he employed in his war against the god and fiends of darkness.
An interesting parallel is afforded by the Assyrian and Babylonian versions of the fight between the Sun-god Marduk and the monster Tiamat and her fiends, for it is said in them, He (i.e., Marduk) set the lightning in front of him, with burning fire he filled his body. He made a net to enclose the inward parts of Tiamat, the Four Winds he set so that nothing of her might escape; the South wind, and the North wind, and the East wind, and the West wind, he brought near to the net which his father Anu had given him.”
It is interesting to note that in the passage from the cxxxiiird Chapter the winds are also mentioned in connexion with the net of Rā, and it is difficult not to arrive at the conclusion that the use to which the Sun-god put his net was the same in each legend ; whether this be so, however, or not matters little for our purpose here. It is quite clear that in the Egyptian legend the god Thoth was supposed to have some connexion with the net of Rā, and it is equally clear that in his temple, which was called the Temple of the Net, the emblem of a net, or perhaps even a net itself, was venerated.
We are now able to sum up the attributes ascribed to Thoth, and to consider how he employed them in connection with the dead. In the first place, he was held to be both the heart and the tongue of Rā, that is to say, he was the reason and the mental powers of the god, and also the means by which their will was translated into speech; from one aspect he was speech itself, and in later times he may well have represented, as Dr. Birch said, the λόγος of Plato.
In every legend in which Thoth takes a prominent part we see that it is he who speaks the word that results in the wishes of Rā being carried into effect, and it is evident that when he had once given the word of command that command could not fail to be carried out by one means or the other. He spoke the words which resulted in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and he taught Isis the words which enabled her to revivify the dead body of Osiris in such wise that Osiris could beget a child by her, and he gave her the formulae which brought back her son Horus to life after he had been stung to death by a scorpion.
His knowledge and powers of calculation measured out the heavens, and planned the earth, and everything which is in them ; his will and power kept the forces in heaven and in earth in equilibrium ; it was his great skill in celestial mathematics which made proper use of the laws (maāt ) upon which the foundation and maintenance of the universe rested ; it was he who directed the motions of the heavenly bodies and their times and seasons; and without his words the gods, whose existence depended upon them, could not have kept their place among the followers of Rā.
He was the “scribe of the gods,” and possessed almost unlimited power in the Underworld; the god Osiris was in many ways wholly dependent upon his good offices, and the ordinary mortal sought his words and help with great earnestness. In the Judgment Scene in the Book of the Dead it is Thoth who acts the part of the recording angel, and it is his decision which is accepted by the gods, who ratify the same and report it to Osiris ; for when once Thoth said that the soul of the deceased had been weighed, and that it had been found true by trial in the Great Balance, and that there was no wickedness whatsoever in it, the gods could not fail to answer,
“That which cometh forth from thy mouth is true, and the deceased is holy and righteous”;
and in consequence they straightway award him a place with Osiris in the Sekhet-Ḥetepu, or Elysian Fields. Thoth as the great god of words was rightly regarded as the judge of words, and the testing of the soul in the Balance in the Hall of Osiris is not described as the judging or “weighing of actions,” but as the “weighing of words,” utchā meṭet.
To words uttered under certain conditions the greatest importance was attached by the Egyptians, and in fact the whole efficacy of prayer appears to have depended upon the manner and tone of voice in which the words were spoken. Thoth could teach a man not only words of power, but also the manner in which to utter them, and the faculty most coveted by the Egyptian was that which enabled him to pronounce the formulae and Chapters of the Book of the Dead in such a way that they could not fail to have the effect which the deceased wished them to have. After the names of deceased persons we always find in funeral papyri the words maā kheru ,
which mean “he whose word is maā,” that is to say, he whose words possess such power that whenever they are uttered by him the effects which he wished them to produce unfailingly come to pass. The words, however, here referred to are those which must be learned from Thoth, and without the knowledge of them, and of the proper manner in which they should be said the deceased could never make his way through the Underworld.
The formulae of Thoth opened the secret pylons for him, and provided him with the necessary meat, and drink, and apparel, and repelled baleful fiends and evil spirits, and they gave him the power to know the secret or hidden names of the monsters of the Underworld, and to utter them in such a way that they became his friends and helped him on his journey, until at length he entered the Fields of Peace of Osiris or the Boat of Millions of Years.
These are the words referred to in the title of Thoth, “lord of divine words,” or “lord of the words of god.” The whole of the Book of the Dead was assumed to be the composition of Thoth, and certain chapters of it he “wrote with his own fingers.”
In the late work called the “Book of Breathings” it is said,
“Thoth, the most mighty god, the lord of Khemennu, cometh to thee, and he writeth for thee the ‘Book or Breathings’ with his own fingers.
Thus thy soul shall breathe for ever and ever, and thy form shall be endowed with life upon earth, and thou shalt be made a god along with the souls of the gods, and they shall be the heart of Rā, and thy members shall be the members of the great god.”
In later times the epithet maā kheru appears to have had a somewhat different meaning from that given to it above, and at times it may well be rendered “he whose word is right,” and have reference to the words of Thoth in the Judgment, when he informs the gods that the heart of Osiris has been weighed with the strictest care on the part of himself and his ape, which sits on the support of the Balance, and that at the weighing the heart in one pan of the Scales was able to counterbalance exactly the feather of Right or the Law in the other, and that the case of the individual under examination was a “right” one.
From many passages in the Book of the Dead we learn of the services which Thoth performed for Osiris, and which he was to repeat for the benefit of every man who was acquitted in the Judgment. In the xviiith Chapter is a list of calamities which were averted from Osiris by Thoth, who gave words to the dead god and taught him to utter them with such effect that all the enemies of Osiris were vanquished.
Thus he made him to triumph (semaā-kheru)
“in the presence of the great assessors of every god and of every goddess;
in the presence of the assessors who are in Annu on the night of the battle and of the overthrow of the Sebȧu-fiend in Ṭaṭtu ;
on the night of making to stand up the double Ṭeṭ in Sekhem ;
on the night of the things of the night in Sekhem, in Pe, and in Ṭepu ;
on the night of stablishing Horus in the heritage of the things of his father in Rekhti;
on the night when Isis maketh lamentation at the side of her brother Osiris in Ȧbṭu ;
on the night of the Haker festival when a division is made between the dead and the spirits who are on the path of the dead;
on the night of the judgment of those who are to be annihilated at the great [festival of] the ploughing and the turning up of the earth in Ȧn-ruṭ-f in Re-stau;
and on the night of making Horus to triumph over his enemies.”
In the clxxxiiird Chapter the deceased Hunefer says to Osiris,
“I have come unto thee, O son of Nut, Osiris, Prince of everlastingness ; I am in the following of the god Thoth, and I have rejoiced at every thing which he hath done for thee.
He hath brought unto thee sweet (i.e., fresh) air for thy nose, and life and strength to thy beautiful face, and the north wind which cometh forth from Tem for thy nostrils, O lord of Ta-tchesert.
He hath made the god Shu to shine upon thy body ; he hath illumined thy path with rays of splendour; he hath destroyed for thee [all] the evil defects which belong to thy members by the magical power of the words of his utterance.
He hath made the two Horus brethren to be at peace for thee ; he hath destroyed the stormwind and the hurricane ; he hath made the Two Combatants to be gracious unto thee, and the two lands to be at peace before thee ; he hath put away the wrath which was in their hearts, and each hath become reconciled unto his brother.”
“I am endowed with glory, I am endowed with strength, I am filled with might, and I am supplied with the books of Thoth, and I have brought them to enable me to pass through the god Aker, who dwelleth in Set.
I have brought the palette and the ink-pot as being the objects which are in the hands of Thoth ; hidden is that which is in them ! Behold me in the character of a scribe ! O Ḥeru-khuti, thou didst give me the command, and I have copied what is right and true, and I do bring it unto thee each day.”
In the vignette of the chapter we see the deceased seated with a palette and an ink-pot before him.
In the Pyramid Texts there is evidence1 that Thoth was connected with the western sky just as Horus was identified with the eastern sky, and this idea is amplified in an interesting fashion in the clxxvth Chapter of the Book of the Dead, where we find that the deceased addresses Thoth both as Thoth and as Temu, the setting sun, or god of the west.
He is disturbed about that which
“hath happened to the divine children of Nut,”
“they have done battle, they have upheld strife, they have done evil, they have created the fiends, they have made slaughter, they have caused trouble; in truth, in all their doings the mighty have worked against the weak . . . . And thou regardest not evil, nor art thou provoked to anger when they bring their years to confusion and throng in and push to disturb their months ; for in all that they have done unto thee they have worked iniquity in secret.”
The deceased adds,
“I am thy writing palette, O Thoth, and I have brought unto thee thine ink-jar,”
and as he declares that he is not one of those who work iniquity in secret places, at the same time he clearly dissociates himself from those who do. These words are followed by a very remarkable passage in which the deceased, addressing Thoth under the name of Temu, asks the god what the place is into which he has come, and he says that it is without water, that
“it hath not air, it is depth unfathomable, it is black as the blackest night, and men wander helplessly therein. In it a man may not live in quietness of heart; nor may the longings of love be satisfied therein.”
“How long have I to live?”
i.e., how long will my existence in this new world be? and the god replies,
“Thou art for millions of millions of years, a period of life of millions of years,”
It is a remarkable fact that it is not Osiris, the lord of life everlasting, but Temu-Thoth who promises the deceased this coveted gift.
In the first part of the Chapter from which the above extracts have been made Thoth is, clearly, appealed to in his capacity of measurer and regulator of times and seasons, that is to say, as the Moon-god, who is commonly called Ȧāḥ-Teḥuti, , or ,
“the great god, the lord of heaven, the king of the gods,”
“the maker of eternity and creator of everlastingness.”
Under this form the god Thoth is depicted :—
1. As a mummy, standing upon the symbol of maāt , and holding in his hands the emblems of “life,” , “stability,” , “sovereignty and dominion,” , and the sceptre (PLAATJE); on his head is the crescent moon, , and by the side of his head he has the lock of hair, symbolic of youth, .
2. As a bearded, mummied human figure with the crescent moon on his head, and the lock of hair symbolic of youth. The head, however, has two faces, which are intended, presumably, to represent the periods of the waxing and the waning of the moon. In some scenes we have Ȧāḥ-Teḥuti represented in the form of a disk resting between the horns of the crescent moon, and placed upon a pedestal in a boat similar to that in which Rā is usually seen ; sometimes an Utchat, , is placed over each end of the boat.
In one interesting scene the god Ȧāḥ-ḥetep is represented with the head of an ibis surmounted by the lunar disk and crescent seated in a boat, and a dog-headed ape stands before him and presents an Utchat; it is noteworthy that the curved end of the boat is notched like the notched palm branch which symbolizes “years,” . In the narrowest sense Ȧāḥ-Teḥuti symbolizes the new moon, and this is only natural, for, as is well known, all calculations made by the moon in the East from time immemorial have been based upon the first appearance of the new moon in the sky ; but, generally speaking, Thoth as the Moon-god represents the moon during the whole month.
On the other hand, the Utchat of Thoth, , indicates the full moon, just as the Utchat of Rā stands for the mid-day sun; this fact is proved by an interesting scene reproduced by Signor Lanzone from Brugsch, Monuments (Berlin, 1857). Here we see the god Thoth, ibis-headed, standing by the side of a lotus pillar which supports heaven, , resting on heaven is a crescent, and in it is the Utchat of Thoth, . Leading up to the top of the pillar is a flight of fourteen steps, of unequal length, which are intended to represent the first fourteen days of the month, and at the foot of it stand fourteen gods, the first of these being Tem, who has his right foot resting on the first step, which is the shortest of the whole flight.
The gods who stand behind him are :—
- and a god without a name.
In a more extended sense the Utchat of Thoth represented the left eye of Rā, or the winter half of the year, when the heat of the sun was not so strong, nor its light so great, and when darkness remained in the skies for a longer period. This Utchat of Thoth, or of Thoth-Horus, as it should more correctly be called, is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, where it is called the “Black Eye of Horus” ; thus of King Unȧs it is said,
“Thou hast seized the two Eyes of Horus, the White Eye and the Black Eye, and thou hast carried them off and set them in front of thee and they give light to thy face.”
The White Eye here referred to is, of course, the sun. Thus we see that Thoth not only brought the Eye of Rā to the god, as we have already said, but that he also established the Eye of the Moon-god, who was indeed only a form of himself, and that Thoth was also in certain aspects identified with Osiris,, and with Horus,, and with Tem, and therefore with Kheperȧ. One other attribute of Thoth remains to be noticed, i.e., that which is made known to us by the xcvth Chapter of the Book of the Dead, wherein the deceased says,
“I am he who sendeth forth terror into the powers of rain and thunder, .... I have made to flourish my knife along with the knife which is in the hand of Thoth in the powers of rain and thunder.”
The short composition in which this passage occurs is called the “Chapter of being nigh unto Thoth,” and in the vignette the deceased is seen standing before Thoth with both hands raised in adoration.
From the above facts it is quite clear that the Greeks were generally correct in the statements which they made about the wisdom and learning of Thoth, whom they identified with their own Hermes.
They described him as the inventor of astronomy and astrology,
the science of numbers and mathematics, geometry and land surveying, medicine and botany;
he was the first to found a system of theology, and to organize a settled government in the country ;
he established the worship of the gods, and made rules concerning the times and nature of their sacrifices;
he composed the hymns and prayers which men addressed to them, and drew up liturgical works ;
he invented figures, and the letters of the alphabet, and the arts of reading, writing, and oratory in all its branches ;
and he was the author of every work on every branch of knowledge, both human and divine.
According to Clemens Alexandrinus (Stromata, vi.) the “Books of Thoth” were forty-two in number, and they were divided into six classes ;
- books i.-x. dealt with the laws, and the gods, and the education of the priests ;
- books xi.-xx. treated of the services of the gods, i.e., sacrifices, offerings, forms of worship, etc.;
- books xxi.-xxx. related to the history of the world, geography, and hieroglyphics ;
- books xxxi.-xxxiv. formed treatises on astronomy and astrology ;
- books xxxv. and xxxvi. contained a collection of religious compositions ;
- and books xxxvii.-xlii. were devoted to medicine.
An attempt was made some years ago to include the Book of the Dead among the “Books of Thoth,” but it is now quite certain that, although Thoth was declared to have written some of its Chapters, it must be regarded as an entirely separate work and as one which enjoyed a much greater reputation than they. How Thoth was able to perform all the various duties which were assigned to him by the ancients it is difficult to understand, until we remember that according to the Egyptian texts he was the heart, i.e., the mind, and reason, and understanding of the god Rā.
The title given to him in some inscriptions,, “three times great, great,” from which the Greeks derived their appellation of the god ὁ τρισμέγιστος, or “ter maximus,” has not yet been satisfactorily explained, and at present the exact meaning which the Egyptians assigned to it is unknown. It is, however, quite clear that Thoth held in their minds a position which was quite different from that of any other god, and that the attributes which they ascribed to him were unlike the greater number of those of any member of their companies of the gods.
The character of Thoth is a lofty and a beautiful conception, and is, perhaps, the highest idea of deity ever fashioned in the Egyptian mind, which, as we have already seen, was somewhat prone to dwell on the material side of divine matters. Thoth, however, as the personification of the mind of God, and as the all-pervading, and governing, and directing power of heaven and of earth, forms a feature of the Egyptian religion which is as sublime as the belief in the resurrection of the dead in a spiritual body, and as the doctrine of everlasting life.
The goddess Maā, or Maāt, , or , or .
Closely connected with Thoth, so closely in fact that she may be regarded as the feminine counterpart of the god, is the goddess Maāt, who stood with Thoth in the boat of Rā when the Sun-god rose above the waters of the primeval abyss of Nu for the first time. The type and symbol of this goddess is the ostrich feather, , which is always seen fastened to her head-dress, and is sometimes seen in her hand. She is represented in the form of a woman seated, or standing,, and she holds the sceptre,, in one hand, and, the emblem of “life,” in the other; in many pictures of her she is provided with a pair of wings which are attached one to each arm, and in a few cases she has the body of a woman with an ostrich feather for a head.
The reason for the association of the ostrich feather with Maāt is unknown, as is also the primitive conception which underlies the name, but it is certainly very ancient, and probably dates from predynastic times. The hieroglyphic, which also has the phonetic value of Maāt, is described by some as a “cubit,” i.e., the measure of a cubit, and by others as a “flute,” which would, presumably, be made of a reed. We see, however, that the god Ptaḥ usually stands upon a pedestal made in the shape of, and that figures of the god Osiris stand upon pedestals of similar form, and as we have no reason for supposing that the figures of these two gods were placed upon flutes it is tolerably certain that must mean something else besides flute.
We know that Ptaḥ of Memphis was the god of artificers in general and of workers in metal and of sculptors in particular ; it is far more likely that the form of his pedestal,, was intended to represent some tool which was used by sculptors and carvers, e.g., a chisel, or the identification of the object as a “cubit” may bo correct if it means that it was some instrument used for measuring purposes.
Conceptions of Maāt
About the meaning of the word maāt , there is, fortunately, no difficulty, for from many passages in texts of all periods we learn that it indicated primarily “that which is straight,” and it was probably the name which was given to the instrument by which the work of the handicraftsman of every kind was kept straight; as far as we can see the same ideas which were attached to the Greek word κανών (which first of all seems to have meant any straight rod used to keep things straight, then a rule used by masons, and finally, metaphorically, a rule, or law, or canon, by which the lives of men and their actions were kept straight and governed) belong to the Egyptian word maāt.
The Egyptians used the word in a physical and a moral sense, and thus it came to mean
“right, true, truth, real, genuine, upright, righteous, just, steadfast, unalterable,” etc.;
khesbet maāt is “real lapis-lazuli” as opposed to blue paste;
shes maāt means “ceaselessly and regularly,”
em un maāt indicates that a thing is really so, the man who is good, and honest is maāt, the truth (maāt) is great and mighty, and “it hath never been broken since the time of Osiris” ;
finally, the exact equivalent of the English words “God will judge the right” is found in the Egyptian pa neter ȧpu pa maāt,
The goddess Maāt was, then, the personification of physical and moral law, and order and truth. In connexion with the Sun-god Rā she indicated the regularity with which he rose and set in the sky, and the course which he followed daily from east to west. Thus in a hymn to Rā we read,
“The land of Manu (i.e., the West) receiveth thee with satisfaction, and the goddess Maāt embraceth thee both at morn and at eve;”
“the god Thoth and the goddess Maāt have written down thy daily course for thee every day;”
“may I see Horus acting as steersman [in the boat of Rā] with Thoth and Maāt, one on each side of him.”
In another hymn Qenna says,
“I have come to thee, O Lord of the gods, Temu-Ḥeru-khuti, whom Maāt directeth;”
Ȧmen-Rā is said to “rest upon Maāt,” i.e., to subsist by Maāt; Rā is declared to “live by Maāt;” Osiris “carries along the earth in his train by Maāt in his name of Seker.” In her capacity of regulator of the path of the Sun-god Maāt is said to be the “daughter of Rā,” and the “eye of Rā,” and “lady of heaven, queen of the earth, and mistress of the Underworld,” and she was, of course, “the lady of the gods and goddesses.”
Hall of Maāt
As a moral power Maāt was the greatest of the goddesses, and in her dual form of Maāti,, i.e., the Maāt goddess of the South and the North, she was the lady of the Judgment Hall, and she became the personification of justice, who awarded to every man his due ; judging by some vignettes which represent the weighing of the heart she took at times the form of the Balance itself. The hall in which Maāt sat in double form to hear the “confession” of the dead is often depicted in connection with the cxxvth Chapter of the Book of the Dead, and we see that it was spacious, and that the cornice thereof was formed of uraei and of feathers symbolic of Maāt. In the centre of it is a god with both hands stretched out over a lake, and at each end of the hall is seated an ape before a pair of scales.
Anubis was the guardian of the door at the end by which the deceased entered, and which was called Khersek-Shu, ; one leaf of the door was called Neb-Maāt-ḥeri-ṭep-reṭui-f,, and the other leaf Neb-peḥti-thesu-menmenet,. These names had to be learnt and uttered by the deceased before he was allowed to enter the Hall of the Maāti goddesses,(or,). When he arrived inside the Hall he found assembled there the Forty-two Assessors or Judges drawn up in two rows, each of which contained twenty-one Judges, one on each side of the length of the Hall. Before each of these he was obliged to make a solemn declaration that he had not committed a certain sin ; these forty-two denials are commonly known as the “Negative Confession.”
Assessors of Maāt
- Usekht-nemmat, .
- Ḥept-shet, .
- Fenṭi, .
- Neḥa-ḥāu, .
- Rerti, .
- Seṭ-ḳesu, .
- Uatch-nes, .
- Qerti, .
- Ḥetch-ȧbeḥu, .
- Ȧm-senf, .
- Ȧm - beseku,
- Neb-Maāt, .
- Thenemi, .
- Āaṭi, .
- Ṭuṭu-f, .
- Maa-ȧn-f, .
- Ḥeri-seru, .
- Khemi, .
- Sheṭ-kheru, .
- Nekhen, .
- Ser-kheru, .
- Basti, .
- Ḥrȧ-f-ḥa-f, .
- Ta-ret, .
- Ivenemti, .
- Ȧn-ḥetep-f, .
- Neb-ḥrȧu, .
- Serekhi, .
- Neb-ābui, .
- Nefer-Tem, .
- Tem-sep, .
- Ȧri-em-ȧb-f, .
- Ȧhi-mu (?), .
- Neḥeb-kau, .
- Tcheser-ṭep, .
- Ȧn-ā-f, .
Even when the deceased had satisfied the Forty-two Assessors he could not pass out of the Hall of Maāti unless he knew the magical names of the various parts of the door which opened into the regions of the blessed. In the address which he makes to the gods collectively, and which is usually considered to have been made after the Negative Confession, he summarizes his good deeds, and declares to the god Osiris, whom he calls the “lord of the Atef crown,” that he has done Maāt, and purified himself with Maāt, and that none of his members lack Maāt.
He tells how he has been to the “Field of the Grasshoppers,” and how he has bathed in the pool wherein the sailors of Rā bathe, and describes all the things which he has done, including the finding of a sceptre of flint in the “furrow of Maāt.” Finally, having satisfied all the various parts of the door by declaring to them their magical names, he comes to the god Māu-taui, , who acts as guardian of the Hall of Maāti, and who refuses to allow him to pass unless he tells his name.
The deceased says,
“Thy name is Sa-ȧbu-tchār-khat,” ,
and demands to be admitted, but the god is not satisfied, and asks him,
“Who is the god that dwelleth in his hour?”
In reply the deceased utters the name Māu-taui, whereupon he is at once asked by the god,
“And who is this?”
and in answer the deceased says,
“Māu-taui is Thoth.”
On this Thoth asks the reason of his coming to the Hall, and when the deceased has told him that he has come because he wished his name to be written down by him, Thoth questions him further as to the fitness of his condition and as to the identity of the being
“whose heaven is of fire, whose walls are living uraei, and the floor of whose house is a stream of water.”
In answer to these questions he says that he is
“purified from evil things,”
and that the being whose house is described is Osiris, whereupon Thoth calls upon him to enter, saying that his name shall be “mentioned” or recorded.
Thus we see how closely the attributes of Maāt merge into those of Thoth, and how the fate of the deceased depends ultimately upon these deities. It was not, however, sufficient for him to pass the Assessors, for beyond them stood Thoth with his final, searching questions ; Thoth spake the word which caused the universe to come into being, and it was he who had the power to utter the name of the deceased in such a way that his new spiritual body would straightway come into being in the realm of Osiris.
Thoth in one respect was greater than Rā, and in another he was greater than Osiris, but both from a physical and a moral point of view he was connected inseparably with the Maāt, which was the highest conception of physical and moral law and order known to the Egyptians.
The goddess Neḥemāuait .
Now besides Maāt or the Maāti goddesses we find that there were other goddesses who were associated with Thoth in different parts of Egypt, and among these is Neḥemāuait,
who is described as the dweller in Ȧat-tchamutet, ,
and as the “holy and mighty lady in Khemennu” (Hermopolis),
and the “mistress of Per-Khemennu,”
and the “lady of Bāḥut,” ,
and “the dweller in Dendera,” .
Thus we see that she was the goddess of the great temple in the city of Thoth, i.e., Hermopolis, and that she had a shrine in Dendera, and in the metropolis of the fifteenth nome of Lower Egypt, which is here mentioned under its civil name “Bāhut” ; the sacred name of the city was Per-Teḥuti-ȧp-reḥuḥ, , i.e., “Temple of Thoth, the judge between the Reḥui (Horus and Set).” The texts described her as the “daughter of Rā,” and the manner in which she is depicted proves that she was regarded as a form of the goddess Hathor. In the examples given by Signor Lanzone she has the form of a woman, and she wears upon her head either the sistrum, , or a disk resting between a pair of horns ; in one picture a papyrus sceptre, , rests on the palm of her right hand, and a figure of Maāt, , on that of her left. A very interesting sketch also given by Signor Lanzone shows that her emblem was a Hathor-headed standard, on the top of which was a sistrum ; on
each side of the sistrum is a uraeus with a disk on its head, Ịị,
and from each side of the face of the goddess hang two similar uraei. The standard is held up in a vertical position by two men who stand one on each side. Plutarch, as Brugsch has noted, says that Typhon was driven away by a sistrum, which seems to indicate that the rattling of the wires produced a sound that had a terrifying effect upon that evil beast; ladies of high rank and priestesses are often depicted with sistra in their hands, and though this fact is usually explained by assuming that those who hold sistra assisted in the musical parts of the services in the temples, it is very probable that they carried them both as amulets and as musical instruments.
Dr. Brugsch quotes two passages from texts in which a royal personage declares that demoniacal powers are kept away from him by means of the sistrum which he holds in his hand. Neḥemāuait is not mentioned in the Book of the Dead, and it seems that she is not an ancient deity ; she is probably a comparatively modern form of some well known older goddess.
Neḥemāuait - Meḥurt
From the texts of the late dynastic period we find that she was identified with Meḥ-urt and with the goddess whose name is variously read Sefekh-āābu and Sesheta. Meh-urt,, is mentioned but rarely in the Book of the Dead (xvii. 76, 79; lxxi. 13; cxxiv. 17), but the passage in the xviith Chapter tells us exactly who she is.
The deceased says there,
“I behold Rā who was born yesterday from the buttocks of the goddess Meḥ-urt,”
and as answer to the question,
“What then is this?”
we have the words,
“It is the watery abyss of heaven, or (as others say), It is the image of the Eye of Rā in the morning at his daily birth. Meḥ-urt is the Eye (Utchat) of Rā.”
Meḥ-urt was originally a female personification of the watery matter which formed the substance of the world, and her name, which means “mighty fulness,” indicates that she was the abundant and unfailing source of the matter of every kind which was fecundated by the male germs of life of every kind ; she was, in fact, a form of the primeval female creative principle, and in some aspects was identified with Isis and Hathor. She, of course, is a later conception than Nut, or Nit (Neith), of both of whom she was also a form.
In one of the representations of the goddess figured by Signor Lanzone she is depicted in the form of a pregnant woman with full, protruding breasts, emblem of fertility, but she usually appears as the great cow of the sky, either in the form which is illustrated on p. 368, or in that given in the accompanying plate. Sometimes she has the body of a woman and the head of a cow, and then she holds in her right hand a sceptre round which is twined the stalk of a lotus flower which she appears to be smelling ; the flower itself is between, the symbols of the South and the North, and is supposed to represent the great world lotus flower, out of which rose the sun for the first time at the Creation.
The usual titles of the goddess are
“lady of heaven, mistress of all the gods, mistress of the two lands,”
but she is also said to have “existed from the beginning,” and to have helped Thoth to create the first things which appeared in Khemennu or Hermopolis. In primitive times the “weighing of words,” i.e., the examination and judgment of the dead, was believed to take place in the Hall of Meḥ-urt, which seems to prove that in very early times the attributes of Maāt were ascribed to the great goddess, whose form was the cow, and that the souls of the dead were thought to be judged in the sky.
The first conception of the Judgment was probably physical, and it was not until the period when the cult of Osiris became predominant that it assumed the character with which we are familiar from the Book of the Dead. It would seem that in the very ancient times it was the body and not the soul that was the subject of examination by the celestial powers, and this is what is to be expected in predynastic times when the theory of the resurrection then current demanded a renewed or revivified physical body.
Thoth and Sefkhet-āābut
Closely associated with Thoth in the performance of certain of his duties as the god of letters and learning, was the goddess , whose name is generally read Sefkhet-āābut,; the reading “Sesheta” has also been proposed for the hieroglyphic sign,, which forms the symbol of this goddess, but both readings are merely guesses, for the phonetic value of the sign has not yet been ascertained, and even the sign itself has not been identified. All that is certain about it is that in some pictures of the goddess the sign seems to be compounded of a pair of horns inverted over a seven-rayed star, or flower with seven petals, supported on a standard.
Dr. Brugsch believed that Sefkhet-āābut was the correct reading of the name, and that it either meant, “she who has inverted her horns,” or, “she who is provided with seven horns,” the latter meaning being suggested by the similarity of the first part of the name Sefkhet with the ordinary word for “seven.” From the pictures of the goddess and the titles which accompany them it is quite certain what her functions were. We see her wearing her characteristic symbols on her head, with a close-fitting panther skin garment upon her body, and in her hands she holds a scribe’s palette and writing reed ; in this form sheis called “the great one, the lady of the house of books,”. Thus she was a goddess of literature and the library.
Elsewhere we see her without her panther skin garment, holding a writing reed in the right hand, and the cartouche , symbolic of “name” in her left; in this form she suggests the idea of being a kind of recording angel, not so much of the deeds committed by man, but of their names, of which she, presumably, took note, that her associate Thoth might declare them before Osiris. In the title which accompanies this picture she is called “great one, lady of letters, mistress of the house of books,” . In another scene she holds a notched palm branch in her hand, and she appears to be counting the notches ; the lower end of the branch rests on the back of a frog, seated upon , the emblem of “eternity,” and from the upper end hangs the symbol of the double Set festival, .
Thus she appears in the character of the chronographer and chronologist; the use of the notched palm-branch as a symbol of the counting of years takes us back to a custom which was probably prevalent in predynastic times. In yet another scene we find the goddess standing before a column of hieroglyphics meaning “life,” and “power,” and “thirty-year festivals,” which rest upon a seated figure who holds in each hand , “life,” and who typifies “millions of years.”
In connection with this must be noted a passage in a text in which she declares to a king that she has inscribed on her register on his behalf a period of life which shall be “hundreds of thousands of thirty-year periods,” and has ordained that his years shall be upon the earth like the years of Rā, i.e., that he shall live for ever.
In the Book of the Dead (lvii. 6) the deceased says,
“My mouth and my nostrils are opened in Ṭaṭṭu, and I have my place of peace in Ȧnnu, wherein is my house ; it was built for me by the goddess Sefekh-āābut (or Sesheta), and the god Khnemu set it up for me upon its walls.”
And again he says (clii. 3),
“The goddess Sefekh-āābut hath brought the god Nebṭ, and Ȧnpu (Anubis) hath called unto the Osiris Nu (i.e., to me) to build a house on the earth. Its foundation is in Kher-āḥa, its shrine is the god Sekhem, who dwelleth in Sekhem, according to that which I have written the renewal thereof, and men and women bring offerings, and libations, and ministrants.
And Osiris saith unto all the gods who are in his train, and who journey [with him],
‘Behold ye the house which hath been built for a spirit who is well-equipped, and who cometh daily to renew himself among you.’”
In the clxixth Chapter (line 18) the goddess is said to be seated before the deceased, and the goddess Sa protects his members.
These passages show that Sefekh-āābut was supposed to be the “goddess of construction,” , and she would thus be a suitable counterpart of Thoth, and one fitted to carry out his commands concerning the Creation. It is, however, certain from many passages that her chief duties were connected with the writing of history, and happy was the king who was fortunate enough to have his deeds recorded by the fingers of the goddess herself, and his abode in the next world built on the plan which she drew up in accordance with her attributes as the inventor of letters, the lady of the builder’s measure, and the founder of architecture.
In a text quoted by Brugsch she declares to Seti that her words concerning him shall never be gainsaid, that her hand shall set down in writing his fame after the manner of her brother Thoth, and all according to the decree of Tem. She was identified with the goddess Renenet, , and with Isis, and at Dendera she is called the “daughter of Nut;” at Lycopolis she was regarded as the sister of Osiris, and the mother of Ḥeru-nub, (PLAATJE), or the “Horus of gold.”
Thoth and Unnut
Yet another goddess must be mentioned in connection with . Maāt and Thoth, that is to say, Unnut,, the lady of Unnu,, who must not be confused with Unnut, the goddess of the hours, who is depicted in the form of a woman with a star upon her head. The former goddess has, on the other hand, the body of a woman with the head of a hare, and she usually holds in each hand a knife,; sometimes she holds a sceptre in one hand, and, “life,” in the other. One aspect of her, i.e., that of the goddess who destroys with her knives, was identified with Sekhet, , and in this form she was the deity of the city Menhet, .
From a passage in the cxxxviith Chapter of the Book of the Dead we may gain some idea of the antiquity of the goddess Unnut, for towards the end of the rubric (line 38) it is said that the Chapter was found in the handwriting of the god Thoth in the temple of “Unnut, lady of Unnu,” , by Ḥeru-ṭāṭā-f, the son of Khufu, i.e., Cheops, a king of the IVth Dynasty. Thus it is clear that even in that remote period a temple in honour of the goddess existed at Unnu, i.e., Hermopolis, or the city of Thoth. Unnu, as we know, was the chief city of the nome Un, the chief local god of which was depicted in the form of a hare,, and Unnut is the female counterpart of the god Unnu, and was the old local goddess of the metropolis of the nome.
In the vignette of the cxth Chapter of the Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani, pi. 35) we see the deceased standing with hands raised in adoration before three seated deities, the first having the head of a hare, the second that of a snake, and the third that of a bull; behind him stands the god Thoth with palette and reed, but whether he is in any way connected with the three gods cannot be said. A hare-headed god is also seen as one of the group of three gods who preside over one of the Ārits in the Underworld; according to the Papyrus of Ani it is the first Ārit, and according to the Papyrus of Nu it is the second.
At Dendera a hareheaded god is seen wrapped in mummy swathings, with his hands in such a position that they suggest his identification with Osiris, and an attempt has been made to show in connexion with this representation that the hare-headed god was called Un, that this name appears in the compound name “Un-nefer,” the well-known title of Osiris, that the hare-god Un was only another form of Osiris, and that the name Un was applied to Osiris because he “sprang up,” like the hare, which, as the rising sun, is said to be the “springer.”
According to this view the goddess Unnut would be a female form of the hare-god Un or Unnu. but Brugsch’s opinion which makes her to be the goddess of the city of Unnu, or Hermopolis, is more correct, especially when we remember that the cities Ȧn, and Ȧpt, and Beḥuṭet, etc., possessed goddesses of the city which were called Ȧnit, and Ȧpit, and Beḥuṭit. We have already seen that the goddess Maāt had two forms, i.e., Maāt of the South and Maāt of the North, and similarly we find that Unnut had two forms, one of which belonged to Hermopolis ofthe South, and the other to Hermopolis of the North, the Unnu meḥt of the text, i.e., Hermopolis Parva, wherein Thoth was worshipped under the form of Ȧp-reḥui, , together with his female counterpart Neḥemāuait.
Footnotes and references:
See Lanzone, op. cit, p. 1265.
See Lanzone, op. cit., pl. 402 f.
Compare Brugsch, Religion, p. 439.
Op. cit., p. 1265.
See Brugsch, Religion, p. 441
Religion, p, 443.
Op. cit., pl. 404, No. 1.
Ibid., pll. 402 ff.
La Mythologie Égyptienne, p. 257.
See L.. W King, Babylonian Religion, p. 71.
See the passages enumerated in my Vocabulary to the Book of the Dead, p. 96.
Chapters of Coming Forth by Day (Translation), p. cxcvii.
For the figures see Lanzone, op. cit., pll. 36 ff.
Op. cit., pi. 39.
The head and name of the fourth god are wanting.
Unȧs, 1. 37 · the reference given by Brugsch is, like many others in his Religion, incorrect.
On the Books of Thoth, see some interesting remarks by Brugsch in Religion und Mythólogie, pp. 448 ff.; this distinguished Egyptologist thought he had discovered the original hieroglyphic titles of many of these inscribed on the walls of the temple of Edfû.
A number of valuable facts have been collected on the subject generally by Pietschmann, in his Hermes Trismegistus, nach aegyptischen, griechischen und orientalischen Ueberliefungen, 1875.
Papyrus of Ani, sheet 1.
An English translation will be found in my Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 193 ff.
Dizionario, pl. 174; and see Brugsch, Religion, p. 471.
The Methyer (Μεθύερ) of Plutarch.
Op. cit., pl. 131 ff.
For all these pictures see Lanzone, op. cit., pl. 340.
See Brugsch, Religion, p. 474.
See Lanzone, op. cit., pi. 52.
See Renouf in Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch., vol. ix., pp. 281-294.
Brugsch, Religion, p. 477 ; de Rougé, Géogrophie, pp. 30, 102.