Monday, July 2, 2012

Thoth - The Ibis-Headed Egyptian Neter (God):
Symbolism, Mythology and Mysticism

Thoth is one of the oldest Neters, or deities, worshipped in Ancient
Egypt where he also was called Djehuti.

Thoth is usually portrayed as having the body of a man and the
head of an ibis. The man's body tells us that he represents
masculine aspects of nature. The head of the ibis tells us that
Thoth is associated with the principles and aspects of this bird
which was sacred to the Ancient Egyptians.

Thoth was later called Hermes by the Greeks and Mercury by the
Romans. Therefore the aspects attributed to both Hermes and
Mercury are the same attributes which were originally attributed to

Thoth is the deity who is recognized for bestowing all arts and
sciences unto mankind. This includes, but is not limited to,
art, music, writing, speech, communication, Words, Symbols,
numbers, mathematics, geometry, counting, measuring, land
surveying, astronomy, astrology, science, logic, medicine,
magic and the mystical arts.

It is because Thoth bestowed such an enormous amount of
knowledge and Wisdom upon humanity that he was recognized
and honored as a great magician. This is made clear to us by
one of the titles originally attributed to him: Ur heka.

When we analyze the title Ur heka we get the following definition:
Ur translates as first, original or primary. Heka is the Egyptian
Neter (god / Divine Principle) of Magic.

Therefore, Ur heka translates thusly: "The original Neter, or the
original Divine Principle, of Magic". This tells us that Thoth is the
primal or primary source (a "fountain" - if you will) from which all
of theLessons and secrets of the cosmos are made available to

It is important at this point that we define and understand the
true original meaning of the words Magic, Magician and Magi.

A Magician is someone who is the master of magic; a master
of mysteries both terrestrial and celestial. Someone who
understands and is able to make use of the secret powers and
energies that are constantly flowing within and between the
cosmic and earthly realms.

This includes, but again is not limited to, the mastery of herbs,
potions, healing practices and purification practices along with a
thorough knowledge of all the arts and sciences mentioned above.

Magic, in its true original sense, is the knowledge and
understanding of not only the movements of the universe and the
Cycles of Time, but also the secret and sacred powers and
forces contained within all things celestial and terrestrial...hidden
and tangible...visible and invisible...esoteric and exoteric.

Magi is the plural of Magician. And, in Christian lore, we find the
Three Magi, or Three Wise men, bringing gifts to the Christ child
of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

We are now beginning to understand what a powerful deity
Thoth was to the Ancient Egyptians. However, there is more to
this Neter Thoth, much more.

Thoth, as a bestower of all primordial knowledge and Wisdom,
is portrayed with a man's body; for the act of bestowing is a
masculine aspect of nature.

And because the knowledge and Wisdom he bestowed to mankind
occurred in the realm of duality - the realm of Cycles, Time,
movement and measurement - Thoth was portrayed with the head
of the ibis bird; a bird which also has many additional attributes
and behaviors which are also Symbolic of the knowledge and
Wisdom associated with this beneficient deity, Thoth.

The beak of the ibis is curved, or crescent-shaped; a shape which
is Symbolic of the Moon. This tells us that Thoth is a lunar deity.
Now the question may arise, "but isn't the Moon a feminine aspect
of nature?". The answer is "yes".

However, as all creation occupies the realm of duality, no one
"thing" is either wholly masculine or feminine. All masculine
aspects contain a feminine portion, and all feminine aspects
contain a masculine portion. This is portrayed for us within the
Symbol of Yin and Yang.

Although the Moon is receptive to the light of the Sun (a feminine
aspect), once that light radiates from the Moon in order to
eventually penetrate into the Earth it then becomes a masculine
aspect; similar to the masculine aspect of the sunlight radiating
from the Sun.

The curved beak of the ibis is Symbolic of the crescent-shape
of the Moon which we are all familiar with. The Moon is crescent-
shaped for the majority of its visible time; either the lighted portion
is in a crescent shape, or the dark portion is in a crescent shape.

It is this crescent shape of the Moon, which changes in measure
every night, that Symbolizes the marking, or "notching", of Time
during either its waxing or waning phases. Lunar calendars, from
the beginning of history, are calculated and measured based
upon the different nightly appearances, or phases, of the Moon.

This cyclical "marking of time", which is a lunar aspect, is
Symbolic of mathematics, counting, measuring, and numbers;
aspects which are attributed to Thoth. By using a celestial body,
the Moon, to accomplish these "markings" the sciences of
astronomy and astrology also become associated with Thoth.

The ibis is also a wading bird. It therefore has its head above the
water, its legs in the water and its feet firmly planted in the earth

Symbolically, these aspects of the ibis represent the following:

The head, which is also a Symbol for the mind, occupies the
higher realm of Air. And the Element of Air represents the realm
of Thoughts, the super-conscious, the spiritual, and the heavenly.
Air also contains the unseen realm of Aether wherein all creative
aspects of the arts and sciences reside; aspects associated with

The legs occupy the realm of Water. Water represents the
Sub-Conscious: the realm of intuition, feelings and insight

The feet are firmly planted into the ground below the Water.
The ground represents the Earth along with everything associated
with the Earth. This includes the visible and consious realm above
the Earth's surface along with the unseen realm below the Earth's
surface: the underworld. The unseen realm of the underworld is
what the Ancient Egyptians associated with the twilight realm of
our spiritual respite between Incarnations.

Thus, by way of the Symbolism of the ibis, Thoth represents the
power and ability to maneuver comfortably within, and Travel freely
and unimpeded throughout, all realms of creation: the unseen
realms of the spiritual, mental, and Sub-Conscious (Aether, Air and
Water), the visible realm of matter (Earth), and the twilight realm of
the Underworld.

Another aspect of the ibis is that, as it probes the water looking for
bugs and insects to feed upon, it appears to be drawing designs
upon the surface of the water; a behavior which makes it appear
as if it is writing, painting, drawing or creating heiroglyphs - aspects
which are also associated with Thoth.

Most of us are familiar with Hermes; the later Greek aspect of Thoth.
Hermes is the Greek god who has wings on his feet and helmet and
is referred to as "the messenger of the gods". Hermes, like Thoth,
is one of the very few deities who could travel freely and unrestricted
throughout all three realms of nature: heaven (Mount Olympus: home
of the gods), earth and the underworld. And because he was able to
travel unimpeded throughout all realms he was recognized, and
worshipped, as the guardian of roads and travelers.

There is an esoteric Lesson contained within this particular aspect
of Thoth-Hermes: in freely traveling between the underworld and the
earthly realm Thoth-Hermes is the Neter, or Divine Principle, who
assists us in entering and exiting, without restriction, our
Sub-Conscious (our underworld) in order to obtain all the knowledge,
Wisdom and information which is contained and hidden within this

In addition, this Divine Principle, Thoth-Hermes, is the Spiritual
Guide who we can call upon to assist us in accessing the higher,
and highest, realms of consciousness in order to obtain whatever
enlightenment we may be Seeking from these higher realms.

Also as "Messenger of the gods", Thoth-Hermes is the diety who
shares information (communication) not only between the gods,
but also between heaven and earth (mental and spiritual messages),
and the underworld and earth (Sub-Conscious messages) as well.
In this aspect he is the Messenger, the Bringer, the Communicator
to mankind of all Cosmic Laws, Divine Principles, Spiritual Truths,
and Esoteric (hidden) Knowledge.

Among the numerous titles assigned to Thoth we find the following:

Inventor of Writing, Keeper of Records, Scribe of Truth, Record
Keeper of the Underworld, Lord of Wisdom, Creator of Sacred
Words and of Secret Writing, God of Chronology, God of
Counting, and Inventor of Hieroglyphic Writing

Thoth, as the "marker of time" is often depicted holding the stem
of a palm leaf. This stem contains sharply pointed protrusions on
both sides of the stem. These protrusions are equally spaced
along the length of the stem and are similar therefore to our
modern day ruler or yardstick.

Thoth is often portrayed as "notching time", etching counts,
marking Events, recording historical deeds and measuring the
rulership of a pharaoh or the life-span of an individual into the
stem of a palm leaf.

Again this "notching", or "counting", or "marking" is Symbolically
similar to the crescent-shape changes of the waxing and waning
moon as it passes through the nightly phases of its cycle.

Ancient Egyptian art in the Egyptian Book of the Dead contains
the scene of Thoth "notching", or recording, the result of the
Ritual called the Weighing of the Heart as the heart of the recently
deceased pharaoh is weighed against the Feather of Maat.

As previously mentioned, the Roman Mercury is the modern day
counter part of Egyptian Thoth. Mercury is associated with the
mind and therefore controls communication, information, thought,
clear thinking, reasoning, logic, negotiation and discrimination;
all of which are aspects of Thoth.

Mercury is also the astrological ruler of the constellation Gemini.
Gemini is a dual sign (Castor and Pollux). Mercury, as ruler of a
dual sign, enables those who are truly in Harmony with Mercury,
and therefore Thoth, to properly evaluate both sides of any issue
and communicate correctly.

Hermes is also the source of the modern term "hermetically sealed"
which also means "tightly sealed". Therefore, esoterically,
"tightly sealed" refers to anything which is hidden or Secret -
an aspect of the dark side of the Moon (Lunar Thoth). In this case
it refers to hidden or secret knowledge and information (both Thoth
aspects) which can only be opened by, or revealed to, a select
worthy Initiate.

The mythologies, Symbolism, mysticism and mysteries which are
associated with Thoth, and his later Greek and Roman counterparts
of Hermes and Mercury, are far too vast to be covered in one single

Therefore, those who are interested in discovering further, and
similarly deep, aspects of this ancient and powerful deity named
Thoth, along with his later counterparts Hermes and Mercury, will
find themselves informed, amazed and enlightened should they
Choose to delve into the legends, mythologies and lore of this
ancient, dynamic and powerful Egyptian Neter.

Added on December 24, 2012:
As the Moon is the reflector of the Sun's perpetual light, the light
which supplies brightness to the dark night, Thoth, as a moon-god,
Symbolizes the reflection of Divine Light. And, in this aspect, he
is the bringer, or conduit, of all eternal Truth, Wisdom and
knowledge (light, enlightenment) to mankind.

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Disclaimer: None of my articles should be considered to be
either advice or expertise. They are simply personal opinions
and no more. Everyone is encouraged to seek competent
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should such advice or service be required.

© copyright Joseph Panek 2012
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Unknown said...

I was drawn to this article I believe to help a friend understand his gravitation toward Egyptian symbolism that has come through to him from the collective unconscious. I found the article truly thought provoking and will be returning to read more. Thank you very much to your contribution.

Jaded Gypsy said...

Your thoughts and explanations are intriguing. You write in a very clear, easy to understand manor and I hope to visit again to explore more of your topics soon. Thank you for sharing.

Diana said...

Thank you for this article. I have searched through hundreds of articles before I finally found one that explains the meaning of the Ibis in Egyptian Mythology. Such great info!