Egyptian God Thoth: Emerald Tablets, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

Thoth was the ancient Egyptian god of writing and knowledge. He is believed to have invented hieroglyphics and written tablets that contained secrets of the world. Read on to learn more about Thoth and these tablets.

Thoth, God of Writing

Have you ever wondered who created hieroglyphics, the complex writing system composed of symbols that the ancient Egyptians used? According to Egyptian religious tradition, the creator of hieroglyphics was Thoth, the god of writing and knowledge. There are various stories on how Thoth came to be. Some say he created himself through the power of language, speaking himself into being—which fits with his role as the god of knowledge.

Others claim he was born from the forehead of Set, the god of war and chaos, as a product of the falcon-headed sky god Horus. Horus is representative of order, and this union of chaos and order is key to Thoth's being. Thoth had several consorts, and, according to some accounts, he fathered Seshat, the goddess of writing, and Ra, the sun god.

Egyptian hieroglyphics, attributed to the god Thoth
Weighing of a heart by Maat, with Anubis on the right keeping records

Thoth's Role in Egypt

Regardless of whichever story or consort is associated with Thoth, this god was one of the popular in all of Egypt. He was worshiped as early as the sixth millennium BCE until the fall of the Persian Empire in the first century BCE—this is one of the longest periods any Egyptian god was worshiped continuously. He was probably worshiped as a local deity in Khemenu in southern Egypt before he became a national god. His name was even used in naming pharaohs, like ''Thutmose,'' whose name means ''born of Thoth.''

Thoth's Appearance and Other Names

You have probably seen images of Thoth before: he is typically depicted with the head of an ibis, a water bird with a long bill in the same order as a pelican. In fact, his Egyptian name, Djehuly, literally means ''he who is like the ibis.'' Thoth is also depicted as a baboon, in some images.

Thoth occasionally takes on the form of A'an, where he acts as a judge of the dead along with Osiris. His embodiment of knowledge and balance is particularly important for this judge roles, and the dead often seek his intercession in the underworld for their evil deeds.

Depiction of Thoth with an ibis head
Depiction of Thoth with an ibis head

The Emerald Tablets

Authorship

Image how intriguing a text would be that talked about mysterious objects and concepts, like the Philosopher's Stone and the Lost City of Atlantis. This text is referred to as the Emerald Tablets, an ancient text supposedly carved into emerald or green stone, though the actual tablets have never been found.

No one is sure when the tablets were actually written, but they were attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, or ''Hermes, the Thrice-Great.'' Thoth's Greek counterpart is Hermes; thus, he is often considered the divine author of this mysterious text. The texts begin with ''I, Thoth, the Atlantean, give of my wisdom, give of my knowledge, give of my power.''

Knowledge and Secrets

The Emerald Texts focus on teaching secrets about the world and teach alchemy, or how to transform substances into other, usually more valuable, substances. One of these alchemical teachings was how to make a Philosopher's Stone, a legendary stone that could transform base metals into gold and grant immortality.

The texts call the reader to look within themselves to find the secrets of the world, saying, ''Desireth thou to know the deep, hidden secret? Look in thy heart where the knowledge is bound. Know that in thee the secret is hidden, the source of all life and the source of all death.''

One of the key concepts of the obscure texts is grasping knowledge or wisdom, which is related to or contained in the ''Light'' that the texts reference. For example, the author writes, ''I, THOTH, have ever sought wisdom, searching in darkness and searching in Light.''

The purpose of the text, we find, is to call readers to remember the magic of the past that has been forgotten: ''Hark ye, O man, to the wisdom of magic. Hark the knowledge of powers forgotten.''

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