Thoth - God of Wisdom, Time, Writing and the Moon
head of an ibis
Thoth invented hieroglyphs, the picture writing of Ancient Egypt. He was the measurer of the earth and the counter of the stars, the keeper and recorder of all knowledge. The ibis is a bird rather like a stork, with long legs and a long beak which it uses for prodding in the mud to find small fish. It was a symbol of wisdom and learning because it has a beak shaped like a pen which it dips in the mud, as if it was ink.
The Book of Thoth had two spells in it. If you read the first spell aloud, you would be able to understand every beast and bird, and summon the fishes in the sea. If you read the second spell, you could bring the dead to life. Prince Setna, the son of a Pharaoh, knew the book was hidden in a royal tomb in the City of the Dead. With his brother Anhurerau, he broke into the tomb of Neferkeptah. When they found the burial chamber, they saw the mummy of Neferkaptah, and his wife and young son. The wife spoke to them, and warned them against taking the book of Thoth. She said that her husband had stolen the Book from Thoth, and had read the spells, but Thoth was angry and had drowned her and her son in the Nile, and Neferkeptah had then killed himself. But Setna ignored her and moved towards the Book. The mummy of Neferkaptah sat
up and said "Play me at four games of draughts. If you win, you can take the Book." Setna was terrified, but agreed. He played the first game, and lost. He started to sink into the ground, up to his ankles. Then he lost the next game, and sunk up to his hips. As he was losing the third game, he shouted to his brother, "Run and fetch my magic amulets. Only they can save me!" He then sank into the ground up to his chin. His brother ran out of the tomb. Setna played the fourth game as slowly as he could, trying desperately not to lose, but the mummy was too good at draughts. Just as he had nearly lost for the final time, his brother Anhurerau returned with the amulets, and put them on Setna's head. The spell was broken, and Setna grabbed the Book of Thoth, and ran as hard as he could out of the tomb.
As Setna tried to read the Book, he saw a beautiful woman walking past. He fell in love with her, and tried to persuade her to marry him. She demanded that he kill his existing wife and children. Completely besotted with her, he agreed. When he had done this, she vanished, and he was appalled at what he had done. But he discovered that it was all a dream. He realised that
he was being punished for stealing the Book of Thoth, and next time it might not be a dream, so he returned the Book to the tomb of Neferkeptah and resealed the burial chamber. Ever since then, no-one has seen the Book of Thoth.
The magic amulet may have been a scarab. The scarab or dung beetle makes a ball of dung by rolling it along the ground, and then lays its eggs in it. The Ancient Egyptians imagined a scarab rolling the sun across the sky.