The time of the Ancient Egyptians has long fascinated me. I grew up with stories of Tutankhamun, of the moment when Howard Carter peered through the tiny chink in that wall in the Valley of the Kings – and saw, for the first time in thousands of years, all those wonderful things.
Decades before I became involved in the world of the Mystery Traditions – in which the Egyptian tradition forms such an important part – I was drawn to these wonderful beings: to their towering statures, their animal heads and their odd familiarity.
In 1972, when I was fourteen, my family and I were lucky enough to be in London for the Exhibition of Tutankhamun’s Death Mask and other treasures – and I can still recall my feelings of being swept away, far far away, into another time and place.
Because I lived in Oxford, I was able to go to the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums regularly – and I absolutely adored looking at the mummies, the sarcophagi, the grave goods from the great Pharaohs.
My mother taught in Alexandria for a while, back in the fifties; in fact, she met my father, who was a Captain in the Army at the time, in Cairo.
Whilst she was in Egypt, she visited the Valley of the Kings, the Cairo Museum – and walked up a Pyramid, meeting, half way up, an elderly Egyptian man, dressed in traditional white djellabah, who, to her great shock, had no nose: Leprosy, she assumed, probably rightly.
The gods were, in those days, more shadowy figures in the vast tapestry of my imagination. At twelve, thirteen, fourteen, having given up on Christianity, I was not much interested in finding replacements from other traditions, no matter how inherently worthwhile and interesting!
I have now made my peace with gods old and new! All are one anyway!
But, something of the musty dusty dinosaur and shrunken-headed mystery of those wonderful Oxford museums has remained; something of every piece of that long gone civilisation glimpsed in museums up and down the land has added a stitch here, a stitch there – but, so subtly, that it took me nearly fifty years to see the pattern in all its beauty.
Thoth, then! I would, had this not been a random placement of finger upon book, have preferred Osiris, Isis or Sekhmet – but, Thoth I was given. And, to my surprise, he has yielded some really apt information.
With his Ibis head (birds, in the general sense, symbolise the soul, the higher self – and frequently are seen as psychopomps), and the Moon/Sun headdress, he is a strange, powerful, even formidable figure. He is associated with magic, with the formation of the written word and with the judgement of the dead. He and Ma’at stood one on either side of Ra’s boat.
He holds the was in one hand and the ankh in the other.
As this is a response to ‘Bookworm’, I will not go any deeper into the symbolism of this god.
What I will say is this: looking at the image on this page makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Not fear. Respect and an acknowledgement of something incredibly ancient and powerful.
I do feel, however, that my choice of this word, this image, this Once and Future Deity, is no accident.
He has, I am sure, reappeared for a purpose.