Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: Thoth: The History of the Ancient Egyptian God of Wisdom

Thoth: The History of the Ancient Egyptian God of Wisdom
Lesley Jackson
Avalonia Books,

Thoth is a god that I’ve worked with from time to time in my spiritual practice, so when the opportunity came to review this book, I was totally thrilled.

When you do Internet research on a god or goddess, what you get is a hodgepodge of information coming from sources that may be questionable, and often comes out as “what [god or goddess] means to me”. Spiritually, that isn’t totally lacking in value, of course, but from a historical perspective it’s a letdown. Secretly, I was hoping that I wouldn’t be disappointed with the book for that reason.

Luckily, that feeling was dispelled about 30 seconds after I opened the book. I was very impressed with the scholarly nature of this work. Jackson does a fantastic job of sourcing and footnoting the heck out of this topic, and includes an awesome bibliography and index to boot.  This author has done her research, and it made you feel confident as you progressed through the work that you had made a good choice. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth here.

While the book is well documented, I found it to be a lot less dry than most history books I have read. Part of it, I think, is that Jackson doesn’t focus on the life of Thoth, but starts from the beginning and breaks up the topics nicely. After the introduction, the first chapter is on “The Names of Thoth”, which I found totally fascinating. You may have heard of “Golden One”, but I must admit that “Counter of the Stars”, “Master of Papyrus”, and “Expert One” were new for me.

Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the god, and while many might sit down and read this cover-to-cover, I definitely skipped around to parts that interested me first and foremost. I started with Chapter 3 on “Symbolism”, which includes a brief introduction to iconography, a topic that may be new to many readers. My next stop, and the place where I lingered the most, was Chapter 11 on relationships. Thoth’s consorts and interactions with the various members of the Egyptian pantheon are detailed here.

If you have a short attention span—in this day and age of the Internet, tablet computers, text messaging and videoconferencing, many of us suffer from it, at least from time to time—you have nothing to worry about. Not only will the book keep your attention, but it has frequent breaks and paragraph titles to remind you of where you are and where you’re going.

In addition to lightening the tone of the book, the other advantage of the breaks is that you can easily find information you are looking for. If I’m doing a spell or ritual, for example, and I want to know how Isis and Thoth interacted, I just look in the index for “Isis”, and there is a list of page numbers.
One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the comparison between Thoth and the Greek god Hermes, who was their god of wisdom. I would have never considered the two equivalents, so that will definitely help me spiritually moving forward as I work with both of them.

The inclusion of “Hymns and Prayers to Thoth” in the appendix was another fantastic find. These are translations and were included from J.L. Foster’s book, Hymns, Prayers, and Songs, which of course I’ll now have to pick up as well. I would strongly urge readers to keep your notepad or computer “wish list” handy when reading through this book; there are a few more books you’ll likely want to buy.

If you are at all interested in Thoth in particular or in the history of ancient Egypt, I’d definitely pick this book up. I highly recommend it. 

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