Book of Thoth

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Thoth, the author of the Book of Thoth

Book of Thoth is a name given to several ancient Egyptian texts supposed to have been written by Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and knowledge. They include many texts that were claimed to exist by ancient authors.

Egyptian magical text

The Egyptians stored many texts, on a wide range of subjects, in "Houses of Life," the libraries contained within temple complexes. As Thoth was the god of knowledge, many of these texts were said to be written by him. The Egyptian historian Manetho said that Thoth wrote 36,525 books. In reality, given the conception of scribes in the context of the ancient Egyptian religion, any text written by a priest of Thoth would have been considered to have been written by Thoth himself. The Egyptians believed that Thoth spoke through his priests and the writing which emanated from their hands was sacred and holy. This is why the creation of formal hieroglyphics was a sacred art practiced only by a very limited number of people.

The church father Clement of Alexandria, in the sixth book of his work Stromata, mentions forty-two books used by Egyptian priests that he says contain "the whole philosophy of the Egyptians." All these books, according to Clement, were written by Hermes Trismegistus. Translation from Egyptian language and concepts to Greek language and concepts was not entirely accurate, and some Egyptian authenticity was lost. Among the subjects they cover are hymns, rituals, temple construction, astrology, geography, and medicine.

The Egyptologists Richard Lewis Jasnow and Karl-Theodor Zauzich have dubbed a long Egyptian text from the Ptolemaic period "the Book of Thoth." This Demotic text, known from more than forty fragmentary copies, consists of a dialogue between a person called "The-one-who-loves-knowledge" and a figure that Jasnow and Zauzich identify as Thoth. The topics of their conversation include the work of scribes, various aspects of the gods and their sacred animals, and the Duat, the realm of the dead.

Connection with the Tarot

In the late 1700s, several French authors, including Etteilla and Antoine Court de Gébelin, believed that the Tarot contained the entirety of the Book of Thoth disguised in the form of cards. They claimed to have decoded the hidden messages in the Tarot which had been passed down through the ages. However, their deciphering of hieroglyphics was complete nonsense. Later occultists repeated these claims without any evidence.

A.E. Waite called the connection between the Tarot and ancient Egyptian magic a complete fabrication exploited by publishers for the sole purpose of selling more decks.

Aleister Crowley's Book of Thoth

The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians is the title of a book by English author and occultist Aleister Crowley. It was first published in 1944 in an edition limited to 200 numbered and signed copies. The original signed limited edition was bound in Moroccan leather and printed on pre-wartime paper. Crowley sold £1,500 worth of the edition (equal to £57,540 in 2013) in less than three months.

This book describes the philosophy and the use of Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot, a deck of Tarot cards designed by Crowley himself and co-designed and painted by Lady Frieda Harris. The Thoth Tarot has become one of the best-selling and most popular Tarot Decks in the world.

In popular culture

The Book of Thoth is often featured in fiction with Egyptian or supernatural themes. It is mentioned in several stories by H. P. Lovecraft, most notably "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," where it is linked with Yog-Sothoth, an alien entity worshiped by sages and magicians.

In the 1932 film, The Mummy, and its various adaptations, the "Scroll of Thoth" was used to bring the dead back to life.