Patrons of writing and teaching: Thoth

Among the many, many files on my computer, I have a collection of seemingly frivolous notes and scribbles related to writing, which I insist are vital to what I do and will someday, surely, come in handy.  Mostly, I’m wrong.  But every now and then, as I’m cleaning out my files and tossing the lists of character names and writing exercises and newspaper articles, I come across something truly unnecessary but personally delightful.  Today, for instance, I found my list of writing and teaching “patrons.”

I started this list a few years ago when I first started this blog (when it was at its original site).  At the time, I was using as my profile pic an image of Je Tsongkhapa, a renowned Buddhist teacher, and one of my initial posts served to explain why.  The short version:  As a manifestation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of writing, poetry, and knowledge, Tsongkhapa was not only a renowned teacher but also a famous Buddhist poet, and he remains among my favorite authors and poets.  He feels special to me.  And I started thinking about how he–or rather, Manjushri through him–was a kind of Buddhist “patron saint” of writers and teachers.

So I looked up the Catholic patron saint of writers and teachers, and then I looked up Hindu gods special to teaching and writing, and from there the project snowballed until I had a list of such patrons, images scattered in a Word document filled with typed notes.

And I thought it might be fun to share them here.

So, having already written about Tsongkhapa, let me begin here with the bookmark that hangs on my writing desk at home:  Thoth.

Detail of the god Thoth from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer 19th Dynasty British Museum EA 9901/3 Room 62, Egyptian Funerary Archaeology, Case 24, No. 8

Thoth is an Egyptian god, ranked by some as the third most powerful or important male god in the Egyptian pantheon (behind Ra and his son Horus).  He is known by countless titles, but the one I like best is “Lord of Divine Words.” He is a kind of celestial librarian, really, simultaneous protector and disseminator of religious wisdom through writing.  The ancient Egyptians (and indeed the Greeks) credited him with inventing writing and language, and he is the god of almost everything related to education, religion, or the written or oral arts:  science and math, including astronomy, botany, geometry, land surveying, mathematics, and medicine; religion, including astrology, magic, and theology; philosophy and politics; and the literary arts, including the alphabet, oratory, reading, and writing.

According to some sources, Thoth also began his career as a moon god, the flip-side of Ra’s sun, and so I suppose he’s also especially important to those of us writers who prefer to write late, late into the night.

Best of all, he’s also a key figure in the Amduat, the description of Ra’s passage through the Underworld in the Egyptian “Book of the Dead.”  I say best of all because I am today returning to a long and difficult revision of my novel, which describes a woman’s harrowing passage through her afterlife and which mirrors in some ways the descriptions in the Amduat.  It’s time I got back to that revision now, in fact, and I’m going to need Thoth’s help.

Look for more writing and teaching patrons in future posts!

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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