Saturday, June 30, 2012

The God of the Machine

Not the most flattering image of my desk.

Meet Thoth.

When living with a Egyptologist, it's tough to void picking up knowledge about the gods, no matter how skeptical or how much of an atheist one is. While Ancient Egypt has always fascinated me, I have become very familiar with the likes of Anubis, Bastet, Horus, Ma'at – and now Thoth.

This particular depiction was given to me as a Birthday present - in part because Thoth is the Egyptian god of scribes, science, and technology. It's important that you read that last part, because when I was told Toth's purview, I had to do some research.

Unlike Christian Saints, where the sphere of influence is skewed as much as possible to include various modern things (such as St. Christopher for driving, or Saint Isodore as the Saint of the Internet), the Egyptian gods had very fundamental spheres which covered a broad scope. Ma'at, for example, is the goddess of Truth, Law, and Order. These are very basic and powerful concepts.

The Ancient Egyptians, despite what you may see in some far-fetched, speculative History Channel shows, had an extremely organized and practical culture. (On a side note, claiming that aliens designed large monumental structures only devalues the proven notion that humans were capable of undertaking such feats of engineering, and demonstrates grand scale levels of self-loathing.) Yes, they recognized the importance of the ritual (much like one reads the news in the morning with a cup of coffee before venturing out in the world), but only for practical purposes.

Civilizations do not span 4,000 plus years without some foundation in medicine and science, and apparently these were things that were important enough to warrant their own deities. Thoth was the embodiment of technology, writing and science – and in looking at other pantheons that existed at the time (or even today's monotheistic religions and their saints), I've yet to run across one that had a deity specifically for science and technology from the get go. Usually, gods were given to “medicine,” magic, and “the unknown,” spheres which can be broadened and interpreted in various ways to include things such as science and technology, but never specifically designated to preside over such things. (It should also be noted that I am by no means an expert, so if anyone has any historical information to add to this, please let me know.)

Does this mean I've become some pagan, or heathen, or whatever the popular term is for someone who worships a deity other than some invisible sky daddy? No. As a matter of fact, you will find that I believe in very little outside of what can be proved (though Newtonian physics has ruined the best of my plans). I am not a Wiccan. I am not an Odinist. I am not a Buddhist, Hindu, or follower of the Aten.

This does not mean I am ignorant of these cultures. As a matter of fact, one of my hobbies is tracing modern religions back through the ages. Taking Christianity as we know it today and following the various branches to the Schism in The Church, and before that the Council of Nicaea, and even further back to Mithras (yes, I do enjoy the research that Barbara Walker has done on religions) and the cults that sprang up in Rome, and the parallels in Ancient Egyptian mythology, are all things that fascinate me. It's why some people read comic books that tell origin stories of various characters.

On the surface, Thoth is an anthropomorphic ibis holding a scroll and a stylus. To me, that's just cool. The fact that 3,500 ago, a culture recognized the importance of writing, technology, and science is not only cool, but it trumps many “modern” regions in the world today where people would rather trade knowledge for faith.

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