The Ancient Egyptian god Thoth, a god of writing, wisdom, and hidden knowledge, was often shown as a type of bird called an ibis, or as a man with the head of an ibis (he might also be depicted as a baboon). Ibises were common along the banks of the Nile in Ancient Egypt, but are not confined to that region. While you may not see them every day, this type of bird is not uncommon in Southeast Louisiana. You can imagine my delight, as an Egyptologist who had seen images of Thoth enumerable times, at happening past this flock of ibises one day in City Park. It was the very first time that I saw this type of bird up close and in person.
Histories of the Krewe of Thoth generally do not specify why the krewe chose to name itself after this ancient deity. However, it is a fitting choice for its name, since Thoth was a divine physician, caring for other deities, while the Krewe of Thoth still focuses on bringing Mardi Gras to people whose ailments would otherwise keep them from being able to attend a parade. Just as the Krewe of Thoth is an important and very popular parade during Carnival (but is not the crowning parade of Mardi Gras Day) so too the ancient deity for which it is named was pivotal in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, though he was generally (with some exceptions) not considered a supreme, creator deity.
In addition to his role as divine physician, in which he healed prominent deities such as Isis and Horus, Thoth had many other characteristics. He was a mediator between the rivals Horus and Seth, setting an example of an impartial judge and incorruptible administrator. As the god of writing, it was Thoth’s responsibility to record all events, happenings, and laws and sometimes even to enforce those laws and uphold the Egyptian ideal of ma’at (divine order, right, truth). Thoth also played a role in everyone’s afterlife, providing (depending on the source) a means of transportation to the heavens, a safe haven while passing demons of the underworld, or assistance in pleading one’s case at the time of judgment.
Note: unless otherwise specified in the captions, all photos used in this blog entry are in the public domain either because their copyright has expired or because they are under a Creative Commons license.
From the Latin carnivale; the season of merriment in New Orleans (and many other locations with a strong Catholic tradition) that precedes Lent. Carnival begins annually on January 6, the Twelfth Night (feast of the Epiphany), and ends at midnight on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lenten fasting.
Aluminum coins stamped with a parade krewe's insignia and theme.
A group of long-legged wading birds in the family Threskiornithidae.
The generic term for all Carnival organizations who organize parades in New Orleans.
The Ancient Egyptian concept of divine order. Often translated as “truth,” a more accurate interpretation of ma'at may be “right,” as it represents the orderly, culturally-Egyptian way in which the world should function.
French for “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Lent begins (Ash Wednesday). It is a day to celebrate before the Catholic tradition of sacrificing and fasting during the 40 days of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday.
Inexpensive trinkets tossed from floats by costumed and masked krewe members. These are the beads that everyone talks about. Among the less common and more sought after items are krewe-emblemed aluminum doubloons, plastic cups, and white pearl necklaces. Throws are sometimes tossed in response to the cry, "Throw me something, mister!"
Sources and suggested additional reading:
Doxey, Denise M. "Thoth." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, 2001. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195102345.001.0001/acref-9780195102345-e-0721.
Pinch, Geraldine. Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Shafer, Byron E. et al. Religion in Ancient Egypt. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991.
Stadler, Martin A. Thoth. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1). nelc_uee_8802, 2012.
On the Trail of the Winged God Hermes and Hermeticism Throughout the Ages by Stephan A. Hoeller
All about Birds: White Ibis
Krewe of Thoth
Mardi Grad Parade Schedule: Krewe of Thoth
Mardi Gras New Orleans: Krewe of Thoth
Prof. Carl Nivale's Classroom: Krewe of Thoth
Glossary information from: Mardi Gras Glossary By Arthur Hardy, Mardi Gras New Orleans: Mardi Gras Parade Throws, Experience New Orleans: Say What?, All about Birds: White Ibis, and the author of this article.