Mr. Le Page Renouf in his interesting Preface to the Book of the Dead p. 8 goes so far as to maintain that Egyptian zoolatry is entirely symbolical. ‘The animal forms’ he writes ‘in which the gods are often represented are symbolical throughout. The origin of the symbol is not always apparent but it is so in certain cases. Thoth (Tehu-ta) the Moon appears most frequently as an ibis or as a man with the head of an ibis. This is because the moon was the measurer (techu-ta) in the oldest Egyptian as in the oldest Indo-European system. It is mere folly to say that the Egyptians believed the moon to be an ibis. Thoth as the Moon was just as often symbolised by a cynocephalus.
‘It is not less disgraceful to assert that the Egyptians believed the human soul to be a bird with a human head. The kings who put their names on lions and sphinxes and gloried in being called bulls jackals and crocodiles did not expect people to consider them as quadrupeds.
‘Seb the Earth had a goose for its symbol but this was the result of homonymy. Sêbu the Whistler or Piper is the name given to a species of goose. And if we knew the original meanings of all the divine names the symbolism would be intelligible enough.’
It is possible that the ancient Egyptian system of writing may likewise have influenced the popular mind. It is well known that if there was a hieroglyphic sign for a bird called Sebu the same sign would be used to express the sound of sebu though its meaning might be quite different.
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