Were The Worshipers of the Egyptian God Set Following a God or a Demon?
Set, sometimes known as Seth, but also as Sutekh or Seteh is an ancient Egyptian god depicted with the head of an unknown animal and referred to by Egyptologists as a ‘Set animal’. The ancient Egyptians believed that Set was the god of chaos, the desert, storms, and darkness.
Set was one of the most ancient gods of the ancient Egyptian pantheon, and is believed to have been worshipped as early as the Pre-Dynastic period. The earliest representation of Set may be found on a carved ivory comb from the Amratian period (4000 to 3500 BC). Set was worshipped primarily in Upper Egypt, for instance at Nubt (known today as Kom Ombo). Originally, he was believed to be a benevolent god who lived in the Underworld and was responsible for helping the dead reach heaven, though he was later regarded as an evil god during the conflict with Horus.
Set’s Fall from Grace
According to one view, Set became associated with the Hyksos invaders who conquered the Nile Delta and therefore, by the time of the Second Intermediate period, Set had become regarded as a malevolent deity. Another theory suggests that there was a battle between the followers of Set and those of Horus at some point in time. The followers of Horus triumphed over those of Set, thus resulting in Set’s demonization.
From the Greenfield Papyrus - sky goddess Nut with earth god Geb reclining beneath (Public Domain )
The conflict between Set and Horus is a well-known ancient Egyptian myth. According to the creation myth of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis, Set was the son of Geb and Nut, and the brother of Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys, who was also his wife. Osiris became the ruler of Egypt, and Set, who was jealous of his brother, plotted to murder him through trickery. Although Set succeeds in killing Osiris, Isis (the wife of Osiris) managed to revive her husband with magic long enough to become pregnant with a son, Horus. When Horus grew up, he took revenge upon Set, was victorious, and became the new ruler of Egypt.
The conflict between Horus and Set involves numerous episodes in which they sought to outdo each other. One of the most peculiar of these involved each of them trying to get their semen into their opponent. According to the myth, Set attempted to prove his dominance by seducing Horus and having sexual intercourse with him. Horus agreed to this, provided that Set gave him some of his strength. When Set ejaculated, however, Horus caught the semen in his hands and flung it into the river. Horus then placed his own semen on some lettuce, Set’s favorite food, which his rival ate. Set and Horus then appeared before the other gods, during which the former asserted that his semen was in Horus, and that he was therefore the victor. When the gods called Set’s semen to testify, they found that it was not in Horus, but in the river. Horus then claimed that his semen was in Set, and when called to give evidence, the semen duly did so.
At the end of Set’s conflict with Horus, the god of chaos was banished to the desert.
And Yet Set’s Strength Was Once Admired
Set’s connection to the desert may have symbolized his sterility. In one myth, Nephthys, Set’s wife, was frustrated by her husband’s lack of sexual interest in her. She disguised herself as the more attractive Isis, but due to his infertility, Set showed no sign of interest either. When Osiris mistook Nephthys for Isis, they had intercourse which resulted in the birth of Anubis. As the god of the desert, Set was considered to be the antithesis of everything that represented life.
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Anubis Shrine ( CC BY SA 2.5 )
Whilst many myths regarded Set to be a force of evil, this was not always the case. In some myths, the gods used Set’s strength and power for good. The best known of these is Set’s role as a defender of Ra’s sun boat. Each night as the sun boat made its journey through the Underworld, Set fought Apep, the chaos serpent. Set is often depicted as standing on the prow of the sun boat, and spearing Apep.
Set’s Modern Day Revival
In modern times, the worship of Set has been ‘revived’ by the Temple of Set. This religious movement was founded by Michael Aquino, a member of the Church of Satan, in 1975. Aquino claimed that Satan had appeared to him in the image of Set during a magical ritual, thus leading to the establishment of the Temple of Set.
Top image: Seth (Set)Left, and Horus Source: Niedlich, S / CC BY SA 2.0
By Wu Mingren
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