He murdered his brother, Osiris, who was avenged by Horus, the son of Osiris. Seth frequently serves as a catalyst, his thoughtless actions leading to favorable outcomes, such as Osiris becoming the ruler of the underworld. He was associated with the dangerous aspects of the desert, sandstorms, and flash floods. The worship of Set was one of the oldest cults of Egypt.
Originally, he was a beneficent god of Upper Egypt, whose realm was the abode of the blessed dead, where he performed friendly offices for the deceased. When the followers of Horus (the elder), the supreme god of Lower Egypt, conquered the followers of Set, Set’s place in the Egyptian pantheon of gods fell into disrepute, and eventually the priests of Horus declared Set a god of the unclean, an enemy of all other gods, and ordered all of his images destroyed.
Set was the archenemy of the sun god, and almost all allusions and legends pertaining to him reflect the battles he waged against the sun. In the earliest and simplest form of the myth, Set represented the cosmic opposition of darkness and light. In a later form of the myth, Set is the antagonist of the sun god Ra and seeks, in the form of the monstrous serpent Apophis, to prevent him from appearing in the east daily. The result was always the same.
Apophis would be annihilated by the burning heat of Ra, and Set, who could renew himself daily, would collect his noxious cohort and ready himself for the next night’s battle against the sunrise. In the most famous and complex version of the myth, Set is the murderer and dismemberer of his brother, Osiris, who was sometimes called his twin brother. He pursued and persecuted Osiris’s widow, Isis, who was also his own sister. He also persecuted Isis and Osiris’s child Horus. Later Horus was called on to avenge his father’s death, and in a series of battles he defeated Set and would have destroyed him if it had not been for the interference of Isis, who took pity on her brother and spared him.
The Egyptians viewed the battle between Set and Horus as the ultimate victory of good over evil. Yet according to some interpretations, in the sphere of the eternal, where there is no duality, Set and Horus are one; that is, death and life, darkness and light are one. In Egyptian religion this has been referred to as “the secret of the two partners,” reflecting the hidden understanding of the two combatant gods. Set, representing strife, is perennially subdued but never destroyed by Horus, representing peace. In the end there is reconciliation.
The pharaoh who was sometimes known as the Two Lords was identified with both of these gods as an inseparable pair. As the great antagonist of light, Set was frequently symbolized by the black boar, whose emblem was the primeval knife, the instrument of dismemberment and death. His female counterpart was his sister Nephthys, who was herself a goddess of darkness and decay. In Egyptian art Set is usually portrayed as a man with the head of a fantastic beast with pointed muzzle and high, square ears.
This unidentifiable beast has been commonly called the Typhonian animal, Typhon being the god with whom the Greeks identified Set. Sometimes Set is portrayed with horns, which made him the ideal image for the devil in Egyptian Christianity. Other animals associated with Set were the antelope, the crocodile, and the ass. Set was sometimes said to have a mane of red hair, and Plutarch writes in Isis and Osiris that an ass was thrown down a precipice because the animal bore a resemblance to Set in its redness. Persons who had red complexions were often treated ignominiously.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante
Set, Lord of the Desert, Chaos, and Disorder, is among the set of quadruplets born to Earth and Sky, Geb and Nut. His siblings are Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys. Both Osiris and Set loved their sister Isis, but she chose Osiris. Set married Nephthys, but she too loved Osiris, so theirs was not a happy marriage.
Osiris was assigned to be the Ruler of the Black Land, the fertile belt of civilization around the Nile River. The Egyptian name for their country was Kemet, “Black Land,” so Osiris is the first pharaoh, king of Egypt. Set was assigned dominion over the Red Land, as the Egyptians called the harsh, barren desert. Appeals are made to Set to keep bad weather far away; he has dominion over rain, sand, and wind storms. Residents and travelers in the desert may request Set’s favor.
Set is a powerful magician, second only to Isis. He is a master of love and sex magic and is petitioned for assistance with contraception and abortion. Set appears on many ancient uterine amulets:
• Some were employed to “open” the womb, requesting assistance with menstruation, conception, or birth.
• Set is also featured on amulets to “close” the womb, intended to procure contraception or abortion.
Sometimes a hero, sometimes a controversial figure, Set is now typically portrayed as the villain of Egyptian mythology, although this was not initially so. Set was considered a balancing force. When Set and Horus, his opposing force, are in harmony, life on Earth proceeds smoothly. Set is also among the most powerful guardian spirits. He rides in Ra’s solar barque and protects him from all evil.
Set is responsible for killing Osiris—not once, but twice. (This myth serves to remind how vulnerable Egyptian agricultural civilization was to the encroaching desert.) He is now most famous for his rivalry with Horus, his nephew. Although frequently described as the loser in that battle, it actually was a stalemate finally resolved when Set brought the case before a Heavenly Tribunal. Ra favored Set, arguing that he was the more experienced ruler. The case was finally resolved by Neith, whose judgment was accepted by all. (Despite rumors that he is sterile, Set is sometimes described as the the father of Neith’s son Sobek.) Horus was awarded the throne of Egypt, but Set was compensated for his loss by receiving twice his existing property and two new wives—the Semitic love, sex, and war spirits Anat and Astarte.
Set was profoundly associated with the Hyksos, the Shepherd Kings, the Western Semitic invaders who ruled Egypt. They adored Set and built temples for him, including one in their capital city of Avaris. Some of the hostility displayed toward Set in Egyptian mythology may stem from these associations. Set is also associated with YHWH, the Jewish god. (Notably both are married to Anat.
Anat.) The epic battle between Set and Horus may be a metaphoric retelling of the expulsion of the Hyksos or even of the Biblical story of Exodus.
Set’s devotees traditionally refrain from eating pork.
Pugnacious, scheming Set is the only one of the old Egyptian deities to resist and combat Islam in Walter S. Crane’s comic book series Sheba.
Redheaded people or those with ruddy complexions are considered under Set’s dominion (redheads faced discrimination in ancient Egypt).
He appears as a man with the head of a Set beast, a creature which has not been definitively identified but bears resemblances to aardvarks, anteaters, and jackals, or some hybrid of all of these creatures.
Creatures: Crocodiles, jackals, hippopotami, donkeys, gazelles, and pigs as well as the unidentified Set beast. The Set beast may now be extinct, a creature who exists only in the spirit realm, or an anteater.
Set is also associated with the salawa (or salaawa), a mysterious canine allegedly responsible for eating livestock and attacking people. The salawa is a cryptid, meaning a creature for whom no scientific evidence currently exists. Salawa attacks and sightings have been reported from the Luxor region. It reputedly has square ears and a forked tail like the Set beast.
The Egyptians called Ursa Minor the Jackal of Set
Set rules the desert. His main cult centers were at Tanis, Ombos, and Naqada.
Anat; Anubis; Astarte; Ba Neb Tetet; Horus; Isis; Neith; Nephthys; Nut; Osiris; Sobek
Set – Great of Strength –
Also known as:
Seth; Sutekh; Setesh-
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.