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Friday, July 29, 2011

The God Set

Also known as: Seth, Sutekh, Setesh, Setan, Seteh
Origin: Egypt
Appropriate Offerings: Beer, incense. Set's devotees traditionally refrain from eating pork.
Color: Red
Constellation: The Egyptians called Ursa Minor the Jackal of Set.

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. Without chaos and confusion there would be no order; without the heavy, thunderous storms there would be no good weather; without the desert and foreign lands there would be no Egypt. Set was a counterbalance to the 'good' side of the Egyptian universe, helping to keep everything in balance.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. It was he who defended the Solar Barque each night as it traveled through the underworld, the only Egyptian deity who could kill the serpent Apep - Ra's most dangerous enemy - each night as it threatened to swallow the Barque.

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. 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 of 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. 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.

Favored people: Redheaded people or those with ruddy complexions are considered under Set's dominion (redheads faced discrimination in ancient Egypt).

Iconography: 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 these creatures.

Creatures: Crocodiles, jackals, hippopotamus, 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.

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.

Sacred sites: Set rules the desert. His main cult centers were at Tanis, Ombos, and Naqada

Found in: Encyclopedia of Spirits

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