Battle of Set

set_statueSet in Egyptian Theology
by Oz Tech (edited)

Set was a deity of ancient Egypt, a god of the night identified with the northern stars.  In ancient Egypt this Prince of Darkness was well regarded.

One persistent token of this regard is the Tcham scepter, having the stylized head and tail of Set.  The Tcham scepter is frequently found in portraits of other gods as a symbol of magical power.

In some texts he is hailed as a source of strength, and in early paintings he is portrayed as bearer of a harpoon at the prow of the boat of Ra, warding off the serpent Apep.  Yet the warlike and resolute nature of Set seems to have been regarded with ambivalence with progression of time. The portrayal of Set went through many changes over a period of five thousand years.  Pictures of a god bearing two heads, that of Set and Heru the Elder, may be compared to the oriental Yin/Yang symbol as a representation of the union of polarities. In time, the conflict between these two abstract principles came to be emphasized rather than their primal union.

Set’s battle with Heru the Elder grew from being a statement of the duality of day and night into an expression of the political conflict among the polytheistic priesthoods for control of Kemet.  This was rewritten as a battle between Good and Evil after Kemet expelled the Hyksos aligned with Set, in the 18th Dynasty. The Hyskos were Arabic or Persian invaders, an indigenous minority that seized control of Lower Egypt. This tribe ruled Lower Egypt for a time in favor of Set, seeing a resemblance to their own wargods.

The Set cult never recovered from this identification with the Hyksos. Images of Set were destroyed or defaced.  By the time Greeks visited Egypt, wild asses, pigs, and other beasts identified with the Set cult were driven off cliffs, or slaughtered at annual celebrations in a spirit akin to the driving out of the Biblical scapegoat.  The report of these historians is often thought to be a valid account of a a timeless and immutable theocracy, but just looking at the frequency with which the ruling capital moved to different cities (each being a cult-center) is enough to dispel this idea.

One western Egyptologist suggested that the worship of Set might have predated the concept of paternity. Later cults incorporating a father god would reject this fatherless son. This introduces another bizarre factor in the transformation of the Night/Day battle between brothers into an inheritance dispute between Set and Heru the Younger. Any book on Egyptian myth you pick up contains the gory details of this cosmic lawsuit. While all books affirm that Set tore Ausar to pieces, everybody knows about Ausar, but it is quite hard to collect the pieces of the puzzle that is Set.

Egyptologists have never agreed what the animal used to symbolize Set actually is.  Since the sages of ancient Egypt did not use an unrecognizable creature to represent any other major deity, we may guess that this is intentional, and points, like the Tcham sceptre, to an esoteric meaning.

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2 thoughts on “Battle of Set

  1. […] one of the oldest Egyptian traditions going back to the Pyramid Texts, which situates an episode of the struggle between Horus and Seth at this location[…]

  2. KMT – Ausar (1) | The Seven Worlds December 8, 2013 at 12:20 pm Reply

    […] the conspirators of Set numbered 72 was an allusion to the fact that Set’s main weapon was deception, which is a […]

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