Egypt: Gods - Set


For three days and for three nights the fight between them raged, and Horus gained the victory over Set, but when Isis saw that Set was being overpowered her heart was touched on his account, and she cried out and ordered the weapons which her son was wielding against her brother to fall down, and they did so, and Set was released. When Horus saw that his mother had taken his adversary's part he raged at her like a panther of the south, and she fled before his wrath; a fierce struggle between Isis and Horus then took place, and Horus cut off his mother's head. Thoth, by means of his words of power, transformed her head into that of a cow which he attached to her body straightaway.

Horus says to the king, "I will give thee a life like unto that of Ra, and years even as the years of Tem," and Set says, "I establish the crown upon thy head even like the Disk {on the head of Amen Ra, and I will give thee all life, and strength, and health;" in his character of giver of life each god holds in his hand the notched palm branch, symbol of "years," which rests upon a frog, and the emblem of the Sun's path in the heavens and of eternity. In yet another scene we find Set teaching Thothmes III the use of the bow in connection with the emblem of the goddess Neith, whilst Horus instructs him how to wield some weapon, which appears to be a staff. According to Dr. Brugsch, Set was the god of the downward motion of the sun in the lower hemisphere, in a southerly direction, and for this reason he was the source of the destructive heat of summer; and since the days began to diminish after the summer solstice, it was declared that he stole the light from Horus or Ra, and he was held to be the cause of all the evil, both physical and moral, which resulted. The light which Thoth brought with the new moon was withdrawn by Set as soon as it was possible for him to obtain power over that luminary, and he wa, naturally thought to be the cause of clouds, mist, rain, thunder and lightning, hurricanes and storms, earthquakes and eclipses, and in short of every thing which tended to reverse the ordinary course of nature and of law and order. From a moral point of view he was the personification of sin and evil.

The mythological and religious texts of all periods contain many allusions to the fight which Set waged against Horus, and more than one version of the narrative is known. In the first and simplest form the story merely records the natural opposition of Day to Night, or Night to Day, and the two Combatant gods were Heru-ur, or Horus the Elder, and Set. In its second form the two Combatant gods are Ra and Set, and the chief object of the latter is to prevent Ra from appearing in the East daily. The form which Set assumed on theses occasions was that of a monster serpent, and he took with him as helpers a large number of small serpents and noxious creatures of various kinds. The name of the serpent was Apep, or Aaapef, but he was also called Rerek, and since he was identified with a long series of serpent monsters he had as many names as Ra. The weapons with which Apep fought were cloud, mist, rain, darkness, etc., and Ra, his opponent, was armed with the burning and destroying heat of the sun, and the darts and spears of light. The result of the fight was always the same; Apep was shriveled and burnt up by Ra, but he was able to renew himself daily, and at the end of each night he collected his fiends, and waged war against Ra with unabated vigor. In the third form of the story the combatant gods are Osiris and Set, and we have already seen how Set slew his brother and persecuted his widow and child, and how he escaped punishment because Osiris had, at the time of his death, none to avenge his cause. In the fourth form of the story the Combatant gods are Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, and Set, and the avowed intention of Horus is to slay him that slew his father Osiris.

The two gods fought in the forms of men, and afterwards in the forms of bears, and Horus would certainly have killed Set, whom he had fettered, had not Isis taken pity upon her brother and loosed his bonds and set him free. The fight between Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, and Set, had a very important bearing on the destinies of the dead, for to it was attached the moral idea of the victory of Good over Evil, and the deceased was believed to conquer Set even as Osiris had done. Thus in the Book of the Dead (ix. 3) he says, "I have come, I have seen my divine father Osiris. I have stabbed the heart of Suti" (i.e., Set); and from Chapter xviii.H 1 ff., we may see that although the fiends of Set changed themselves into wild beasts on the night of the breaking and turning up of the earth in Tattu, Osiris, by the help of Thoth, slew them, and mixed their blood with the sods. In Chapter xxiii. 2, we find the deceased praying that Thoth will come to him, and will by means of his words of power loose the bandages wherewith Set has fettered his mouth; and in Chapter xxxix. 15, we find him declaring that he is Set who "letteth loose the storm-clouds and the thunder in the horizon of heaven, even as doth the good Netcheb-ab-f. Elsewhere (xl. 1 ff.) Apep is called both Hai, and Am-aau, i.e., the "Eater of the Ass," and he is declared to be a being abominable both to Osiris and to the god Haas, or; the Ass referred to here is, of course, Ra; the Ass was regarded in one aspect as a solar animal because of his great virility. On the other hand, certain passages prove that even in the XVIIIth Dynasty Set was regarded as a god who was friendly towards the deceased, for we read (xvii. 131), "Tem hath built thy house, Shu and Tefnut have founded thy habitation; lo! drugs are brought, and Horus purifieth and Set strengtheneth, and Set purifieth and Horus strengtheneth." In the Chapter of the deification of members, the backbone of the deceased is identified with the backbone of Set (xlii. 12), and elsewhere the deceased says (1.B 2) "Suti and the company of the gods have joined together my neck and my back strongly, and they are even as they were in the time that is past; may nothing happen to break them apart." But in Chapter lxxxvi. 6, the deceased says, "Set, son of Nut, {lieth under the fetters which he had made for me;" and elsewhere (cviii. 8), he is said "to depart, having the harpoon of iron in him," and to have thrown up everything which he had eaten and to have been put in a place of restraint.

A statement in Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride ( 62), informs us that Typhon was called Seth, and Bebo, and Smy, "all of them words of one common import, and expressing certain violent and forcible restraint and withholding, as likewise contrariety and subversion; we are, moreoever, informed by Manetho that the lodestone is by the Egyptians called the 'bone of Horus,' as iron is, the 'bone of Typhon.'" This information is of considerable interest, for it makes the identity of Set and Typhon certain, and it is, moreover, supported by the evidence of the inscriptions. The name Seth is, of course, Set; Bebo is the Egyptian, Baba and Smy is Smai, the well-known Egyptian name for Set as the Arch-Fiend. The associates of Set were called Smaiu, and the determinative, shows that the idea of "violence" was implied in the name. That iron was connected with Set or Typhon is quite clear from the passage quoted by Dr. Brugsch in which Thoth is said to have obtained from Set the knife with which he cut up the bull.

It has been said above that the serpent and the Set animal were the common symbols of Set, but instances are known I which he is represented in the form of a man, wearing a beard and a tail, and holding the usual symbols of divinity. In the example figured by Lanzone the god is called "mighty-one of two-fold strength," and is accompanied by Nephthys, who wears upon her head a pair of horns and a disk Now, as Set was the personification of the powers of darkness, and of evil, and of the forces of the waters which were supposed to resist light and order, a number of beasts which dwelt in the waters, or at least partly on land and partly in water, were regarded as symbols of him and as beings wherein he took up his habitation. Among these were the serpent Apep, the fabulous beast, Akhekh, which was a species of antelope with a bird's head surmounted by three uraei, and a pair of wings, the hippopotamus, the crocodile, the pig, the turtle, the ass, etc. These animals were, however, not the only ones which were regarded as types of Set, for as Dr. Brugsch has rightly observed, every creature which was snared or caught in the waters of hunted in the desert, was treated as an incarnation of Set; and animals with red, or reddish-brown hair or skins, and even red-haired men were supposed to be especially under the influence of Set. On the other hand, the animals which were used by man in the chase, i.e., dogs, cheetas, etc., and certain other animals, e.g., lions, cats, etc., were held to be sacred to the gods, and according to Plutarch (De Iside, 72), "the gods, through a dread of Typhon, metamorphosed themselves into these animals, concealing themselves as it were from his purpose in the bodies of ibises, dogs and hawks." The sacrifice of certain animals associated with Set played a prominent part in the ritual of the Egyptian religion, and at the seasons of the year when Set's influence was supposed to be the greatest earnest attempts were regularly made to propitiate him by means of offerings.

Thus in order to drive away Set from attacking the full moon of the month Pachons an antelope was sacrificed, and a black pig was hacked in pieces upon an altar made of sand, which was built on the bank of the river. On the twenty-sixth day of the month, Choiak, which was the time of the winter solstice, an ass was slain, and a model of the serpent-fiend was hewn in pieces. On the first day of Mesore, which was the day of the great festival of Heru Behutet, large numbers of birds and fish were caught, and those which were considered to be of a Typhonic character were stamped upon with the feet, and those who did this cried out, "Ye shall be cut in pieces, and your members shall be hacked asunder, and each of you shall consume the other; thus doth Ra triumph over all his enemies, and thus doth Heru-Behutet, the great god, the lord of heaven, triumph over all his enemies." On such occasions, we learn from Plutarch (De Iside, 63), sistra were shaken in the temples, for, say they, the sound of these Sistra averts and drives away Typhon; meaning hereby, that as corruption clogs and puts a stop to the regular course of nature, so generation, by the means of motion, loosens it again, and restores it to its former vigor."

The kingdom of Set was supposed to be placed in the northern sky, and his abode was one of the stars which formed the constellation of Khepesh, or the "Thigh," which has been identified with the Great Bear, and it was from this region that he made use of his baleful influence to thwart the beneficent designs of Osiris, whose abode was Sah or Orion, and of Isis, whose home was Sept, or Sothis. A little consideration will show that the northern sky was the natural domain of Set, for viewed from the standpoint of an Egyptian in Upper Egypt the north was rightly considered to be the place of darkness, cold, mist, and rain, each of which was an attribute of Set; and we may note in passing that the Hebrews called the region of darkness, or the winter hemisphere, Sephon, a name which appears to be connected beyond a doubt with Saphon, "North." The chief opponent of Set was the hippopotamus goddess Reret, who was believed to keep this power of darkness securely fettered by a chain; this goddess is usually represented with the arms and hands of a woman which are attached to the body of a hippopotamus, and in each she holds a knife. Her temple was called Het-Khaat. The duty of the goddess was to keep in restraint the evil influence of Set and to make clear a way in the sky of the birth of Heru-sma-taui, whom Dr. Brugsch identified with the spring sun; the texts, however, make it clear that Reret was nothing but a form of Isis.