It seems that Set was at one time regarded as the “chief god”, carrying the epithet, “His Majesty”, shared otherwise only with Ra.  He was a son of the earth (Geb) and sky (Nut), husband to the fertile land around the Nile (Nebt-het/Nephthys), and brother to death (Usir/Osiris), and (Aset/Isis, the wife of Osiris) and father of Anubis. Set was regarded as a fierce warrior. It was he who protected Ra on the solar barque, slaying the chaos serpent, Apep each day to allow the sun to rise.

Apep was the chief opponent of Light and Truth (Ra), an embodiment of Darkness and Chaos, known as the greatest enemy of Ra.  So on the one hand Set was the being who was able to rhythmically defend the Light/Truth from the Darkness/Chaos of the underworld…

…but then later (in conflict with Horus) Set actually became conflated with Apep himself, becoming the embodiment of the very evil he once defended against!  Apep was a huge serpent that lurked beneath the horizon, waiting to eat the Sun… and as the ‘World-encircler’ finds symbolic similarity in the Ouroboros…

egyptmythologysetHe is depicted as “a mysterious and unknown creature, referred to by Egyptologists as the Set animal or Typhonic beast, with a curved snout, square ears, forked tail, and canine body, or sometimes as a human with only the head of the Set animal. It has no complete resemblance to any known creature.”

His upward-pointing square ears are like antennae, receiving the wisdom of the upper world, while his snout points downwards, to the mysteries of the underworld. (This may also find resonance through his role in the drama between Upper and Lower Egypt and their eventual uniting.)  Set stands between the worlds.  He sailed through the underworld at the prow of Ra’s boat, with Thoth on one side and Ma’at on the other – one male, the other female, both representing the Logos.

Perhaps Set, then, truly is a proper manifestation of Chaos, thought about now in the modern sense as that which arises at the boundary between order and disorder.  Perhaps this makes Set one of the oldest alchemists, traveling the space between the most supreme heights as the chief god to the lowest depths, and the lowest depths as the destructive and evil force of the underworld.  Even more interestingly, once Set’s vilification had occurred, his images on various temples were replaced with that of Thoth – thought by hermeticists to be the first true alchemist, giver of the Corpus Hermeticum (via his syncretic link to Hermes Tresmegistus – ‘Thrice-Great-Hermes’).



Commenting area

  1. Kim Graae Munch May 17, 2010 at 1:57 am · ·

    Why is it that we connect Chaos with Evil and Order with Good?
    Lucifer is Chaos or spiritual energy, where Ahriman is Order, and extreme order is death as extreme chaos is death. The Sun is extreme Chaos and the Moon is extreme Order, where the Earth is Life, equilibrium between Chaos and Order. If we take Kabbalah we have Chaos or creative energy in the right pillar and Order or form in the left pillar and equilibrium in the center pillar, Life.
    I have written about it here on my blog,Chaos or Order? No, Life! with starting point in the second law of thermodynamics and duality.
    By the way, are there a relation to Seth, the son of Adam?

Comments are now closed for this article.