SET, OR SETH, whom the Greeks called Typhon, the nefarious demon of death and evil in Egyptian mythology, is characterised as "a strong god (a-pahuti), whose anger is to be feared." The inscriptions call him "the powerful one of Thebes," and "Ruler of the South." He is conceived as the sun that kills with the arrows of heat; he is the slayer, and iron is called the bones of Typhon. The hunted animals are consecrated to him; and his symbols are the griffin (akhekh), the hippopotamus, the crocodile, the swine, the tortoise, and, above all the serpent âpapi (in Greek "apophis") who was thought to await the dying man in the domain of the god Atmu (also called Tmu or Tum), who represents the sun below the western horizon.
Set's pictures are easily recognised by his long, erect, and square-tipped ears and his proboscis-like snout, which are said to indicate the head of a fabulous animal called Oryx. The consort and feminine counterpart of Set is called Taour or Taourt. The Greeks called her Theouris. She appears commonly as a hippopotamus in erect posture, her back covered with the skin and tail of a crocodile.
Click to view
APAPI (APOPHIS) AND ATMU. (After Rawlinson)
Click to view
FORMS OF TAOURT. (After Rawlinson)
Click to view
SET (After Brugsch)
Click to view
THE SOUL VISITING THE MUMMY. See page 24. (From the Ani Papyrus)
Set is often contrasted with Osiris. Set was the deity of the desert, of drought and feverish thirst, and of the sterile ocean; Osiris represents moisture, the Nile, the fertilising powers and life. Plutarch says:
"The moon (representing Osiris) is, with his fertilising and fecundative light, favorable to the produce of animals and growth of plants; the sun, however (representing Typhon), is determined, with its unmitigated fire, to overheat and parch animals; it renders by its blaze a great part of the earth uninhabitable and conquers frequently even the moon (viz., Osiris)."
As an enemy to life, Set is identified with all destruction. He is the waning of the moon, the decrease of the waters of the Nile, and the setting of the sun. Thus he was called the left or black eye of the decreasing sun, governing the year from the summer solstice to the winter solstice, which is contrasted with the right or bright eye of Hor, the increasing sun, which symbolises the growth of life and the spread of light from the winter solstice to the summer solstice.
Set was not always nor to all Egyptians alike a Satanic deity. He was officially worshipped in an unimportant province west of the Nile, but this was the natural starting-point of the road to the northern oasis. The inhabitants, who were mostly guides to desert caravans, had good reasons to remain on friendly terms with Set, the Lord of the desert.
Further, we know that a great temple was devoted to Set, as the god of war, in Tanis, near the swamps between the eastern branches of the Delta, an important town of the frontier, and during the time of invasion the probable seat of the foreign dominion of the Hyksos and
the Hyttites, who identified their own god Sutech with the Egyptian Set. But even among the Hyksos, Set was revered as the awful God of irresistible power, of brute force, of war, and of destruction.
There is an old wall-picture of Karnak, belonging to the era of the eighteenth dynasty, in which the god Set appears as an instructor of King Thothmes III. in the science of archery. 1
Click to view
SETH TEACHING THE KING THE ART OF WAR. (After Erman.)
Sety I., the second king of the nineteenth dynasty, the shepherd kings, derives his name from the god Seta sign of the high honor in which he was held among the shepherd kings; and indeed we are informed that they regarded Set, or Sutech, as the only true God, the sole deity, who alone was worthy of receiving divine honors.
If the time of the shepherd kings is to be identified with the settlement of Jacob's sons in Egypt, and if the
monotheism of the Hyksos is the root of Moses's religion, what food for thought lies in the fact that the same awe of a fearful power that confronts us in life, changes among the Egyptians into the demonology of Set, and among the Israelites into the cult of Yahveh!
In spite of the terror which he inspired, Set was originally not merely an evil demon but one of the great deities, who, as such, was feared and propitiated.
Says Heinrich Brugsch (Religion und Mythologie der alten Aegypter, p. 706):
"The Book of the Dead of the ancient Egyptians and the numerous inscriptions of the recently opened pyramids are, indeed, nothing but talismans against the imagined Seth and his associates. Such is also, I am sorry to say, the greater part of the ancient literature that has come down to us."
When a man dies, he passes the western horizon and descends through Atmu's abode into Amenti, the Nether World. The salvation of his personality depends, according to Egyptian belief, upon the preservation of his "double," or his "other self," which, remaining in the tomb, resides in the mummy or in any statue of his body.
The double, just as if it were alive, is supposed to be in need of food and drink, which is provided for by incantations. Magic formulas satisfy the hunger and thirst of the double in the tomb, and frustrate, through invocations of the good deities, all the evil intentions of Set and his host. We read in an inscription of Edfu (Brugsch, Religion und Mythologie der alten Aegypter, p. 767):
Hail Ra, thou art radiant in thy radiance,
While there is darkness in the eyes of Apophis!
Hail Ra, good is thy goodness,
While Apophis is bad in its badness!"
The dread of hunger, thirst, and other ills, or even of destruction which their double might suffer in the tomb, was a perpetual source of fearful anticipations to every pious Egyptian. The anxiety to escape the tortures of their future state led to the embalming of the dead and to the building of the pyramids. Yet, in spite of all superstitions and the ridiculous pomp bestowed upon the burial of the body we find passages in the inscriptions which give evidence that in the opinion of many thoughtful people the best and indeed the sole means of protection against the typhonic influences after death was a life of righteousness. This is forcibly expressed in the illustration of Chapter CXXV. of the Book of the Dead, which is here reproduced according to Lepsius's edition of the Turin papyrus. (Republished by Putnam, Book of the Dead).
The picture of the Hall of Truth as preserved in the Turin papyrus shows Osiris with the atef-crown on his head and the crook and whip in his hands. Above the beast of Amenti we see the two genii Shai and Ranen, which represent Misery and Happiness. The four funeral genii, called Amset, Hapi, Tuamutef, and Kebhsnauf, hover over an altar richly laden with offerings. The frieze shows twelve groups of uræus snakes, flames and feathers of truth; on both sides scales are poised by a baboon who is the sacred animal of Thoth, and in the middle Atmu stretches out his hands over the right and
Click to view
THE WEIGHING OF THE HEART IN THE HALL OF TRUTH (After Lepsius's reproduction of the Turin Papyrus)
left eye, symbolising sunset and sunrise, death and resurrection.
Mâ, 1 the goddess of truth and "the directress of the gods," decorated with an erect feather which is her emblem, ushers the departed one into the Hall of Truth. Kneeling, the departed one invokes the forty-two assessors by name and disclaims having committed any one of the forty-two sins of the Egyptian moral code. Omitting the names of the assessors, we quote here an extract of the confession. The departed one says:
"I did not do evil.--I did not commit violence.--I did not torment any heart.--I did not steal. I did not cause any one to be treacherously killed.--I did not lessen the offerings.--I did not do any harm.--I did not utter a lie.--I did not make any one weep.--I did not commit acts of self-pollution. --I did not fornicate.--I did not trespass.--I did not commit any perfidy.--I did no damage to cultivated land.--I was no accuser.--I was never angry without sufficient reason.--I did not turn a deaf ear to the words of truth.--I did not commit witchcraft.--I did not blaspheme.--I did not cause a slave to be maltreated by his master.--I did not despise God in my heart."
Then the departed one places his heart on the balance of truth, where it is weighed by the hawk-headed Hor and the jackal-headed Anubis, "the director of the weight," the weight being shaped in the figure of the goddess of truth. Thoth, the ibis-headed scribe of the gods, reads Hor's report to Osiris, and if it announces that the weight of the heart is equal to truth, Thoth orders it to be placed back into the breast of the departed
one, which act indicates his return to life. If the departed one escapes all the dangers that await him in his descent to Amenti, and if the weight of his heart is not found wanting, he is allowed to enter into "the boat of the sun,)' in which he is conducted to the Elysian fields of the blessed.
Should the evil deeds of the departed one outweigh his good deeds, he was sentenced to be devoured by Amemit (i. e., the devourer), which is also called "the beast of Amenti," or was sent back to the upper world in the shape of a pig.
While the double stays in the tomb, the soul, represented as a bird with a human head, soars to heaven where it becomes one with all the great gods. The liberated soul exclaims (Erman, ib., p. 343 et seq.):
"I am the god Atum, I who was alone,
"I am the god Ra at his first appearing,
"I am the great god who created himself, and created his name I Lord of the gods, who has not his equal.'
"I was yesterday, and I know the to-morrow. The battlefield of the gods -was made when I spoke.
"I come into my home, I come into my native city.
"I commune daily with my father Atum.
"My impurities are driven out, and the sin that was in me is conquered.
"Ye gods above, reach out your hands, I am like you, I have become one of you.
"I commune daily with my father Atum.
Having become one with the gods, the departed soul suffers the same fate as Osiris. Like him, it is slain by Set, and like Osiris, it is reborn in Hor who revenges the death of his father. At the same time the soul is supposed
frequently to visit the double of the departed man in the tomb, as depicted in the tomb of the scribe Ani.
The Abode of Bliss (in Egyptian Sechnit aanru, also written aahlu), as depicted in the Turin papyrus of the Book of the Dead, shows us the departed one with his family, and Thoth, the scribe of the gods, behind them, in the act of sacrificing to three gods, the latter being decorated with the feather of truth. He then crosses the water. On the other side, he offers a perfuming pan to his soul which appears in the shape of a man-headed bird. There are also the three mummy-form gods of the horizon, with an altar of offerings before the hawk, symbolising Ra, "the master of heaven." In the middle part of the picture the departed one ploughs, sows, reaps, threshes, stores up the harvest, and celebrates a thanksgiving with offerings to the Nile. The lower part shows two barks, one for Ra Harmakhis, the other one for Unefru; and the three islands: the first is inhabited by Ra, the second is called the regenerating place of the gods, the third is the residence of Shu, Tefnut, and Seb.
A very instructive illustration of Egyptian belief is afforded us in the well-preserved tomb of Rekhmara, the prefect of Thebes under Thothmes III. of the eighteenth dynasty, the inscriptions of which have been translated into French by Ph. Virey and were published in 1889 by the Mission Archéologique Française.
The visitor to the tomb enters through a door on the eastern end; when proceeding westward, we see Rekhmara on the left wall pass from life to death. Here he attends to the affairs of the government, there he receives in the name of Pharaoh the homage of foreign princes;
Click to view
THE ABODE OF BLISS. (After Lepsius's reproduction of the Turin Papyrus)
further on he organises the work of building magazines at Thebes. He superintends the artists engaged at the Temple of Ammon and is then buried in pomp. At last he assumes the appearance of the Osiris of the West and receives sacrifices in his capacity as a god. We are now confronted with a blind door through which Rekhmara-Osiris descends into the West and returns to life toward the East as the Osiris of the East. Through funeral sacrifices and incantations his double is again invested with the use of the various senses; he is honored at a festival and graciously received by Pharaoh; in a word, he acts as he did in life. When we return to the entrance where we started, Rekhmara receives the offerings of his family and inspects the progress of the works to which he attended in life.
In the tomb of Rekhmara, Set receives offerings like other great gods. The departed one is called the inheritor of Set (Suti), and is purified by both Hor and Set. As an impersonation of Osiris, the departed one is approached and slain by Set, who then is vanquished in the shape of sacrificial animals which are slaughtered. But when the departed one is restored to the use of his senses and mental powers, Set again plays an important part, and appears throughout as one of the four points of the compass, which are "Hor, Set, Thoth, and Seb." 1
According to the original legend, Set represented the death of the sun, and as a personality he is described as the murderer of Osiris, who was finally reconciled with Hor. He remained, however, a powerful god, and had important functions to perform for the souls of the dead.
Above all, he must bind and conquer the serpent Apophis (Apap), as we read in the Book of The Dead (108, 4 and 5):
"They use Set to circumvent it [the serpent]; they use him to throw an iron chain around its neck, to make it vomit all that it has swallowed."
1n the measure that the allegorical meaning of the Osiris legend is obliterated, and that Osiris is conceived as a real person who as the representative of moral goodness, succumbs in his struggle with evil and dies, but is resurrected in his son Hor, Set is more and more deprived of his divinity and begins to be regarded as an evil demon.
The reign of Men-Kau-Ra, the builder of the third pyramid of Gizeh (according to Brugsch, 3633 B. C., and according to Mariette, 4100 B. C.), must have changed the character of the old Egyptian religion. "The prayer to Osiris on his coffin lid," says Rawlinson (Vol. II., p. 67), "marks a new religious development in the annals of Egypt. The absorption of the justified soul in Osiris, the cardinal doctrine of the Ritual of the Dead, makes its appearance here for the first time."
According to the older canon Set is always mentioned among the great deities, but later on he is no longer recognised as a god, and his name is replaced by that of some other god. The Egyptians of the twenty-second dynasty went so far as to erase Set's name from many of the older inscriptions and even to change the names of former kings that were compounds of Set, such as Set-nekht and others. The crocodile-headed Ceb (also called. Seb or Keb) and similar deities, in so far as their
nature was suggestive of Set, suffered a similar degradation; and this, we must assume, was the natural consequence of an increased confidence in the final victory of the influence of the gods of goodness and virtue.
Plutarch, speaking of his own days, says (On Isis and Osiris, Chapter XXX.) that:
"The power of Typhon, although dimmed and crushed, is still in its last agonies and convulsions. The Egyptians occasionally humiliate and insult him at certain festivals. They nevertheless propitiate and soothe him by means of certain sacrifices."
Set, the great and strong god of prehistoric times, was converted into Satan with the rise of the worship of Osiris. Set was strong enough to slay Osiris, as night overcomes the light of the sun; but the sun is born again in the child-god Hor, who conquers Set and forces him to make the old serpent of death surrender its spoil. As the sun sets to rise again, so man dies to be reborn. The evil power is full of awe, but a righteous cause cannot be crushed, and, in spite of death, life is immortal.
18:1 See Lepsius, Denkmäler, Vol. V., p. 36. The picture is reproduced in outline by Adolf Erman in his Life in Ancient Egypt, Engl. trans., p. 282.
22:1 Also called Maâ't, or "the two truths," i. e., of the upper and of the nether world.
26:1 Le Tombeau de Rakhmara, by Ph. Virey. Paris: Le Roux. 1889.