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ALPHAPEDIA

SETH GOD: Egyptian of Death, Confusion and Caos

Meaning of the God Seth

Seth, also called Setekh, Setesh, or Set, ancient Egyptian god, patron of the eleventh name, or province, of Upper Egypt.

His name is generally translated as “instigator of confusion” and “destroyer” and was associated with disorder, foreign lands and people and the color red. The Egyptian god Seth is also known as the god of chaos. According to the popular Egyptian mythology, he would certainly seem to have created a lot of chaos. Scholars believe that the cult of Seth was one of the oldest in Egypt. Some pharaohs honored him and used his name as part of them during certain periods.

Who is the God Seth ?

Seth was one of the oldest gods in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, and it is believed that he was worshipped since the pre-dynastic period. The oldest representation of Seth can be found in a carved ivory comb from the Amratian period (4000 to 3500 BC). At first, the Egyptians saw Seth as a beneficial god. They believed that he lived in the kingdom of the blessed dead. Seth was a god that the Egyptians prayed to help their dead family members.

After a while, the priests of Horus came into conflict with Seth’s followers. Scholars believe that the followers of Horus subjugated Seth. Then Seth’s role in the Pantheon changed. He became the polar opposite of Horus. The Egyptians saw Seth as the god of darkness and chaos. He was also the lord of the desert. Seth became the god of the impure and an opponent of various gods. The opposing priests destroyed most of Seth’s statues.

He was the epitome of drought. As lord of the desert and drought, Seth opposed everything that gave life. The Egyptians also saw him as a storm and a god of war. They also associated Seth with the planet Mercury. The Egyptians associated the color red with set. They would vilify redskinned people and sometimes kill redskinned animals.

The pharaohs respected Seth and his power. Seth was one of the Two Lords (Horus was the other) who gave the king power and authority. Some pharaohs, like Seti I, were named by Seth. Other pharaohs used the animal Seth as part of their emblem. Two important festivals were associated with Seth. One of them was one of the five intercalary days, the days before the beginning of the New Year. These were the days when the five Osirian gods (Osiris, Horus, Seth, Isis and Nephthys) were born. The Egyptians honored each of them on their birthday.

The other festival involved a ritual recreation. Either the pharaoh or a priest was going to throw a hippopotamus model. Then the people cut and ate a cake shaped like a hippopotamus. This festival represented the defeat of Seth’s Horus.

Symbols of the God Seth

Its symbols were the griffin, the hippopotamus, the crocodile and the turtle, but it was mainly associated with the snake.

Attributes of the God Seth

  • He is sometimes depicted as a redheaded beast with a forked tail and cleft hooves or a red hairy animal.
  • The Egyptians usually depicted Seth as a man with the head of a fantasy animal that they called the animal Seth.
  • He had a pointed snout, high rectangular ears and a slender canine body with a long forked tail. The body of the animal Seth had tufts of skin in the shape of inverted arrows.
  • Images of Seth show him holding an ankh in one hand and a personal era in the other. The staff was a long stick with a forked bottom and the head of the animal Seth on top.
  • The Egyptians also associated Seth with different animals and he was sometimes described as one of them. The animals include the wild boar, the antelope, the crocodile and the donkey.
  • Some Egyptians also associated him with poisonous creatures like snakes and scorpions. In some myths, Seth took the form of a hippopotamus.

Powers of the God Seth

The god Seth had the common powers of any common god, however, Seth was the god of chaos, darkness, desert and drought, and therefore had power over all of it.

History of the God Seth

  • The god Seth was conceived by the union of his parents. His father was Geb (god of the earth) and his mother was the goddess Nut (goddess of the sky).
  • His brothers were: Osiris (god of the underworld, vegetation and fertility), Isis (goddess of magic, marriage and wisdom) and his Nephthys (goddess of darkness and decay), the latter was also his consort.
  • He was also her brother Haroeris (Horus the Elder), a god of the sky. He had a nephew: Horus the Younger, god of the sun and patron god of the pharaoh

Other stories also place Anat and Astarte as consorts

  • Seth was the Egyptian god of war, chaos and storms, the brother of Osiris, Isis and Horus the Old, the uncle of Horus the Young and the brother and husband of Nephthys.
  • His other consort was the goddess Tawaret, a hippopotamus-headed deity who presided over fertility and childbirth. He is one of the first five gods created by the union of Geb (earth) and Nut (sky) after the creation of the world.
  • In many Egyptian myths, Seth was an adversary of different gods. But calling him a villain can be a misunderstanding. The Egyptians had a religion based on duality. All their gods had to have an opposite. Seth was the opposite of several other important gods.
  • Seth was the opposite of Horus. He was darkness in the light of Horus and chaos in the order of Horus. The existence of Seth was necessary for Horus to exist as well. In this matter, he was not seen as a villain by the Egyptians.
  • The worship of Seth was originally centered in Nubt (Greek Ombos), near today’s Ṭūkh, on the west bank of the Nile River.
  • Nubt, with its vast cemetery near Naqādah, was the main pre-dynastic center in Upper Egypt. The city lost its pre-eminent position with the unification of Egypt around 3050 BC, which took place under the kings whose capital was Abydos and whose royal god was Horus.
  • Seth was depicted as a composite figure, with a canine body, slanting eyes, square-tipped ears, tufted tail (in later depictions, fork) and a long, curved, pointed snout;
  • Several animals (including aardvark, antelope, donkey, camel, fennel, greyhound, jackal, jerboa, long-snouted mouse, okapi, oryx, and pig) have been suggested as the basis for its shape. Because even the ancient Egyptians represented its shape inconsistently, it is probably a mythical compound.
  • Originally, Seth was a god of the sky, lord of the desert, master of storms, disorder and war; in general, a trickster. Seth embodies the necessary and creative element of violence and disorder within the ordered world.
  • The vicissitudes of his cult reflect the ambivalent attitude of the Egyptians towards him, as well as the changing political fortunes of Egypt. During the second dynasty (BC. 2775- c. 2650 BC), King Peribsen identified with Seth for the first time, giving himself a title of Seth instead of the traditional name of Horus.

His successor, Khasekhemwy, gave both Horus and Seth the same prominence in his title, reflecting the mythical resolve of the two gods.

During the reign of the Hyksos invaders (BC 1630-1521), Seth was worshipped in his capital, Avaris, in the northeast delta of the Nile River, and identified with the Canaanite storm god Baal.

During the New Kingdom (1539 BC – 1075 BC), Seth was considered as a martial god who could sow discord among the enemies of Egypt.

The Pharaohs of Ramesside (1292- c. 1075 BC), originating from the northeast delta, classified him among the great gods of Egypt, used his name in their personal names (Seti I and Seti II, Setnakht), and promoted the image of Seth as the protector of Re in the bow of his bark, killing Re’s enemy, Apopis.

Seth also joined Amun, Re and Ptah as the fourth major gods of the cosmos.

In the myths, Seth was the brother of Osiris.

There too his character was problematic, as it was represented as coming from the womb of his mother, Nut, who was an unfaithful husband to his consort and his sister, Nephthys, and who murdered Osiris, who was tricked into a chest, which was then closed and thrown into the river to be taken to the sea.

After the murder of Osiris, Horus was miraculously conceived by Isis, the wife and sister of Osiris. Horus fought with Seth, who tried to expel him from his father’s throne.

This struggle forms the theme of Ramesside’s text. The contender of Horus and Seth, which borders on satire, and the later, much darker version recorded by Plutarch, in which Seth is the incarnation of the Greek demon Typhon.

After the closure of the New Kingdom, Egypt lost its empire and then its independence, and as the cult of Osiris grew in importance, Seth was gradually expelled from the Egyptian pantheon. In the 1st millennium BEFORE CHRIST his name and image were erased from many monuments.

He was now identified as a god of the eastern invaders of Egypt, including the Persians. They could no longer reconcile Seth with Horus, the Egyptians equated the former with evil and the demon Apopis, or the Greek Typhon.

The elaborate rituals of Seth’s repeated defeat as an enemy largely replaced the earlier ritual destructions of Apopis.

Myths of the God Seth

Seth helped Ra the sun god

In some myths, Seth opposed Ra and fought him. This was not true in all myths. Some stories said that Seth helped Ra. In these stories, he was a warrior in Ra’s sun boat who defended the boat against Apophis, the serpent of chaos. Some stories say that Seth was put in the bow of the solar boat to fight Apophis.

Seth murders his brother Osiris…

Horus the Younger’s conflict with Seth depends on the former’s role as an avenger. Seth wanted the throne of the gods, which belonged to his brother, Osiris. This was before the birth of Horus, who, in this myth, was the son of Osiris and Isis. Seth murdered Osiris to win his throne.

The method of this murder varies according to the source of the story. Most Egyptian copies say that Seth drowned Osiris. The Greco-Roman copies are much more elaborate. They start with Seth building a sarcophagus that fits Osiris exactly. Then Seth tricked his brother into the sarcophagus. Then he sealed the coffin and threw it into the Nile. Isis recovered Osiris’ body, but Seth stopped her before she could bring her husband back to life. Seth then cut up Osiris’ body and spread the pieces all over Egypt.

Isis and Nephthys recovered all the pieces of Osiris’ body, but one that was eaten by a fish. Isis managed to bring Osiris back for a night during which she conceived Horus. She hid Horus from Seth as he grew into adulthood. Seth tried to kill Horus as a child, but the attempts failed. When Horus grew up, he fought Seth to avenge his father. The conflict lasted for decades. Finally, Seth became a hippopotamus and tried to destroy Horus’ ship. Horus attacked Seth, but the other gods prevented him from destroying his uncle. This is how Horus avenged the murder of Osiris and won the throne of the gods.

Horus-Seth Dispute

An Egyptian manuscript from the 20th Dynasty (1190-1077 BC) tells the much older story of the battle for control of the world between Horus, son of Osiris, and his uncle Set. The manuscript is the story of the legal battle before the gods over who is the rightful king of Egypt. Horus and Seth present their cases and then must prove their worth in a series of contests and battles that are won by Horus, who, in the end, is proclaimed king.

The disputes of Horus and Set are just one version of what happened after Horus was born and Osiris descended to the underworld. Other myths describe how Isis hid her son of Set in the swamps of the Nile Delta while Set was looking for the child to murder him. The folk tale of Isis and the Seven Scorpions unfolds during this time and shows Isis going out at night to the local towns to beg for food for herself and her son. There are other stories and legends about Horus’ youth and Isis’ care for him, and when he matured, he challenged his uncle for the throne.

In some versions of the story, Horus fights against Seth, defeats him and expels him from the land, while in other versions Seth dies. The Contenders of Horus and Set depict these battles as contests ordered by the gods. Most of the nine presiding gods (known as Aeneas) decided that Horus was the rightful king, but Ra, the sun god, was not convinced, and the decision had to be unanimous.

Ra believed that Horus was too young and had led too sheltered a life to rule effectively, while Seth had proved to be a capable, if uneven, monarch. Although Horus had won every competition against his uncle, Ra would not budge. This trial lasted over 80 years, while the people of Egypt suffered under the chaotic reign of Seth. Isis understood that she would have to intervene for the sake of the people and she transformed herself into a young woman and sat outside Seth’s palace. Where he would have to go through her.

She cried and cried until her cheeks became red and full of tears when Seth, walking, saw her and asked her what was wrong. She told him how a wicked man, her husband’s own brother, had killed him and taken his land and his flocks, and how she and her son had been driven from their inheritance, and furthermore how the wicked man now even sought the life of his son. Set was deeply moved by her story and became enraged. He swore that he himself would destroy the criminal and return the land to the poor woman and her son.

Isis then revealed herself and the presence of the listening gods. Ra was finally convinced that Horus should rule, and Seth was driven from the valley of the Nile into the desert lands. In another version of The Contenders of Horus and Seth, the gods cannot agree and consult the goddess Neith. Neith was very wise and often called upon to mediate disputes between the gods. She suggested that Horus should be given the rule of Egypt and that the desert regions and foreign lands should be given free reign.

Sons of the God Seth

Nephew/Son: Anubis, god of the dead and funerals.

Temples of the God Seth

  • Seth was worshipped primarily in his center of worship in the city of Ombos since at least the Early Dynastic Period, but he had temples that honored him throughout the land.
  • As with other gods, the priests of Seth took care of his statue, which no one else could approach, in the inner sanctuary of the temple and were also responsible for the daily rituals and maintenance of the temple complex.
  • People who asked the god for help were only allowed in the outer courtyards of the temples, never in the sanctuary, where they left their donations or asked the priests for help in their lives.
  • Requests could range from anything from marriage counseling to psychological advice, medical or financial assistance and, of course, services at funerals, weddings or festivals.
  • One of Seth’s centers of worship was Tukh or Ombos. Most of the temple is now a ruin, but what remains dates back to the New Kingdom period. An object found there was a large scepter that
  • Amenhotep III dedicated to Seth. This is the largest earthenware object ever found in Egypt.
  • Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos, was another center of worship for Seth. The Hyksos were a group of Asians who ruled Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period.
  • They worshipped Seth because they associated him with their main god, a storm god. During this time, two Hyksos goddesses, Anat and Astarte, were consorts of Seth.

Related Topics

Other Gods of Mythology in ALPHAPEDIA

Other Topics of Interest in ALPHAPEDIA

Images of the God Seth

IMAGEN DEL DIOS SETH / GOD SETH IMAGE