Set is a god that embodies war and chaos. Set has multiple spellings, some of which include: Setekh, Setesh, Seth, and Suti. Set is the brother of Osiris, god of death and life. The sky goddess, Nut, never gave birth to Set. Instead he was said to have fought his way out of her womb. His violent birth mirrored his representation as a god of chaos. Set is given many other representations in Egyptian myths. He has been the god of deserts, foreigners, violence, and storms. “Because even the ancient Egyptians rendered his figure inconsistently, it is probably a mythical composite.”
Set had different animals and creatures that represented him. This collection of animals may have led to the creation of a unique creature being used to represent Set. Depictions of the animal appear to be a dog or lion. Other comparisions of the creature have been made to an aardvark, jackal, fennec fox, donkey, or even a giraffe. The set animal has a long, upright bisected tail. The forked tail may be related to the Was-Sceptre, which was a symbol of power and is shown with two prongs on the bottom of the staff. The creature also has upright ears with an unusual shape. The ears of the animal are wider at the top, and gradually get more narrow toward the head. The creature has a long snout that slightly curves downward. This creature accurately depicts Set, as the god himself was the result of a culmination of various aspects of Egyptian culture and their environment.
Originally, Set may have been intended to be a counterpart to Horus. In contrast to Horus, Set caused misery, violence, and enjoyed causing mischief. Because of Set’s tendency to betray his consorts and other gods, Set eventually found himself without any support to help him take the throne of Osiris. After the death of Osiris, Horus battles against Set to ensure that he will not take over the throne and bring chaos to the land. Set rivals Horus, the sun god. The two gods fight among each other in multiple Egyptian tales.
Set is a mysterious god with a variety of stories surrounding his conflicts with the other gods. The most well known story is the anger of Set toward his brother Osiris. Osiris ruled over the underworld. Osiris would rule over the spirits of the dead that were worthy to be a part of his kingdom. Set wanted to inherit the throne and planned to fool his brother to accomplish his goal. Set tricks Osiris and then cuts him into pieces. The pieces are thrown into a box except for his penis that is thrown into a river. This story is but one variation on the conflicts between Set and other gods. “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.” Osiris’ wife Isis tries to bring him back long enough to give birth to a child. Her child became Set’s new rival, Horus.
Horus plans to take his revenge against Set for the murder of his father. Set decides to trick Horus to win the throne. Set entices Horus into sleeping with him. In the end Horus realizes what Set is trying to do and pulls away from him before he ejaculates. Horus returns with a similar trick on Set, by ejaculating into some lettuce. He offers the food to Set, and Set eats it. When the two gods are to be judged as to which one has overpowered the other, Set is found to have been fooled. Set is not satisfied with this and continues to try to compete against Horus for the throne. Horus offers to race Set in a boat made of stone. Horus tricks Set by painting his boat to look like stone and wins. The stories of the conflicts and competition of Horus and Set may represent the battle of good against evil. This is why Set usually loses in these competitions, as he represents war and chaos.
The origin of the stories that feature Set as the loser in competing for the throne, may have developed from a hatred for the elite of society that worshiped him. The Egyptians referred to these leaders as Hyksos. Hyksos meant foreign rulers that took control. There may have been some resentment from the Egyptians toward these rulers, that became more evident after the Hyksos lost their power.
The sole deity of the Hyksos was Set. The Hyksos were no longer ruling Egypt, and Set then became associated with evil. Previously Set was more of a representation of an opposing force to Horus. Set was a trickster and a representation of war, however, not purely evil at the time. Because of the preference of foreign leaders to worship Set, he took on the representation of foreigner. This harmed his representation even further after Persians, a group of foreigners, invaded Egypt. Set not only had a rivalry with Horus, but other Gods as well. “His consorts – Nephthys, Taweret, Astarte, and/or Anat, depending on the source and the time period – were all raped by him. Unsurprisingly, they all turned against him and aided Horus in his quest for the throne.” Horus started with no one that would help him in his quest to take the throne. Through the deception and evil deeds of Set, Horus was able to win, and Set lost all support that he would have had to become the new ruler.
Set had essentially become a demon to the Egyptians. Set was a horrible force that caused misery to his enemies and allies, but Set was not always portrayed in such a negative way. The lives of the Egyptians and those that ruled over them, molded their image of Set and what he represented. Set did have some positive associations, such as being a protector or defender of the pharaoh. Set killed the evil Apep, who was a giant snake. Set was depicted with Horus crowning a new pharaoh. These images began to fade over time, as more negative associations were developed. Initially, Set was the ruler over upper Egypt. He was the counterpart to Horus, who ruled over lower Egypt. When the two halves were united, a new god called Horus-Set was created in honor of this union. Set, as a fearsome god, also had a consistent consort called Neith. Neith was a terrible goddess that was to be feared. She was a good match to the attitude that Set portrayed through his interactions with the people and gods. Set is an example of a deity that was pushed out due to negative associations. It is fascinating to see how the lives of the Egyptians molded and transformed this deity and what he meant to them.