Set, Setekh, Setesh, Sutekh, Seth, Suty
During the early times, Set was worshiped as the god of the desert, storms, and of foreigners. After the war between Upper and Lower Egypt, he also became connected to darkness and chaos. Set is one of the Ennead of Heliopolis or “the nine” alongside Atum, Geb, Isis, Nut, Osiris, Nephthys, Shu and Tefnut.
Set is the son of Geb and Nut. It is said that he married his sister Nephthys, and is often depicted in conflict with his two siblings Osiris and Isis. Set kills Osiris (who is also Isis’ husband), Isis resurrects Osiris somehow and conceives a son name Horus. Set is also seen as the father of Sobek and in later accounts, the father of Anubis.
Taweret was sometimes depicted as his consort after Set became equated with Apep. Taweret was traditionally the goddess of childbirth and fertility and the wife of Apep. Despite her marriage to an evil god, she was seen as benevolent and the one who protected against evil by restraining it.
Like most gods, Set is sometimes depicted as a human with the head of an animal. Most of the time however, he is represented as the Set animal, or the Typhonic beast. This is a creature that has the body of a canine with a forked tail, and a curved snout and square ears. The Set animal was first used during the Predynastic Period, dating back to around 3500 BC. Later on he was also represented with a donkey.
The Set animal was a version of a Sha, a dog like creature with similar features that appeared in various artwork. While it was sometimes mentioned as a fantastic beast, it was more often depicted in a way typical of actual animals. As Set became demonized, the Sha became less popular in artwork as well. It is unknown if the Sha was a depiction of an actual animal, with both the Fennec Fox and African Hunting Dog considered as possible real world counterparts.
Conflict with Horus
The conflict between Set and Horus, Osiris and Isis is one that was vastly important to the Egyptians and was referenced in many sources including both the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts.
In more detail, the story begins with Set being jealous of his brother Osiris, who was the bringer of civilization. This caused him to kill and dismember Osiris. Isis reassembled the corpse and embalmed him, turning Osiris into a mummy that would rule over the afterlife. The struggle between Set and Osiris was interpreted as the struggle between the desert, represented by Set, and the floods of the Nile that made life there possible, represented by Osiris.
Horus then becomes the enemy of Set because he killed his father. The struggle between Set and Horus may be a reflection of historical events as it appears that followers of both Horus and Set struggled for power in Upper Egypt before unifying it with Lower Egypt. The conflict between the two gods was resolved by the time that Egypt was unified, as they were often shown crowning the pharaohs together, and the Queens of the First Dynasty held the title “She Who Sees Horus and Set.” Eventually a dual-god known as Horus-Set appeared, similar to the idea of Amun-Ra.
Set is Also Known as Protector of Ra
Set was also known as the ‘Protector of Ra’ and was depicted fighting off the evil god Apep. He is described as having a key role in overcoming Apep in the Amduat, or ‘That Which Is In the Afterworld.’ The most famous depiction of him as the ‘Protector of Ra’ shows him standing on the prow of Ra’s ship and spearing the demon Apep while it is in the form of a serpent.
The 19th Dynasty
The 19th Dynasty was founded by Ramses I. This ruler came from a military family in Avaris. The strong following of Set in this city influenced the 19th Dynasty despite the decline in his popularity due to the Hyksos. This influence can be seen in Ramses I’s son named Seti, which stands for ‘man of Set.’ Also by the founder of the 20th Dynasty named Setnakht, which stands for ‘Set is strong.’ The new capital built by Ramses II, Pi-Ramesses Aa-nakhtu or ‘House of Ramses, Great in Victory’ was built to pay homage to the Set cult on the Nile Delta. This was done to commemorate the Four Hundred year (400) anniversary.
Why Set was Disliked
Two reasons caused Set to be demonized and disliked. The first being that there was conflict between Lower Egypt (who worshiped Horus), and Upper Egypt (who worshiped Set). Lower Egypt began equating Set with Apep, the evil god he had defeated as a form of propaganda. This is when Set became affiliated with darkness, chaos and evil. By doing this, Lower Egypt was able to claim to be the ‘good’ side, fighting off the chaos brought about by the Set worshipers.
The second reason was his role as god of foreigners which sit well with native populations. When the Hyksos invaded Egypt and took over, they chose Set as their chief god and worshiped only him. He would also become associated with other foreign oppressors such as the Hittites, the Achaemenid Persians, the Ptolemaeic Dynasty and the Romans. As time passed he was vilified more and more, and Horus’ victory over him was celebrated throughout almost all of Egypt. Small sects in the outer parts of Egypt still clung to Set as their hero and chief deity, but nevertheless, there was much confusion regarding this deity. It all depended on what area you came from.
By the 22nd Dynasty Set was seen as an evil force. His images were removed from temples and replaced with either Sobek or Thoth
There are a multitude of temples to Set. One of the most important ones being at Sepermeru, which was known as the ‘gateway to the desert.’ Two temples dedicated to Set can be found here, the first being ‘House of Seth, Lord of Sepermeru,’ and the second smaller one known as ‘The House of Seth, Powerful Is His Mighty Arm.’
There was also a temple to Nephthys located in Sepermeru, and others in the surrounding area. Once he was demonized, his temples in the major cities dwindled, but his importance continued to grow in places like Kharga, Mut, Kellis, Deir el-Hagar and Dakhlah where he was known as ‘Lord of the Oasis.’
Perhaps the most important temple to Set was located at Ombos, current day Naqada, where he was the local god. He was also powerful in the city of Avaris, where he ruled as the supreme deity and represented a balance between both conflict and harmony with foreign powers. This was reflected by Nephthys being replaced as his consort by the Phoenician goddesses Anat and Astarte.
The Was Sceptre
The Was Scepter is a symbol that appeared in art and hieroglyphics that represented power – Set and the pharaoh. It is a long staff with a forked end and an animal head at the top. When in the context of the deceased, the Was Sceptre became associated with their well being. After the demonization of Set it was given to the Pharaoh and represented their control over the forces of chaos.