Seth Appears to Like Chaos and Destruction
Seth, also known as Set and Suetekh, is the god of chaos, disorder, violence, and darkness in ancient Egyptian religion. If you are not convinced, you should note that his name is usually translated as “destroyer” and “instigator of confusion”.
Seth is the son of Geb, the earth god, and Nut, the sky goddess. He was born on the first day of creation and is the brother of Osiris, Horus the Elder, Isis, and Nephthys. In some accounts, he is also the husband of Nephthys. Horus the Younger is his nephew and Anubis is either his nephew or his son.
The Ancient Egyptians had a religion of duality, which means that they believed in the existence of two opposing forces in the world. Seth was understood as the opposite of three other major gods; Osiris, Horus, and Ra. While Osiris represented the force of order and justice, Seth represented the force of chaos and destruction. Horus was the god of the sky and the sun, while Ra was the god of the sun and the underworld.
Sometimes Set can be seen as a creature with red hair, a forked tail, and cloven hooves. In other representations, he is a red dog creature known as sha. In yet other depictions, In other he is shown as a crocodile, hippopotamus, or tortoise.
Seth is also associated with the desert and is sometimes depicted as a man with the head of a lion or a scorpion. In some accounts, Seth is regarded to be the same as Apophis – the god of chaos. In other accounts, he fights for Ra against Apophis.
Seth Murdered Osiris Because He Was Jealous of His Success
Osiris was the firstborn of the first five gods and the ruler of the world. It appears that he and his sister and wife Isis were such effective rulers that the food was abundant and there was no human suffering.
By some accounts, Seth was jealous of Osiris’s success and decided to kill him. In the Osiris myth, perhaps the most famous Egyptian myth, he murdered and dismembered his brother Osiris out of envy and took over his throne. Seth was expelled by Isis and Horus (who later avenged the death of Osiris) but remained a potent force in the cosmos.
Seth’s plan to kill Osiris was pretty sadistic. He crafted what was said to be the most beautiful chest ever made, tailored to his brother’s exact measurements. He then threw a party and showed the chest to the guests, telling them that whoever fits the best inside could take the chest home. Guests tried and tried but it was only Osiris who fitted perfectly. Seth then slammed the lid and threw the carefully designed casket into the Nile River.
Horus the Young was born by Isis after she retrieved the dismembered body parts of Osiris, except his penis, which unfortunately was eaten by a catfish or a crab while floating on the Nile. According to the Greek philosopher Plutarch, Isis used her magic powers to resurrect Osiris and even crafted a phallus to conceive Horus. Isis gave birth to Horus in the Nile Delta marshlands while hiding from the jealous brother Set.
The Osiris myth was the basis for the festival of Sokar, which celebrated the rebirth of Osiris and the triumph of Horus over Seth.
The Conflict Between Seth and Horus
The most well-known story involving Seth is the conflict between him and Horus. This story is known as the Osirian cycle. The basic story goes that Osiris was the king of Egypt who was murdered by his brother Seth. Isis, Osiris’s wife, used her magic to bring him back to life long enough to conceive a son, Horus the Young.
Horus the Young grew up to be a strong and powerful god. He challenged Seth for the throne of Egypt and after a long and brutal battle, Horus emerged victorious. In some versions of the story, Horus cuts off Seth’s penis and in others, Seth is swallowed whole by Horus.
Conflict with Horus
Seth fought with Horus the Young for the throne of the gods. In one account, these two deities went before the Divine Tribunal to argue their position. Isis uses her wisdom to convince the members of the Tribunal to decide in the favor of Horus. In response, Seth convinces the Tribunal to ban Isis. Isis is banned but manages to return in disguise and tricks Seth into admitting he was a usurper.
The next part of the legend is a bit weirder but probably made more sense in Ancient Egypt. In their fight for the throne, both Seth and Horus try to get their semen inside their opponent. Horus succeeds, once again with the help is Isis. When the Tribunal called the semen of both gods, they found Horu’s inside Seth.
Is Seth Really Mean?
Well, yes, most of the time, but keep in mind these stories were written in brutal times. It is true that the god of chaos and destruction was not always portrayed in a negative light. In some myths, he is the hero who defeats the evil gods. However, in the majority of his stories, Seth is portrayed as the villain who causes trouble and chaos for the other gods. Despite this, the Egyptians still worshipped Seth and believed that he was an important god who played a vital role in the universe.
In the Early Dynastic Period (around 3150-2613 BCE), Seth appears to be understood as a benevolent god of Upper Egypt, his name being invoked for spells and inscribed on amulets serving as love char. He is also the one who saves Ra from Apophis when the later tries to stop Ra’s journey through the night sky.
By the time of the New Kingdom, Seth becomes best known for killing Osiris and for attempting to kill Horus. Ancient Greeks associated the god with Typhon, the god who tried to dominate Zeus and was sent to Tartarus.
To understand Seth’s nature, one needs to understand that the ancient Egyptian religion had duality as one of its major themes, and gods had an opposite.
For example, Seth represented the darkness and chaos that was the opposite of Horus’ light and order. For Horus to exist, Seth also needed to exist, and the other way around.
Seth, as a god associated with the desert, was also the opposite of Osiris, the god of vegetation and fertility. In some accounts, he was also the opposite of Ra, as the later was also the god of order.
Seth’s symbols included the desert, the animal kingdom, and the color red. He was also associated with the planet Mars. Seth’s main weapon was a spear or knife, which he used to kill his brother Osiris. He was also sometimes shown carrying a club or scepter.
The temples dedicated to Seth were usually built in the desert, as he was associated with this type of landscape. The temples were typically decorated with images of animals, plants, and the color red.
One of Seth’s main cult centers was Ombos, in Upper Egypt. You can still find traces of Ombos dating from the New Kingdom period (around 1570-1069 BCE). This temple is also the place where the largest faience object in Egypt was found – a scepter that the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Amenhotep III, dedicated to set.
You can search for Seth at the temple of Kom Ombo. Even if you don’t find him, the temple is certainly worth a visit if you are trekking Egypt. This temple is an unusual Egyptian temple in that it is dedicated to two different gods. The southern half of the temple is devoted to the crocodile god Sobek, while the northern half honors Horus, the falcon god.
This dual dedication is reflected in the temple’s layout, which features two sets of halls, columns, and altars. The Temple of Kom Ombo was built during the Ptolemaic period, and many of its features are typical of this style of architecture. For more information and booking, go here.
Temple of Kom Ombo looks cool
Another worship center dedicated to Seth was at Avaris – the former capital of the Hyksos, an Asian group that ruled Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period.
Seth is one of the most important gods in ancient Egyptian religion. He is associated with chaos and destruction but sometimes is also seen as a protector of the Egyptian people.
Despite his rather aggressive nature, the Egyptians believed that Seth was necessary for the continued existence of the world. They thought that his chaotic energy kept the universe from becoming stagnant and allowed for growth and change.
There are several other accounts of the same or related events presented in this article and it would take too much space to even introduce them. For this reason, if you want to learn more about Seth or other Egyptian gods, feel free to check out this book.