Back to Home Page or Contents or Egyptian Mythology or Article Index

Seth


Seth (or Set) was among the first nine deities in the Heliopolitan Theological System, probably originating from Libya, whose followers appeared to have worshipped him under crocodile and hippopotamus fetishes. At first they were centered in Upper Egypt but later spread throughout the country. There seemed to be no rivalry between the cults of Osiris and Isis and his cult, perhaps because the people thought they were all of the same family since Seth was the third child of Nut born on the third intercalary day. He married his twin sister Nephthys. Geb was his father, and his siblings were Isis and Osiris. As a deity he generally represented hostility and violence, and therefore was typically associated with Semitic war goddesses including Anat and Astarte.

According to legend he violently tore himself from his mother's womb. Set is depicted in human form as possessing a head of an animal that possibly resembling an aardvark with erected ears and a curving snout. He also is depicted in animal, which bears no resemblance to any living creature, but has a stuffy erected tail. Other animals symbolizing this god include the oryx, pig, boar, crocodile, and the hippopotamus when being a disruptive element in a river.

Seth is mostly recognized for the pat he played in the Osirian legend in which he battled eighty-four years with Osiris' son Horus. The assembly of gods judged Horus the victor, but during the battle Seth tore Horus left eye out, which became the Eye of Horus. This legend was first recorder in the Pyramid Texts and later popularized and embellished by the Greek writer Plutarch.

In another myth Seth is credited for having saved Re who was about to be swallowed up by Apophis, the perennially hostile serpent of the underworld. The Book of the Dead accredits Seth as being the "lord of the northern sky" who controls the storm, clouds, and thunder.

Politically Seth gain supremacy during the Hyksos occupation of the delta, because these Semitic invaders adopted him as their god, but unlike the pharaohs, they regarded him as the only god and attempted to impose his cult on the rest of Egypt, which retained its independence. The Hyksos, hekaukhaust, "the rulers of foreign lands," found Seth similar to their own Baals. When Pharaoh Amosis reunited Egypt after the expulsion of the Hyksos, about 1570 BC, the other Egyptian gods were restored. However, an indirect legacy of Seth's elevation perhaps was attempted Amenophis IV to replace all the gods with Aton, the solar disc. A.G.H.


Sources:

Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman's Sons, 1980, p. 46
Grimal, Pierre, Larousse World Mythology, Secaucus, New Jersey, Chartwell Books, 1965, pp. 63-67
Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, p. 233