Over the weekend I was listening to an old audio recording* of a talk that Don Webb of The Temple of Set did about the Egyptian god Set. I really recommend the talk, as it is both very informative and good humoured (and you can find part two of the talk here).
I have a small altar to Set in our living room, and he is the only god with an altar solely dedicated to him in our home. I have a long history of interest in Set going back to my initial forays into Thelema, though this only came into focus about two years ago or so, and he has become key to my path in a way which I am still coming to understand. It’s fairly typical of me that I go towards things instinctively, and understand the whys and wherefores better over time.
There were many things which resonated in Don’s talk, some of which I knew already, and some that were new light bulbs popping. Set disturbs the symmetry of his brothers and sisters, who would otherwise exist in neat male-female pairs. Oops, there goes the “perfect” pattern. Set’s original name of “Sut” means “cutter” or “isolator”, and ultimately relates to him as an initiator. He follows the pattern of “the god against other gods”, which Don links to “the principle of separating oneself from a matrix, and evolving oneself”. Even Set’s birth is unorthodox, as he bursts out of his mother’s side. He has associations with rage, storms, chaos, borders, desert, foreigners and infertility, but he is also the only one who can get the solar barque out of shit creek, as he is the only god who can attack and defeat the seven headed monster Apep each night. The weapon associated with him is the double edged knife used by midwives to cut the umbilical cord in ancient Egypt, separating the child from the mother, the same knife he uses to slay Apep.
Don says that Set is essentially a war god. He certainly has the strength and fierceness which everybody wants to use in a tight spot, but nobody quite seems to want to pay for. He fights a number of adversaries, including Osiris as a personification of stasis, and the aforementioned Apep (the hypnotic hold of unconsciousness, if I am hearing Don correctly), but also, and most complexly, Horus (the Elder) his brother, who he has a turbulent and ambiguous relationship with, including an early incident where they fight and Horus tears off Set’s testicles, and Set gouges out Horus’ eye. Don states that Horus is “the archetype of divine reality”, all those things in your mind which are not your own creation, such as culture, upbringing and preconceptions. Set is “that part of consciousness capable of creation and rebellion”. In their fighting Horus took away Set’s ability to reproduce, and as Don says: “Set has a vested interest in this Earth in having children here”. Meanwhile Horus’ “principle power” is the power of command, symbolised by the eye, so what Set deprives Horus of is the ability to cause people to follow their preconceived patterns. This is maybe why Set is associated with confusion and infertility, but his followers see him as a giver or catalyst of original enlightenment.
It is the god Thoth (the god of writing and wisdom) who reconciles the two partners and their capacities, and puts the two together in the process of language (and magick). In fact, in some myths Thoth is the child of Horus and Set’s union, and he can be seen as analogous to the alchemical Mercurius, as expressed in the Jungian article I talked about here.
Anyway, give Don’s talk a listen, there is more in it there.
Set may be one of the earliest forms of the “Satan” figure, and as such I feel he is one of the gods that gives Satan a wider context, indeed a universal one. People discount “Satan” and Satanism as an inverted Christianity, as a reaction and a rebellion, but this is a shallow assessment of a profound phenomenon. If you look at the function and process that is evident in the Satan figure and its psychic underpinning, you will see something that has deep and universal roots, albeit not the kind of deep and universal that people are used to.
It’s funny just how much of a sense of relief I get from learning about the characteristics of Set, as if something were finally adding up to make sense of myself. But everyone has their “Set”, if they’ve gone (or been pushed) to a certain part of themselves.
There are a number of gods over the years that have been like much loved, aberrant fathers to me; and the bond, and the love, is never forgotten. Pan was I think the first, and he did inform part of my vision of the Sabbat God also. Rejected at birth, taken to be ugly, dismissed as “rustic”, yet the very personification of lust and raw creativity.
From the description of “the god against other gods” you would think that I might have had a connection with Loki, but in fact I have never found that connection with him myself. Instead I was quite overwhelmed by his compelling blood brother Odin, that most fatherly of Norse gods, yet also with complex trickster characteristics, and a wielder of “women’s magic”. Bringing the runes, and poetry, he is surely a master of the magick of language. The greater part of his nature remains unsaid.
And then there is ancient Set, Sutekh – blackened, implacable and esoteric, fierce father.
These inspire awe and love for me, each in their own way.
One of the words that Don ascribed to Set was “shey”, meaning “fate”, and part of the process and work associated with Set was to discover your fate or “destiny”. At this stage in my life (approaching late 50s) a word like “destiny” hums with things I feel and taste and know as my deepest values. Love, a husband’s embrace, the circle of a good life, the knowledge of the gods, desire, and the yielding to what I wish for, and what wishes for me. Magick.
Everyone is different. Everyone is the same. Mercurius separates and unites.
* 2nd June 2015 – these videos have been taken down off YouTube due to a copyright claim of Zeena Schrek, who hosted the talks and has ownership of the original recordings as I understand.