Or: Not Such a Bad God When You Get to Know Him
Seth--the Egyptian version, not that little-known Father-of-all-Humanity biblical character of the same name--has earned a reputation as a God of Evil, which while handy when walking through the rougher parts of Cairo, may be undeserved.
Seth, like many of the ancient gods predating Christianity, for much of his career had a respectable place in the cosmic order. If he represented darkness, he did so as a necessary balance to light. It was only later in the eternal day that this his ratings began to dip.
In the Beginning
Images of Seth, a.k.a. Set, Suetekh (Charmer, Ladies' Man, 'Ole Crocodile-Face, etc.), have been dated as far back as 3200 BC, and inscriptions of his name may go as far back as 5000 BC. Seth was introduced to the Egyptians from the East during the Predynastic and Archaic periods, and was originally thought of quite positively--more a God of change and the extension of existence.
Those of you in touch with your spiritual sides can determine what that means. For the rest, he was a god of birth, circumcision, and death in battle.
He also took responsibility for wind and storms.
Seth enjoyed in his early days quite the cult following. Not so much an every-Friday-at-midnight-screening following, but a reverent, austere godly one. The first site worshipers were known to gather around was Pelusium in the eastern Nile Delta.
From there, his congregation spread to the borders, including Kharga in the South, and Ombos, where he was first associated, then eventually melded to the local god, Ash.
The Great Pyramid at Giza is one of last and largest structures that literally makes a space for Sethian, or Setian, afterlife--a shaft lining up with Seth's star, Alpha Draconis, was left so that the King's akh could drift up to it.
Here Comes the Sun
During the Fourth Dynasty, Solar Worship began to burn brightly in the eyes of Egyptians, and Seth saw a decline in the number of people coming to his meetings. Pop culture can be pretty rough on religion.
Seth defended Ra's barque each night as it sailed through the Underworld, and was the only God who could slay Ra's chief enemy, Apep. The Book of the Dead portrays Seth as something of a braggart, and his ability to bring storms and winds against the Sun-God got him dimissed from duty. Despite the value of his power against Apep, Seth had clearly lost his place in the sun.
Issues with the Family
It was during the Third Intermediate Period that mythology decided to take Seth by the collar and really slap him around. Not surprisingly, Seth had some trouble at home. Son to Nut and Geb, he was also brother to Osiris, Isis, and Nepthys. Osiris, the King of Egypt after Geb, left town to spread his teachings.
He tried to usurp the throne in his brother's absence, and take Isis, left by Osiris to rule in his stead, as his wife. Twenty-eight years into his brother's reign, on the 17th day of Hathor--late September to us Romans-- Seth and a company of seventy-two conspirators murdered Osiris, and dumped his body into the Nile.
The ever-plucky Isis, however, dragged the body out, at which point Seth--and this doesn't do his public image any good at all--ripped it into no fewer than fourteen pieces, which he shipped all over Egypt. Happily, Isis again recovered every piece. Except one, if you take my meaning. That was eaten by the Nile fish. Specifically, the phagrus fish, which became sacred to Seth.
Duct tape being in short supply, but magic being plentiful, Isis managed to put Osiris back together just long enough for him to bring forth Horus, his heir. For a long time, a battle raged on between them, and in the original tale it was said that the fight would not end until water swallowed the world. But once Seth was regarded as evil, the story changed: Seth now decided to take a stab at Horus in his youth, but failed, and was punished by the other gods with exile. Ra took Seth's side, however, proclaiming Horus too young to rule.
Thus, Seth remained on the throne until that clever sister of his threw down one more banana peel for him to slip on. She came to him as a beautiful woman, weeping about an evil man who killed her husband and was trying to steal the family flocks. Seth said that such a man should be destroyed.
We hope the irony was not lost on him as he was clearing out his desk so Horus could move in, while the people began recarving his statues into other gods.
How To Spot Him in a Lineup
Seth is most often depicted as a man with the head of an unidentifiable animal--something like a cross between a dog and an aardvark, though he was known to take the shape of a crocodile, and was closely associated with the hippopotamus. He also had an upright, forked tail.
Seth was believed to be fair-skinned with red hair, a color that came to be associated with evil not only in Egypt but throughout the world.
What He Was Like In the Sack
Apparently bisexual. He had no shortage of women, and was always after Isis, but he seems to have made a pass or two at Horus as well. Keeping his options open did him little good, however, as he was thought to be infertile because of his child-to-mistress ratio--naught:many--and he lost a testicle in battle to Horus, who lost an eye in return.
So that gives you a one-balled, childless, bisexual womanizer. Who are you to resist him?
Are You Quite Finished?
Yes, yes. Seth obviously didn't lead a purely benevolent life, and comparisons to Satan, in terms of both appearance and action are made frequently. But he was still a divine being, and pharaohs took a form of his name right up to the nineteenth dynasty. As an equal of Horus, he gave necessary balance to the good of Egyptian life, chaos set against order, storms in the face of fair weather. He was friend to the dead, and crowner of Kings. So he killed his brother and tried to marry his sister. Nobody's perfect.
I will sacrifice lambs to: