Comparing the Egyptian god Set with the Greek titan Typhon, and explaining how the word “Typhonian” became a synonym for “Setian.”
The name Typhon originally belonged to a Titan in Greek mythology who appears as a giant with a hundred serpents for his heads and legs. The Titans were primordial beings who existed before the Olympians (Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, etc.) and who were ruled by a god named Kronos. After Zeus dethroned Kronos and took control over the universe, Typhon led the Titans to war against the Olympians. But Zeus overpowered him in battle and buried him alive beneath the Earth, from whence he now sends lava and volcanic eruptions. Typhon’s mate is the gruesome snake-woman Ekhidna, with whom he sired such terrible chaos monsters as Cerberus and the Chimaera. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence that the Greeks ever worshiped Typhon (though if anyone out there is aware of such evidence, please let me know). It would seem that he was only ever worshiped against, much like
Apep in Egyptian religion.
Yet the name Typhon also became strongly associated the Egyptian Set after the New Kingdom fell to foreign invaders during the 8th century BCE. Since Set is the god of all things foreign to Egypt, He was blamed for these invasions as well as for the final dissolution of Pharaonic power. So the Egyptians went apeshit and smashed all His statues, scratched His name off every monument, and killed His sacred animals in excessively cruel ways (such as pushing scared and defenseless donkeys over cliffs). They ceased to believe in Him as the Savior of Ra and equated Him with
Apep instead. They also persecuted and sometimes killed anyone who either continued to follow Set or was thought to resemble Him too much (such as redheads). This eventually led to one of the earliest recorded cases of blood libel, in which Alexandrian Jews were accused of practicing “onolatry” (donkey worship), poisoning wells, and murdering people in their religious rituals. Even Yahweh Himself was equated with Set during this period, which meant that Jews and Setians were both being portrayed as something like a pre-Christian “satanic cult.”
By the time guys like Herodotus started writing about the Egyptians in the 5th century BCE, there was far more of
Apep to be found in the popular understanding of Set than there was of Set Himself. So when Herodotus applied the concept of interpretatio graecia to the Egyptian pantheon (identifying foreign people’s gods as Greek gods under different names), he identified this fallacious Set/ Apep hybrid with the Typhon of his own culture. Once he made that link, Greco-Egyptian syncretists started calling Big Red Seth-Typhon, and people who continued to worship or “resemble” Him became known as Typhonians. This was a term of hostile derision, and classical Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used it in much the same way that Christians continue to use the terms “Satanist” or “devil worshiper” today.
I’m not a big fan of interpretatio graecia; I understand why it made sense to the Greeks, but I’m skeptical of it myself (especially in this case). It doesn’t take an archaeologist to know the Egyptian Set and the Greek Typhon are almost nothing alike. Sure, there are certain superficial similarities; both became scary “bad guys” for a while. But until the 400s BCE at least, it had always been an accepted part of Set’s arc that He is a villain-turned-hero. He also had a proper priesthood of His own and was honored by the Pharaohs; this clearly wasn’t the case for Typhon, who never enjoyed any kind of state-endorsed following.
If Set and Typhon truly are identical, then Typhon’s family in Greek mythology should be like a “second family” that Set has apart from His Egyptian and Canaanite relatives. Theoretically at least, this would mean creatures like the Chimaera and Cerberus are fellow Children of Set, and I should feel some kind of spiritual resonance with them. Theology is not a science, of course, so there’s really no way for anyone to be 100% certain of such things; but aside from the complete absence of any lore to this effect, I’ve never acquired any gnosis that would support this idea. Ekhidna and Her frightening brood just don’t feel like they’re related to Set at all; and if Set is indeed sterile and incapable of siring any children (as He is described in Egyptian mythology), how the hell could He procreate with Ekhidna anyway? While mythology should never be taken literally, there does need to be some internal consistency at the very least. If Herodotus is correct and Set and Typhon are really the same guy, I would expect there to be stories of Typhon being childless, of Set fathering gigantic monster children, or perhaps even both.
However, I must admit I am guilty of using the name Typhon in reference to Set all the time. Isn’t this hypocritical? Aren’t I blaspheming Big Red by using a name that was given to Him out of hatred and fear? Shouldn’t I just stick to His Egyptian names and tell Herodotus to get the hell out of Dodge? And shouldn’t I have more respect for myself than to accept being called a Typhonian?
It has occurred to me that there might be other Companions of Set out there who strongly dislike my use of the Typhon moniker. (And if that’s true, I thank you all for being extremely polite to me, as no one has written me any angry emails about it yet.) But I actually have several very good reasons for sometimes referring to Set as Typhon, despite everything I’ve explained above.
1. It has historical precedent.
There are numerous spells in the Greco-Egyptian magical papyri that invoke a “Typhon” who is not in keeping with the Greek Titan’s character at all. The “Typhon” of the paypri is strongly associated with iron, donkeys, the color red, the Great Bear, and Hellenized corruptions of Hebrew God names. He’s even called “hater of the wicked” in one particular spell, which isn’t like the Greek Typhon at all. Furthermore, many of the spells involving “Typhon” are not malefical (death curses) but are incantations for love, protection, and other varieties of good fortune. Absolutely none of these things are consistent with the Greek Typhon at all—but they are consistent with Set as He was worshiped prior to the Late Period.
Also, I can personally attest that these spells carry quite a lot of firepower and that Big Red responds favorably to them. If He didn’t like being called Typhon, one would think the spells would fail utterly (or have deadly results). There are many different theories as to why magic works, of course, and not all of them are predicated on the assumption that anything “supernatural” is truly happening. But even if the Greco-Egyptian spells are just exercises in self-hypnotism, their Typhonian procedures are clearly modeled on the Egyptian god Set (and not the Greek monster Typhon).
2. The word Typhonian pretty much belongs to Set anyway.
This term simply didn’t exist prior to the emergence of Greco-Egyptian syncretism. When it was first coined, it was used to describe animals that are sacred to Set (including donkeys, fish, hippopotamuses, etc.) and people who resonate with Him. So while it might be taken from the name of a completely different entity, Typhonian has always been used specifically for things that pertain to Set. (This is probably due to the original Typhon never having a cultus of his own.) In fact, we can really just go right ahead and say that Typhonian is really just a synonym for Setian.
3. Typhon is very useful when interacting with academic hair-splitters.
In academia, the Egyptian Set is often called Seth-Typhon to distinguish Him from the biblical Seth (the third son of Adam and Eve). The latter plays an important role in certain heretical forms of Judaism and Christianity that developed during the latest years BCE and the earliest years CE. These belief systems are often called “Sethianism” or “Sethian Gnosticism,” and some scholars will refer to Set as Seth-Typhon to distinguish Him from this other religion. They also tend to use the word Typhonian for things that pertain to Set, while I more often see Sethian used in discussions of Gnosticism.
In a way, this actually kind of stinks; Big Red gets the short end of the stick while an obscure Bible character (who’s barely even mentioned in the book of Genesis at all) gets preferential treatment. But be that as it may, using the name Typhon in conjunction with Set’s is certain to dispel any potential confusion with Sethian Gnosticism (or at least among academics).
(I should note that some of Big Red’s followers think He and the Gnostic Seth really are the same entity. I respectfully disagree with this idea myself, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
4. The meaning of the name makes perfect sense.
Typhon literally means “whirlwind” in Greek, which ties in with Set’s role as a god of wind and storms. The name is also linked to our modern word typhoon, which is the Pacific Ocean’s equivalent to a hurricane. Therefore, the name doesn’t actually mean anything insulting in and of itself; if anything, it’s a totally valid description of Set’s jurisdiction in nature.
5. It describes one of Big Red’s much-forgotten aspects.
Remember how Set chopped Osiris to pieces and fed His penis to a fish? It may seem ironic that a desert god would be associated with an aquatic animal, but it happens to be the case. Fish—especially those of the Mormyridae or elephantfish family—were held sacred to Set in areas like the town of Oxyrhynchus. Hippopotamuses are also sacred to Him, and they are aquatic animals as well, as they spend most of their time in water. So based on Egyptian religion alone, Set most definitely has an aquatic aspect, and Typhon is the perfect name to describe Him in this context.
6. It is a reminder of the evils of blood libel.
The name Typhon was given to Set by people who feared Him so much that they were willing to harm innocent animals and people to drive Him away. It may seem blasphemous to call Him by this name for that very reason, but I find that it’s a good way of reminding myself about the evils of blood libel. The Burning Times, the Salem Witch Trials, the Holocaust, the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s; these were all just different versions of the same thing that was done to Setian and Jewish people in Alexandrian Egypt. Remembering these horrific events is a huge part of my spirituality (especially the Satanic Panic, since I was actually alive while it was still happening). So reclaiming the name Typhon as a positive term for Set and myself is much the same for me as reclaiming a word like witch is for Wiccans.
7. Set has never killed me for using it.
I’ve been referring to Set as Typhon for a very long time now, and He’s never given me any grief about it. I’m pretty confident that if He didn’t like me using this name for Him, I would already be dead by now.
8. Who cares about the Greek Typhon’s feelings, anyway?
I’ve never met a single person who’s ever claimed to worship or even care about the Greek Typhon in and of himself (and trust me, I’ve searched for such a person far and wide; if there are any Hellenic reconstructionists out there who worship Typhon and who happen to stumble upon this sermon, I do hope they will share their thoughts on this with me). Whenever I meet anyone who works with something they call “Typhon,” the entity they’re experiencing always turns out to be Set upon closer inspection (except in the case of Kenneth Grant, whose “Draconian female” Typhon strikes me as being a misidentified version of the hippo goddess, Taweret.) If the original Typhon has no cult to speak of, and if the Greeks themselves gave his name to Set, then why should I care? Does anyone even care that I’m talking about this?
So are Set and Typhon one and the same entity? Pan-culturalists might say “Yes,” and hard polytheists might say “No”—but who can ever know for sure? All I know is, Set and Typhon don’t seem the same to me, but this doesn’t mean the two figures can’t share the same name. If there can be more than one “Seth,” why on earth can’t there be more than one “Typhon?”