For those of you who have been distressed by my posts as of late:
Yes, I have been in a very dark place lately. But Set is mighty, and so am I.
I for one am sick and tired of how we treat mental illness in our culture. Even people I love often do not get the help they need or deserve. Some are hardwired not to even ask for help in the first place because it is ingrained into us from birth that this is a “shameful” thing to admit, perhaps even to oneself.
And then there are the people who you think are dependable and you reach out to them for help, but they simply reject you because “they have their own problems to worry about.”
That is not how people who love each other should behave.
If I can transform my pain to make it easier for others to discuss these issues and find the help they need, then so be it.
I am grateful to each person who has reached out to me during this dark time to show their support.
As for those who cringe and turn away from the things I’ve been posting…Well, you can just mute me or unfollow me if it really bothers you that much. I’m not going to stop expressing myself. Maybe drawing pictures of your feelings would help you cope better with whatever you are struggling with, too. Please give it some thought.
Helping others is the best way to help ourselves. Dua Ma’at!
O Dazzling One!
You who were made desolate,
But who never dies!
You who were rejected,
But who always saves the dawn!
Straighten my spine!
Make strong my limbs!
Open my mouth!
You are what makes me to STAND!
You are what makes me to FIGHT!
You are what makes me to SPEAK!
The Serpent strikes me every day,
But I will NOT be stopped!
I will NOT be rendered powerless!
I will NOT be kept silent!
Holy Outlaw! Divine Rebel!
You who lay tyrants to waste!
Put me to Your holy work!
Do not let me stop
Until MA’AT HERSELF
Decrees my descent!
May I never EVER stop
Bringing joy to loved ones
And strangers alike!
May the Serpent TREMBLE
Whenever I pass near!
SO MOTE IT BE!
The LV-426 Tradition of Setianism is a fusion of Kemetic polytheist theology with (Setianized) Western occult practices.
Recently a good friend of mine asked me, “What name do you call what you practice, if it fits into any one religion that has a name?”
The simplest and most direct answer to this question is that I identify as a Setian, a person who reveres and works to emulate Set. Given that Set is central to my entire spiritual life, I am Setian in the same way that Christ followers are Christians, or that Shiva devotees are Shaivites. I therefore think of what I do as a type of Setianism. (For more information on Setianism in general, check out Episode #1 of this series.)
But like the words “Christian” or “Shaivite,” there are some contexts in which the word Setian requires further explanation. Not all Christians or Shaivites believe or practice the same things, and neither do all Setians. I think it’s probably fair to say we are mostly divided into two major groups:
- Setians who are Kemetic polytheists, a term taken from Kemet or “Black Land” (the indigenous name for ancient Egypt). People in this category are more likely to believe Set is actually a real, living force of nature; that He is not “the Egyptian devil”; and that He deserves to be worshiped as a personal deity.
- Setians who are Western occultists, which means they take more of their inspiration from 20th century sources like Aleister Crowley. People in this category are more likely to think Set is somehow “separate from nature”; that He is “completely 100% opposed to Christianity”; and/or that “true” Setians bow to no gods, not even Set.
And then you have people like me who blur the lines between these categories in certain ways. In my case, my theology and values are very much Kemetic; I treat the Netjeru (the Egyptian gods) as literal beings, and I consider ancient Egyptian literature on Set to be more important than anything Kenneth Grant or Michael Aquino ever wrote about Him. Plus, my entire spirituality is aimed at actually revering and making offerings to Set, not on becoming some kind of “black magician.”
But at the same time, my ritual style—the way I specifically express my reverence for Set in ceremony and prayer—is very much influenced by Western occult sources. I was not yet aware of the Kemetic community when I first came to Set; I was only aware of His occultist followers at the time, and their ritual templates were the first to which I was exposed. I found such examples helpful, but could never quite buy into the claims that “worshiping Set is un-Setian” (!) or that “Set is a force ‘against’ nature” (?) or whatever. (This contradicted the fact that Setians in ancient Egypt very clearly did not believe EITHER of those things.) So in 1997, I started xeroxing all the rituals by Crowley and other occult writers I could find at my local library; then I would go home and repurpose these litanies to suit my devotional intentions.
A few years later, my friend the Tonester came to Set and asked for my help in learning how to worship. I showed him how I had been doing things up to that point, and we bonded because neither of us was impressed with the occult community in general. No one we knew who was into this stuff was really interested in worshiping anything but themselves. Many of these same individuals were also manipulative egomaniacs with absolutely zero regard for other people’s mental or emotional well-being. Seeking help or support from anyone was always treated as a “spiritual weakness”—like if you can’t just shake off all that depression or anxiety you’re living with, you can’t be a “real” Setian or something like that. So the Tonester and I both said, “FUCK dem apples; we’ll just start our OWN outfit.” And such is more or less how the LV-426 Tradition of Setianism began, back in 2003.
It wasn’t until sometime in the mid-2000s that I met any Kemetic polytheists or became aware of modern reconstructionist groups like the House of Netjer and the Church of the Eternal Source. Learning of this community really blew my mind; here were all these people who actually believed in worshiping the Egyptian gods, and I hadn’t known about them this whole time! And I was impressed by the sheer amount of empathy that Kemetics just seem to feel for each other in general. Things might be different now than they were in the early 2000s; but back then, to speak of having suicidal feelings in a group of left-hand path occultists was to invite them to shame you into “just feeling better,” “getting up and doing something about it,” and/or “leaving if you can’t take the heat.” But to this day, I still see Kemetics supporting each other emotionally through such terrible struggles—something that anyone who claims to love the Gods of Egypt SHOULD be doing (YES, even if your patron Netjer is SET!). Despite any differences in my ritual style, I would much rather hang out with a bunch of Kemetics for an informal Moomas party than attend something like one of the Temple of Set’s annual conclaves.
In summary, the simplest term for my faith is Setianism; but if we want to get really taxonomical about it, my particular kind of Setianism (LV-426) is a unique fusion of Kemetic polytheist theology with (Setianized) Western occult ritual practices. We do not claim to be following “the one true way” of Set or anything like that; this is just OUR way, and others can take it or leave it. But one thing we LV-426ers will NOT tolerate is being told by any Social Darwinist occultniks that THEIR ways of “being Setian” are somehow more “accurate” or “legitimate” than ours. In absolutely any situation where this ignorant claim might arise, we will be sure to correct people accordingly (and mercilessly).
(To paraphrase Ozzy Osbourne: “Tell me I’m a phony? I got news for you: I spoke to Set this evening, and HE DON’T LIKE YOU!”)
As a final note, the LV-426 Tradition is a private fellowship, and membership is by invitation only. This is not because we want to be a “secret society”; it’s because we treat each other as family, and that is not a dynamic people can just develop by sending us a check and applying to join. It usually takes several years for someone we know personally to even realize they are one of us; then we have to all agree with each other before the candidate can be initiated. Sometimes when you’ve had a really bad week, it feels damn good to sob uncontrollably in the presence of Sutekh and your siblings in Him during one of our Sabbats. And this kind of atmosphere is most successful when there aren’t any “might is right” crotchgoblins around, trying to shame people for having problems and needing support.
But while we are extremely protective of whom we allow into our personal lives, we want to share the magic we’ve worked together so that others may benefit from it too. You don’t even have to join us or pay us to learn how we do things; hell, just read this damn website and take notes! If other Setians find our material useful but would like to make changes, I encourage them to do the same thing I did with Crowley or whomever and tinker with the work as they see fit. While I am in no hurry to expand my own coven, I do hope to hear of more like-minded Setian groups popping up across the globe some day.
Reclaiming Set’s good name from “secret societies” that like to play “Raiders of the Ark” (but as Nazi characters!), and which have contributed to the normalization of fascism today.
Anton LaVey once codified a concept called “the Law of the Trapezoid.” This refers to the magical power of shapes and spaces that trigger strong reactions of primordial fear, from phobias and apotropaic religious images to German expressionist paintings and gothic horror movie sets. Whatever it is, something is “wrong” about it—it has too many (or not enough) legs or eyes; it reminds us uncomfortably of sex, death, and/or spiritual evil; or something is just “off” about that crooked, pointy hallway in the scary movie you’re watching. Such images provoke fear in most people, but fear is not always a bad thing; it can be a great motivator for self-preservation and change. And some people are even energized by such imagery, finding it beautiful in its own eldritch way. LaVey named this principle after the trapezoid because it is the simplest of all “disturbing” geometric shapes (it does look rather odd, like a decapitated triangle), and he applied it to many of his ceremonies in the Church of Satan. Imagine a religious service where you are scared or shocked right into “enlightenment” in a Halloween spookhouse, and you’ll have a ballpark idea of how this theory was supposed to work in practice.
LaVey was so driven by these observations that he even named the inner circle of his church “the Order of the Trapezoid,” a title Michael Aquino later gave to a particular school within the Temple of Set. The Setian Order of the Trapezoid developed LaVey’s theories on weird geometrical spaces even further, conceptualizing themselves as “knights” on an esoteric “Grail Quest” (where the Grail is equated with a postmortem state of existence comparable to that of the Akhu). The literature that’s been made available to the public touches on everything from H.P. Lovecraft to left-hand path interpretations of Scandinavian mythology, and it’s all tied together with kind of an Indiana Jones vibe. The Order’s take on the Aesir and the Vanir is probably not agreeable to most devotional polytheists who are drawn to said divinities; but that has never been the point for these particular Setians. Their point is to kheper by applying the Law of the Trapezoid to a wide mishmash of things that engage them, but which are mostly related to Germanic and/or Lovecraftian influences.
I will say that the Order of the Trapezoid’s obsession with Nazi occultism is alarming, though perhaps in a more complex way than might be expected. I do not believe Order of the Trapezoid members are actually totalitarian white supremacists; but they have deliberately modeled themselves after Heinrich Himmler’s Ahnenerbe (the Nazi occult think tank that inspired movies like 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark), claiming to extrapolate the “positive” aspects of that secret society while discarding its “negative” aspects. This has understandably led outsiders to assume that Order of the Trapezoid members are Nazis, despite their claims of including both Jewish and black people among their membership. But whether members of the Order actually agree with National Socialism or not is almost immaterial; they promote its ethos simply by spotlighting their highly questionable sources so much.
Any Heathen can point you to a wealth of resources on Scandinavian polytheism that are far more advanced and reputable than anything Heinrich Himmler might have been reading back in the 1930s or 1940s. So why bend over backwards so much to “find positive things” about the Ahnenerbe when there are much more excellent resources available? The answer, of course, is that this isn’t really about reclaiming Scandinavian lore from the Nazis at all. It is really just about having an excuse to enjoy Nazi symbolism and memorabilia without considering how such imagery can still harm other people, even when it is completely devoid of any real political content. Even if Order of the Trapezoid members are not Nazis themselves, their activities and publications have certainly encouraged OTHER left-hand path occultists who ARE Nazis to come out of the woodwork. For it wasn’t until the Order of the Trapezoid started scaring people like Isaac Bonewits during the 1980s that other, more extremist cults like the Joy of Satan and the Order of the Nine Angles came into play.
Setians are free to explore whatever spiritualities they like; but I must admit, it gets my back hairs up to think there’s a group of people out there who have taken Set’s name as a part of themselves, yet who also idolize the Ahnenerbe so much. I can definitely agree with the idea that Set and Odin might be “drinking buddies,” so to speak; there are many people who are drawn to Egyptian and Norse gods at the same time, so the idea of combining Kemeticism with Heathenry is nothing new. But I don’t see Set’s mighty red fingerprints on ANYTHING Heinrich Himmler was ever involved in (and frankly, I see nothing of the real Odin in any of that bullshit either). There is simply no good reason to incorporate such drivel into either Setianism or Heathenry. If you really want to walk with Set or Odin, ditch all that volkisch right-wing propaganda and read you some proper university-published archaeology textbooks instead.
Again, just to be clear, I am not accusing Order of the Trapezoid members of actually being Nazis themselves. I have read more than enough of Michael Aquino’s work to know that he never actually praised Hitler, denied the Holocaust, and or called for the extermination of Israel or anything like that. But I AM saying there is most definitely an antisemitic undercurrent to all of this stuff. This is captured in almost every critique Aquino ever wrote about Judaism, which he frequently conflates with Christianity and Islam. Whenever you see someone refer to Judaism as a “Judeo-Christian” religion; or if you see them confuse Judaism with the ancient Hebrew religion; or if they seem to hold Jews responsible for every horrible thing Christians ever did to polytheists throughout history; well then you can reasonably guess that person has probably never tried to understand Judaism on its own terms before. (The baseless claim that “Satan” is a “Hebrew corruption” of “Set-Hen,” a name for Set that Aquino appears to have invented, is also indicative of this bias.) You don’t have to buy into National Socialism to promote antisemitic views like these, and thanks to Aquino, many LHP occultists continue to promote such fallacies at every turn.
Of course, it will be argued by LHP readers that my visceral reaction to their use of National Socialist imagery is proof itself of LaVey’s Law of the Trapezoid at work. Theoretically, they take this disturbing imagery that scares other people away and find ways to benefit from it magically without directly harming anyone. (The argument would likely be that since I find their activities distasteful, I am somehow “lacking” as a Setian.) The trouble is that even without directly harming anyone, such imagery can still harm people indirectly—and for generations to come! By flirting with fascist symbolism so much in the 1980s and 1990s, people like Anton LaVey, Michael Aquino, and Zeena Schreck effectively normalized this ethos among their respective LHP communities. And whenever such hateful imagery is normalized, it becomes much easier for others to take it too seriously and actually become real life monsters. (It doesn’t help that leaders like LaVey, Aquino, and Schreck were all white, with no people of color [publically] joining in on their fascist aesthetic.)
The Order of the Trapezoid prides itself on supposedly presenting its information in such a way as to “protect” the outside world from any negative consequences their controversial magical projects might have. My argument is that if they really cared about keeping anyone “safe” from such fallout, they would never have published any material about this shit in the first place. They would have kept their esoteric tradition completely oral and never allowed any information about their practices to reach the public. If you feel like you gain some kind of spiritual benefit from dressing up like Colonel Klink in your private rituals (even though you really find Nazism deplorable), that is no skin off anyone else’s back. But if you FLAUNT that you are doing this, you really can’t bitch about it when people give you grief, or when OTHER people become RADICALIZED by the signals you are sending them. If my reactions to Nazi imagery exemplify the Law of the Trapezoid, it is only because the misapplication of this “Law” (by those who claim to understand it, no less) has been incredibly destructive to society. We probably wouldn’t have quite so many Proud Boys crawling out of the gutters today if people like LaVey, Aquino, and Schreck hadn’t helped to normalize some of this shit in the first place.
I have already discussed my views on Lovecraftian occultism at greater length in Episode #13 of this series, but here is a brief review. First, Anton LaVey and Michael Aquino both owe a debt to Kenneth Grant, who was really the first occultist to adapt H.P. Lovecraft’s lurid science fiction tales for ritual work. Second, I can see why Lovecraftian figures (Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, etc.) would prove useful to occultists who are interested in applying the Law of the Trapezoid to their work. And third, I think such figures are prime “real estate” for qliphothic entities that want to skull-fuck people six ways from Sunday. I think it is best not to play with that sort of thing unless you do it in a controlled environment, with proper banishings and protective circles and stuff.
Matter of fact, the only way I’d allow any Cthulhu caca at one of MY rituals is if we were invoking
Apep into something Lovecraftian so we can smash it to bits and pieces, as an execration spell. Such would demonstrate Set’s power to stomp the shit out of ANYTHING, including motherfuckin’ Cthulhu. But I just can’t get behind the idea of actually venerating any Lovecraftian space monsters. Besides, the association of Set with such lore is really a byproduct of the same white Orientalism that has bred things like Robert E. Howard’s “evil snake god Set“ and “evil Snake People“ tropes. If a time traveling Setian from ancient Egypt were to witness all these white people in Nazi regalia, invoking Set as “Nyarlathotep” so they can somehow “escape” the natural universe, I am pretty sure they would NOT approve.
Furthermore, Setians don’t need to bastardize Heathenry to practice our faith. Everything we need to theoretically become powerful multidimensional beings after death is already included in Kemetic lore. We should not be equating Set with any Norse deities, for there is just never going to be a perfect match in that respect. (I personally link Him more closely to Thor and Loki than to Odin; but again, Set is identical to none.) We do not need to make up things about Valhalla to describe the afterlife scenarios we hope to enjoy, as these are more than adequately captured in Egyptian references to the Imperishable Ones. And we certainly have no good reason to promote any “legitimized” versions of early 20th century white supremacist propaganda, given that everything about our religion comes down to us from a highly advanced North African people of color.
We also don’t really need the Lovecraft stuff either (except as entertainment, of course). Kemetic lore is already full of alternate universes, qliphothic monsters, and sacred geometry. In fact, Khepesh (the Big Dipper, sacred to Set) might even be called “trapezoidal” insofar as it is a strange angular shape that represents something scary (Set’s raging deicidal power) being put to a positive use (warding off
Apep, which tries to sneak into the material world through the northern sky). Then there’s the fact that the chisels for Opening the Mouths of the dead were modeled after this same “trapezoidal” symbol, which brings us back to the idea of becoming Imperishable Ones and gettin’ rowdy with Sutekh up there in His Desert. See how I just did all that without including any Norse gods, Nazis, or Cthulhian beasties? I rest my fuckin’ case.
I am sure some readers will no doubt find my stance on these topics to be incredibly close-minded. After all, Set loves autonomy and diversity right? So I should even accept things I personally find unacceptable, or so the logic seems to go. The answer to that is a hard NO. I know good and well I won’t change any minds that don’t want to be changed; but I can’t claim to respect Ma’at if I don’t denounce isfet whenever I see it. And there is an AWFUL lot of isfet to be seen in LHP romanticizations of Nazism (political, magical, and artistic). This sort of thing should NEVER be romanticized, for it has NOTHING to do with Set, and it has EVERYTHING to do with His eternal enemy, that rancid fucker
A Setian midnight mass performed and recorded for an imaginary AM radio station.
For tonight’s episode of “In the Desert of Set,” we are brought to you live from the First Typhonian Anabaptist Church of Grover’s Mill, Pennsylvania by Hem Sutekh Radio, WZLP AM 770.
We now give you Reverend G.B. Marian, Priest of Set in the LV-426 Tradition, who will now lead tonight’s Midnight Mass.
Happy Holidays from LV-426!
Thoughts on Nehebukau, the holy Snake God, and the concept of Snake People, with an analysis of their appropriation by modern pop culture and conspiracy theorists.
It’s important to understand that snakes are not a universal symbol of “evil” in Kemetic or ancient Egyptian lore. Actually they are more like angels, a special class of preternatural being. There are good snakes like Wadjet and Meretseger who serve Atum-Ra the Creator; and there are also bad snakes that serve
Apep and who seek to disintegrate all things. One story of Nehebukau is that He was originally one of the bad snakes; but this was only because of a pinched nerve in His spine that was hurting Him real bad, making Him terribly grouchy. Eventually, Ra healed Nehebukau by touching His back and fixing that nerve, and the latter has been a good and holy snake ever since, working Ma’at and assisting sentient beings through their various kheperu or transformations in life and the afterlife (what might be called a “shedding of skins”). In this way, Nehebukau fits right in with some of the other gods I hold most dear. Like Set and Taweret, He’s kind of like a monster that learned to be better, and who is in a very unique position to empathize with humans in our struggles against isfet.
To be clear: when I refer to “the Snake God,” I am referring to Nehebukau, and not to the monster
Apep. When I refer to “the Chaos Serpent,” the situation is reversed. The distinction here is that Nehebukau is a proper god or Netjer, while Apep is more like an “ungod.” If it confuses anyone that I would use “snake” and “serpent” in different ways like this, just remember the comparison to angels above. Nehebukau is no mere angel (and neither is Apep for that matter), but one might say Nehebukau is a Snake God in the same way that Gabriel is a “holy angel,” while Apep is a Chaos Serpent in the same way that Satan is a “fallen angel.” There are additional good male snake gods among the Netjeru as well (e.g., Geb, Mehen, etc.); but as I have not personally interacted with any of them myself, Nehebukau is the particular Netjer I mean to invoke when I write “Snake God” in capital letters.
Prior to collaborating with Setken on Hymn To The Soul Serpent (Hymn To Nehebukau), I don’t recall actually being that cognizant of Nehebukau before. I recall seeing Him in Egyptian art in His winged, double-headed serpent form from time to time; but it wasn’t until my exposure to Setken’s artistry that I remember seeing the Snake God depicted in a humanoid form (as exemplified in Setken’s Study For The Netjeru!: Nehebukau). Apart from just being really fucking beautiful, Setken’s paintings spoke to something buried deep within the furthest regions of my memory. It was not until we were almost ready to release Hymn to the Soul Serpent that I suddenly realized just what these sacred icons were actually reminding me of.
(When Setken first proposed the Hymn to the Soul Serpent project to me, I mistook him for saying “Nekhebet,” and I immediately started studying footage of vultures for inspiration. When I realized my mistake, I apologized to to Nehebukau profusely, even though I am reasonably certain He wasn’t actually offended. But perhaps some kind of project for Nekhebet might be on the horizon!)
This is probably going to get me into trouble (more on this later), but I’ve had a fascination with the idea of reptile people for as long as I can remember. I think my first exposure to this was from watching He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I also collected the dolls (or “action figures,” if it really bothers other men so much), and my absolute favorites were the Snake Men. King Hiss looked like a normal dude, but his entire torso came apart to reveal his true form as a writhing mass of vipers. Tung Lashor had a super-long poison tongue that came rocketing out of his mouth when you operated the button on his back. And Rattlor’s neck could extend with quite some force, rendering him somewhat hazardous around children’s eyeballs. These characters were not featured in the He-Man cartoons, but the dolls came with miniature comic books that explained their background stories and such.
According to the comic that came with King Hiss, the Snake Men are native to He-Man’s homeworld, Eternia, and they controlled a powerful empire long before the reign of King Randor. They were banished to some alternate dimension, but the evil wizard Skeletor found a way to bring them back. Thanks to He-Man, Skeletor only succeeded in facilitating the return of three Snake Men: King Hiss, Tung Lashor, and Rattlor. The Snake Men then launched a campaign to return the rest of their kind to Eternia, so they could invade and enslave humanity once more.
Is any of this starting to sound familiar to you yet? In Episode #10 of this series, I discuss one of my least favorite anti-Setian tropes in popular culture: the theme of an “evil snake god” called “Set” who was banished to an alternate dimension, who has legions of “Serpent Men” under his command, and who seeks to return and invade the world of human beings. This theme originates from the short fantasy fiction of Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the Cimmerian and Kull the Conqueror), and it gained even more traction when Marvel Comics was licensed to adapt Howard’s fiction into its own fictional universe in the 1970s. Since then, the “Set and His evil Serpent Men” trope has emerged in countless cartoons, movies, role-playing games, and science fiction TV shows. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, with its Snake Men and their tyrannical King Hiss, just happens to be the most obvious example of this trend.
One thing I disliked about He-Man was the fact that these Snake Men were bad guys. I have always loved snakes, especially the non-lethal ones like garter snakes, and I always thought it would be neat if these characters could have been heroes instead. I remember imagining my own Saturday morning cartoon shows where the heroes were all benevolent Snake People (with badass edgy names like Queen Hissteria and Big Bad Mamba), and the bad guys were just normal-looking humans. Curiously, the animated He-Man series does feature another race of snake people, the Reptons, who are peaceful and kind. (One of them, Kobra Khan, is one of Skeletor’s goons; but the show makes it clear that Khan is just a bad egg, and the rest of the Reptons are cool.) But when it comes to stories that add a little more dimension to this concept than what I usually expect, my life changed forever when I saw Doctor Who.
No, I’m not talking about the newer Who series that’s been in production since 2005. I speak to you of those lost long days when the only way you could catch Doctor Who here in the States was by watching PBS and sitting through all those passive aggressive pledge drives they used to do, where they’d threaten us with no Doctor Who ever again if we didn’t call in to buy that nifty coffee mug with the disappearing TARDIS. During the Jon Pertwee years, there were two serials that dealt with the theme of reptile people specifically: The Silurians and The Sea Devils, written by Malcolm Hulke. In the first of these adventures, the Doctor (who is currently stuck on earth with an inoperative TARDIS) learns there was another intelligent species that ruled this planet long before humans evolved from apes. These reptile people are not aliens, but native to earth. They went into hibernation deep underground when their advanced astronomy detected the incoming comet that eventually wiped out the dinosaurs. Their machines were supposed to awaken them shortly after the disaster, but a malfunction caused them to remain in suspended animation until they were accidentally revived by human nuclear testing during the 1970s.
Having resurfaced, the reptile people are understandably distressed to find their planet invaded by ultraviolent hairless apes. Some of them are willing to try and co-exist with us peacefully, and the Doctor tries his best to facilitate an arrangement to this effect. But racists on both the human and reptilian sides of this dispute eventually stifle this hope, with the reptiles unleashing their biological warfare upon us, and the humans bombing all the rest of their hibernation chambers. In the second of these serials, the Doctor encounters another tribe of reptile people who belong to an aquatic subspecies, and the whole thing starts all over again. (Things are made even worse this time by the Master, played by Roger Delgado, who actively seeks to escalate the conflict between humans and reptilians.) Doctor Who lore is curiously divided as to how the reptilian characters in these stories are to be identified, but when I was a kid at least, I always went by the Malcolm Hulke novelizations, which refer to the land-dwelling reptilians as Silurians and their oceanic cousins as Sea Devils.
I remember CRYING a lot whenever I watched these episodes of Doctor Who, to the point that my parents were concerned I was actually scared and would have nightmares. But while I did find this stuff disturbing, it wasn’t because it was scary; it was because it was sad. I thought the Silurians and the Sea Devils were cool, and I wanted things to work out so that everybody can share this planet together and get along. I will admit that I was very young at the time, and I didn’t yet grasp that this was all just make-believe. But I also remember that when I got a little older and I first learned about some of the colonialist atrocities that have been (and still are) perpetuated against Native Americans, my initial reaction was to reflect back on Malcolm Hulke’s stories and the profound emotional reactions they invoked in me. The difference, though, is that THIS WAS FUCKING REAL, it ACTUALLY HAPPENED, it is most certainly NOT make-believe. And learning THAT horrible truth (in addition to others) has kept me awake at night far more than any scary TV show ever could. (Somehow, I sense that if I could ask Malcolm Hulke about this today, he would tell me this was exactly his point in writing these awesome stories.)
Incidentally, the Silurians and Sea Devils return in a few later Doctor Who adventures, but Malcolm Hulke had nothing to do with these serials, and I am not really a fan. In the 1983 episode Warriors of the Deep, the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) ends up wiping out two combined tribes of terrestrial and aquatic reptilians all at once. Sure, Davison makes a fantastic Doctor, and he clearly doesn’t WANT to commit genocide against the reptilians; but he does it anyway, and it’s gross, and there is no text or subtext about colonialism anywhere to be seen. It’s just “We gotta kill the people with animal heads so the humans can live.” This leaves the whole story feeling way too hollow and mean-spirited for my tastes.
Decades later, the new Doctor Who series re-introduced the Silurians during the Matt Smith era. These episodes deal with Malcolm Hulke’s creations much more respectfully, and I really enjoy the idea of a badass lady Silurian living in Victorian England and kicking hiney to help the Doctor save the world and stuff. I believe they even wrote it that at some point in Earth’s future history, humans and reptilians really do learn to co-exist. This is definitely a major victory as far as my inner child is concerned; but I just can’t stand the new makeup design for the Silurians. Old Silurians (and Sea Devils) actually look like people with reptile heads, much like the Serpent Men from Conan and the Snake Men from Masters of the Universe. The new versions are really just people with reptile skin, and they don’t resemble the beloved creatures from my childhood enough to resonate. Still, I do enjoy the fact that Doctor Who‘s reptile people have at least been vindicated in terms of their collective story arc after all these years.
Another show in which Robert E. Howard’s Serpent Men resurface is Hasbro’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. In the 1987 animated film adaptation of the popular cartoon series, it is revealed that the international terrorist organization Cobra is really just a front for an ancient civilization called Cobra-La, which of course was populated by Snake People. These reptilians naturally seek to reclaim what they perceive to be their stolen earth, and the entire history of Cobra as a human totalitarian human regime is really just one more phase in their long game.
I don’t remember owning any G.I. Joe dolls, but I remember really enjoying the cartoon and its huge ensemble of diverse and fairly well-developed characters (especially my first true love, the Baroness Anastasia Cisarovna). But imagine my surprise when I learned that Cobra wasn’t actually created by Hasbro, which launched the toyline. Rather, it was “invented” by Marvel Comics, which was commissioned to write a story for Hasbro when it re-launched its catalogue in the 1980s. The writers at Marvel pointed out that the heroes needed some villains to fight if there were going to be any story worth telling; and for lack of any better alternative, they more or less cloned the concept of Hydra—the terrorist organization battled by superhero teams like the Avengers—and re-named it “Cobra.”
Like Cobra, Hydra was originally founded by ancient reptilians, who later infiltrated human governments for their own purposes, including that of Nazi Germany. Then there’s the fact that many of Hydra’s most infamous members are named after snakes in one way or another, including Viper/Madame Hydra, Gorgon, Anaconda, etc. But there’s an extra layer here: the Serpent Men who founded Hydra turn out to be the very same Serpent Men who serve the “evil snake god” Set in Howard’s Kull and Conan tales. This bastardization of Set has even appeared throughout Marvel Comics as an actual character for superheroes like the Avengers to fight. This is ironic given that the real Egyptian god Set also makes a personal appearance in an episode of G.I. Joe; but as discussed in Episode #10, G.I. Joe was much much closer to the mark! Its version of Set doesn’t appear to be involved with the civilization of Cobra-La, either.
Now I must return to my earlier point about how writing about all of this will probably get me into some trouble with some people. (It’s okay, I don’t really care—this is all for Nehebukau, to whom I shall return in just a moment!) I am sure readers in the know are already chomping at the bit for me to touch on reptilian humanoid conspiracy theories and the bizarre subcultures they have bred in real life. I’m referring of course to the belief some people have that there are actual reptilians living among us here on earth. These people mostly take their cue from the exact same source: David Icke, a pseudoscientist and total huckster. Since the late 1990’s, Icke has popularized this belief that reptilians from a planet orbiting Alpha Draconis invaded our planet way back in ancient times. They were mistakenly worshiped as “gods” by “wayward” people like the ancient Egyptians, and they continue to infiltrate modern human governments (including the entire Bush family, no less). Furthermore, this ancient alien reptile conspiracy is supposed to kidnap little children and drain them of their spinal fluid so it can be fed to Hillary Clinton, who is herself alleged to be a reptilian warlord in disguise. (Icke even manages to tie his evil reptilians together with Nazi Germany somehow, which explains the trope of Adolf Hitler secretly floating around the Arctic in submarines with reptile people.)
There are so many things wrong with David Icke’s bullshit, it’s impossible for me to address each particular grievance in today’s sermon. But my most immediate critiques are that Icke’s take on ancient civilizations is hopelessly racist; his encouragement of secularized Satanic Panic nonsense is absolutely deporable; and worst of all, domestic terrorists have adopted his anti-reptilian routine, trying to assassinate politicians they believe are reptilians. Yet there is something else wrong with all of this that should hopefully be CRYSTAL fucking clear by this point, given everything I have already explained above:
It’s ALL fiction, and NONE of it is original.
Robert E. Howard made a lot of this crap up back in the 1920s. Then Marvel Comics came along and made up some more in the 1970s. Then a bunch of Saturday morning cartoons boosted the signal for it during the 1980s. And of course there have been countless other science fiction authors and media properties that have played around with the concept in one way or another. David Icke never wrote any of his conspiracy theory bullshit until the late 1990s, by which point the meme had already been well established in popular culture. So it’s pretty fucking clear that he plagiarized his entire routine from a bunch of cartoons and comic books. And the assholes who are willing to kill people over this shit are really doing it for nothing.
Here’s the thing: I do not actively believe there are any reptilian humanoids living on this earth, or at least not in the sense of “ancient aliens” (more on this below). I’m not saying it isn’t possible; I just haven’t found any evidence to substantiate such an idea. But even if I did, I would quicker assume such entities are just as native to this world as we are, and that they have just as much right to be here as we do. I don’t believe any of this nonsense about aliens controlling human governments; human beings are the single most dangerous creatures on this planet, we don’t need extraterrestrials to make us any better at wreaking havoc. If there ARE any Snake People around, they’re probably HIDING from us because they’re fucking SCARED TO DEATH of us!
And to assume that an entire sentient race would be inherently evil simply because it evolved from reptiles is, to call a spade a spade, racist. WE evolved from motherfucking APES, and apes do some pretty fucked-up shit you know. Maybe it’s just because I grew up learning important lessons about these things from Captain Jean-Luc Picard; but I see no reason to assume a civilized reptilian people would be any worse at respecting Ma’at or fighting isfet than civilized simian peoples apparently are. (I can already read the emails from Icke’s zombie followers, skewering me for being some dumb, deluded PR boy for the Visitors who want to eat me and my family!)
The thing is, there are other people who believe in real reptilians so to speak, and who hold more sensible views about them than anything offered by David Icke. The most prevalent example of this would be Hindu, Buddhist, and other Asian religious belief systems that acknowledge the Nagas. These semi-divine creatures can appear as snakes, people, or any variety of human/serpentine hybrid. They are believed to have pre-existed humans, and while they can be good or evil just like us, most of them appear to be dutiful servants of the Devas (the Hindu gods). They enjoy living in rivers, lakes, oceans and raindrops, and they guard all kinds of ancient knowledge and treasures. Though they are not necessarily gods, the Nagas are often venerated with offerings, which helps to attract good fortune. Much of this is echoed in Chinese folk beliefs about dragons, as well. Lóng or Chinese dragons are also shapeshifters who can appear human and who bring good luck to those who show them the proper gratitude and respect.
I first learned about the Nagas not from a textbook or a cartoon show, but from my best friend in second grade, a boy named Pawan. Pawan and his family were Indian American immigrants and deeply observant Hindus. I remember seeing various images of the Devas whenever I visited their apartment. I do not recall which sect or tradition Pawan and his family might have followed (and being only eight years old or so, I lacked the head space to even formulate such a question at the time). But I remember asking Pawan’s mother to tell me about the Nagas, and she seemed really happy to share some stories with me. It must have been crazy to have this weird little white boy from next door take such a genuine interest in her family’s culture and heritage!
But then I would go home and tell my parents about this stuff. For some reason, they were only okay with such beliefs as long as it was Pawan and his family practicing them. I received every indication that it is only acceptable for white people to be Christians and believe in one god, even though neither of my parents has ever been a committed religious believer of any kind. Much later I would meet some of David Icke’s followers (most of whom are white), who insisted to me that both Naga and Lóng veneration is really just another part of the evil reptilian plot to murder children and keep the world hypnotized. When these people claim that Asians are actually venerating evil demons or aliens—or if they suggest that such religious traditions are “beneath” white people for any reason—they are blatantly endorsing Christian white supremacism; full stop.
Furthermore, neither the Nagas nor the Lóng are space aliens that ride around in spaceships. There are no tales about them eating people or operating any nefarious shadow governments. They are nature spirits and religious figures, not science fiction monsters. The same is true of other Snake People who are acknowledged in other cultures too, including African Mami Wata spirits and Native American horned serpents. This begs the question: could the ancient Egyptians have believed in something similar? There doesn’t appear to be any specific term in Egyptian for “serpent man” or “snake person” (or at least not that I have found just yet); but perhaps this would have been redundant. The Egyptians appear to have regarded normal, everyday snakes as sentient creatures with magical powers. How else could serpents be held accountable to Ma’at, with the good snakes serving Ra and the evil snakes following
Apep? This distinction makes little sense, at least to me, unless we stop to consider that maybe snakes are actually people too!
Which helps me circle back to the Netjeru. It is curious that I never felt drawn to any particular Egyptian snake deities until Setken first proposed that we collaborate on his Hymn to the Soul Serpent project together. Only then did it occur to me that everything I ever needed to justify my enthusiasm for snakes (whether as animals, sentient beings, or magical anthropoids) is already included in the belief system I already follow. And when I laid eyes on Setken’s humanoid portrayals of Nehebukau, I was taken back to those far-off days when I would play with my Snake Men dolls; when I would weep over the Silurians and the Sea Devils; when I secretly rooted for Cobra or Hydra as reptilian freedom fighters; and when I listened to Pawan’s mother explain to me about the Nagas. Could it be that Nehebukau was looking in on me even back then, thinking, “This is the kid I want to co-write a song for Me someday”? Could it have been His double-headed wisdom that helped me see through all of David Icke’s bullshit when it was first presented to me? Hell; I reckon Set and Nehebukau probably both had all of this arranged somehow before I was even born!
Writing one song isn’t all I think I am meant to do, either. I think Nehebukau has probably put all of this stuff into my brain for some kind of purpose, and I mean to put it to use somehow. This very likely means another album will soon be in the works. I always wanted to make movies when I grew up; and failing that, I enjoy adapting some of my old story pitches from childhood into “soundtracks” for films that don’t exist (as with Summer’s End and His Nocturnal Majesty, with which I am very happy). I’ve successfully introduced the crimefighting mummy Het-Sem-Peckinpah to the world, as well as the mysterious Knights In Sutekh’s Service. Now that my Halloween and apocalypse “movies” have been taken care of, so to speak, perhaps it is time to revisit my old sword-and-sorcery “movie” pitch as well. It could be that Queen Hissteria, Big Bad Mamba, and other Saurian Warriors of Basilisk Basilica will soon be making an appearance…
One Setian’s take on ancient Egyptian concepts of the self—including our bodies, souls, spirits, hearts, shadows, names, and the hope for unification of these features into a multidimensional whole after death.
The way I read the Heliopolitan cosmogony at least, human beings are not creations or playthings of the Netjeru (gods); we are their younger and less powerful relatives, a race of living demigods. As discussed in Episode #19, every sentient being can be considered an avatar or incarnation of Atum-Ra, the Creator. This is evident from the fact that people can use heka (magic or spirituality) to work Ma’at (truth, balance, order, and interconnectedness) against isfet (falsehood, toxicity, injustice, and disintegration), just as the gods do. But while the gods work Ma’at together up at their higher, more cosmic levels of existence, it is our responsibility to work Ma’at here on earth as their mortal counterparts. In this way, the war between the Netjeru and
Apep or other powers of isfet is reflected in even the most mundane human struggles against evil, no matter how small or mundane they might seem.
Given this, it is important to understand what it actually means to be the Great He-She incarnate. It is not a license to just do whatever we want; for even the gods aren’t perfect, and any mistakes they make could have cataclysmic consequences for everyone (including themselves). The same is equally true of people, who run around wasting natural resources, splitting atoms, and unleashing terrible pollution and plagues upon this world. We have such remarkable power and potential, but we have so little patience for delay of gratification that we have fucked up the planet and each other well beyond measure. If we do not want our world to fall apart, we must each take responsibility like the gods do by upholding Ma’at and abjuring isfet. This is not just a call to behave ethically, but a real spiritual battle, a lifelong magical quest. Both here and in Duat (the Spirit World), the best way to help ourselves is by helping others, and the best way to destroy ourselves is by destroying others.
The ancient Egyptians believed the human self consists of several multidimensional components. The following is neither an exhaustive list nor a definitive explanation of what these components actually are; it is simply how I conceptualize them personally, at least at present. While I like to think I know my stuff when it comes to Set, I really can’t claim to be an “expert” on Kemetic Soul Anatomy. I therefore reserve the right to adjust my opinions on these topics as I acquire more knowledge over time.
I should also clarify that I am not a Kemetic reconstructionist exactly. My walk with Set is definitely influenced by Kemetic sources, but I have also been deeply influenced by Western occultism, which has been known to take some mighty big liberties with Egyptian thought. (Just look at Thelema.) LV-426 Setians like me are probably every bit as eclectic in our approach to the Other Side as most Western occultists are; but we also pride ourselves on being crystal clear about what is actually “Kemetic” and what is not. That being said, I am not prepared to claim that what I have written about the Egyptian concept of the self below is 100% authentically Kemetic; these are just my own thoughts on the matter (such as they may be), so take from them what you will.
The most obvious component of the self is the physical body, which the Egyptians called the khat. Images are magical windows to alternate universes, and there is no greater image for the self than one’s very own material form. In the West we tend to dissociate ourselves from our bodies all the time, but this ontological dualism does not exist so much in Kemetic belief. To me at least, it is more a matter of the body being a “seed” in which our incorporeal aspects are fundamentally rooted. We aren’t souls born into bodies; we are bodies from whence souls sprout! So essential is the khat to the self’s existence that its preservation was deemed absolutely critical to having a pleasant afterlife; hence the tradition of mummification. For those whose corpses are lost or destroyed, new images can be created to serve as magical surrogates (statues, drawings, etc.).
I think even the Netjeru have khatu or physical bodies; it’s just that their blood and bones are in plants, animals, the elements, and other natural phenomena. When we see their actual flesh, we think we are just observing weather patterns, seasonal changes, or astronomical events; but our ecosystem is just as alive with soul and spirit as we are. It is when we grasp this principle that we can actually peek beyond the Veil and into Duat. There are also tales of the Netjeru having lived right here on earth with literal bodies as we understand them (and with flesh made of gold and bones made of silver, to boot). There is a point in Egyptian mythology where the history of the world transitions from being linear to becoming cyclical. When the gods still walked this earth, time was linear, with events unfolding between the Netjeru from beginning to middle to end; but when the gods ascended to the heavens, nature switched to following cyclical time. What were once linear events for the gods are now cyclical events that we experience here on earth over and over again as the seasons, the human reproductive cycle, etc.
In our Western vernacular, little distinction is ever made between the concepts of “soul” and “spirit.” These terms are used interchangeably in any number of different contexts, but I prefer to differentiate between the two as carefully as I can. The Egyptians distinguished between the ba and the ka, which I use as my benchmarks on this matter. The ba, represented as a human-headed bird, was conceived as the innermost personality of a sentient being, which is how I tend to conceptualize “the soul.” The ka, represented as a doppelganger that follows a person throughout their entire life, is more like a secondary, invisible body that individual can use to interact with things in Duat. This is more or less what I mean when I refer to “the spirit.” So your soul is like the part of you that consistently stays the same, no matter how much you might kheper or transform over time. Your spirit is more like the part of you that can touch or be touched by gods and other spirits (living or discarnate).
There is also a story about the god Khnum sculpting the bodies and spirits of unborn children on his potter’s wheel, then placing them within the wombs of expectant mothers. This is such a powerful image; it evokes how the ka is like a twin version of yourself that occupies the exact same points in time and space that you do, but in a slightly different dimension you might say. Heka or magic is the art of learning to use your ka or spirit to create change, as opposed to implementing more conventional physical methods. For example, the logic behind a healing spell (as I see it at least) is that you are basically sending regenerative vibes to the recipient’s spirit from your own, which will hopefully heighten the recipient’s chances for a speedy recovery. Even a thoughtful “Get Well” card can be an incredibly magical act in this regard, for it is literally a matter of trying to “lift” the other person’s spirit.
This applies to when we have spiritual experiences with gods or ancestors, too. Whenever I have a vision of Set, for example, I think of it as a matter of Set’s spirit interacting with mine, not of me actually seeing a literal Sha-headed man with my physical eyes. We physically observe Set with the eyes of our khatu all the time whenever we observe thunderstorms, donkeys, the Big Dipper, or even people with red hair. But when we bear witness to Set in ways that most people would call “supernatural,” we are actually seeing one or more of the kau or spiritual bodies of the god—and we are seeing these kau with the eyes of our own kau as well.
Each of the holy Netjeru has multiple bau or souls as well. The way I read it, this speaks to how there are really multiple universes, infinite timelines brought forth from the Big Bang, that moment when the First Netjer awakened and determined themself. In some realities, that Netjer determined themself as Atum-Ra; in others, they determined themself as Ptah, Amun, Neith, etc. (There might even be a universe where Set is the Creator!) There is probably some other dimension where I’m gay and married to one of my best male friends. Or maybe I’m a woman who lives alone in the woods somewhere with a passel of cats. Maybe I’m a hip crime fighter in one world, and a devious supervillain in another. Whomever and whatever I might be in whichever reality we care to consider, I think of these alternate personalities as my various bau or souls; they may be different versions of me, but they are all still me. (Just like Doctor Who is still the Doctor, whether they are being played by Jon Pertwee or Jodie Whittaker.)
Another core component of the self in Kemetic thought is the ib or “heart,” by which the Egyptians meant the literal bodily organ (as opposed to a purely figurative concept of “heart,” like in Captain Planet or something). Advanced as they were, the ancient Egyptians didn’t realize the brain is the body part that enables us to think; they identified the heart as serving this function instead. It was considered to be the seat of a person’s consciousness, as well as the part of their body where their khat and their ka are connected.
When a person’s ib or heart stopped, the khat, ba, and ka were all separated. The spirit would remain with the corpse while the soul was guided by Anubis or another psychopomp to the Hall of Judgment in Duat. There the soul underwent the Weighing of the Heart, which meant the person was judged for all of their deeds and misdeeds in life—a thing for which only sentient beings with hearts (or in our culture, brains) can be held responsible for. If the person’s heart was too heavy with isfet, they were deemed unfit for the afterlife and fed to the daemon Ammut or cast into a lake of fire. Back on earth, the spirit withered away and died; or it could become restless and terrorize the living as an evil ghost. But if a person’s heart was more or less in good standing with Ma’at, their ba and their ka were reunited by the gods, transforming the deceased into an Akh or Imperishable One.
An Akh is also united with what the Egyptians called the shut or khaibit (the “shadow”). The “shadow” in this context is literal, referring to those black shapes our bodies cast on walls or the ground whenever we stand in the light. Our shadows are not just apparitions, but living parts of ourselves; we create them without even thinking about it, and a part of us exists in them and is reflected in them. In the exact same way, a person can exist in other things they intentionally create as well, like songs, paintings, photographs, works of literature, etc. This is exactly why the Egyptians built so many monuments and wrote down so much of their knowledge and history. To preserve their culture in so meticulous a manner has not only been a benefit for modern archaeologists in piecing together the Kemetic worldview; it has also helped the ancient Egyptians live on and continue influencing people today. This applies to when we look at photos or read letters from our departed loved ones, as well; art and literature do in fact help us live on after death, and I think it is our shutu or shadows that probably benefit from such creative work specifically.
Names, or renu in ancient Egyptian, are also significant dimensions of the self. This includes not only our birth names, but any titles, nicknames, and other names we might be given or choose for ourselves as well. Each of the gods has various names by which they are known, and the same is true of us. Names are living extensions of ourselves that carry a real, lasting power of their own; for though they are long dead, we still speak the names of Hatshepsut, Joan of Arc, Princess Diana, and other blessed ancestors in regular conversation today. Doing so helps to keep this aspect of the self alive after death. There is also a story in which the goddess Isis tricks Atum-Ra into giving her their true secret name, which only Ra had known up to that point. By learning the true unknown name of Ra, Isis becomes the most powerful goddess, magician, and woman of all time.
Conversely, the Egyptians defaced or erased the names of people and things they wanted to write out of history and existence. This is what happened to the Heretic King, Akhenaten (born Amenhotep IV), who prioritized the new religion of Atenism over his duty to be a good and responsible leader. His name was removed from various monuments after his death in an attempt to forget that this particular ruler even existed. This is also why modern Kemetics generally write the name of
Apep in strikeout text. Simply writing the name is not good enough, because it can actually attract the monster’s attention to ourselves. Writing its name in strikeout text serves as a way for us to communicate about the rotten bastard without actually evoking it into our lives.
It is not exactly clear what happens when a deceased person passes the Weighing of the Heart and is transformed into an Akh. But I imagine that person would be united with themself across both this world (as a corpse and a spirit) and the Other Side (as a soul), as well as with their various names and any objects in which their shadows might reside (photos, diaries, etc.). I also imagine they would be united with all the possible variations of their soul that might exist across the vast multiplicity of universes. Akhu are said to reside with the Netjeru in Duat, but there are actually many different heavens included there. I think Akhu are free to visit either of these various realms, but they are also free to visit the living and travel to alternate realities as well. This mobility of the Akhu between universes is remarkable when compared to other religious teachings about the soul after death. I can’t even begin to grasp what such an existence might be like; but I think it probably isn’t that far removed from how the people of the “Q Continuum” exist in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994).
The Egyptians also referred to additional facets of the self, but our knowledge of what these things actually are is unclear. There is something called sekhem, which translates to mean “power” or “form.” This could be referring to the latent magical power that exists within each of us as unique incarnations of Ra; but I am really just guessing. It is tempting to compare sekhem with what Chinese folk medicine calls qi or “chi”: a vital life force or energy flow that can be used to guide exercises and reinforce medical treatments. It might also be similar to Japanese Reiki, a form of alternative medicine that involves energy healing.
There is also something called a sahu, which seems to be an additional spiritual body that is generated for the deceased during their funerary rites. It is not evident how this feature should be distinguished from the ka or spirit exactly, except perhaps that the ka exists from birth while the sahu doesn’t. I have heard it said that the state of sahu is probably closest to how the Netjeru experience their own existence; but the concept remains unclassifiable nevertheless. Rather than try to pontificate on things for which there is so little available evidence at present, I simply accept that there are no clear answers to this particular question at present.
For now at least, it is enough for me to know I am a body with a soul, a spirit, a heart, a shadow, and a name. There are many different versions of me that exist in all kinds of different universes, too. When I die, I hope to be found worthy of the afterlife during the Weighing of my Heart. I hope for all the pieces of my self to be re-united so I can become an Akh and get up to some shenanigans with other Akhu out in Set’s Desert, beyond the Great Bear. And I hope that when I get there, I’ll meet Ronnie James Dio and we can go smite some monsters of isfet together!
Jesus is a dead alien; Satan is a prehistoric sentient ooze; and “God” is the greatest supervillain of all time. This unique fictional theology helped me think outside the box, for sure!
It probably isn’t fair that so many of my favorite films are John Carpenter (or Carpenter-related) movies; but it happens to be true, and I’m sure no one is surprised by this. I’ve already discussed three of these flicks—Halloween (1978), The Thing (1982), and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)—but one of Carpenter’s lesser known masterpieces is Prince of Darkness (1987), in which the creator of Michael Myers gives us his version of “the devil.” And it is the single most original and engaging take on the subject I have ever seen. If you’re expecting to see anything like Tim Curry with big ass goat horns, or even Al Pacino leading a law firm, think again. In Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, everything we think we know about “Satan” is thrown out the window, and what turns out to be true about him is far more terrible than anything conjured by biblical scholars or Christian theologians.
Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) is a world-renowned quantum physics lecturer at Kneale University, and his graduate students are some of the best and brightest young minds in his field. There’s Brian (Jameson Parker, who resembles a younger version of Tom Atkins in Halloween III); Catherine (Lisa Blount, a mathematician); and Walter (Dennis Dun, a total wisecracker), among others. These up-and-coming scientists are all bewildered by their instructor, who creeps them out with tales of how our human notions of “common sense” break down at the subatomic level, evaporating into “ghosts and shadows.” Perhaps it wouldn’t be so spooky to hear such things if there weren’t so many weird astronomical phenomena happening lately. Something about the lunar cycle seems different, and there’s also a newly discovered supernova being reported on TV. Some distant star died countless eons ago, and the particles from that explosion are only just now reaching our galaxy.
Then a Catholic priest (the magnificent Donald Pleasence) requests to meet with Professor Birack. The Priest claims he has made a terrible discovery, and he asks for Birack’s help in doing something about it. Birack accompanies the Priest to an abandoned derelict church called St. Goddard’s. As they descend into the church’s labyrinthine cellar, the Priest explains that he was on his way to visit another clergyman, who unfortunately died before the Priest could arrive. After reading his departed colleague’s diary, the Priest learned he had been living alone at St. Goddard’s, keeping something hidden in the basement. The clergyman was part of a sect so secret and powerful that even the Vatican doesn’t question its actions. Known only as “the Brotherhood of Sleep,” the sect has protected whatever the clergyman has been hiding at St. Goddard’s all this time. The clergyman was the last remaining member of the sect, and now that he has passed away, the Priest feels it is his duty to continue the Brotherhood’s work somehow.
When Birack and the Priest reach the center of the basement, they find a shrine decorated with countless crucifixes, all of which surround an object that stops Birack cold in his tracks. It’s a huge container filled with a swirling, glowing green ooze, and something about that ooze makes both men feel like they are being WATCHED. When Birack asks the Priest what this object might be, the Priest refers to it with masculine pronouns (“he/him”), as if it were a sentient entity. He also suggests it might have something to do with the moon and the supernova, and that some even crazier bullshit might be ahead. Is there anything Birack can do to help get rid of this fucking thing?
After coming to terms with this encounter, Birack approaches his students with a one-time offer: a unique opportunity to study this crazy discovery and write a whole bunch of academic papers from it. He also wrangles a few other professors and their students into this plan as well. The team assembles one Friday afternoon at St. Goddard’s, where everyone gets a good look at the strange container in the basement. Suddenly no one wants to be there anymore, but they stick around just the same, working and gathering data from the artifact into the wee hours of the night. As they do, some homeless people who have been hanging around the church start behaving like Michael Myers, standing unnaturally still and staring in hostile silence. (One of them is even played by Alice Cooper, who wrote “Prince of Darkness” [from his 1987 album, Raise Your Fist and Yell] for the soundtrack.)
The scientists take turns napping through the night, and whenever they sleep, they each have the exact same dream: a vision of a TV recording someone has made. The footage shows a hideous figure lurking in front of the church in which they are now sleeping. There is also a distorted voice in the nightmare that says:
“We are using your brain’s electrical system as a receiver. We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year 1-9-9-9. You are receiving this broadcast to alter the events you are seeing. Our technology has not developed a transmitter strong enough to reach your conscious state of awareness. But this is not a dream. You are seeing what is actually occurring. This is not a dream.”
When the scientists carbon date the container downstairs, they learn that its mineral content is over seven million years old, and that it came from outer space a well. There is an opening mechanism at the top, but strangely the lid can only be opened FROM THE INSIDE. No analysis of the glowing green ooze can be made, but everyone starts to feel it is ALIVE and WATCHING them somehow.
The team also finds an ancient Brotherhood of Sleep manuscript that appears to contain differential equations—several centuries before such mathematics were previously thought to have been invented! According to this text (which also appears to pre-date the New Testament), Jesus Christ was not a supernatural being, but an extraterrestrial from another planet in some distant galaxy. Jesus escaped from his homeworld when the sun of his solar system went supernova, and he reached our earth thousands of years later, landing in Roman-occupied Judea. There, Christ went around using his advanced alien medical science to heal people. He also tried to warn everyone about what destroyed his home planet. The aliens from Jesus’ homeworld discovered there is indeed a Universal Mind that can control the behavior of subatomic particles across all of time and space. But rather than a loving Creator, this Supreme Being is a wrathful Destroyer, seeking not to sustain but to annihilate all things.
This all-powerful Anti-God was somehow “banished” to the realm of anti-matter by Jesus and his people with their incredible technology; but this process required destroying their own sun for some reason (hence the supernova). Unfortunately, the Anti-God knew what was going to happen and created a “son”—Satan—which it buried in suspended animation on our planet, somewhere in the Middle East. Christ came to Earth specifically to find Satan and help the human race get rid of him; for when the devil wakes up, he will cause reality to unravel, allowing the Anti-God to slither back into our universe. But then Jesus was crucified, and the responsibility for all of this fell to the Brotherhood of Sleep. They found Satan and kept him hidden for all these centuries, hoping he would stay asleep until humans could develop a science sophisticated enough to destroy him. They eventually transported him here to St. Goddard’s, where the devil has been buried ever since.
No one really wants to come out and say it; but after hearing all of this, everyone knows exactly what—and more importantly, WHO—it is that’s watching them from inside that container down in the basement.
Then the scientists realize they have each been having the same nightmare. The Priest explains that historically, everyone who encounters the Brotherhood of Sleep starts to have this dream every night for the rest of their life. Brian and Catherine theorize that the dream might actually be a real message from the future, sent backward in time by scientists via “tachyon beam” signals that our brains can only receive as dreams. The message makes it clear that if something isn’t done about the entity trapped downstairs, the world will somehow end in 1999.
And it’s at this point in the movie when the glowing green ooze OPENS ITS OWN CONTAINER and starts spraying itself at people, right into their mouths. After they choke on the slime for a while, it takes complete control of their bodies, effectively “possessing” them. This explains what happened to all the zombified homeless people lurking outside the church, and why they butcher anyone who tries to leave. Being dead does not prohibit the slime from possessing its hosts either, for several of the scientists’ mangled corpses are converted into zombies as well. Most of the ooze absorbs itself into one scientist in particular, sending the poor lady into a coma. The remaining survivors are trapped inside the church for the entire following day, unable to call or send anyone out for help.
As night falls on the second day at St. Goddard’s, Satan’s primary host—who is now horribly disfigured and equipped with fierce telekinetic powers—awakens from her coma. The Prince of Darkness then transforms every mirror in the building into some kind of interdimensional gateway. On the other side of each gateway lurks the Anti-God, which is anxious to step back into this world and start the apocalypse. Just what the hell can Brian, Catherine, Walter, Birack, or the Priest do to stop any of this insanity? I ain’t gonna tell you; go watch the movie to see!
Without a doubt, Prince of Darkness is the most inventive and thought-provoking “devil movie” I have ever seen. Carpenter wrote the script under the pen name “Martin Quatermass,” which is an obvious homage to Nigel Kneale. (He even named the fictional college after his hero, calling it Kneale University.) The premise is very similar to Quatermass and the Pit (1967), in which another team of scientists battles a similar alien force that is likewise revealed to be “the scientific reality” behind a supernatural force. I think the concept for Prince of Darkness might have originated from when Carpenter was still involved with Halloween 4 (1988) during its pre-production phase. He had pitched a script by Dennis Etchinson in which Michael Myers returns as some kind of reality-bending ghost. When this premise for Halloween 4 was rejected, Carpenter reworked it into the script that later became Prince of Darkness. (He even wrote in a character named “Etchinson,” who is clearly named after the horror novelist.) Carpenter was also reading tons of shit about quantum mechanics at the time, and all of this stuff collided together in his brain to form the idea of a cosmic supervillain: the all-powerful Anti-God.
If it seems unlikely that Prince of Darkness came from a rejected pitch for a Halloween sequel, just look at the Priest. He is functionally similar to Dr. Loomis from Halloween (1978) in almost every way; the Wise Elder who knows about the Evil, and who tries to do something about it. He even refers to Satan as his “prisoner” at various points, as if he were Dr. Loomis referring to Michael Myers. It also seems relevant that Carpenter chose not to give this character a name. When you watch Prince of Darkness with subtitles, the captions identify the Priest as “Father Loomis” for some reason (even though he is never addressed by name, not even in the end credits). Based on Pleasence’s performance here, I almost think Prince of Darkness is actually a direct sequel to Halloween from some alternate timeline. Perhaps in this cinematic universe, Dr. Loomis gave up on psychiatry after shooting the Shape at the end of Halloween, then launched a new career for himself in the Catholic Church. But now he is tasked with handling yet another unstoppable prisoner, and this one is even worse than the last!
Pleasence gives one of his very best performances here. When the truth about Satan is revealed, the Priest quickly accepts that the Catholic Church and its teachings are all a sham. But we can also see the terrible strain this knowledge puts on him. When the Priest hides from one of Satan’s hosts, he stands there quietly, whispering desperate prayers to his god. You can see on his face that he doesn’t really believe in who he’s praying to anymore. Something about Pleasence’s voice during that scene always makes me want to reach through the TV and tell him, “It’s gonna be all right, Father; let’s invoke SET into ourselves and BLUDGEON these slimy zombie fuckers SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY!” Yet the Priest never becomes a problem or a liability for the other characters; he is nothing like Blair from The Thing (1982), who just totally loses his shit and tries to kill everybody. The Priest clearly isn’t having an easy time with any of this “Space Jesus” stuff; but his heart is still in the right place, and he does his best to stay useful and sane.
Another actor who is truly fantastic in this film is Victor Wong. You’ve probably seen this guy in tons of movies, but he also appears in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986) as the benevolent kung-fu wizard, Egg Shen. Wong is another character actor who was generally cast to play the exact same role in everything he did, usually appearing as a monk, seer, or martial arts master (as seen in films like The Golden Child from 1986 and Three Ninjas from 1992). But Prince of Darkness is one of the few films I’ve ever seen in which Wong is not typecast in this way at all. Here he gets to be a goddamn quantum physicist, a role that would have normally been reserved for a white male back in 1987. Professor Birack is also one of the main characters, which is especially meaningful since Wong was typically cast only for supporting roles. As a matter of fact, Prince of Darkness features not one but two Wise Elders who know about the Evil and are trying to stop it: Birack and the Priest.
As a Pagan, one of my biggest pet peeves in science fiction is the conflation of Pagan deities with “ancient astronauts.” We see this trope again and again in things like Doctor Who, Stargate, and any number of other media fandoms. This notion stems from the white colonialist belief that other cultures simply “couldn’t” have accomplished their own achievements by themselves. To claim the pyramids were built by aliens rather than the ancient Egyptians, for example, is to claim the Egyptians were not as smart or resourceful as the Greeks or Romans (who are almost never accused of having anything “provided” for them by aliens, likely because they were white). The Egyptians were a highly advanced people and they did not need any help from extraterrestrials to develop their religion, their art, their fantastic monuments, or anything else.
Almost no one EVER writes this kind of bullshit about Jesus Christ, and we know exactly why that is, don’t we? Because if anyone did, Christians would get all butt-hurt about people dehumanizing their beliefs and traditions. For some reason, this never seems to apply to other deities and religions; writers dehumanize Pagan beliefs and traditions ALL THE FUCKING TIME. But John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness gets revenge for this by unabashedly “alienizing” Christianity, giving Jesus and Yahweh the exact same treatment that things like Doctor Who give to Set!
(Incidentally, there are at least two other films I know of that “alienize” Jesus like this. One is Giulio Paradisi’s The Visitor , which is just awful, and another is Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To , which is actually pretty terrific. But neither of these films holds a candle to Prince of Darkness.)
I enjoy the fact that Carpenter completely deconstructs Christian mythology here. Compare Prince of Darkness to End of Days (1999), for example. The latter is an A-list, big budget exploitation movie that only exists to satisfy the demand for sex and violence. There’s nothing wrong with this in principle, but End of Days also tries to pass itself off as a “religious” movie that wants to “scare you back into church.” In Prince of Darkness, no sanctimonious lip service is paid to Christianity whatsoever; the entire religion is written off as simply being false. Absolutely none of the traditional Christian weapons against Satan (crucifixes, exorcisms, etc.) will work. The message I take from this film is, “God is EVIL, and the only way to stop him is with SCIENCE!” If End of Days wants you to get your ass to church, Prince of Darkness wants you to get your ass to a quantum physics classroom.
As a Setian, this film speaks to me very deeply, and in at least two different ways. It’s intriguing to think that Satan himself is not the true source of evil here, but just a facilitator for an even greater and more powerful villain. The Anti-God might as well be
Apep from Kemetic mythology: an unstoppable disintegrator of reality that can be repelled, but which can never be completely defeated. It’s very easy for me to imagine the Brotherhood of Sleep and its new recruits (the Priest and the scientists) as a constellation of souls chosen by Set to try and cast this monster back into the void. On the other hand, the film also speaks to me in terms of my own religious conversion, in which I realized:
- There is this thing in my life that I would call a God.
- This God I experience defies everything I was told about “God” as a child.
- Conventional religion just can’t seem to handle this God, because He scares most religious people too much.
So watching Prince of Darkness, in which the characters make these exact same discoveries about the Anti-God, really made an impression on me. The movie seemed to tell me, “Yes, G.B., it’s totally okay for you to THINK BEYOND CHRISTIAN IDEOLOGY!” When people around me learned of my love for Set, many of them insisted I was “worshiping the devil” and would “burn in hell.” (Some people still tell me this today.) Prince of Darkness helped me break out of this mental trap by reinforcing the idea that there CAN be higher cosmic realities that defy conventional religious expectations. This helped me come to terms with Set’s true identity as a Kemetic Netjer and understand that He is not, in fact, “the devil.” It also helped me understand that I am a Setian and a Kemetic polytheist, not a Satanist or a devil worshiper.
As a final note, John Carpenter typically scores most of his own films, and Prince of Darkness is no exception. The movie features 50 minutes or so of eerie electronic music by Carpenter and his frequent collaborator at the time, Alan Howarth. This score is haunting and beautiful, perfectly capturing the threat of total cosmic decay. Before I started composing my own tunes, this was one of my favorite albums to play during my rituals to Set. It has definitely been a major influence on my latest release, His Nocturnal Majesty, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys my work.
How a really terrible Arnold Schwarzenegger movie influenced my spirituality and art.
Previously I discussed the television series Millennium, a brilliant show that made a huge impression on me as a Setian teenager back in the 1990s. There was another apocalyptic-themed horror romp from that era which made a huge impression on me too, but it was not nearly so remarkable. In fact, it’s really a terrible production most any way you look at it. But in those crazy days just before January 1, 2000, when lots of people were kinda worried the world might actually fall apart on New Year’s Eve, there was one theatrical film that dared to exploit all that juicy endtime paranoia. And shitty as it was, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address some of the influence it has had on me.
That’s right, I’m talking about the one and only End of Days (1999), that magnificent shit show in which Arnold Schwarzenegger squares off against Satan himself, who’s prowling the streets of New York City in Gabriel Byrne’s body. Oh gods, where do I even START with this fucker?
Okay, so the story begins with a bunch of clergymen at the Vatican freaking out about a comet and some prophecy about a “satanic” child being born somewhere. Then, in New York City, Udo Kier kills a snake and baptizes a newborn baby girl with its blood. The girl just happens to be born with a birthmark that resembles some kind of glyph. Then, confusingly, we fast forward to December 1999, when a semi-invisible creature rises up from the sewers of NYC to possess some random business dude (Gabriel Byrne) so it can grab some poor lady by her bosom, then blow up a restaurant. Then we meet Jericho (Arnold Schwarzenegger), some kind of private security guy whose family was murdered and who is just one stone’s throw away from killing himself. Jericho is hired to protect the dude who’s possessed by Satan, which comes in handy when a crazy Catholic priest with no tongue tries to assassinate the guy.
Jericho does his job, but he doesn’t like the way things add up. So he decides to investigate the priest, which somehow leads him to track down Christine (Robin Tunney), the woman who was born and baptized at the beginning of the movie by Satanists. This is convenient too, because it turns out Satan is searching for her. Apparently, Christine was bred to be his bride at the End of Days. If the devil succeeds in raping Christine at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, it will somehow allow him to take over the world and burn the whole thing down to a crisp. This is all explained to us by another Catholic priest (played by Rod Steiger) who leads an underground movement to find Christine and keep her safe. But at the same time, a rival sect within the Church has sent an army of assassins to kill Christine before Satan can get to her. Any way you slice it, Arnold—er, I mean Jericho—feels compelled to get Christine the hell away from everyone. The whole thing leads to a midnight black mass in the sewers, a subway chase scene, and then a final confrontation in some random church. Satan possesses Jericho at the last minute before midnight, and all seems lost; but Jericho resists the devil’s will to rape Christine and commits suicide instead, thereby saving the poor lady and canceling the apocalypse.
(Are you keeping up with all of this? Fascinating how much plot they managed to cram into this movie, especially considering how shallow and empty the film actually is!)
End of Days clearly wasn’t made by dogmatic Christians; otherwise the writers would have adapted the book of Revelation much more faithfully (pun intended). It is the pinnacle of absurdity when Rod Steiger rants about how Jericho should “read the Bible” to understand what’s going on, given the absence of any real biblical content in this story. The fact that Steiger comes across as angry and scolding while he does this is definitely a turn-off, too. The film presents itself as trying to “scare audiences back into church,” but it doesn’t care enough to get any of its own bullshit right! Instead of actually adapting the book of Revelation or anything like that, this is basically just a Terminator movie that swaps the supernatural for science fiction.
Consider this film’s version of the devil, for instance. Other cinematic adversaries of the time were quite a bit more interesting, such as Al Pacino’s take on Lucifer in The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and Denzel Washington’s face-off against Azazel in Fallen (1998). Gabriel Byrne’s devil, however, is little more than a two-dimensional slasher movie villain who stalks and slashes people. This is quite a shame too, because Byrne is a magnificent actor and could have really owned this role if he had been allowed to do so. As it is, he just stands there, says a few cliches, and gets shot at. I suspect the director, Peter Hyams, is the real reason why Byrne’s performance in End of Days seems so forgettable. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Setian and I actually know the complex history of where “the devil” came from; but I personally prefer my satanic horror movies to be a little more innovative, thought-provoking, and weird. (Just wait for my NEXT sermon, in which I will give a most excellent example of what I mean!)
I also have two very serious objections to the plot. First, I don’t appreciate the fact that this entire story hinges on the threat of Christine being raped. And yes, I’m aware that she says, “I’m scared I might WANT to sleep with him” at some point; but I don’t care. Being hypnotized into having sex with someone STILL COUNTS AS RAPE. (In fact, there are other lady characters in the film who are raped in this manner.) And since there is no mention of the devil actually raping anybody in the book of Revelation, a decision was clearly made to capitalize on Satanic Panic hysteria here. I not only find this distasteful; I find it disgusting. They could have just as easily written it so that Satan has to eat a ham sandwich on New Year’s Eve to start the apocalypse (which would have been much more entertaining, actually!)
My second objection relates to the main character, Jericho. Let’s be honest here: Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t exactly the greatest actor who ever lived. But his acting ability isn’t a problem for me; I enjoy him in many of his films just for his charisma. No, the problem here is that Jericho is written as a suicidal person who eventually HAS to take his own life (and at the Christian god’s behest, in fact). He has no character arc to speak of; he never grows or learns anything, he just stays exactly the same all the way through. So when Jericho has to kill himself at the end, it’s not like he says, “But wait, I’m not suicidal anymore!” or anything like that. No, far be it from End of Days to offer us any sort of character development. It’s more like Jericho has been waiting to kill himself this whole time, and now he can finally get it over with. The message I take from this is incredibly ugly, toxic, and mean-spirited. It feels like End of Days is saying, “Suicidal feelings are GOOD because they make men MANLY, and they make us better suited to serve God’s will!” And that is not a message I can ever agree with.
By now, you must be wondering how on earth End of Days could have influenced my spirituality or my art so much, given that I am so hyper-critical of this film. Well, the answer lies partly in my criticisms, which I will explain further in just a moment; but it also partly lies in the soundtrack. And no, I am not referring to the compilation album with the Rob Zombie and Guns N’ Roses songs. I’m talking about the instrumental movie score by John Debney, which features a lovely fusion of choral, orchestral, and electronic music. As soon as I heard this stuff while watching the film at the theater, I knew I had to purchase it on CD. I fucking hated End of Days as a movie, but the Debney score continues to be one of my all-time favorite records, even today. I listened to it every day for a while in high school, and it inspired me to try and come up with my own crazy apocalypse movie. I tried writing this as a script or a novel for years, but I could never quite hammer out the details in a way that satisfied me. All I knew was that I wanted it to be a Setian take on Armageddon, rather than a Christian (or quasi-Christian) one. And now, twenty full years later, I have finally actualized this dark dream in a form that others can enjoy: the album, His Nocturnal Majesty (2020).
But while I despised End of Days upon my initial viewing, something about the movie kept making me want to re-watch it over the years. I still think it is an egregiously stupid movie, and I would never recommend it to anyone. But at least now I can appreciate the film for a few reasons. I do rather enjoy the action sequences; Byrne’s devil is boring, but it is fun to watch Schwarzenegger launch grenades at the bastard. (I really enjoy the subway sequence in particular, for some reason.) I also enjoy the fact that whenever I watch End of Days, it takes me back to December 1999. I remember being skeptical of the Y2K bug and all that stuff; but there was still a tiny little part of my brain that wondered, “What if the world really does end tonight?” on New Year’s Eve that year. End of Days is not really a “religious” movie at all, for it has nothing of any real spiritual value to offer. It is instead an A-list, big budget exploitation movie. The real point was to exploit all that apocalyptic fear everyone was feeling, and to show us as much gore and sleaze in the process as possible. While I would much prefer the story to have been written without any rape or romanticization of suicide, I do have to admire the filmmakers for being so damn eager to deconstruct Christian apocalypticism in this manner.
One thing I absolutely adore about End of Days, however, is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attitude toward Satan throughout the entire movie. I mean, he actually tells the devil “YOU’RE A FUCKING CHOIR BOY COMPARED TO ME!” at one point. And cheesy as it might sound, I love it! I think it perfectly exemplifies what Set probably thinks and feels whenever He locks eyes with