I have been asked before: “Why don’t you start your own church?” Here are some reasons why this is not only unnecessary for Setians, but probably undesirable as well.
The question has been raised before: why not start a new Setian church—one that speaks to those of us who actually revere and venerate Set, and which honors Him above all other gods?
It is certainly true that some things are easier to accomplish in groups, and that there are limits to what any one individual can do alone. But what exactly do we need to “do” for Set in large crowds? He does not demand to be worshiped by the masses. He is a hunter god who is always on the prowl, and who is much more concerned with saving all our butts from crazy hellbeasts than He is with micromanaging our lives. Divinities like Set are loners who tend to prefer the company of other loners, if They desire any company at all.
It will be pointed out, of course, that His Nocturnal Majesty was worshiped in certain ancient Egyptian temples. This is quite true, but Egyptian temples worked very differently than modern churches do. Their innermost sanctuaries were closed to the public, and the priestly rituals for a temple’s god(s) were generally private. Though public piety existed, the Egyptians had no concept of “going to church” as such; they more often honored their ancestors and/or the god(s) of their choice at home, or at neighborhood shrines that technically weren’t on temple grounds. Along with just being good neighbors and citizens, this was the basic template for religion in ancient Kemet; there were no dogmatic litmus tests for “membership,” and there was no real concern for what individuals might or might not believe theologically. I think it’s probably fair to say most Setians, Kemetics, and polytheists in general are already living this way by default, and we clearly don’t need a church to continue doing so.
It’s also worth noting that our Western model of religious affiliation appears to be slowly going extinct. The most vocal and visible churches continue to deny science and harbor known evildoers among their leadership. Such institutions have consistently raped, murdered, or otherwise oppressed countless innocents throughout history. The masses have grown tired of their bullshit, and church attendance is now at an all-time low. So perhaps starting a church in today’s environment would not be the wisest investment of anyone’s time and resources. Again, our god doesn’t necessarily want to be worshiped by large crowds of people anyway; nor does He want us to waste our energy fighting each other, which we are much more likely to do when we gather in large numbers. Virtually every organized religion has been fragmented by its own rival sects over time; it is human nature for groups of people to quarrel and eventually schism. I therefore see little point in trying to coordinate such a project, only to have it eventually fall apart or become corrupt.
Church corruption is most blatant when it comes to our tax exemption laws, which are meant to help them invest as much of their funding into charity as possible. This seems perfectly legit—money that is used to help others ought not to be taxed. But the problem is that most church spending around the world does not actually go into charity. Most of that spending goes into building lavish cathedrals, lobbying for (usually conservative or right-wing) political causes, and acquiring more converts (i.e., donors). In some cases, the money just goes straight into the leadership’s pockets. The truth is that churches are really more like businesses than anyone wants to admit. Time and time again, the government has given stimulus money to corporations so they can pay better wages to their employees, only for the employers to predictably keep all that money for themselves. Churches function in much the same way, except they don’t have to pay any of what they keep back to the rest of society, and the government bails them out every fucking year.
The saddest part of all this is that if we DID tax churches, we would have MORE than enough money in the national budget to shelter all of our homeless citizens, improve all of our schools, and finance other badly needed social initiatives—things churches are supposed to do with all their money, but don’t. It seems clear to me at least that organized, institutionalized religion holds us back from evolving and growing into a truly advanced society; it always has, and it always will.
I realize I must sound like an atheist to some people. I am not. My faith in Set and other divinities, though unique, is considerably devout. I did not say religion is the problem—I said that organized, institutionalized religion is the problem. We are taught in this culture to think of faith as something that must always be standardized and static, never being allowed to change. But once upon a time, religion was much more personal and fluid for the vast majority of believers across the globe. Some of us, including yours truly, still adhere to this perspective today, and it may very well become the norm again quite soon.
It is true that churches can provide avenues of critical social support for their members; yet there are safer and more sensible alternatives today. If Sally Setian needs money for an operation, we can launch a Kickstarter drive for her, and all the money donated to her will actually go to her bank account; it won’t be divided up (or outright stolen) to pay for some pastor’s new limousine. I enjoy sending donations to random people I know online who really need it whenever I can; but I would not enjoy being pressured to donate money to a church at regular intervals (upon fear of being considered “un-Setian” if I don’t).
Yet there is another, deeper reason why starting a Setian church doesn’t seem too worthwhile. We do not need to “serve” Set by “bringing more people” to Him. He neither expects nor even wants us to actively seek converts. If what we do helps others to find Him, it is a blessing and a work of great magic; but to try and aggressively expand our numbers is antithetical to the Setian disposition. It also suggests that Set needs us to go around convincing people to believe in Him, when He is perfectly capable of doing this Himself. If it is important enough to Him that someone should believe in Him for whatever reason, it is for Him and that person to decide together, and no one else. So most of us who are drawn to Set deplore proselytism, and would find the idea of “winning souls” for Him quaint at best.
I propose an alternative to all of this church nonsense: simple social networking. We are already talking to each other, collaborating with each other, and helping each other right here on the various social media we all frequent. And each of us is already doing and contributing about as much to our scene as we probably would if we were all in a church together (or in rival churches, bickering and quarreling with each other). I think this is more or less how walking with Set is meant to be. Our faith is not a dogma but an art, and our god is not a micromanager but a muse. Must artists join organized groups with rules and regulations to be artists? No, that isn’t how art works; and it isn’t how Setianism works either. We are not a congregation in need of a church; we’re more like a bunch of individual artists who just network with each other as needed or desired.
As a final note, some readers and listeners have referred to the LV-426 Tradition as a “church.” Just to be clear: we are not and have never claimed to be any such thing. LV-426 currently consists of only four people who grew up knowing each other; so I would sooner describe us as “a very small coven” at best.
I am sincerely grateful to Setken, Siobhan Welch, and several other beloved friends and family for their generous help in preparing this sermon for the public, and for encouraging me to preach again. Thank you all, and thank Set for each of you.
One time in the 2000s, the Tonester and I were invited to participate in a Pagan meetup down in central Texas. We were so excited, we stayed up all night the previous evening to bake a shit-ton of chocolate chip cookies. Then we put on our best black duds and went to the meetup.
When we arrived, we found we were two of the only three men present, and that everyone else at the meetup was a Wiccan. They took one look at our black clothes and our horned pentagram necklaces and thought we were bad news. And they were really weirded out by the fact that we had made so many chocolate chip cookies. They were like, “Who the hell are these devil worshipers, and why did they bring cookies?”
We tried to make friends and explain what we were all about; but things didn’t go well. As soon as we mentioned Set’s name, we received the standard response: “Isn’t He the bad guy of the Egyptian pantheon? Why would you worship the bad guy?” And when we attempted to explain, we were chastised for “not being Pagan enough.” Everything we told them about Ma’at, isfet, and Set’s war against
Apep sounded “too Christian” to them. They seemed to think we had simply taken Christianity and replaced Jesus with an Egyptian devil-god. They didn’t believe that anything we were talking about had actually originated from Egypt.
After a while, it became clear that we just weren’t welcome (despite the fact that everyone seemed to enjoy our cookies). So we left and went home. We put so much energy into this event, and we really tried our best to be cordial and make friends. But we were treated like creeps, and it was demoralizing. We never went to another Pagan meetup again after that.
The word Pagan comes from the Latin paganus, which means “country dweller.” When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official state religion, pagan was applied to virtually anyone who refused to convert—with the insinuation being that non-Christians were primitive, backward yokels. No one in history ever referred to themselves as a Pagan until after the Industrial Revolution, when artists of the Romantic movement started incorporating ancient polytheist ideas into their work. Since then, Pagan has become a “catch-all” term for various new religious movements that each take their inspiration from nature and ancient mythology in some way (e.g., Wicca, Druidism, Heathenry, Kemeticism, etc.). It does not actually denote any particular theology, philosophy, or creed; it is simply a collective “safe space” for several religious communities that just don’t feel welcome anywhere else.
So when Pagans alienate other Pagans from this “safe space,” it is especially hypocritical. Even Wiccans know what it is like to have people call Child Protection Services on you simply for identifying as a “witch.” You would think, therefore, that they would be a little more sympathetic to other Pagans who struggle with similar prejudices. But in my experience, people generally deal with persecution by trying to shift it on to somebody else. This ugly tendency is every bit as true of Pagans as it is of other religious communities.
Sometimes when people ask about my religion, they get confused because of all the different terms that can be applied to it. I prefer to identify as a Setian, but I can also be described as a Kemetic polytheist. And of course, I include myself beneath the Pagan umbrella (even though certain other Pagans would prefer that I didn’t). But really, Pagan is my least favorite self-label. It can be very useful for networking purposes; but apart from that, it is practically meaningless.
When I was 14 years old, I had an experience that convinced me the Egyptian god Set is real. That was the moment I first became a Setian. But over the years, I would experience several crises of faith. I alternated between thinking Set is actually real and thinking I am just imagining things.
It didn’t help that there were people in my life who were obsessed with “proving me wrong” about my beliefs. The Christians I knew were most obvious, assaulting me with their apologetics and their conversion tactics. I never minded them that much, because none of their arguments were ever based on logic. They were rooted instead in emotions (“Don’t you want to go to heaven with the rest of your family?”), and they all hinged on biblical scriptures. These people didn’t understand that the Bible has no bearing on my life at all. It’s like trying to convince a Star Trek fan they are “wrong” by quoting Star Wars at them; it’s just NOT going to work.
But the people who really succeeded in shaking my faith at times were the militant atheists I knew. They would laugh at me for believing in Egyptian gods, claiming this is somehow “even sillier” than being a Christian. They constantly asked me things like, “What proof do you have for your beliefs? Why should I believe any of this?” Few of them understood that I am not interested in “proving” my beliefs to other people; nor am I interested in “converting” anyone. But they all seemed to take great relish in putting me on the spot, embarrassing me, and making me feel humiliated.
Whenever I started to think that maybe the atheists were right and maybe I really was just imagining things, it made me terribly depressed. My walk with Set is the one thing that truly helped me determine myself in my life, and to think that it might simply be a “delusion” was very upsetting to me indeed. There were other experiences that contributed to such crises of faith, as well, including a suicidal depression in high school and some truly terrible experiences I had while meeting up with other esotericists during my twenties. Such experiences were cited as “proof” by my tormentors that my spiritual interests were simply a recipe for madness, saying I should “get wise” and resign myself to atheism.
In 2007, I made a pilgrimage to Malvern, Pennsylvania, which is where I was living when Set first exploded into my life back in 1997. I needed to see my old stomping grounds and visit all the woodsy areas I used to frequent. There is one area in the woods by Malvern where I always used to pray and worship back in the early days. This area is called Duffy’s Cut, and much to my surprise, they uncovered a mass grave of Irish railroad workers there at some point after I moved to Texas. So when I returned to Malvern and visited Duffy’s Cut, I thanked the ancestors who had been buried there for letting me use their place of rest for my rituals.
Just being there, in that place where Set and I first met, re-awakened something truly powerful in me. And when I returned from that pilgrimage to Duffy’s Cut, I no longer cared what my atheist colleagues said to me. None of their attacks on my faith bothered me anymore. They were completely missing the point, and they had succeeded in making me miss the point as well. But no more.
The point is that it really doesn’t matter if Set (or any other god) is actually “real” or not. Even if the atheists are right and it IS all just make-believe, this still would not negate the efficacy of my spiritual work. Just believing in Set and working to emulate Him throughout my life has saved me from self-annihilation time and time again. Even if Set is just a fictional character, praying to Him and making offerings to Him has had a profoundly positive impact on my life. This does not “prove” that He is real by any means; but it does indicate that He is real enough, and that Setianism is a powerful tool regardless of whether “the supernatural” actually exists or not.
And no one has any business busting my chops for utilizing a tool that helps me to improve myself (especially if THEY are in need of some serious self-improvement, themselves!).
I have not had any crises of faith since I made this realization in 2007. This is not to say that everything has been all peaches and cream. There are times when I actually don’t find this stuff very useful, and I have to put it away and take a break for a while. This has nothing to do with losing faith; it is simply a matter of needing to rest my brain or focus on something else for the time being. Setianism does not work like Christianity, where there is all this pressure to absolutely “buy into” the belief system all the time. This stuff is always here when we need it, and we can also put it away whenever we don’t.
Furthermore, Setians should never feel guilty about needing to take breaks from their quests. Set does not expect any of us to be Terminators. He doesn’t expect us to put Him before ourselves all the time. He also doesn’t judge or condemn anyone for lapsing in their faith or their practice. Set wants His children to be fully autonomous and self-determined, and sometimes this means doing things without Him if you need to for any reason. He is not bothered by this at all; nor does He consider it any kind of “sin” or “offense.” He understands these issues better than most any other deity, and He is always there waiting for us when we need Him again.