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Set On Screen

One Setian’s opinion on how certain media depictions of Set hold up against the real-life god. 

 

Sometimes when people find out I believe in Set, they ask me how I can possibly believe in a “fictional character” from Doctor Who or Marvel Comics. Occasionally, I’m even asked if I think I’m some kind of vampire. This really gets on my nerves, but I suppose I can’t blame the people who ask such questions. Popular culture has appropriated and taken so much liberty with Set over the years that most people only know about Him from reading comic books or watching science fiction TV shows. Inevitably, Set is always cast as a villain in these and other popular media, and this compounds the problem by leading people to think I’m some kind of “devil worshipper.” (This isn’t helped by the fact that Set is so often appropriated in Satanist legitimation strategies, wherein Satanism is re-conceptualized as something “pre-Christian”—but we’ll address that particular can of worms another day.)

There are various forms of popular media that I consider to be very Setian indeed. However, the evocation of Set in these media is most often unintentional; He is to be divined in the subtext rather than the text. In most creative works that actually mention Set by name, there is little to nothing of His actual presence to be found. Allow me to show you just what I mean.

Set in Robert E. Howard’s Conan Cycle (1930s)

Set is most often conceptualized in pop culture as some kind of “evil snake god.” This is ironic given that He’s actually a mammalian god who’s primarily associated with herbivorous artiodactyla (i.e., cloven-hoofed animals). But it isn’t hard to see where the “snake god” idea came from. By the time the Greeks were in control of ancient Egypt, Set was completely demonized by the Egyptians. They blamed Him for the decline of their civilization, and they deliberately confused Him with His enemy, the monster Apep. When the Greek writer Plutarch started writing his own account of Egyptian mythology, he identified this fusion of Set and Apep with Typhon, a monster from Greek mythology. Plutarch’s version of events was taken at face value by many of the early Egyptologists; it wasn’t until the publication of Herman te Velde’s Seth: God of Confusion in the 1970s that more accurate information about Set started becoming available. So when Robert E. Howard drew from pre-Christian mythology for his stories about Conan the Barbarian during the 1920s, the “evil snake god” idea was still in vogue.

Set is cast in Howard’s tales as a gigantic snake from outer space that was originally worshiped by a race of alien Serpent Men. He plots to cause the extinction of humanity so these Serpent Men can rule the Earth once more. I really enjoy Howard’s Conan stories, but I can’t help but laugh at this fictional version of Set. If you’re a Christian, imagine what it might be like if Jesus appeared in a story as a giant alien goat that just wants to eat everybody. That would be pretty silly, right? (I mean, Set could appear as a giant snake and eat everybody if He really wanted to; but…)

Robert E. Howard's version of Set in Marvel Comics

Robert E. Howard’s Set, as depicted in Marvel Comics

So is there anything of the real Set in Howard’s fiction? Actually, I would say yes…but not in the form of Set the Stygian snake god. I would contend that Set’s true nature is better revealed through the character of Conan himself, a nomadic anti-hero who rejects the authority of kings and priests. He’s primarily interested in his own gain, but he also rescues the innocent and defeats frightening monsters…just like Set. In one particular story, “The Tower of the Elephant,” Howard describes some of Conan’s feelings about the organized religions that are practiced in his world, and I believe his views on this subject are in keeping with Set’s:

He had entered the part of the city reserved for the temples. On all sides of him they glittered white in the starlight—snowy marble pillars and golden domes and silver arches, shrines of Zamora’s myriad strange gods. He did not trouble his head about them; he knew that Zamora’s religion, like all things of a civilized, long-settled people, was intricate and complex, and had lost most of the pristine essence in a maze of formulas and rituals. He had squatted for hours in the courtyard of the philosophers, listening to the arguments of theologians and teachers, and come away in a haze of bewilderment, sure of only one thing, and that, that they were all touched in the head.His gods were simple and understandable; Crom was their chief, and he lived on a great mountain, whence he sent forth dooms and death. It was useless to call on Crom, because he was a gloomy, savage god, and he hated weaklings. But he gave a man courage at birth, and the will and might to kill his enemies, which, in the Cimmerian’s mind, was all any god should be expected to do.

 

—Robert E. Howard, “The Tower of the Elephant”

I don’t think it’s “useless” to call on gods for help (and there are times in the stories when even Conan must do so), but I do agree that spirituality should be kept as simple and practical as it possibly can. The fact that Conan thinks this way makes sense, since he’s a nomad. He doesn’t have time to sit around and discuss theology; he only cares about what works at any given time. Who cares whether the gods are spirits, aliens, or Jungian archetypes so long as our prayers and rituals to them continue to work? And since Set’s most ancient worshipers were nomads who lived in the Sahara Desert, I believe they would have thought in much the same terms. I try to keep this attitude as well, eschewing theological arguments in favor of whatever works to get me through the struggles I must face. In this sense, I believe there really is quite a bit of Set in Robert E. Howard’s fiction; just not in the way you might expect.

Set in the Marvel Universe (1970s)

In the 1970s, the Marvel Comics Group was licensed to print its own stories based on Robert E. Howard’s Conan character, and it incorporated Conan’s world into its own unique universe. As a result, Howard’s version of Set was expanded upon and became an integral part of Marvel’s lore. According to this version of events, Set originated as one of the Elder Gods at the beginning of time, and He became evil by cannibalizing His own kind. Then, to escape from the vengeance of a younger god called Atum (who’s named after Atum-Ra), He slithered away into an alternate dimension. (Yes, this Set is still a giant snake.) Unfortunately for Set, He can’t escape this dimension by Himself, but must instead procure servants in this world to help facilitate His return. This role was originally filled by the Serpent Men of the Conan stories, but Set would also recruit followers in the twentieth century. This, in turn, would lead to several confrontations between the followers of Set and such well-known superhero teams as the Avengers.

Confusingly, Marvel Comics also created another fictional version of Set who is identified as being the actual Egyptian god (as opposed to the Stygian god). He’s a recurring villain in the Thor comic books, and most of His role in the Osirian myth cycle is kept intact. He actually tricks Osiris into a coffin, then drowns Him in the Nile and dismembers Him. Naturally, Marvel built upon this story in certain ways to integrate it with its universe (and they conveniently removed all the parts about Set defending Atum-Ra from Apep). But the strangest twist is when Seth supposedly tricks mortals into worshiping Him by transforming Himself into a giant snake and pretending to be Set (i.e., the snake god of Howard’s Serpent Men). In other words, a demonized version of Set pretends to be another demonized version of Set to gain His followers.

Seth–as opposed to Set–in Marvel Comics

Seth—as opposed to Set—in Marvel Comics.

If that doesn’t strike you as sounding completely nonsensical, let’s switch the names again. Not only is Jesus really a giant space-goat who wants to eat everybody; now there’s another, less-powerful Jesus who impersonates the space-goat Jesus so that people will worship him. (Huh?)

Set in Doctor Who (1975)

Big Red appears in the episode Pyramids of Mars as Sutekh, an alien tyrant from the planet Osiris. (Yeah.) He destroyed His own people and planet aeons ago, but then He was imprisoned by His brother Horus in a tomb on the planet Mars. When Pyramids of Mars begins, Sutekh uses His telekinetic powers to possess a guy here on Earth in the early 20th century. He then makes the guy build a bunch of robot mummies, as well as a rocket. The plan is for Sutekh’s hypnotized slave to fire that rocket straight into Sutekh’s prison on Mars. This will effectively release Sutekh from His prison, allowing Him to resume His dastardly plan of atomizing the entire universe (for no apparent reason). Thankfully, our favorite Gallifreyan Time Lord, the Doctor (played here by Tom Baker), is on the case. (And since this episode aired in 1975 and Doctor Who is still being produced four decades later, I’m sure you can guess how things turn out for this version of Big Red).

Though the writers of Pyramids of Mars clearly didn’t know (or care) that much about Set or Egyptian mythology, there are a couple of things going for this version of Sutekh as defined by the BBC. For one thing, at least they had the good sense to depict Him with the head of His sacred sha beast; I can appreciate this over depicting Him as a giant snake. For another, Sutekh is played by Gabriel Woolf, who has the coolest-sounding supervillain voice ever. (Woolf would later return to voice the character of “the Beast” in 2006’s The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit.) If you’re going to make Set a villain, at least make Him impressive and charismatic like Doctor Who does. I for one think it would be pretty awesome if they revisited this character in a future episode.

Sutekh the Destroyer in Doctor Who

Sutekh the Destroyer from the planet Osiris (without mask)

Set in Conan the Barbarian (1982)

In this magnificent film adaptation of Howard’s Conan stories, the villain is a wizard named Thulsa Doom (played by James Earl Jones), who is actually two characters in one. Thulsa Doom was originally the name of a very different villain in Howard’s Kull stories, an undead necromancer with a skeletal face. (Actually, Skeletor from the 1980s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon is basically a child-friendly version of Thulsa Doom.) The Doom in this movie is actually Thoth-Amon, a Stygian sorcerer and priest of Set who was Conan’s arch-nemesis in the original stories. I have no bloody idea why the filmmakers decided to mix up the characters’ names like this, as it serves no rational purpose that I can see. But it doesn’t matter that much, because the movie is still awesome to behold (and Jones’ performance as “Doom” is simply amazing).

In this film, it remains unclear as to whether Howard’s Set (or any other god) actually exists or not. The film does hint that the Set cult has existed for much longer than Thulsa Doom has, but the cult doesn’t appear to have any substantial interest in facilitating Set’s return to their dimension. If anything, Doom seems to have appropriated the cult and turned it into a vehicle for his own personal gain; one might even say the cultists are far less interested in worshiping Set than they are in worshiping Doom himself. And as far as I can tell, they don’t do anything aside from practice cannibalism, throw wild sex orgies, and feed naked women to giant snakes. Honestly, this is more of a commentary on dangerous cult leaders like Jim Jones than a straight adaptation of Howard’s fiction. That being said, I actually like this version of Howard’s Set cult much better. It wasn’t necessarily evil from the beginning, nor does it necessarily follow an evil god; it’s just been twisted to fit an evil wizard’s agenda. (Though I will admit that it’s pretty damn cool to hear James Earl Jones preach about how “THE EYE OF SET IS UPON YOU!”)

I do believe there are messages from Set in this film; but as with the original Conan stories, they’re to be found in the character of Conan more than in Thulsa Doom. If anything, I think the story is telling us that Set doesn’t like it when power-hungry madmen like Doom appropriate His worship for such horrific ends, and that He actually favors people like Conan. In fact, it’s possible to interpret Conan as a warrior chosen by Set to cleanse His religion of Doom’s twisted fanaticism.

Set in Conan the Adventurer (Animated, 1993)

In the 1990s, there was an animated Conan series. In this adaptation, Set is clearly real and can actually act upon Conan’s world. (He’s even played by a voice actor!) Set appears as a gigantic talking cobra that comes from some alternate universe and that wants to take over the world. Long ago, He was banished to “the Abyss” by damn near every living wizard on Earth; but Set has His own wizard, Wrath-Amon, whose mission is to collect what he calls “Star Metal.” This is a magical glowing iron that comes from meteors and that can apparently open doorways to interdimensional worlds. This is a rather interesting idea, considering that iron (especially meteoric iron) is quite sacred to the real-life Set and is used in His worship to “open the mouths” of physical objects (which turns them into magical “interfaces” with the spirit world).

Set as a Giant Snake in Conan: The Adventurer

Enough of the “giant snake” thing, already!

Wrath-Amon is clearly based on Thoth-Amon from the original Robert E. Howard stories, but they decided to change his name and turn him into a Serpent Man (rather than let him be a regular human, like Thoth-Amon). This begs the question; just what the hell is so difficult about adapting the Conan stories into movies, cartoons, or even TV shows? Why is it that every cinematic adaptation has to mix characters up or reverse their names or give them names that are kind of the same, but slightly different? Is there a law somewhere that says they have to do this?

Set in G.I. Joe (Animated, 1985)

Believe it or not, Set—as well as Osiris, Horus, Thoth, Buto, Ammut, Ma’at, Amun-Ra, Sekhmet and Anubis—appears in a 1985 episode of G.I. Joe called “The Gods Below.” The plot of this episode concerns an Egyptologist who’s discovered “the Tomb of Osiris” and who is then kidnapped by the terrorist group, Cobra. Cobra Commander and the Baroness hope to plunder the treasures of this tomb to fund their next evil plan, and somehow the G.I. Joe team catches wind of this. Before you can say, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the Cobras and the Joes are running around inside Osiris’ tomb, firing bazookas at each other (and somehow not causing the entire structure to cave in on them). They do succeed in attracting the attention of the Netjeru, however, and the Joes are tested in the court of Osiris to determine their moral worthiness. Meanwhile, the Cobras encounter Set and try to trick Him into giving them the treasure they seek. They do this by pretending to worship Him, but Big Red sees right through their bullshit and stomps their asses with a powerful thunderstorm.

Set is of course described as “the god of Evil” by several characters throughout this episode, but He actually helps to stop Cobra in the end, and He does so without harming anyone. Even better, He’s depicted in His proper form as a big muscular dude with the head of His holy sha beast. He does take the form of a gigantic serpent at one point, but it’s clearly indicated that this isn’t His true form, and the context in which this occurs is quite remarkable. When the Cobras first encounter Him, Set asks if they are “worshipers of the Serpent.” They say yes, and He transforms Himself into a big snake and commands them all to kneel. They do so, and Set changes back to His sha form and gives them the treasure. Then the Cobras leave, and Set attacks them in the sky while they’re flying away. The way I read it, this whole exchange is a trick to see if the Cobras really know what it means to worship Set. By kneeling before Him while He’s in snake form, they prove that they know nothing about Him and that they see no difference between worshiping Him and worshiping His enemy, Apep. This, in turn, incites Big Red to smite the rotten bastards just when they think they’ve won.

Set in G.I. Joe

Big Red actually looks kind of cute here!

As a Setian, I think that’s pretty fucking awesome! I love G.I. Joe, and I really love this episode. Who would have thought that a simple-minded cartoon from the Reagan era would contain one of the very best representations I’ve ever seen of the Red Lord in Western pop culture?

Set in the Puppet Master movies (1989–Present)

Oh, boy.

So the Puppet Master franchise is a series of cheap direct-to-video horror films that are produced by Full Moon Entertainment, which was probably the King of direct-to-video schlock in the 1990s. Have you ever seen the TrancersDollmanDemonic Toys or Subspecies movies? They’re all Full Moon flicks, and Puppet Master, like the rest of them, barely qualifies as “horror.” These flicks are more like unfunny comedies that just happen to include healthy portions of gore and sleaze. It’s impossible to take them seriously; but as long as you don’t try, some of them can actually be pretty enjoyable. That being said, the Puppet Master movies concern the legacy of Andre Toulon, a French alchemist in World War II who discovers a magic elixir that can bring inanimate objects to life. When the Nazis kill his wife, Toulon gets revenge by bringing his puppets to life and sending them to bleed those fascist bastards dry. Then Toulon and his puppets relocate to America, where the puppets cause more trouble long after Toulon’s death.

It just so happens that one of the villains in this series is Set, who’s known here as Sutekh (as in Doctor Who). And to be honest, this has to be the most original design for Big Red that I’ve ever seen in any movie (though I don’t mean that as a compliment). Full Moon’s Sutekh resembles a pudgy BDSM Buddha with a face that looks like a skull carved out of a spoiled cabbage. He also has two glowing Florida oranges for eyes, and He even has nipples. (Nipples, I say!) Apparently, this version of Set is responsible for creating the magic elixir that gives Toulon’s puppets their life, and He wants it back so He can use it to unleash the apocalypse somehow (naturally). Of course, Sutekh is trapped in some kind of alternate dimension (I wonder where they got that idea), and He’s only powerful enough to send really tiny versions of Himself into our world. These miniature clones are called “Totems,” and they’re just about the same size as Andre Toulon’s puppets (which means we get to see lots of puppet vs. puppet action).

Set in Full Moon's Puppet Master series

Where the hell did THAT come from?

I have to hand it to Full Moon Entertainment; at least they didn’t take the lazy way out and go with the “Set is a giant snake” idea. But this particular version of Big Red is so bizarre, I can’t even figure out where it came from. At least the Sutekh in Doctor Who actually looks like Set (complete with those cute rectangular ears of His). But how the hell did they come up with the idea for a bald, naked potato-man Sutekh with glowing googly eyes? (And one who can only get hokey-looking 3-inch dolls to do His bidding?)

Set in Vampire: The Masquerade (1991)

In the role-playing game, Vampire: The Masquerade, there’s a clan of vampires known as the Setites or the Followers of Set. Unfortunately, Set is defined not as a god in Masquerade lore, but as an Antediluvian vampire (i.e., a vampire from before the biblical Flood) who has merely set Himself up to be worshiped as a god (and as an evil “snake god,” to boot). You see, Masquerade posits that all vampires are descended from Cain (i.e., the biblical son of Adam and Eve who slew his brother, Abel). According to this thesis, Set is just one of thirteen vampires that were later created by Cain’s immediate descendants, Enoch, Irad and Zillah. In other words, Masquerade is saying that an ancient Egyptian god was brought into being by a rejected biblical patriarch—and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I find this idea “offensive,” I do think it’s pretty ridiculous. (I don’t care if this isfiction; gods trump vampires, and Set trumps Cain.)

In the game, Setite vampires have special interests, abilities, and weaknesses that are not necessarily shared by other vampires, and this is due to their descent from Set. Their main interest is in spreading as much corruption in as many different areas of life as they can (e.g., promoting crooked politicians, funding terrorist organizations, supporting the snuff film market, selling hard drugs to little children, etc.). They also have a discipline called “Serpentis,” which is the ability to control or take on aspects of snakes. Their greatest weakness is that they are far more sensitive to light than almost any other kind of vampire; they can even be harmed by strobe lights. Apparently, their obsession with ruining the world is all part of their religious devotion to Set, whom they believe is still alive and sleeping somewhere deep in the Earth, waiting to return at some future time when He will destroy the Sun (thus liberating all Setites forever). As such, the Setites are something like the Islamic State of the Masquerade world; they’re just a bunch of dangerous religious fanatics whose ultraviolent activities don’t make any sense.

Set in Vampire: The Masquerade

I’m guessing this is what Set “really” looks like in this game.

I know there are people out there who really enjoy Vampire: The Masquerade and who are especially interested in playing as Setite characters. That’s all well and good, I suppose, and I know Big Red doesn’t really care what some role-playing game has to say about Him. But while I can forgive someone saying He was created by a Bible character, I find all this stuff about “corruption” to be pretty damn offensive. Just in case there are any Masquerade players reading this, I’d like to you to know that the real Set has nothing to do with that stuff. He might have killed Osiris, but it was a necessary event in the Creation of the universe. (How else could Osiris rise from the dead if He didn’t die first?) Furthermore, gods killing gods is very different from mortals killing mortals; we all know that it isn’t a good idea to re-enact what professional wrestlers do in our own living rooms, and the same principle applies here. I might also mention that Set only killed Osiris once; as the Defender of Ra, He rescues us all Apep every single night. So regardless of the value judgments that people might attach to Set’s role in killing Osiris, that role is secondary to His primary job as a Savior god.

Also, real-life Setites are not evil people who want to ruin the world and destroy the Sun. We’re just like everybody else; we have families, we work jobs, and we try to live as best we can. Many of us are environmentalists (especially those of us who identify as Pagans), and even those of us who walk the left-hand path are usually humanitarian to some degree at least. Do you know where this whole idea of wanting to ruin oneself and murder the world really comes from? It comes from Apep, which is the arch-enemy of Set (and, indeed, of all gods and creatures). The things that Setites are supposed to do in Vampire: The Masquerade are not Setian at all, but are utterly qliphothic instead. Now I’m not trying to launch a personal crusade against White Wolf Entertainment or anything like that, but I do think that linking Set worshipers to things like terrorism and the snuff film industry is going a bit too far. And since I’ve never seen anyone else come out and criticize Vampire: The Masquerade for doing this, I decided to go ahead and scratch this off my bucket list.

(I might also mention that the word Setite is not the intellectual property of White Wolf Entertainment. To the best of my knowledge, it first appears in E. A. Wallis Budge’s From Fetish To god in Ancient Egypt, which was originally published in 1934. In that book, Budge uses the word in reference to people in ancient Egypt who worshiped Set. Now I’ve never met a real Set follower who actually wanted to call him or herself a Setite, and this is probably because we all know it would lead people to confuse us with the fictional vampire clan. But just in case anybody out there really likes that word, I just want everyone to know that it pre-exists Vampire: The Masquerade and that it was actually coined by a real life Egyptologist.)

Set in Stargate SG-1 (1997 – 2007)

Stargate SG-1 is based on the popular 1994 film Stargate, which was directed by Roland Emmerich and written by Dean Devlin (i.e., the same team that brought us 1996’s Independence Day and the horrifically awful 1998 version of Godzilla). This is the one where Kurt Russell and James Spader walk through an ancient intergalactic wormhole machine that spits them out on another planet that looks like ancient Egypt, and which is ruled by hostile aliens that claim to be the Egyptian gods. In SG-1, Richard Dean Anderson plays the Russell role, Michael Shanks portrays the Spader character, and the evil Egyptoid aliens are given a backstory. Here the aliens are identified as the Goa’uld, a race of parasitic snakes from the planet P3X-888. They take possession of people’s bodies and then use their advanced technology to pose as gods, demanding worship.

It’s never made explicitly clear as to whether the Goa’uld are merely impersonating Egyptian deities, or if they’re actually supposed to be “the reality” behind the gods. Considering the amount of respect the show’s writers seem to have for ancient mythology (which is to say, none), I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s the latter. Either way, there is a Goa’uld who’s “based” on Set in this show. Called Setesh, He appears to have hidden Himself away on Earth for thousands of years, convincing different groups of people to worship Him throughout history. The SG-1 team manages to track Him down and kill Him pretty easily (in just one episode, in fact!). Considering the way Set is normally treated in fiction, it’s surprising that He would only be a “Villain of the Week” here (rather than a recurring villain who’s integral to an entire story arc). I’m not quite sure if I should be thankful for this, or if I should feel insulted!

Setesh in Stargate SG-1

At least He’s handsome!

(I suppose SG-1 deserves credit for not going with the whole “Set is an evil snake god” idea—but wait! The Goa’uld are evil alien snakes! Dammit!)

When people find out that I worship an Egyptian god, they always ask me if I’m a fan of this show for some reason, or if I’m personally offended by it. No, I’m not a fan of Stargate, and I wouldn’t say that I’m “offended” by it either. I do find it a little annoying that Pagan deities are so often depicted in fiction as evil aliens. (Stargate SG-1 even has a Gao’uld character who’s based on a Hindu deity, which seems especially insensitive since the Devas are still worshiped by thousands of people today.) You almost never see this sort of thing done with Jesus; the only exception I can think of is in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987), where the J-Man is revealed to have been an extraterrestrial. But aside from this bit of mild annoyance, I don’t think such ideas are really that harmful; I just don’t care for them that much.

Sutekh, P.I.

+3

Set and the Greek Typhon—Are They the Same?

Comparing the Egyptian god Set with the Greek titan Typhon, and explaining how the word “Typhonian” became a synonym for “Setian.” 

 

The name Typhon originally belonged to a Titan in Greek mythology who appears as a giant with a hundred serpents for his heads and legs. The Titans were primordial beings who existed before the Olympians (Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, etc.) and who were ruled by a god named Kronos. After Zeus dethroned Kronos and took control over the universe, Typhon led the Titans to war against the Olympians. But Zeus overpowered him in battle and buried him alive beneath the Earth, from whence he now sends lava and volcanic eruptions. Typhon’s mate is the gruesome snake-woman Ekhidna, with whom he sired such terrible chaos monsters as Cerberus and the Chimaera. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence that the Greeks ever worshiped Typhon (though if anyone out there is aware of such evidence, please let me know). It would seem that he was only ever worshiped against, much like Apep in Egyptian religion.

Yet the name Typhon also became strongly associated the Egyptian Set after the New Kingdom fell to foreign invaders during the 8th century BCE. Since Set is the god of all things foreign to Egypt, He was blamed for these invasions as well as for the final dissolution of Pharaonic power. So the Egyptians went apeshit and smashed all His statues, scratched His name off every monument, and killed His sacred animals in excessively cruel ways (such as pushing scared and defenseless donkeys over cliffs). They ceased to believe in Him as the Savior of Ra and equated Him with Apep instead. They also persecuted and sometimes killed anyone who either continued to follow Set or was thought to resemble Him too much (such as redheads). This eventually led to one of the earliest recorded cases of blood libel, in which Alexandrian Jews were accused of practicing “onolatry” (donkey worship), poisoning wells, and murdering people in their religious rituals. Even Yahweh Himself was equated with Set during this period, which meant that Jews and Setians were both being portrayed as something like a pre-Christian “satanic cult.”

By the time guys like Herodotus started writing about the Egyptians in the 5th century BCE, there was far more of Apep to be found in the popular understanding of Set than there was of Set Himself. So when Herodotus applied the concept of interpretatio graecia to the Egyptian pantheon (identifying foreign people’s gods as Greek gods under different names), he identified this fallacious Set/Apep hybrid with the Typhon of his own culture. Once he made that link, Greco-Egyptian syncretists started calling Big Red Seth-Typhon, and people who continued to worship or “resemble” Him became known as Typhonians. This was a term of hostile derision, and classical Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used it in much the same way that Christians continue to use the terms “Satanist” or “devil worshiper” today.

I’m not a big fan of interpretatio graecia; I understand why it made sense to the Greeks, but I’m skeptical of it myself (especially in this case). It doesn’t take an archaeologist to know the Egyptian Set and the Greek Typhon are almost nothing alike. Sure, there are certain superficial similarities; both became scary “bad guys” for a while. But until the 400s BCE at least, it had always been an accepted part of Set’s arc that He is a villain-turned-hero. He also had a proper priesthood of His own and was honored by the Pharaohs; this clearly wasn’t the case for Typhon, who never enjoyed any kind of state-endorsed following.

If Set and Typhon truly are identical, then Typhon’s family in Greek mythology should be like a “second family” that Set has apart from His Egyptian and Canaanite relatives. Theoretically at least, this would mean creatures like the Chimaera and Cerberus are fellow Children of Set, and I should feel some kind of spiritual resonance with them. Theology is not a science, of course, so there’s really no way for anyone to be 100% certain of such things; but aside from the complete absence of any lore to this effect, I’ve never acquired any gnosis that would support this idea. Ekhidna and Her frightening brood just don’t feel like they’re related to Set at all; and if Set is indeed sterile and incapable of siring any children (as He is described in Egyptian mythology), how the hell could He procreate with Ekhidna anyway? While mythology should never be taken literally, there does need to be some internal consistency at the very least. If Herodotus is correct and Set and Typhon are really the same guy, I would expect there to be stories of Typhon being childless, of Set fathering gigantic monster children, or perhaps even both.

However, I must admit I am guilty of using the name Typhon in reference to Set all the time. Isn’t this hypocritical? Aren’t I blaspheming Big Red by using a name that was given to Him out of hatred and fear? Shouldn’t I just stick to His Egyptian names and tell Herodotus to get the hell out of Dodge? And shouldn’t I have more respect for myself than to accept being called a Typhonian?

It has occurred to me that there might be other Companions of Set out there who strongly dislike my use of the Typhon moniker. (And if that’s true, I thank you all for being extremely polite to me, as no one has written me any angry emails about it yet.) But I actually have several very good reasons for sometimes referring to Set as Typhon, despite everything I’ve explained above.

1. It has historical precedent.

There are numerous spells in the Greco-Egyptian magical papyri that invoke a “Typhon” who is not in keeping with the Greek Titan’s character at all. The “Typhon” of the paypri is strongly associated with iron, donkeys, the color red, the Great Bear, and Hellenized corruptions of Hebrew God names. He’s even called “hater of the wicked” in one particular spell, which isn’t like the Greek Typhon at all. Furthermore, many of the spells involving “Typhon” are not malefical (death curses) but are incantations for love, protection, and other varieties of good fortune. Absolutely none of these things are consistent with the Greek Typhon at all—but they are consistent with Set as He was worshiped prior to the Late Period.

Also, I can personally attest that these spells carry quite a lot of firepower and that Big Red responds favorably to them. If He didn’t like being called Typhon, one would think the spells would fail utterly (or have deadly results). There are many different theories as to why magic works, of course, and not all of them are predicated on the assumption that anything “supernatural” is truly happening. But even if the Greco-Egyptian spells are just exercises in self-hypnotism, their Typhonian procedures are clearly modeled on the Egyptian god Set (and not the Greek monster Typhon).

2. The word Typhonian pretty much belongs to Set anyway.

This term simply didn’t exist prior to the emergence of Greco-Egyptian syncretism. When it was first coined, it was used to describe animals that are sacred to Set (including donkeys, fish, hippopotamuses, etc.) and people who resonate with Him. So while it might be taken from the name of a completely different entity, Typhonian has always been used specifically for things that pertain to Set. (This is probably due to the original Typhon never having a cultus of his own.) In fact, we can really just go right ahead and say that Typhonian is really just a synonym for Setian.

3. Typhon is very useful when interacting with academic hair-splitters.

In academia, the Egyptian Set is often called Seth-Typhon to distinguish Him from the biblical Seth (the third son of Adam and Eve). The latter plays an important role in certain heretical forms of Judaism and Christianity that developed during the latest years BCE and the earliest years CE. These belief systems are often called “Sethianism” or “Sethian Gnosticism,” and some scholars will refer to Set as Seth-Typhon to distinguish Him from this other religion. They also tend to use the word Typhonian for things that pertain to Set, while I more often see Sethian used in discussions of Gnosticism.

In a way, this actually kind of stinks; Big Red gets the short end of the stick while an obscure Bible character (who’s barely even mentioned in the book of Genesis at all) gets preferential treatment. But be that as it may, using the name Typhon in conjunction with Set’s is certain to dispel any potential confusion with Sethian Gnosticism (or at least among academics).

(I should note that some of Big Red’s followers think He and the Gnostic Seth really are the same entity. I respectfully disagree with this idea myself, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

4. The meaning of the name makes perfect sense.

Typhon literally means “whirlwind” in Greek, which ties in with Set’s role as a god of wind and storms. The name is also linked to our modern word typhoon, which is the Pacific Ocean’s equivalent to a hurricane. Therefore, the name doesn’t actually mean anything insulting in and of itself; if anything, it’s a totally valid description of Set’s jurisdiction in nature.

5. It describes one of Big Red’s much-forgotten aspects.

Remember how Set chopped Osiris to pieces and fed His penis to a fish? It may seem ironic that a desert god would be associated with an aquatic animal, but it happens to be the case. Fish—especially those of the Mormyridae or elephantfish family—were held sacred to Set in areas like the town of Oxyrhynchus. Hippopotamuses are also sacred to Him, and they are aquatic animals as well, as they spend most of their time in water. So based on Egyptian religion alone, Set most definitely has an aquatic aspect, and Typhon is the perfect name to describe Him in this context.

6. It is a reminder of the evils of blood libel.

The name Typhon was given to Set by people who feared Him so much that they were willing to harm innocent animals and people to drive Him away. It may seem blasphemous to call Him by this name for that very reason, but I find that it’s a good way of reminding myself about the evils of blood libel. The Burning Times, the Salem Witch Trials, the Holocaust, the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s; these were all just different versions of the same thing that was done to Setian and Jewish people in Alexandrian Egypt. Remembering these horrific events is a huge part of my spirituality (especially the Satanic Panic, since I was actually alive while it was still happening). So reclaiming the name Typhon as a positive term for Set and myself is much the same for me as reclaiming a word like witch is for Wiccans.

7. Set has never killed me for using it.

I’ve been referring to Set as Typhon for a very long time now, and He’s never given me any grief about it. I’m pretty confident that if He didn’t like me using this name for Him, I would already be dead by now.

8. Who cares about the Greek Typhon’s feelings, anyway?

I’ve never met a single person who’s ever claimed to worship or even care about the Greek Typhon in and of himself (and trust me, I’ve searched for such a person far and wide; if there are any Hellenic reconstructionists out there who worship Typhon and who happen to stumble upon this sermon, I do hope they will share their thoughts on this with me). Whenever I meet anyone who works with something they call “Typhon,” the entity they’re experiencing always turns out to be Set upon closer inspection (except in the case of Kenneth Grant, whose “Draconian female” Typhon strikes me as being a misidentified version of the hippo goddess, Taweret.) If the original Typhon has no cult to speak of, and if the Greeks themselves gave his name to Set, then why should I care? Does anyone even care that I’m talking about this?

So are Set and Typhon one and the same entity? Pan-culturalists might say “Yes,” and hard polytheists might say “No”—but who can ever know for sure? All I know is, Set and Typhon don’t seem the same to me, but this doesn’t mean the two figures can’t share the same name. If there can be more than one “Seth,” why on earth can’t there be more than one “Typhon?”

+4

Khepesh: The Iron of Set

Explaining Set’s connections to the Big Dipper, and why they are important.

 

In Egyptian mythology, Khepesh (“The Thigh”) is the Iron of Set. This powerful force was once a part of Set Himself, but it was removed from Him by Horus during Their war for the throne of civilization. It is sometimes described as being Set’s “bone,” “foreleg,” “semen,” or even His “testicles” (which means its removal is sometimes described as a “castration”). This Iron is what enabled Set to kill Osiris, and it was returned to Him once He was “tamed” enough to be reconciled with the rest of the gods. Set now uses Khepesh to defend Ra from the Chaos Serpent, and its physical counterparts in nature include the asterism we know today as the Big Dipper, as well as the chemical element Fe (iron).

Khepesh is often contrasted with Wedjat, the Eye of Horus (or “All-Seeing Eye”), which Set removed from Horus during Their fight. We use our eyes to see things, which is why Wedjat is associated with light, knowledge, and order; it represents “shedding light” on the unknown and making it known. Khepesh, on the other hand, is linked to Set’s libido; it represents the unknown’s ability to intrude upon the known and force it to adapt. Despite this disruption, Khepesh is an altogether different kind of “chaos” from that of the Chaos Serpent, for it doesn’t threaten to destroy everything in Creation; it simply destroys certain things to make room for others. Hence why it is the perfect weapon against the Serpent, and in this respect it is often portrayed in Egyptian art as a lance or spear that Set carries into battle.

The Apotropaic Waltz

The Iron of Set is comparable to other monster-slaying weapons in mythology, such as Mjollnir (Thor’s hammer). Both are associated with red-haired storm deities; both must remain externalized from their users (for even Thor must wear gloves while handling Mjollnir); and both have strong phallic connotations (as when Mjollnir is placed on the bride’s lap during Nordic wedding ceremonies). We may further compare Khepesh to Thurisaz, the third rune in the Elder Futhark, which represents how the destructive powers of nature can be used for protective purposes. The word Khepesh was additionally used for a sword the ancient Egyptians carried in battle, and which is shaped like the Big Dipper.

“An

An Egyptian khepesh sickle-sword.

Khepesh was “tethered” to the star Polaris (our planet’s current north pole star) by the goddess Taweret to keep it as far away from Osiris as possible. It’s also kept there as a kind of “cosmic scarecrow” to prevent the Chaos Serpent from attacking our world through the northern sky. In the Greek magical papyri, Set is said to live somewhere “behind” the Big Dipper, in a “Secret Place” that none of the other gods can reach. This realm has been linked with the Hermetic concept of Daath on the Tree of Life, and it is sometimes called “the Mauve Zone” or “the Desert of Set.” That last term is taken from how the Egyptians considered their country to be the very pinnacle of human civilization. The deserts surrounding Egypt (called Deshret or “the Red Lands”) were viewed as protecting it from “the world outside”; hence this notion that Set roams the chaotic maelstrom “out there” to keep the created world safe “in here.”

From an animist perspective, everything about the Big Dipper may be seen as an astral reflection of Khepesh. Bearing this principle in mind, we can make the following observations about Set’s Iron:

  • Most of the Egyptian gods are linked to stellar objects that “fall beneath” and “rise above” the horizon, including the Sun, the Moon, Sirius, and constellations like Orion. These deities are reported to “die” and “rise again” (or to accompany other dying-and-rising gods through their transitions). But the Big Dipper is circumpolar and never sets, representing Set’s inability to ever die. While the other gods experience a cyclical kind of immortality, Set’s is continuous and linear. Khepesh is what gives Him the immense strength He needs to be truly deathless.
  • Since the Dipper points north, it makes a perfect “cosmic compass” and has been used as such for centuries. For the ancient desert peoples who worshiped Him, it must have seemed like Set was faithfully guiding them through the night whenever they were lost. This indicates that Khepesh, no matter how destructive or frightening it might be, is actually a force for good in this world, as well as its last line of defense from the Serpent and its qliphoth.
  • The Dipper rotates counterclockwise (to the left), and leftness has always been linked with asymmetry, inversion, and reversal (whether social, political, or spiritual). So Khepesh is tied to Set’s anti-establishment sensibilities, which explains His popularity among left-hand path occultists.
  • The Dipper forms a giant swastika in the northern sky. This is actually a symbol for prosperity and good luck in many cultures; it doesn’t “belong” to National Socialists anymore than crosses “belong” to the Ku Klux Klan. But that doesn’t change the fact that most Westerners react badly to the swastika for reasons that are completely understandable. This relates to Set’s reputation as a so-called “evil” god. Just as He really represents something good but is mistaken for being “evil” by outsiders, so too does the swastika represent something good in religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, despite being tied to Nazism in the West. Part of being Setian, in my opinion, involves being able to understand this kind of nuance, which is not easy for most people to do.

“The

That Khepesh is linked to iron (Fe) is also interesting, given that this chemical element has traditionally been used to ward off malevolent daemons, faeries, witches, and the Evil Eye. Prison bars were once made from iron to restrict any negative energy that might be emanating from the most dangerous prisoners. Even today, Bedouins still believe that a person who fights with a sword forged from meteoric iron will win any battle. It’s a little spooky that the Greek philosopher Pythagoras claimed that Typhon’s number is 56, considering that the atomic weight of iron is 55.845 (which rounds up to 56). Nor is it a coincidence that iron should be linked to the color red, the planet Mars, or the Qabalic sphere of Geburah.

In the Ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth, Khepesh was invoked into an adze or chisel that had been forged from meteoric iron, and which was shaped to resemble the Big Dipper. This adze was then pressed against the mouth of a mummy or statue while the priests recited spells invoking “the iron that comes forth from Set.” Doing this effectively transformed the inanimate object into a living conduit for a deity or the ghost of a deceased loved one. The principle behind such ritual magic is more or less identical to that of Catholic transubstantiation. Prior to Mass, the communal bread and wine are merely foodstuffs; they don’t become the mystical body and blood of Christ until all the magic words have been properly recited. In the same way, an Egyptian cult image started its existence as merely an image; it would not “come alive” with the spirit of the god or ghost it was meant to represent until after its mouth had been symbolically “opened.” Interesting that Khepesh, the same power Set uses to stomp Osiris and smite the Serpent, can also be used to create magical interfaces between this world and the next.

“Horus

Horus “opening the mouth” of a mummy.

Khepesh is additionally connected to the was scepter, which bears the head and forked tail of the Sha animal. The name was (which rhymes with “Oz”) means “power” or “dominion,” and the scepter represents the royal power to sublimate chaos. Using the Sha in this symbolism is similar to the use of stone gargoyles in Christian churches. The gargoyles represent dark, chaotic forces that have been “domesticated” and which now protect us from other forces that are even worse. This reminds me of the parallels between Set and Tokyo’s favorite giant monster, Godzilla. Both begin innocently enough, but later become extremely dangerous beings that threaten to destroy the whole world. Then both are eventually “reigned in” to defend the Earth from evil hell monsters like Apep and King Ghidorah.

“The

As a final thought, Khepesh is similar in concept to what Christians call “the Blood of Christ.” The latter is supposedly a real mystical substance that washes away all sin from a person’s heart. Likewise, Set’s Iron “straightens the spines” and “opens the mouths” of both the gods and the dead. Both objects are formerly part of a deity’s body, and both can be magically “drawn down” by worshipers into physical devices. Just as the sacramental bread and wine at a Catholic mass can become the actual body and blood of Christ, so too can people and objects with Typhonian properties be “filled” with the force of Khepesh.

References

Alford, A. F. (2003). Pyramid of secrets: The architecture of the Great Pyramid reconsidered in the light of creational mythology. Walsall, England: Eridu Books.

Almond, J., & Seddon, K. (2004). Egyptian Paganism for beginners. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.

Assante, M. K., & Mazama, A. (Eds.) (2009). Encyclopedia of African religion, volume 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Assman, J. (2002). The mind of Egypt: History and meaning in the time of the Pharaohs. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Budge, E. A. W. (1934). From fetish to God in ancient Egypt. New York, NY: Dover.

Budge, E. A. W. (1904). The Gods of the Egyptians: Or, studies in Egyptian mythology (volume 2). London, UK: Methuen & Co.

Eliade, M. (1978). The forge and the crucible: The origins and structure of alchemy. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Friedman, D. M. (2001). Mind of its own: A cultural history of the penis. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Guiley, R. (2006). The encyclopedia of magic and alchemy. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.

Isler, M. (2001). Sticks, stones and shadows: Building the Egyptian pyramids. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Penprase, B. E. (2011). The power of stars: How celestial observations have shaped civilization. New York, NY: Springer.

Pinch, G. (2002). Egyptian mythology: A guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and traditions of ancient Egypt. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Roberts, M. J. (1994). Norse Gods and heroes. New York, NY: Friedman Group.

Seeds, M. A., & Backman, D. E. (2011). The solar system. Boston, MA: Brooks/Cole.

Simon. (2006). The gates of the Necronomicon. New York, NY: Avon.

Teeter, E. (2011). Religion and ritual in ancient Egypt. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Te Velde, H. (1977). Seth, God of confusion: A study of His role in Egyptian mythology and religion. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

+2

Too Many Mummies!

Why I enjoy certain “killer mummy” movies, and why I usually roll my eyes at the rest of this subgenre.

 

If there’s one thing I’ve always enjoyed doing since birth, it’s watching monster movies. It all started with the old black-and-white ones with guys like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney, Jr. When I was seven or eight years old, there was a local UHF TV station that used to broadcast many of these flicks on weekend afternoons or late at night. This is how I remember seeing things like King Kong (1933), Godzilla (1954), and Them! (1954) for the very first time. Most of these movies didn’t scare me that much (though I remember being absolutely traumatized by The Thing From Another World), but I loved them anyway, especially the Universal monster movies. And naturally, Karl Freund’s The Mummy (1932) is the one selection from that particular canon that made the greatest impression on me.

An ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep (played by Boris Karloff) has a forbidden crush on the princess Ankh-es-en-Amon, who is a virgin priestess of the goddess Isis. When Ankh-es-en-Amon dies an untimely death, Imhotep steals the legendary Scroll of Thoth to resurrect her corpse. The Pharaoh’s guards apprehend him and rip out his tongue; then they bury him alive, all as punishment for his blasphemy. To add insult to injury, Imhotep’s fellow priests scratch out all the hieroglyphic spells inside his coffin that are meant to procure a safe journey to the Otherworld for its occupant, thereby condemning his soul. Thousands of years later, some European archaeologists dig up Imhotep’s tomb and accidentally resurrect him with the Scroll of Thoth. One of them sees the old boy walking around, and the poor dumbass goes stark raving mad. Then the mummy disappears, snatching the Scroll on its way out.

Years later, Sir Joseph Whemple (the European who hasn’t gone crackers) returns to Egypt with his son Frank to launch a new expedition. That’s when a guy calling himself “Ardath Bey” (an anagram of “Death by Ra”) shows up. Bey appears to be the oldest (and dustiest) Shriner walking the Middle East, and he walks around like he’s got a Louisville slugger rammed up between his ass cheeks. He also has an incredible knack for knowing exactly where the archaeologists should dig to find more treasure. Thanks to Bey, the archaeologists discover the tomb of Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon—and that’s when a European lady named Helen Grosvenor (played by Zita Johann) starts sleepwalking through traffic in the middle of Cairo. Thinking Helen might be the reincarnation of his old lady (literally), Imhotep—er, I mean Ardath Bey—decides to put the wammy on her so he can kill her, mummify her, and resurrect her corpse.

Of course, Helen doesn’t exactly relish the thought of becoming a drooling, undead trophy wife. So Imhotep does what any sensible star-crossed sorcerer would do; he kidnaps her, hypnotizes her with his magic, and forces her to go along with what he wants. But just before he’s able to claim his final victory, Helen feels a sudden inspiration to pray to Isis, whose statue springs to life and electrocutes Imhotep with magic lightning. At that point, the world’s oldest (and dustiest) Shriner reverts back to the walking, talking mummy he really is, and he promptly disintegrates into a pile of bones. Then Helen goes home and presumably marries her other suitor, the archaeologist’s son. (Actually, Helen simply exchanges one kind of “zombification” for another. Considering how Frank treats her while he’s keeping her safe from Imhotep, it seems like she’s doomed to become someone’s zombie trophy wife sooner or later.)

The Mummy was inspired by on the opening of Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 by the archaeologist, Howard Carter. There was a lot of media hype back then about Carter and his colleagues bringing down a so-called “Curse of the Pharaohs” for committing this “sacrilege.” Everyone who had a hand in opening the tomb was supposed to die a strange and mysterious death. (Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous creator of Sherlock Holmes, believed there was some kind of truth to this curse.) But it actually would have been rude of Tutankhamen to unleash such a curse, given that Carter’s the one who gave the poor kid his biggest break. Tutankhamen was hardly an afterthought in Egyptian history during his woefully short life; it wasn’t until Carter found him that he became the most famous Pharaoh of all. Even people who’ve never read a single Egyptology book know who “King Tut” is, and it’s all thanks to Carter. I’ve always figured Tutankhamen would be mighty grateful to Carter for this.

And did you know there was actually a real, historical Imhotep? He wasn’t anything like Boris Karloff’s character; he is actually the oldest known physician in history. He wrote one of the earliest medical treatises that offered purely scientific (and not magical) treatments for illnesses (predating the Greek physician Hippocrates by over 2,000 years). He was also the master architect and engineer who designed the Pyramid of Djoser (otherwise known as “the Step Pyramid”). Far from being cursed for any blasphemy, Imhotep was something more like a saint who had achieved great enlightenment and holiness during his earthly life, and who could intercede as a spirit on behalf of the living. Such was the real Imhotep’s popularity that he eventually gained his own religious following and was worshiped as the “Son of Thoth” (the god of wisdom, who was Imhotep’s tutelary deity). My guess is, the makers of The Mummy wanted an authentically Egyptian-sounding name for their film’s antagonist, and they most likely chose “Imhotep” without knowing anything about the historical figure to whom it belongs.

The thing that really sets The Mummy apart from other films of the period is the way in which its titular monster is defeated. Most gothic horror movie monsters—vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein monsters—are easily defeated with Christian religious symbols, or with purely practical weapons like fire. Imhotep is impervious to all of these things, and it is neither Jesus Christ nor Professor Van Helsing (nor even The Mummy‘s own perpetually dumbstruck “hero”) who saves Helen at the end. Her savior is a goddess who’s assumed by the (male) archaeologists in the film to have been a mere superstition, but who’s shown to be real and benevolent enough to answer an innocent woman’s desperate plea. The Mummy is pro-Pagan in its insistence that the ancient Egyptian religion is true and continues to have power and currency today. The fact that most people no longer believe in the Egyptian gods has absolutely nothing to do with it, and all of the characters are forced to accept these facts by the end of the film.

There’s only one other character who understands these things from the start, and that’s Dr. Mueller (played by Edward Van Sloan). Mueller is Helen’s psychiatrist, but he’s also an esotericist who happens to put his faith in the Egyptian religion. He’s the one who insists that everyone should be wearing an amulet of Isis for protection (and he turns out to be right). He also warns the archaeologists that they shouldn’t be meddling around with the Scroll of Thoth, and that they should just torch it in a fireplace somewhere. Not only does he seem to know that using the Scroll is a bad idea, but he specifically uses the word “sacrilege.” I’m sure the filmmakers never put this much thought into it, but I bet Mueller is a member of something like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or the Ordo Templi Orientis—some European occult initiatory order that claims to be older than it really is, and which is full of bored social elites who claim to know more about Egypt than they really do. Except in this case, Mueller happens to know just enough to help keep some of the other characters alive, which is curiously pro-Egyptian for a movie from this era.

Of course, the film isn’t without criticism. One complaint I often hear is that it’s basically the same movie as 1931’s Dracula, but with Egyptian rather than Transylvanian window dressings. This is definitely true; the idea of an undead immortal man lusting after a mortal woman also appears in Dracula, and Dr. Mueller and Frank Whemple are both played by actors who also appeared in nearly identical roles in the Lugosi film (as Professor Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker, respectively). The opening title sequence even uses the exact same music that was used for Dracula (the “Swan Theme” from the second act of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake). But despite all of this, I feel The Mummy is superior to Dracula in almost every way. It has the benefit of being made after Hollywood had a chance to learn from making “talkies” for a while. Dracula has always seemed very stilted and boring to me, and I think it’s because they were only just starting to film with sound when it was being made. It’s also more faithful to Hamilton Deane’s 1924 stage play than it is the original Bram Stoker novel, which means it’s a fucking terrible adaptation. At least The Mummy doesn’t claim to be based on a book and then do a fantastically shitty job of adapting it.

The Mummy was followed in the 1940s by a string of so-called “sequels” (starting with The Mummy’s Hand in 1940) that have nothing to do with the original film’s characters or plot. They’re also not nearly as intelligent and much more racist. They follow a mummy named Kharis, who’s less of a savvy sorcerer like Imhotep and more of a stumbling, demented death machine. He’s sent by the ancient priesthood of Karnak to kill some archaeologists for desecrating the tomb of a princess, and he’s controlled by the priests with (ahem) petrified tea leaves. While the 1932 original depicts Egyptian magic as a morally neutral power that can be used to help or hinder, the 1940s films treat it as a bizarre and degenerative cult that can only bring savage violence and death. (Most insultingly, the priests of Karnak always end up falling in lust with some white woman and trying to rape her, which always leads to the priest’s demise.)

Thankfully, the story of Kharis was revisited in more thought-provoking terms in the 1959 remake by Hammer Studios, called simply The Mummy and starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Thanks partly to a great script by Jimmy Sangster and a terrific performance by George Pastell as Mehemet Bey (the priest of Karnak in this version), Hammer’s The Mummy casts its Egyptian characters in a somewhat more sympathetic light. It still views its own subject matter through a racist and colonialist lens, but at least Mehemet Bey is given a chance to articulate his position to the white protagonists, and Pastell really sells it. I can totally see how the systemic exploitation of his culture and religion would radicalize him to kill in the name of Karnak, regardless of the fact that Karnak is actually a city in Egypt and not a god. (I actually enjoy this flaw in the film, because it means none of the violence is being committed in the name of any deity that’s worshiped in any real life religion.) It’s also nice to see a version of the story that doesn’t have the priest of Karnak getting all rapey with the heroine and sabotaging himself in the end.

The Hammer Mummy is a close contender for “Greatest Movie Called The Mummy Ever Made” in my Setian scriptural canon, but the Universal original wins this category for the following reasons:

  • The Universal original is pro-Egyptian and has the good guys getting their asses saved by an Egyptian goddess; the Hammer version, despite having a sympathetic villain, still has an uncomfortably xenophobic message of “Anything that isn’t White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism is evil black magic and devil worship.”
  • While Mehemet Bey keeps his cool right up until the end, the Hammer version still has someone getting rapey with the female lead and thereby foiling Mehemet’s plot; in this case, it’s his own damn mummy Kharis (played by Christopher Lee), who I guess just wants to prove you’re never too old to sow your oats.

There’s been a truckload of other “killer mummy” movies since the Hammer Mummy, but most of them just repeat the same old premise from the Karloff original: some dead guy from Egypt rises from the grave with the worst case of morning wood ever, and he stops at nothing to claim the current reincarnation of his ancient sweetheart. Considering the complexity of Egyptian mythology and its huge cast of characters, it’s never made sense to me why Hollywood keeps circling back to this particular trope. There are so many other ideas from Egypt that could be adapted into much more interesting stories, such as the belief in kas (invisible doppelgangers that are supposed to follow us around throughout our lives), or the story of the Destruction of Humankind (in which humans are almost completely wiped out by the lion goddess Sekhmet), or the idea that pictures and drawings are actually windows into alternate universes. There’s more than enough material in Egyptian literature to inform several long-lasting movie franchises, but audiences just want to see scantily-clad women being fondled by dudes wrapped in Charmin I guess.

Okay, so the 1999 version of The Mummy handles this trope a little differently. Yes, the evil mummy wants to bring back his dead lover; but at least here, the dead lover and the living heroine are two different characters. (The mummy still has to kill the heroine to bring back his ancient lover, though, so I guess it’s not that different after all. Also, the heroine turns out to be the reincarnation of another Egyptian princess in the 2001 sequel, The Mummy Returns. Doesn’t anyone ever get tired of writing this crap?) But one thing that does work to the 1999 film’s favor is the fact that it frames itself not as a gothic horror movie, but as an epic adventure yarn. It bears much greater resemblance to the Indiana Jones movies than to either of its own titular predecessors. The performances from Brendan Frasier, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo are also quite enjoyable, and I like that the film has its heroes using Egyptian mysticism to defeat the villain. (Reading a spell from the Book of Amun-Ra is not quite as impressive as having a goddess show up to personally rescue you from the monster, but I digress.) If you can look past the horrible computer graphics that are in this movie (and mind you, this is a 1990s movie, so its digital effects are craptastic in that special way that only 1990s CG could give us), you could do a whole lot worse.

Which brings us to the latest Mummy reboot, the 2017 version starring Tom Cruise. Sweet Set O Mighty, I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Okay, so we have an Egyptian sorceress who’s mummified alive for trying to take the Pharaoh’s throne. We have Tom Cruise digging up her coffin in contemporary Iraq (?) after an airstrike. We have Tom’s pal getting killed and showing up as a ghost that only Tom can see (probably because he got confused and thought they were making An American Werewolf in London). And we have Russel Crowe showing up as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (yes, from the Robert Louis Stevenson novel), who has somehow become the leader of a secret society that knows everything there is to know about the mummy. I appreciate that they made this mummy a chick (and I won’t lie, Sofia Boutella looks fucking hot wrapped in Charmin like that), and I’m especially grateful that the “ancient lovers” theme was completely removed. Yet the film makes other unforgivable mistakes, and its absolute worst offense is the sheer number of aimless plot points that are clearly meant to be resolved in future movies. It’s one thing to do this when you have a clear vision of how everything’s going to tie together in the end; but the 2017 Mummy is not a finished product that can stand or be judged on its own merits. It amounts to little more than a 110-minute long preview of coming attractions (which we will never get to see).

But that isn’t what upsets me most about the 2017 Mummy. I can forgive movies for all kinds of cinematic sins, but I find it difficult to watch anything in which Set is used as a stand-in for the Christian devil. The mummy Ahmanet has acquired her supernatural powers as a result of making a “pact” with Set, and pretty much everything she does in the film is to serve Him. Naturally, this means Set is “evil” and wants to destroy the world. Would it kill Hollywood filmmakers to make a movie for once where Set isn’t written like He’s some two-dimensional cartoon villain? Even better, the film ends with Tom Cruise killing the mummy, inheriting her powers from her pact with Set, and becoming a superhero. If you don’t understand why I would be bothered by this, imagine for a moment that someone has made a film in which Jesus comes back to start a global holocaust, only to be defeated by Val Kilmer, who then promptly uses his new Jesus powers to become “Captain Nazareth.” Sounds pretty stupid, right?

Mummy

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My Understanding of Magic

A brief explanation of my perspective on magic, what it is, how it works, and how it dovetails into my theological views.

 

My understanding of actual magic—not to be confused with mere illusionism or stage magic—hinges on the Egyptian concept of heka, which more accurately translates to mean “divine speech.” This refers not only to literal verbal communication, but also to the use of visual arts and ritualized performances to “activate the ka,” which might be compared to our Western construct of the “astral body.” Virtually any form of dramatic self-expression can be a work of magic within this context, provided that it arouses your spirit and directs it toward some kind of goal. This goal can be operative (to heal the sick, ward off negative energy, divine omens), initiatory (to reach a higher state of consciousness), or even devotional (to honor a deity or ancestor). For the ancient Egyptians, everything from casting love spells to invoking the Creator themself was a magical working that bridged the gap between this world and Duat, its spiritual counterpart. Indeed, magic is fundamental to all spirituality and religion, for even Christian worship services involve “activating the ka” (feeling “the Holy Spirit”), implementing “divine speech” (using key language from the Bible), and accomplishing some kind of goal (feeling close to Jesus).

Naturally, most people scoff at the idea of anyone believing in magic here in our contemporary times. But there is a difference between thinking magic is effective and thinking it is necessarily “supernatural.” I wholeheartedly believe in gods, ghosts, and other worlds, and many of the rites I’ve worked have wielded some truly eerie results. But I also accept that there are completely rational explanations for the things I’ve experienced, and I neither ask nor expect anyone else to forgo such conclusions. This is because I know magic can work regardless of whether the supernatural actually exists apart from the human imagination or not. If you invoke a blessing for someone, it might or might not have any effect on that person in the real world; but it will at least vent your desire for that person to be OK somehow, fulfilling a profound emotional need that all the logic in the world can never appease. So even if it’s all just a bunch of autohypnosis (which isn’t necessarily true, either), magic can still have efficacy and practical value today. Whether it works on objective reality or even on the subjective realities of others is completely secondary to whether it works on your own psyche and spirit. Its true purpose is to change and empower the user, not to directly affect literal changes on the physical world like in some epic fantasy movie.

These principles apply to my theology as well. I can’t claim to be absolutely 100% certain that Set (or any other deity) is really a sentient entity that actually hears my prayers, or that has ever directly intervened in my life to change it for the better. But apart from my personal belief that these things are true, I can at least be certain that if I had never uttered a single prayer to Set, I would never have met some of my closest loved ones; I would not have the family I now cherish; I would not have developed my current career; and I would never have hoisted myself from the cesspool of domestic abuse in which I was raised. None of this proves that Set is objectively real by any means, but it does prove that His influence in my life is strong enough for it not to matter whether He is or isn’t. And to this extent at least, He and the other divinities I’ve encountered are all quite real enough for my purposes. Whatever the gods actually are or however they are to be explained, they are certainly effective, just as magic can be effective whether it is truly “paranormal” or not. So I will just go right ahead and keep praising Big Red until the cows come home!

Inevitably, we must address the issue of magical ethics. The same principle behind the blessing spell I described above will also empower a hex or a death curse to work in much the same way (i.e., on the “sender,” not necessarily the “recipient”). Many Pagans warn that doing this is “unethical” and will unleash terrible consequences upon the user(s), no matter how much the intended victim(s) might deserve whatever is wished upon them. I have even heard someone tell rape survivors they have no business casting hexes on the men who assaulted them, for fear of violating some lofty cosmic law.

This is all bullshit.

Burning effigies and sticking pins into dolls are perfectly healthy ways of vindicating yourself emotionally without actually harming anyone—especially if we’re talking about an injustice as heinous as rape. If the helpless can’t use magic to win some kind of control back over their lives, then what fucking good is it? The true concern here is not whether hexing or cursing violates any external standard, but whether it violates your own conscience. Let’s say you do cast that death curse on your tormentor, and he actually dies that painful, humiliating death you wished upon him. Would this “coincidence” spook you and make you feel guilty? If so, that guilt might eat you up inside, causing your curse to backfire. But if you are certain your enemy’s synchronous destruction in reality would only enhance your well-being, I see no reason you should not enjoy yourself by destroying them symbolically and nonviolently in a spell. Doing so is always preferable to actually harming that person in real life, and you may even find that it alleviates your desire to harm them, helping you re-focus your energy on more productive goals.

Some people describe such procedures as “black,” “dark,” or “left-handed” magic, but this too is bullshit. You don’t have to devote yourself to a dark god to cast a hex whenever you might need to, and you also don’t have to curse people all the time to worship a dark god. Setians enjoy the additional benefit of execration rituals, which work in much the same way, but which target non-human advarsaries like the qliphoth or even the Chaos Serpent instead. Nine times out of ten, a good execration will help you cast out that negative energy better than any death curse would. Nevertheless, there are situations in which a curse might be exactly what you need; so while the option of magically destroying your enemies should never be taken lightly, there is no sense in completely ruling it out either. Furthermore, the term “black magic” is a colonial racist inference to African magical traditions, and “dark magic” lacks any room for nuance. (Is it “dark” to invoke Set the nocturnal storm god in a blessing, or to invoke Sekhmet the fiery solar goddess in a curse?) As for the “left-hand path,” this is a Tantric term for heterodox ritual practices, and it is rendered somewhat meaningless when removed from its original context. (Is it “left-handed” to praise Lucifer in a room full of Satanists?) I prefer to describe hexes, curses, and other such procedures as destructive magic and leave it at that, without assigning any color- or usability-coded value judgments to the matter.

Mind you, there are many “LHPers” (for lack of a better shorthand term) who enjoy my work, and I am very fond of those I know personally. I also have mad respect for writers like Kenneth GrantMichael Aquino, and Don Webb, each of whom has been a major inspiration to me personally. So it is not a matter of wanting to distance myself from LHP culture at all. It’s just that I deviate from most LHP ideologies I know about, which all seem to emphasize worshiping the self over any external deity. I believe everyone is really a living demigod, so the idea of worshiping yourself actually makes perfect sense to me; but there is no reason a polytheist can’t also revere other divinities in addition to their own. Yet I have found that speaking of devotionalism in LHP circles can stir up just as much controversy as discussing hexes can in Wiccan circles, and for reasons that are equally small-minded. I worship and pray to Set as if He were a real sentient being (again, regardless of whatever He might actually be in objective reality, which is irrelevant). If being a devotional polytheist is enough to disqualify me from fitting beneath the LHP umbrella, then so be it—but I’ll thank you not to insult me by labeling me as “right-hand path” (the Tantric term for “orthodox” practices), since I do not have a single “orthodox” bone in my entire body.

Some writers argue that “magic” should be limited to purely operative and/or initiatory spiritual practices, and that devotional rites are more properly consigned to the less interesting category of “religion.” But even stargazing, lifting weights, or walking a dog can be just as magical or “spirit-activating” as casting a spell to heal your friends, attract a mate, or call down your Holy Guardian Angel. So how can anyone truly legislate what is or isn’t “magical” for others? All spiritual practices are magic of one kind or another, from the obscure Rite of the Bornless One to the common Sunday Mass; so there is no need for anyone to poo-poo other people’s preferences here. Maybe you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care about religion and who only cares about astrology or Tarot reading. Or maybe you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care about fortune telling, and who just wants to pray to some ancient fertility goddess. Either way is enough to justify calling yourself a witch (or the cultural variant of your choice).

I’ve engaged in operative and initiatory projects over the years; I’ve worked spells, gone on vision quests, blessed people’s homes, execrated negative energy, etc. But the bulk of my craft has always been devotional in nature. There is nothing more magical to me than invoking Set at the shore of Lake Superior, out among the trees and the bears, with the Big Dipper twinkling in the sky above and the waters below, and for no other reason than just to enjoy Big Red’s company.

The Egyptian hieroglyphic for heka (“activating the ka”).

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Set’s Sacred Critters

A discussion of the animals that are sacred to Set—including donkeys, pigs, hippos, oryx, and elephantfish.

 

As with most other Egyptian gods, certain animals are considered sacred to Set. First and foremost is the mysterious creature that the Egyptians called the Sha.

The holy Sha, sacred to Set

The Sha Animal

This little fella—which is otherwise known as the “Set Animal” or “Typhonian Beast”—is one of history’s greatest cryptids. It resembles a red-haired greyhound with rabbit ears, a long curved snout, and a forked tail. Egyptologists are divided as to whether this animal actually existed and went extinct, or if it’s just a mythical creature the Egyptians created from bits and pieces of different animals (like a dragon, griffin, or phoenix). Some authors have theorized that it may be a stylized hyena, jackal, aardvark, or fox. It might actually be a fennec fox, which looks like this in real life:

The Fennec Fox

The Fennec Fox (From Pixabay.com)

Fennec foxes are nocturnal, and they’re native to the Sahara Desert in Northern Africa. As you can see, this little guy has the biggest ears you’ll ever find on any member of the Canidae family, and he even has reddish-orange hair. Fennec foxes are also very social animals, they mate for life, and they can live for up to 14 years in captivity. Unfortunately, they are often hunted by indigenous African tribes. They don’t cause any direct harm to humans (like attacking people or livestock), but their fur is highly prized. It hasn’t been definitively proven that the Sha is really a fennec fox by any means, but considering the shape of the Sha’s body in Egyptian religious art, I think this is the most likely possibility.

Later on, in Greco-Roman times, Set was more often drawn as a donkey-headed man, and donkeys are probably my favorite Setian beasties. Conventional wisdom assumes that a donkey’s stubbornness is due to stupidity (which is why the word “jackass” later became a derogatory term for people who act like imbeciles), but it’s actually because they’re very wise and cautious. It’s extremely difficult to force or frighten them into doing anything they perceive to be dangerous, and you must earn a donkey’s trust before you can convince it to work with you. Donkeys are so resistant to being bullied, in fact, that farmers will often keep them stabled with horses to keep the horses from spooking so easily. Other animals just seem to feel better when there’s a donkey around, which makes perfect sense to me. What better totem animal to represent the mighty Red Lord than a floppy-eared underdog that refuses to be bossed around (and that’ll crush your skull with its hind legs if you even dare to try)? Not to mention that donkeys are really very trusty companions and workers once you get to know them (and once they get to know you).

Donkeys

The Donkey (From Pixabay.com)

Pigs are also sacred to Set, and this includes all pigs (from Miss Piggy to those big Razorbacks that gore people to death in the Australian Outback with their tusks). Big Red takes the form of a black boar when He blinds one of Horus’ eyes in Egyptian mythology, which is just one reason why pigs are so often considered “unclean” in some faiths today. Other reasons relate to religious dietary laws and the fact that pigs are genetically closer to humans than any other animal. In Judaism and Islam, animals must have split hooves and chew their cud to be considered kosher or halal, and while pigs have split hooves, they don’t chew their cud. At the same time, pig flesh bears the closest resemblance to human flesh (i.e., “the long pork”) in the entire animal kingdom, as evidenced by the fact that pig carcasses are so often used by crime scene investigation units when they re-create crime scenes. In light of this resemblance, some ancient cultures probably thought that eating pork was much too close to cannibalism for comfort.

Pig

The Pig (From Pixabay.com)

Some Egyptologists have theorized that the Sha isn’t really a canid at all, but some kind of feral hog. (P. E. Newberry once claimed that some feral hogs have greyhound-shaped bodies, but I have yet to see anything like this for myself.) I’m skeptical of this interpretation, but I do think the Sha’s tail and curved snout are similar to those of a wild boar. In any case, perhaps the connection between Set and pigs is what inspired the creators of the Legend of Zelda video games to give the evil sorcerer Ganon a boar’s head.

In one myth, Set takes the form of a hippopotamus while battling Horus. Hippos are semi-aquatic, spending most of their time in water and only walking on land at dusk. They’re also the toughest and most dangerous herbivores on Earth. Male hippos are especially aggressive and were highly feared by the Egyptians for their tendency to attack people without provocation. They were revered by Zulu warriors for this same quality, and were considered braver and more difficult to kill than lions.

Hippopotamus

The Hippopotamus (From Pixabay.com)

If you’ve ever seen a baby hippo, you’ll know it’s just about the cutest thing in the entire world…and you’ll wonder how such a cute little thing could possibly grow up to become one of the world’s deadliest creatures. One of my least favorite things about ancient Egypt is that the Temple of Horus at Edfu includes an engraving of Horus spearing a baby hippopotamus. The image represents Horus defeating Set in one of their many battles, so I know it shouldn’t be taken literally. But I can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t also represent an actual ritual in which a priest of Horus might have slaughtered a captured baby hippopotamus as a way of sticking it to Big Red (which would be shitty).

Then there’s the oryx, which is a type of African antelope. Big Red was sometimes called “the White Oryx” and was also identified with antelope in general (perhaps as a result of being worshiped by desert-dwelling hunter-gatherer societies). The funny thing is, oryx, pigs, and hippopotamuses are all members of the same order, Artiodactyla, which includes all of the even-toed or “cloven-hoofed” ungulates (e.g., goats, sheep, deer, giraffe, etc.). It is no accident that cloven hooves were later identified with the Christian devil, who was identified with both Set and the oryx by the Coptic Church. It’s bizarre to me that horned, cloven-hoofed critters like the oryx and the goat would come to be considered “satanic” by such people, since they’re herbivores that pose absolutely no threat to human beings.

Oryx

The Oryx (From Pixabay.com)

Finally, Set is said to be rather fond of fish. When He drowns and dismembers Osiris in Egyptian mythology, He feeds the god’s phallus to a fish. No one’s really sure what kind of fish this supposedly was, but some sources theorize that it’s a member of the Mormyridae or “elephantfish” family. They’re called “elephantfish” because their snouts resemble elephant trunks. In fact, you might say that the faces of these fish bear a striking resemblance to the sha animal:

Elephantfish

The Elephantfish (From Wikimedia Commons)

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Set’s fish is from the Mormyridae family, for the Egyptians were nice enough to make statues of the fish, especially in a city called Per Medjed or Oxyrhynchus (a Greek name which means “Town of the Sharp-Snouted Fish”). For whatever reason, the fish that swallowed Osiris’ penis was especially beloved to the people of this city. This is especially interesting since Oxyrhynchus was located in what archaeologists call “Upper Egypt” (i.e., the southern and most desert-like half of the country, which was dedicated to the cult of Set in predynastic times). Their statues of Set’s fish show once and for all that the fish is definitely a Mormyrus of one kind or another.

It’s ironic that a barren desert god would be associated with an aquatic animal, but it makes perfect sense to me at least. If you’re accustomed to living in an arid desert wilderness, what would you expect heaven to be like? You’d probably imagine it to be a place where there’s never any shortage of water, like an oasis, a lake, or even an ocean. The fish, in turn, would be seen as a powerful symbol of hope. Interestingly, Oxyrhynchus was one of the first Egyptian cities to accept Christianity under the Coptic Church. (Numerous non-canonical Christian texts have been discovered there.) Early Christians used the Ichthys or “Jesus Fish” as their primary religious symbol long before they switched to using the crucifix, and perhaps this is something that attracted the people of Oxyrhynchus to Christianity.

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The LV-426 Tradition

Some background on the unique Setian coven in which I became a priest.

 

There are three other Setians with whom I’ve been privileged to work some truly life-changing magic over the years. These individuals know who they are, but out of respect for their privacy, I will only identify them here as Blackwynthe Tonester, and Sister Bean. To walk with Set is a solitary path, even when you’re part of a group, and not everyone in my circle will always agree with each other on everything. But the point isn’t that we always believe or practice the same things. The point is that we are each drawn to Set in our own ways and for our own reasons; that we’ve crafted a number of effective rituals and spells together; and that we’ve all witnessed the same eerie results these procedures can yield. Years have passed since we first declared ourselves a coven back in 2003; we’re spread far apart from each other now, living in our own areas and focusing on our own priorities. But even if we never meet in person to hold another ritual together again, we will always be connected with each other somehow.

That “somehow” is Set.

In 2007, we started referring to our collected rites as the LV-426 Tradition for the following reasons:

  • The 1979 sci-fi/horror film Alien is a prime example of what we call “the monster film as mythos,” and we wanted our name to memorialize the film for this reason.
  • The Tonester and I were both living in the Bible Belt at the time, and Ripley’s struggle against the Alien was a perfect metaphor for how we felt about living there.
  • Being a couple of smartasses, we wanted a name that was far too cumbersome for repeated use in brief conversation. (Say “LV-426 Tradition” six times in the same paragraph to see what I mean!)

The Setians of the LV-426 Tradition

From left to right: The Tonester, Sister Bean, Yours Truly, and Blackwyn.

In case you’ve never seen it (and shame on you if you haven’t!), the original Alien is about these astronauts in the distant future who follow what seems to be a distress signal of unknown origin. They make their way to a desolate planet called “LV-426” in their star charts, where they find a crashed alien spaceship with a dead crew and a shit-ton of weird, leathery eggs for its cargo. One of these eggs hatches, unleashing a horrific beast that reproduces itself by raping one of the men (!). Due to a breach in protocol, the creature enters the next phase of its life cycle back on board the ship, and the movie then becomes a slasher flick in outer space. The last person standing is Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, who emerges from the chaos and the carnage to become the first female action movie hero.

1980's Ad in TV Guide for Alien (1979)

The Alien strongly resembles Apep, that timeless arch-nemesis of Set. Designed by the Swiss surrealist, H.R. Giger, its biology makes no sense. How can it see without any eyes? Why would anything evolve to have two mouths—one inside the other—when just one mouth is simpler? How can its blood be so corrosive that it will burn through any metal, but without being deadly to the creature itself?1 Nothing in nature can exist like that, and the same is true of Apep. It’s described as lacking any sensory organs—it has neither eyes nor ears—yet it’s somehow able to locate and paralyze its prey with a hypnotic gaze. It’s also described as “breathing by means of its own roar” and “living by means of its cries,” which means it doesn’t require any sustenance for its survival; it just eats things to make them suffer (Manassa, 2014). Both Apep and the Alien are monsters that can only exist in nightmares, that operate in total defiance of natural law, and that would be absolutely poisonous to any ecosystem in which they managed to thrive.

Ellen Ripley, on the other hand, is a perfect stand-in for the Red Lord. She is the outsider or “black sheep” among her crew, the only one who takes her job seriously, and a real stickler for protocol (even refusing to let Captain Dallas [Tom Skerritt] board their ship when she learns he has an infected crew member in tow). Compare this to the other female crew member, Lambert (played by Veronica Cartwright), who complains, screams, or cries helplessly throughout the film. Then there’s the fact that Ripley dresses and behaves like a man. One of Set’s many lovers is the Ugaritic goddess Anat, who is usually depicted in men’s clothes (Patai, 1990), and whom Set is said to find especially attractive for this reason. Given how much He enjoys smiting monsters like the xenomorph, and given how partial He is to androgynous ladies like Anat, it’s hard for me not to imagine Set cheering for Ripley from upon His throne behind the Great Bear. (Plus, going through so much trouble to save Jones the Cat must surely score Ripley some additional points with Bast, Ishtar, Sekhmet, and other like-minded goddesses of feline goodness.)2

Anat, an Ugaritic goddess

Anat, an Ugaritic goddess who is one of Set’s many consorts.

Alien is also filled with various references to sexual anatomy and the reproductive process. The ship’s computer is called “Mother”; the astronauts look like they’re being born when they awaken from their cryogenic sleep chambers; the tunnels of the derelict craft on LV-426 resemble giant fallopian tubes; and the xenomorph’s head is shaped like an erect penis (which always makes me think of someone being raped in reverse during the infamous “chestburster” scene).3 Ripley even has her final confrontation with the beast in her underwear,4 and she must also contend with “Mother,” which insists on keeping the Alien alive for future study (even at the cost of the astronauts’ lives). So a secondary conflict rages between Ripley and the computer, which cares more for the survival of the “child” than it does for the “parents.” This is especially intriguing given that Set is thought to cause abortions and miscarriages (te Velde, 1977). As His cinematic avatar, Ripley must further alienate herself from her society by “aborting” the gestating life form her superiors have deemed more important than herself (Cobbs, 1990).

H.R. Giger was obviously influenced by the New England horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft; but I’m fairly certain he was also inspired by a British occultist named Kenneth Grant. Once a disciple of the infamous Aleister Crowley, Grant was obsessed with what he called the “Tunnels of Set,” which are supposed to be these astral wormholes that loop back and forth between various alternate universes. He was the first occult author to suggest that H.P. Lovecraft was a “sleeping prophet,” and that monsters like Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep are real beings that actually exist in some other dimension. (He beat the Simon Necronomicon to this punch by at least a decade, if not longer.) Given this, I’m sure Grant’s ajna chakra or “third eye” probably exploded wide open if and when he ever got around to seeing Alien for himself. And if H.R. Giger wasn’t specifically thinking about the “Tunnels of Set” when he first envisioned the winding, cyclopean corridors of that ghost ship on LV-426, he sure as hell could have fooled me.

H.P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and H.R. Giger

From left to right: H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937), Kenneth Grant (1924–2011), and H.R. Giger (1940–2014).

Though we tend to share Grant’s enthusiasm for the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, my coven mates and I have zero interest in contacting any of the horrific fauna that H.P. Lovecraft envisioned for his lurid tales. We instead emphasize execration, or the use of magic to repel negativity and misfortune from people’s lives. This is functionally similar in principle to casting a death curse on someone, save that the target of your spell is Apep, the true source of all evil, and not any human victim. As far as we’re concerned, walking with Set isn’t about getting chummy with Lovecraftian space monsters; it’s about ferociously defending the autonomy of all sentient beings.

The idea that we must be “ferocious” in this regard comes from when the Tonester and I lived in the Bible Belt during the early 2000s. We were constantly under siege from “Rapture-ready” teachers, classmates, employers, cops, and politicians. We couldn’t even go for prayer walks in the woods without being harassed by people who thought we were “worshiping the devil.” After a while, it began to feel as if we were actually trapped in some hostile wilderness, with a very real monster coming after us. That monster wasn’t an actual xenomorph, of course, but Apep; and instead of literally trying to eat us, it was trying to eat our hearts from within. But Set is merciful; He brought us together in that wretched place, against all odds, and He blessed us with each other’s company and support. Then we met Blackwyn and Sister Bean in Michigan a few years later, and the rest is history. Each of us is proof for the others of Set’s providence, and Alien is an excellent parable for our own private quests against the Serpent.

Training to be Ellen Ripley

But execrations are not the only staple of our practice; there’s also our weekly Sabbat ritual, which is observed on Friday nights. We enter a darkened room that has been prepared with an altar, an image of Set, and some red candles. We recite our standard invocation together, and then we take turns praying to Set informally, as if He were just a regular person in the room with us. Usually this means discussing our hopes and fears, our best and/or worst moments of the week, or something along those lines. When one person finishes their prayer, they turn to the next person in sequence (which is always to the left) and say, “If there is anything you wish to say to the Red Lord at this time, please feel free to do so.” And if the next person has nothing they wish to pray about, they keep silent so the next person can proceed. Once everyone has finished, we break out the beer, blast some heavy metal, and chat with each other into the wee hours, sometimes not adjourning until daybreak. The exchanges we’ve shared during these late night Sabbat talks are some of the most profound meditations I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Some other things we’ve done include a spell for protection during sleep, an astral pilgrimage technique, and a matrimonial ceremony that was used for my wedding in 2012 and for Sister Bean’s in 2015. There’s also an initiation ritual that’s used for inducting new members, but this procedure is known only to those who pass our vetting process and are invited to join. (Considering there have only been four of us since Set first struck me with His black lightning in 1997, you can imagine how often this happens.) Our liturgical calendar includes not only our weekly Sabbat but also Hallowtide (October 31–November 2), Walpurgisnacht (April 30), and Friday the Thirteenth (on which we celebrate Set as the catalyst for Osiris’ resurrection and Horus’ conception). Importantly, we have no leader or “high priest/ess”; each of us is fully qualified to administer our rites to anyone who might need them, and all of our group decisions (including whether to initiate any new brothers and/or sisters) are made by unanimous vote.

Set's Charge to LV-426 Clergy

Apart from the above, we Setians of the LV-426 Tradition may each entertain any additional beliefs or practices we like. Some of us revere other sacred figures along with Set, like Buddha, the Norse god Odin, or the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Some of us even celebrate Christmas or Saint Patrick’s Day. Our eclecticism is rooted in Set’s New Kingdom role as an ambassador between the Egyptian gods and other pantheons. Just as He can roam between alternate realities and canoodle with alien divinities, so are we free to mix the old Kemetic wisdom with just about anything we find useful, from American colonial witch lore to Zoroastrian demonology. Some outsiders may find this permissiveness toward religious dogma repugnant, but we couldn’t care less; Big Red is the only justification we need.

It’s been a while since we last met as a coven to keep the Sabbat, execrate our inner demons on Walpurgisnacht, or offer up a feast of watermelon to Big Red on Friday the Thirteenth. I can’t speak to how often the others may or may not “keep up” with these practices nowadays (though I must admit it has been hard for me to do so consistently, myself), but none of us has ever been expected to make such a commitment anyway. It’s the fact that we even did these things at all—and the magic we shared when we did—that really matters. And there’s always the possibility that somewhere down the road, a fifth initiate of LV-426 might present him or herself to us, setting a whole new cycle of ritual work into motion. For now, all LV-426 alumni are off exploring other proverbial worlds, but always with Set’s Iron in our spines.

The LV-426 Sigil

The LV-426 Sigil

Notes

1 I’m well aware that in Ridley Scott’s prequels to this film—Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017)—it’s revealed that the xenomorphs did not evolve naturally, but were genetically engineered as a kind of biological warfare. This still doesn’t explain why their blood, which can burn through any damn metal you please, doesn’t just burn right through their own bodies as well.

2 Some viewers—including Big Steve King—complain that Ripley’s quest to save Jones the Cat is a “sexist interlude” that undermines her role as a feminist character (King, 1983). I’m a proud cat parent, and if I were in Ripley’s position, I’d risk everything to save my fur baby too. (Ten bucks says if Jones were a dog, nobody would be bitching about this.)

3 The “chestburster” scene is quite similar to the story of Set’s birth according to Plutarch (1970). He recounts that Set was not born at the normal time or in the normal fashion, but that He impatiently exploded forth from the belly of His mother, the sky goddess Nut. It’s tempting to think the screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon, might have encountered this story at some point while writing the script for Alien.

4 Some viewers—again, including Mr. King—complain that this final sequence “sexualizes” Ripley too much (King, 1983). I have to say that as a straight dude, this scene has never once made me think, “Ooooh, look at the naked chick!” Instead, it always makes me think about this one time I had to fumble around in my basement naked to get some clean clothes out of the dryer, only to be greeted by a huge spider that made me piss myself. In other words, it makes me identify with Ripley rather than objectify her, and I for one applaud Ridley Scott for framing the scene in that way.

H.R. Giger's Alien

References

Cobbs, J.L. (1990). Alien as an abortion parable. Literature / Film Quarterly, 18(3), 198–201. Retrieved on October 5, 2017.

King, S. (1983). Danse macabre (2nd edition). New York, NY: Berkley Books.

Manassa, C. (2014). Soundscapes in ancient Egyptian literature and religion. In E. Meyer-Dietrich (Ed.), Laut und leise: Der gebrauch von stimme und klang in historischen kulturen (pp. 147–172). Bielefield, Germany: Transcript Verlag.

Patai, R. (1990). The Hebrew goddess (3rd edition). Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

Plutarch (1970). De Iside de Osiride. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales.

te Velde, H. (1977). Seth, god of confusion: A study of His role in Egyptian mythology and religion. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill.

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Setianism: A Brief Introduction

What I believe, and why I wrote this brochure.

 

 

Read the Brochure

I understand platforms like Facebook have to burden us with advertisements; after all, they can’t do everything they do without making some kind of revenue, right? But ever since I joined, I’ve received a staggering number of ads for hardline Catholic and evangelical Christian ministries. For example, just last year (in 2019):

  • Steven Kozak sent me a piece bemoaning the “post-Christian” times in which we live.
  • True Horizon sent me an article that attempts to prove atheism is really a “religion” (!).
  • The National Catholic Register sent me a warning against shopping at Walmart because it is supposedly selling “satanic merchandise” that can lead people to hear “satanic voices” in their heads.
  • Ray Comfort—the pastor who is best known for pleasuring a banana on his televangelism show, The Way of the Master—sent me a sermon about how “[through] God’s power, many homosexuals have been forgiven and changed” (i.e., brainwashed to hate themselves and think they are straight).
  • Catholic Action for Faith and Family sent me a request to “send my support” to Bishop Thomas Tobin, who publicly claimed that LGBTQ Pride events are “dangerous” for children to attend.
  • The “Alliance Defending Freedom” sent me an article imploring me to help them fight the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes to existing laws that ban discrimination.
  • The Vatican sent me a new document they’ve been circulating to address the “educational crisis” that is being “caused” by transgender people.

Facebook seems to think I might find these things interesting because I am a legally ordained minister. You would think that with all their fancy algorithms and what-not, they would notice I am not a Christian and I am pro-LGBTQ. And while Facebook does provide us with the ability to hide or even report any ads we don’t appreciate, this feature is virtually useless. I receive a new ad for each one that I report or block (and often on the same day, in fact).

I’m not saying these people should be banned from Facebook or anything like that. I respect their First Amendment rights, even if I think the things they say and do are deplorable. But let’s get real here: if Pagans were to start employing these exact same recruitment techniques, these assholes would start screaming and throwing tantrums. To make things even more interesting, some Pagans feel it would be “unethical” to engage in this sort of outreach. Paganism is a personal thing, they argue, something that should never be marketed like a product. But Paganism does not develop in a vacuum; no one becomes a Pagan just because the idea occurs to them right out of thin air. They hear about it from someone else first, and if they are interested, they investigate the subject in greater detail; then they make a decision and act accordingly. None of us would be Pagan, not even me, if no one ever “advertised” Paganism at all. This notion that we’re just supposed to hide and wait for people to come to us is actually harmful because it holds us back as a community, it prevents us from enjoying the same protections other faiths enjoy, and it alienates up-and-coming Pagans who don’t even know they are Pagans yet. Clearly, a new way of doing things is needed.

With all of this in mind, I’ve designed a tract about my own particular branch of Paganism. I’ve decided to send copies of this tract to every single pastor, church, or other religious group that sends me any more of these solicitations on Facebook (and on every other social networking platform I might frequent). I’m also giving serious consideration to printing a ton of hard copies and sneaking them into church restrooms throughout my entire state (especially in red congressional districts). I understand most people will probably not even look at it, and that it is unlikely to affect most readers. This is irrelevant. I’m willing to bet there are people involved in each of these ministries who are secretly Pagan and who are just waiting for someone to light a great big Pagan bonfire in their hearts. Perhaps by sending this tract to these groups, some of these individuals might happen to see it and be awakened. It could just be a large waste of my time, but I’m sick and tired of the way things are, so I’m putting this out there in the hopes that perhaps it will do someone some good.

Here is a version of the pamphlet that should be shared electronically, as well as a version for printing hard copies. (Remember to print double-sided!)

I sincerely pray that my work here will benefit someone out there, even if it’s someone I will never know or meet. May Set straighten your bones with His holy iron, and may you be empowered to embrace yourself for the living demigod you truly are!

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The Monster Film As Mythos

Explaining the LV-426 belief that monster movies are more sacred and profound than any Kirk Cameron flick.

 

I enjoy interpreting films, TV shows, and popular music from a Setian perspective. This isn’t just a “hobby”; it’s an essential part of my spirituality. I believe Set and other Pagan gods like to reveal themselves through popular cultural media, and in ways that are more often subliminal than not. It’s easy to recognize the goddess Isis in that old 1970s TV show, The Secrets of Isis, where she’s an actual character who fights crime. But have you ever noticed how similar James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) is to the myth of Isis fleeing from Set to ensure the safe birth of Horus? Just imagine that Sarah Connor is Isis, Kyle Reese is Osiris, the Terminator is Set, and John Connor is Horus; see what I mean?

I’m not suggesting that James Cameron actually did this on purpose. I just think one or more of the gods probably reached into his brain back in 1984 and shuffled some stuff around in there while he was writing the script. I think this happens all the time, not just with James Cameron, but with potentially any filmmaker. I know it sounds silly or perhaps even “crazy,” but the idea that the gods would leave “secret messages” for us to find in movies, TV shows, or even Saturday morning cartoons is no different from divining omens in tea leaves or the Zodiac. Just because these media are human inventions doesn’t mean the gods can’t use them for their own purposes. If they can reveal themselves through clouds and trees and dreams, they can just as easily do the same thing through anything created by human hands.

“But G.B.,” I hear some of you asking, “What about things that are purposely inspired by Egypt? Things like Stargate SG-1?” Well my answer to that question is so complex, I had to write a whole other sermon about it to do the subject any justice. But with very few exceptions, I am almost never impressed with anything that’s intentionally inspired by Egyptian mythology.

I find that such works tend to fall into one of three clichéd categories:

  • The “killer mummy” movies, in which the mummy is always some ancient evildoer who seeks to claim the modern reincarnation of his long-lost love. (This includes pretty much any film called The Mummy or that has the word “Mummy” somewhere in the title, like 1964’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.)
  • The “ancient astronaut” movies, in which the Egyptian gods turn out be gooey aliens that fly around in spaceships. (This would be where Stargate fits in.)
  • The “biblical epic” movies, which all treat the book of Exodus like it’s a goddamn court transcript. (This includes such esteemed classics as The Ten CommandmentsThe Prince of Egypt, and Exodus: Gods and Kings.)

You’d expect there to be more of Set in something like Gods of Egypt (in which He’s an actual character) than there is in a movie like the original Godzilla from 1954 (which has nothing to do with Egypt on the surface); but I find the opposite is more often true. Whenever Egyptian mythology is intentionally adapted into fiction, the result is often far less interesting than the original source material. Cinematic portrayals of Set in particular have absolutely nothing to do with how anyone has ever worshiped Him in real life. (The next time you watch the original Conan the Barbarian from 1982, bear in mind that feeding naked women to giant snakes has never been a standard feature of Setian religious practice.) Yet there are other creative works that don’t intentionally invoke Set in any way, but which do so serendipitously, and which are more consistent with actual Setian ideas and values. This to me is a sign that these films have been “touched” by Set, especially if the people who created them have never heard of Him before.

In my opinion at least, the films that seem to resonate with Set the most are monster movies—sci-fi, horror, and fantasy romps that feature aliens, giant animals, mutants, supernatural beasties, or even cryptids like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. No matter what creatures they might feature, all monster films are about chaos intruding upon the world of order. Sometimes this chaos is caused by forces external to humanity (as with alien invaders), and sometimes it’s caused by human monsters (as with serial killers). Sometimes the chaos is visited upon the innocent (making the story a tragedy, or an example of when bad things happen to good people), and sometimes it falls upon the wicked (making it a morality tale, or an example of when bad people get their comeuppance). Either way, it all boils down to the eternal struggle between order and chaos, light and darkness, creation and annihilation.

You’re probably wondering why a minister would take such a serious interest in this kind of subject matter. (After all, aren’t religious people supposed to think that monster movies are “sick” at best or “satanic” at worst?) The truth is, I think monster tales are the oldest kind of story known to humankind. Sure, epic adventures and steamy romances have been with us a long time too, but the one emotion our earliest ancestors were probably most familiar with was fear.

Consider what John Goodman says in Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993):

A zillion years ago, a guy’s living in a cave. He goes out one day, Bam! He gets chased by a mammoth. Now he’s scared to death, but he gets away. And when it’s all over with, he feels great [. . .] So he goes home, back to the cave, the first thing he does, [. . .] he does a drawing of the mammoth. And he thinks, “People are coming to see this. Let’s make it good. Let’s make the teeth real long, and the eyes real mean.” Boom! The first monster movie.

When you think about it, fear has motivated people to do many things. It motivated our ancient ancestors to band together, hunt for food, develop agriculture, and establish laws to prevent themselves from killing each other. It also motivated them to tell stories, to put their faith in higher powers, to repel misfortune with charms and magic, and to hope for a better life in the great hereafter. In short, fear is just about the mother of everything that’s included in human civilization, including religion.

Monster films are magical

There’s even an element of the monstrous in religion itself. The theme of chaos intruding upon order appears in every religious mythology. Every pantheon of gods must contend with at least one horrific monstrosity that wants to destroy us all:

  • In the Coffin Texts (dating to circa the 20th century BCE), Set is and will always be defeating the monster Apep.
  • In the Babylonian Enuma Elish (dating to the 7th century BCE), the god Marduk slays the dragon Tiamat and creates the cosmos from her corpse.
  • In Hesiod’s Theogony (dating to the 7th century BCE), the Olympian gods defeat the gigantic Titans and bury them within the earth.
  • In Psalm 74 (dating to 586 BCE), Yahweh slays Leviathan and feeds it to his saints at the end of time.
  • In Revelation 20 (dating to 81–96 CE), Christ defeats Satan and Antichrist, casting them both into a lake of fire.
  • In the Bundahishn (dating to the 9th century CE), Ahura Mazda destroys the monster Ahriman and rehabilitates the damned.
  • In the Poetic Edda (dating to the 13th century CE), the Aesir and Vanir will kill and be killed by the frost giants of old.

Every monster film echoes one or more of these combat myths on some basic level. Even in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the character of Jame Gumb or “Buffalo Bill” is really just another Tiamat or Ahriman, and Clarice Starling is the stand-in for Marduk or Ahura Mazda. The characters and circumstances are quite different, but the story is essentially the same, and it’s the oldest story in the world.

Many faiths also have some horrific notion of what might happen if people just stopped practicing religion altogether. The gods might abandon us; the dead might rise up to torment the living; the whole world might fall apart; and so on. Films like The Birds (1963) and The Mist (2007) may not seem to have anything to do with religion on the surface, but each depicts some stern, cosmic judgment against humanity for its collective sins. And the number of films that depict vengeance upon the living by the restless dead—such as Poltergeist (1982) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)—is in the thousands. For these reasons, I think monster films are the finest medium for religious expression and interpretation, superior even to most overtly religious films. There is far more divinity and truth to be found in something like It Came from Outer Space (1953) than there is in, say, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas (2014).

Now praise Set, and pass the remote!

Remote for your Television SET

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The Underworld

On the ancient Egyptian concept of Duat, the “Underworld” or “Other Side.”

 

Each religion has its concept of the Underworld; but what is this dark and mysterious plane, exactly? In popular culture, it’s usually pictured as a dark, nightmarish world that exists underground, and which is filled with tormented ghosts and demons. In fact, this notion of the Underworld seems to have influenced the Christian idea of hell, except that only “bad” (i.e., non-Christian) people are thought to go there. In ancient Paganism, however, almost everyone was thought to go to the Underworld, save for heroic warriors and kings (who reigned with the gods in heavenly places like Valhalla). Going there had nothing to do with whether you were good or evil in life; it was basically a matter of social status. Important people were noticed by the gods and welcomed into their various heavens, while common working class folk were expected to eat mud, drink tears, and gnash their teeth down there in the darkness forever.

Or were they?

The ancients might not have been so rigid in their beliefs as the experts might think. Our information about this stuff is based on writings from the tombs of important kings and nobles. Common people usually didn’t know how to read or write, so there is very little for us to go on when it comes to assessing their opinions on eschatology. It’s only natural that kings and chieftains would think they’d get a better place in the afterlife than their subjects; but does this really mean the common people couldn’t expect to enjoy a happy afterlife at all? In many cultures, regular people would bury their ancestors beneath the floorboards of their homes. They would keep altars for these relatives and make votive offerings to them on a frequent basis. The deceased were even buried in a fetal position, with their faces turned to the West (the direction of the setting sun). This indicates a belief that even common people could expect a rebirth in the next world, despite the fact that they weren’t all-important monarchs with massive reputations or egos.

“Pharaoh

Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s Death Mask

The evidence available to us shows that the Egyptian version of the Underworld was much more favorable to the common person than many others. The Egyptians called it Duat, which means “Place Where the Sun is Born” according to Maria Betro’s Hieroglyphics: The Writings of Ancient Egypt (1996, Abbeville Press). Now why do you suppose they would refer to the Land of the Dead by such an optimistic-sounding name? Because it is where Ra, the Creator of the universe, crosses paths with Osiris each night to be reborn. As the sun god, Ra “dies” whenever they cross beneath the horizon, thereby passing into the realm of the invisible. While they are there, Ra has to be regenerated by Osiris, who was the first of the gods to die and rise again. Once this nocturnal meeting in Duat occurs, Ra begins to be reborn, a process that culminates at the break of dawn. So from the Egyptian perspective, the Underworld isn’t a place of death or decay, but of new energy and life. Duat is not just a destination for the past, but also a source of the yet-to-be.

There are some Kemetic reconstructionists who feel that Set’s role in the Osirian drama should never be celebrated; but prior to Osiris’ death, none of the gods knew what death was even like. Mortals would live and pass away upon the face of this earth, but did the gods care? Highly unlikely. It wasn’t until Set proved that they too can die (and that He can make it happen) that they started empathizing with our human fear of death. And just as Osiris spent his life traveling throughout the world, teaching people to plant crops, establish government, and stop eating each other like cannibals, so too would he implement similar reforms in Duat. Instead of just leaving everyone to wail and moan in darkness for all time, Osiris made it so the good-hearted will go to paradise and the evil-hearted will be destroyed (regardless of anyone’s station in life while they were still alive). If Set had never slain Osiris in the first place, none of this would ever have happened; so it is that good things sometimes need bad things to make them happen.

With Osiris, it is your heart that determines your afterlife, not your power or riches. Even loyalty to the god himself is not a factor, given that the “42 Negative Confessions” make no reference to accepting any particular doctrines or dogmas. The Egyptians expected to be judged for things like murder, rape, and stealing food that’s been offered to the gods, not for their theological opinions or beliefs. You don’t even have to worship Osiris to be welcomed into his Field of Reeds.

There is some confusion as to “where” Duat is, exactly. We used to think the Egyptians perceived it as being literally underground; but more recent discoveries show that the physical world and Duat were viewed as being two sides of the same coin. The universe is like a giant body, and the world of matter (including everything in outer space) is just the visible outer skin of that body, while Duat is the invisible flesh and bone beneath that skin. The hieroglyphic for Duat resembles a five-pointed asterisk in a circle. The asterisk itself is the hieroglyphic for seba or “star,” and the circle represents rebirth. The star is also “hidden” within the circle, so as to become “invisible.” But doesn’t this image also make you think of something else in particular? I think it looks like it could be a possible origin for the pentagram.

“The

Duat is not just one place, but a continuum filled with myriad worlds. Osiris has the Field of Reeds, an agrarian paradise filled with eternal booze and lovemaking, while Ra has the Solar Barque, which resembles a phosphorescent cruise ship. Hathor has a Sycamore Tree where she offers refreshments to the deceased, and Set of course has His Secret Place “behind” the Big Dipper. But before any soul can proceed to either of these various realms, it must undergo a procedure called the Weighing of the Heart, wherein its collective deeds (symbolized as their “heart”) are measured against the whole of Ma’at (the cosmic balance, symbolized as an ostrich feather). If the heart is heavier than the feather, the soul is fed to the daemon Ammut, whereupon it ceases to exist for all time. If this happens, the spirit of the deceased—which is separate from their soul—is left to linger on this earth as a ghost (or even a qlipha). But if the soul is more or less in good standing with Ma’at, it is re-united with its spirit and transfigured to become an akh (“shining one”). Then the departed is free to roam any place in Duat the gods might permit them to visit.

A local cemetery in my neighborhood

There are certain places where the barrier between us and Duat seems especially thin. Cemeteries and tombs are the most immediate examples, but I would also cite hospital maternity wards, where new lives are constantly being born. (Remember, Duat is the Land of the Yet-To-Be as much as it is the Land of What-Used-To-Be.) There are also certain times when Duat becomes more accessible, but these are not identical across the globe. For example, the veil grows thinnest in Egypt during holidays like the Wag Festival, which traditionally occurs sometime in August or September; but here in North America, the veil is thinnest at Hallowtide. Then again, if you live in the southern hemisphere, the cross-quarter days will fall on different dates due to the seasons being reversed. So the point of transition between our surface reality and Duat can vary based on your geographical location and the time of year.

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Set is a Savior, Not a Devil

Tackling the anti-Setian trope that Set is the “god of evil” or “Egyptian devil.”

 

In popular culture, Set is usually cast as the Egyptian “god of evil,” a kind of “proto-Satan.” You see it in the Conan stories, Doctor Who, the Marvel Universe, Vampire: The Masquerade, and most recently in the 2017 Mummy reboot. But popular culture’s version of Set is not the Set who was actually worshiped in ancient Egypt. The Set I know is more of an antihero who does things that none of His fellow gods really want to do, but which have to be done anyway. His job is to make sure there’s always some kind of forward movement happening throughout every level of existence. Sometimes this means making trouble for the other gods (as when Set slays Osiris or challenges Horus), and sometimes it means saving them from horrific chaos monsters (as when Set saves Ra from Apep each night).

The evil Serpent, arch-enemy of all gods and creatures

Apep is the true adversary in Egyptian mythology. The hieroglyphic for its name is a snake, its body looped in multiple coils, its flesh pierced with butcher knives. This thing is much more like Satan than Set is, though it’s actually far worse. Satan’s just an angel at the end of the day; Jesus or Allah is destined to kick his hiney at the end of time, and he can only do whatever his Maker allows him to do (which says something about his Maker). Apep is not a being created or controlled by any god, but something more like a black hole, a vapid non-entity that just wants to eat everything. And since it isn’t a created being to begin with, it can never be completely defeated or destroyed. It can be repelled or execrated in various ways, but it always comes back. Despite its ultimate immortality, Apep is not a god, but more of an anti-god. It was never worshiped in Egyptian religion, but was only worshiped against. Set plays a major role in preventing it from ending the world each night, and that’s what I love most about Him.Set: Champion of Ra, Savior of the Sun

Apep tries to murder the world by swallowing Ra, the sun god. We might be tempted to ridicule the Egyptians for thinking a giant snake was floating around out there in outer space, trying to eat our sun; but this assumes the story is meant to be taken literally. It’s also a disturbing metaphor about sleep, in which Ra “dies” each night and travels through the Netherworld to be “reborn” at dawn. As we sail through the unconscious terrain of sleep, we can encounter all kinds of frightening phenomena in the form of nightmares. Apep is the stuff nightmares are made of, and Set is the stuff nightmares are afraid of. Therefore, the theme of Ra’s salvation by Set is more like the oldest known version of “If I should die before I wake.” It represents the hope that we will all wake up again after going to sleep, even when we enter the sleep of death.

Set rescues the dawn

One of my most important rituals is what’s called an execration spell. I create things to represent my deepest, darkest problems; I invoke Apep into those objects; then I invoke Set into myself and smash, slice, or burn the objects in His name. I actually become the Power that my nightmares are afraid of, and I do to them what they would do to me. This procedure doesn’t solve all of my problems; indeed, anyone who expects magic to solve all their problems is gravely mistaken. But it does help me cope with them more productively. Externalizing one’s inner demons and symbolically destroying them can be very therapeutic, and Set is an excellent facilitator for such magic. If Big Red is “Satanic” when it’s between Him and Osiris and/or Horus, then He’s really quite Christian when it’s between Him and Apep.

Set and the archangel Michael

Left: Set smiting Apep. Right: The archangel Michael smiting Satan. See the resemblance?

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