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Seth

by Micha F. Lindemans
The ancient Egyptian god of chaos, the embodiment of hostility and even of outright evil. He is also a god of war, deserts, storms, and foreign lands. As the god of deserts he protects the caravans which travel through the desert, but he also causes sandstorms which bring him into conflict with the fertility god Osiris. The two are adversaries and in the Osiris myths, Seth killed his brother and scattered the remains all over Egypt. Seth belongs to the Ennead of Heliopolis and is the son of Geb and Nut (or Re and Nut). He is the brother of Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys, who is sometimes given as his consort, although Seth is more commonly associated with the foreign, Semitic goddesses Astarte and Anat. During the 3rd millenium BCE Seth replaced Horus as the tutelary deity of the pharaohs, but the story of Osiris' murder gained currency and Horus was restored to his original status. The war that followed lasted eighty years, during which Seth tore out Horus' left eye and Horus tore off Seth's foreleg and testicles. Eventually, Horus emerged victorious, or was deemed the victor by the council of the gods, and thus became the rightful ruler of the kingdoms of Lower and Upper Egypt. Seth was forced to return the eye of Horus and was either castrated or killed. In other versions he went to live with the sungod Re, where he became the voice of thunder. In the Book of the Dead, Seth is called "Lord of the Northern Sky" and is held responsible for storms and cloudy weather.

Despite his reputation, Seth has some good characteristics. He protects the sun barge of Re during its nightly journey through the underworld and he fights the snake-like monster Apep. On the other hand, he was a peril for ordinary Egyptians in the underworld, where he was said to seize the souls of the unwary.

Seth was portrayed as a man with the head of undeterminable origin, although some see in it the head of an aardvark. He had a curved snout, erect square-tipped ears and a long forked tail. He was sometimes entirely in animal form with the body similar to that of a greyhound. Animals sacred to this god where the dog, the jackal, the gazelle, the donkey, the crocodile, the hippopotamus, and the pig. There was an important sanctuary at Ombos in Upper Egypt, his reputed birthplace, and considered to be the home of his cult. This cult was also prominent in the north-eastern region of the Nile delta. The Greeks equated him with their Typhon.

The name of Seth in hieroglyphs
The name of Seth in hieroglyphs.

Other names include Sutekh, Setech, and Sutech.


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    Set
    Setekh
    Setesh
    Seti

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