Author Topic: The Mysteries of Horus and Set  (Read 229 times)

Xepera maSet

The Mysteries of Horus and Set
« on: April 22, 2017, 07:13:01 am »
The story of Horus and Set is very well known, perhaps the best known story of the Egyptians. These entities and their story are extremely important to understanding religion, and especially for understanding occultism. Yet all most of us see are a single, perverted version of the story that originated long after the beings in question, and have been lost and twisted repeatedly over millennium. Having looked into these topics in extreme depth, I would like to discuss these famous Neteru.

Stellar v. Solar

It is commonly understood that Set was the brother and murder of Osiris, who sexually assaulted then battled Osiris’ child Horus, Horus eventually winning kingship over Egypt (Budge, 1969). One of the most basic reasons this is appealing is because it fits snuggly with Christian culture and morality, clear lines being drawn between “good” and “evil”, with Osiris/Horus being an obvious precursor of Christ. These similarities should be more than enough reason for the occultist to doubt this version of the story. The Cult of Osiris played a role so massive it is hard to conceive, from Egypt all the way to modern religion. It gave us our first heaven-like afterlife, our first true villain god, the original Solar religion, our first savior god. But this story needs to be disregarded specifically because it is so blatantly distorted. At the end of the New Kingdom period, Set became fully demonized due to the foreign rulers who the xenophobic Egyptians despised (Te Velde, 1967). The Coptics only took this farther, though many of their rituals do make reference to Set under other names (Webb, 2011). Prior to this massive downfall, the religion of Osiris had dominated Egyptian thought since the early dynasties, and we can even see where the Pyramid Texts have been altered in order to make them more Osirian (The Pyramid Texts Online, n.d.). As Egypt grew, this very early and useful religious philosophy spread throughout and became dominate, forever changing Egyptian from their Stellar to Solar religions.

The stellar religion was based on a separation of the Self from the Divine, in which the dead individual would rise even above the level of the Gods (The Pyramid Texts Online, n.d.; Te Velde, 1967; Aquino, 2014). This is what we see in the Setian Pyramid Texts, which the dead rising above even the gods of creation.. Further, the physical body was vastly less important, with mummification not even being part of the earlier burials at Nubt, both the original location for the Cult of Set, and the birthplace of things such as written human language (Morgan, 2005). Material goods were not shunned though, and we find grave goods even in these proto-Egyptian graves. Interestingly, broken pots in early burials contain some of the first examples we have of isolated, point down pentagrams. Acts in life were what led to one being accepted amongst the ranks of the Gods after death, their virtues and what they achieved. A choice was also given between Horus and Set, leading to essentially separate afterlives (Pyramid Texts, n.d.). The circumpolar stars were associated with Set, especially Ursa Major (Te Velde, 1967; Aquino, 2014; Levenda, 2008; Webb, 2011; Flowers, 2012, Gordon, 2001).The circumpolar, “imperishable” stars were the focus of afterlife thought, as they were separate from the cycles of earth, the sun, and even the stars, as they never sank below the horizon (Webb, 2011; Levenda, 2008). This is much closer to the Eastern idea of being free from the cycles of reincarnation than the obeying of rules and “heaven” found in the West.

The original Egyptian death cults were based around the circumpolar, or imperishable, stars and so was the domain of Set (Te Velde, 1967; Aquino, 2014; Levenda, 2008; Webb, 2011; Flowers, 2012). Horus and Set, together, created a path, ladder, or stairway for the initiated dead from earth to the imperishable stars (Te Velde, 1967, Pyramid Texts Online, n.d.). Some of this can still be seen in the earlier pyramid texts, where Set is still so crucial to the ascension of the dead. Throughout even the Osirian texts we see traces of the original Set, who demands of the gods to deify the dead. “Set and Nephthys speak to the gods: N has become like an imperishable star: if he wishes you shall live you shall live, if he wishes you shall die you shall die”. The pharaoh “howls like Set howls” and the gates of heaven open before him. The dead is “like Set when he lifts himself and ascends to the heavens” (Pyramid Texts Online, n.d.). The importance of Set to deification of the Self is immense and obvious. This only changes with the coming of the Osiris cult. Horus is also referred to often, working with Set. Rather than a savior god of some sort, Horus is shown as the equal to Set, powerful in all the ways he is not, helping the dead ascend (Te Velde, 1967). There is no evidence of Horus relying on Osiris or Isis in many of the texts, except the obviously Osirian ones.

Solar religion, on the other hand, was based on uniting the Self with the Divine, in which after death an individual would either become identified with a Neter, such as Osiris, or would live a very similar life in a land still ruled by the gods (Budge, 1898). The physical body slowly becomes more and more important, as it was created by the gods and had to remain pure. It was required for life after death. Obeying the rules (such as with the negative confessions) is how one received acceptance into the afterlife, being judged by the Gods in the end to see if the dead is worthy (Budge, 1898). There was no choice of what came next, it was either nonexistence or unity/submission to Horus (originally) or Osiris (after interfering with the original relationship of Horus and Set). The focus of thought was on the sun’s cycle through the sky and the cycles of nature that affected daily Egyptian life (Levenda, 2008). Rather than striving for heroic like immortality, Egyptians simply wanted a predictable and constant life where they did not have to worry about things, such as if the Nile would not flood because they had gone against the rules of the Gods. Darkness became a threat, later to be demonized and shunned, and representative of all that went against the Solar theology. This is where Western religion stems from, obeying the rules for postmortem rewards and hoping to not upset the Gods.

To many these differences may seem insignificant, but the occultist and magician can see the vast significance between these two points of view. Horus and Set were originally seen as equals, where Horus represented things most relative to this life, and Set was the God of the afterlife. As many know, the image of Set is actually based off of a fantastic animal, it is something not real unlike most other deities (Te Velde, 1967; Budge, 1969; Aquino, 2014). What most don’t know is that in early Egyptian history the Set animal was often seen next to a winged, hawk headed Griffin (Te Velde, 1967). These two fabricated creatures were seen as two sides of the same coin, their design representing their traits, such as the forked, serpent like tail of Set and its close association with “Darkness”, as well as the obvious serpentine symbolism of the circumpolar stars especially at the time of early Egypt (where alpha draconis was the pole star) (Levenda, 2013). It is only with the rise of solar religion in Egypt that the dark side of the coin became “evil”.

Where did this Solar religion come from? It makes sense that in pre-dynastic Egypt a storm God would be given the same respect as a solar god, as the nomadic Egyptians would have relied on rain water before the Nile (Te Velde, 1967). We also know that other local religions, such as the Sumerians, already had pantheons where human beings were crushed below the weight the Gods. It is more than possible that Osiris was an imported God from foreign lands. This is not to be confused with the fact that Set was a god of foreigners (Budge, 1969). There was a massive mixing of tribes in the land of Egypt, and there is no reason to think that all of these were “native” Egyptians (Grimal, 1994). The fact that we recognize many of these gods or their forms as imported certainly helps. It also explains why Osiris is supposed to have claimed ancient rulership over Egypt, and why the Osiris had to repurpose Horus to validate their religion – they were outsiders. It also explains why it took so long, and why Set also had to be demonized. In other words, stellar religion was actual Egyptian religion, and solar religion was imported and aided by the changes to Egyptian societies.

Another interesting aspect of all this is that the original Egyptian burials in Nubt (whose main deity was Set) had very different burials that did not rely on the preservation of the physical body. Bodies were buried in the fetal position, rather exposed to the elements, with their head cut off facing the opposite direction of the body (Te Velde, 1967). Ascension was earned in life, and then one became deified, a rather straight forward process that fits well in dualistic systems. It also seems that the original deification given by Horus and Set was much different then later afterlives. The dead was truly deified, they became like a Neteru, a god or Form, a manifestation of either their lord Horus or Set. It is interesting to stop here and look at the Egyptian conceptions of the soul.

Tangent: Aspects of the Egyptian Soul

The Khat or Body: this could be considered the physical body, but it is more comparable to that which holds the body together, that which causes cells to recreate near-perfectly, the natural energy generated by the body. It is comparable to bodies of light, astral bodies, things of that nature, but is more or less identified with the physical self. So your body, nervous system, organs, physical brain, skeleton.

The Ren or Name: This is what a thing is called, from inanimate objects and forces to people’s or location’s names. Think of Ren as if everyone you know in professional life suddenly knew all your user names for online forums. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably shared plenty of ideas on your ideology that does not need to be known by everyone and their mothers. Maybe not if you have well accepted beliefs, but with something like occultism I would never want all my coworkers and clients to have direct access to all my beliefs. So I have a “secret” or “magical” name that give me the power to keep this one side secret while still openly discussing it. Even a regular name has power though. Just call someone to summon them, to connect deeper with them, even to show them how angry you are depending on context. When we consider names as “what things are called” we are almost taking all language into account.

The Sheut or Shadow: To the Egyptians the shadow was literally the shadow cast by the body. It was considered to contain aspects of the individual, which is actually entirely true. I find this one the most difficult to integrate (the rest actually are rather easy to understand), because a shadow is pretty understandable. But even when I hear the word “shadow” I have to think of Carl Jung and his archetype of the shadow. The shadow is the completely dark, obscured part of an individual, which they themselves often do not understand. An example of this is when someone else’s actions annoy us, but in reality it’s because we hate the very same trait in ourselves.

The Ib or “Heart-Soul” or Ego: I think “heart soul” is an awesome primitive term for what we now refer to as the ego. It has the best and worst of us locked away in there, it’s driven by primal urges and emotion rather that rational thought. It is the ego that opposes the shadow, hides it away so our pride is not hurt. It was the heart, or in this case the ego, that was weighed in afterlife ceremonies to decide whether the individual was worthy or not. Why? The ego/heart has no filter and helps us understand who we truly are deep down.

The Ba or Consciousness or Soul: The Ba is the actual individual, the consciousness itself, or isolate intelligence, or psyche, there are plenty words for it. The Ba relies on the Khat to have a place to grow, connected through the Ib, which itself arises from the Khat. If the Ba is worked in the proper ways throughout life, it can become more powerful than the Khat and Ib and thus survive physical death.

The Ka or Higher Self: The Egyptian Gods, known as Neteru (Neter for one), were quite similar to and likely the inspiration for Platonic Forms, perfect but abstract aspects of nature that then manifest in different ways. When a human being is born, a perfect Form of them comes into existence as well – the Ka. If an individual can get in touch with and align themselves (the Ba) with the Ka they will essentially be living the perfect life for them.

Akh or Deified Individual: If the Ba lines up with the Ka and survives physical death, it is possible for it to itself become a Neter. To the Egyptians these beings would be indistinguishable from other Neteru. Basically this is “self-deification”, the individual becoming a god through their own efforts.

Hours the Younger v. Horus the Elder

There is also the issue of Horus the Younger vs. Horus the Elder. Horus the Younger is the son of Osiris and Isis, and considered to be the 10th deity to come out of the Ennead (Budge, 1969). Horus the Younger is essentially the same as Osiris, but reborn and ruling the world of Life as opposed to Osiris ruling the world of Death. This may seem confusing, and it is important to pause to discuss the Egyptian understanding of the gods, the Neteru. The Egyptians did not believe in physical beings who had dramas in the ways of other religions. Rather, the Neteru are similar to, and likely the inspiration of, Platonic Forms (Aquino, 2015). So to say Horus the Younger is a lower manifestation of Osiris is not as nonsensical as it seems. Think of gnostic Aeons, for comparison. Horus the Younger represents a less pure version of what Osiris does, from ruler-ship to stasis. Understanding the Neteru also helps us understand that Horus the Younger is a perversion of Horus the Elder, the original Horus. Much like Christianity adopting religious dates or saviors from other religions to make it more accessible, the Osirians repurposed Horus the Elder to promote their own religion, where this timeless and ancient god was actually the son of Osiris. The idea of Horus the Younger must also be discarded with the rest of the Osirian interpretation of the myth.

So what was Horus the Elder, and what was Its relationship to Set? The Cults of Horus and Set are the two oldest known cults in human history - far predating Egypt, we find the two cults already established in pre-historical Egypt (Te Velde, 1967; Aquino, 2015). The ancients did not see Horus and Set as eternal enemies, but rather Horus and Set represented the fundamental duality that the Egyptians saw in all things. Horus and Set were, themselves, the foundation of all Egyptian religion. It is true that Horus and Set were seen as light and dark, day and night, stability and chaos, tradition and confusion, but there was no concept of them being “good” or “evil”. They were both necessary. There was also a unity between them, rather than the division commonly represented (Te Velde, 1967). Again, the Osirian myth must be discarded. This clears up many of the issues, such as how Egypt didn’t view any Neteru as evil, or how there was no prolonged combat or anything close between any of the other gods (Aquino, 2015). In fact, it’s likely that Horus and Set never were originally fighting until the Osirian religion wrote it as such. Rather, studies of the myth suggest that the relationship between Horus and Set was originally a romantic, consensual one (Te Velde, 1967). Mertz (2008) even points out that the story may have been seen as epic and humorous, similar to the tales of other culture. As we will see, this is likely the case on the outside, but initiated understanding of the stories will show things were different for those on the inside. The original myth actually promotes the idea of a union of Horus and Set, which produces Thoth. Horus fills Set with his sperm through trickery, which in the end brings about Thoth, who rises from Set’s forehead. Further, the eye represented the power of Horus, where the testicles were the power of Set. Set attained power from Horus, the power of Order, and Horus attained power from Set, the power of Creation and Change (Te Velde, 1967). This is similar to the Ying-Yang, where the white side contains a black dot and visa versa. Together these two forces create Thoth, he who writes the universe into existence.

Remember how the Neteru are similar to Platonic Forms? It should not be thought that two beings were conceived as literally having sex to create another. Rather than a myth similar to that of Christianity and Solar religions, we see that the story of Horus and Set is much more Egyptian in nature, perhaps somewhat anticlimactically. So to sum up thus far, Horus and Set, un-perverted, were the foundational polarity of the universe, which unites to create all the cosmos. As Neteru/Forms, all other Neteru should be understood as manifestations of the two. Anubis, for example, is a lesser manifestation of Set, which explains why Set is understood as his “father” and the two are sometimes used interchangeably in texts. It is also why Ra has the same head as Horus, for Solar religion is a worship of Order/Horus, which the Egyptian state publically promoted.
When Osiris absorbed Horus he absorbed the Solar aspects of Egyptian religion. With the demonization of Set, a morality arose and a higher value placed on the Solar over the Stellar. Now deification was rewarded by the gods directly for proper behavior, though there were obviously loopholes for the high class. The material world became increasingly important, and with it the body, starting the first move from Egyptian esotericism to exotericism. These effects are still felt today in the on-going fight between the Solar Abrahamic religions and the Solar materialistic philosophies, and even in occultism which remains mostly Solar in nature.

A large part of the history of Horus and Set is the idea that Horus is better, more virtuous, more important, superior, etc. to Set in some way. But it seems quite possible that originally, Set was actually seen as the superior Neter. One of the main reasons for this is that Set was known as the “Son of Nut”, the Egyptian Neter representing the skies in their entirety (Te Velde, 1967). The “Son of Nut” referenced Set in all cases, nobody else was considered the son or daughter of Nut directly (Te Velde, 1967). This is likely a carry-over from the time when Set was seen as the head of the Neteru. There are, in fact, references that have Set as the one and only Neter holding the latter to heaven, whereas we do not see this with Horus. That Horus as the sun (later Ra) could be defeated by Apep, whereas Set could not and was actually the main defender, further shows the importance and power of Set. Even in the Pyramid Texts we see that Horus makes the Earth quake, but Set makes the Sky shake (Pyramid Texts Online, n.d.). Another interesting thing to notice is that there are cases, such as in the texts of Unas, where the king is referred to as **a** Horus, rather than a specific entity named Horus. It may be that Horus has always been associated with the actual ruler of the nome or country, who we know was viewed as a literal demigod. To become a “Horus” can be seen as becoming a king over the Earth and/or over the Neteru, which matches exactly with the stellar afterlife ideals of the early Egyptians. This could also explain why only the Horus name was generally preferred for the Pharaoh name, despite the two Neteru clearly being viewed as equally important.

In the end, however, it does not really matter if one viewed Horus and Set as somehow better. Most likely it can down to preference, which is why Unas was allowed to choose between Horus and Set upon reaching the Imperishable Stars (Pyramid Texts Online, n.d.). Following a balanced path between the two, or picking one over the other, is up to the individual. But what can we know about the nature of this choice between Horus and Set? For one thing, we know that Horus was a pharaoh-like role, where the dead became identified even with Atum (who preceded Horus and Set in mythology), king over the Neteru. Set, on the other hand, was known as “the separator”, being drawn as a fantastic animal and represented even in the earliest myths as an outsider (Te Velde, 1967).

The Osiris Myth

One thing to clear up is that I do not think we should reject the Osiris myth all together, as in ignore it. Rather, it does not describe the original understanding of the Neteru Set and Horus. It can, however, be used to understand modern religion and how it varies with ancient religion. The Egyptians saw the skies as the literal heavens, with the stars representing a physical form of the Neteru, or being where the Neter was supposed to live or exist. (Clark, 2000). This matches closely with the Hermetic understanding of “as above, so below”, where the physical heavens helped to understand the divine world. Horus, the god of Light, represented the daytime and the sun. Horus was the ruler of the earth, surrounded by other gods of the zodiac or starts. Set, as the god of Dark, was represented by nighttime, and explicitly the circumpolar northern starts (Te Velde, 1967; Aquino, 2014; Levenda, 2008). This means either Set or Horus was in the sky *at all times*. It is interesting to note that Set, as being “higher” then Horus, can possibly be seen as “more divine”, but I do not personally know if the Egyptians understood that the stars were still “up” when the sun was, or that they were farther away. More likely is that Horus and Set were seen as equals.

In the Osiris myth, Set and Osiris are brothers and Osiris is the ruler of Egypt (Budge, 1969). Set, jealous of Osiris’ power, murders him. Throughout the story Isis impregnates herself using the body of Osiris, giving birth to Horus. Horus and Set battle, with Horus eventually winning rulership over Egypt. This is obviously extremely simplified! In the Osiris myth cycle, Set is an archetypal villain, a clear precursor to the modern Satan/Devil. He is jealous, violent, a heavy handed ruler, a rapist and pedophile, and hated by everyone including his wife. We know, of course, that this was a twisting of the original Set by the followers of Osiris in early dynastic Egypt, especially starting around Dynasty IV-VI. Yet this was the version that became one of the most well-known and well preserved myths of Egyptian – and human – history. There are many interesting mysteries to Horus and Set here though, and we will start by looking at the more mysterious Set.

One of the big things that jumps right out is that Set is the initiator of Osiris. Osiris needed to die in order to become ruler of the Duat (afterlife) (Te Velde, 1967). While this seems obvious at face value, we see that it was not publically acknowledged by the Egyptians, and only known to the priesthoods. This increases Set’s importance for the initiated, and his malevolence for the uninitiated. It was also Set, in the form of a bull, who carries the body of Osiris into the Duat (Te Velde, 1967). This is a holdover from Set’s original role as a guide into the next world, formerly the circumpolar stars, and now a mostly ethereal, “divine” location. Without Set Osiris would never die, and never make it to the underworld. Further, the Opening of the Mouth ceremony was crucial to both the Neteru and the dead (Te Velde, 1967; Levenda, 2008; Webb, 2011). This is what brought the spirit of a Neter into a statue, or allowed you to talk in the afterlife. Like everyone, this ritual was necessary for Osiris. The key to the opening of the mouth ceremony was a tool known as the Adze, which literally opened the mouth. This tool was shaped as the constellation Ursa Major, one of the constellations most associated with Set, and made from materials believed to be sacred to Set (Te Velde, 1967; Levenda, 2008; Webb, 2011; Flowers, 2012). Obviously it was still realized, even if only behind closed doors, that Set was extremely necessary to the Osiris cycle.

As for Horus, he is seen as the son of Osiris, nephew of Set. It is in this tale where we see Set gouging out Horus’ eye, and Horus ripping off Set’s testicles, as well as Set attempting to rape Horus, and the endlessly hysterical “tainted lettuce” incident (Budge, 1969). Horus had to be hidden from Set as a child because he was not nearly powerful enough to challenge Set. He loses many times before finally becoming victorious over Set. As touched upon, Horus the Child is a manifestation of Osiris himself, Osiris reborn almost, a lesser Form. Horus was the power of the Pharaoh (same as the Elder), Osiris on Earth. Again we see an obvious precursor to Christianity, without all the utter bullshit of trying to directly compare Christ to Horus. Horus had to actively fight back against the chaos of Set, actively attempt to uphold Ma’at, same as the pharaoh. This puts Horus the Child as the center of the universal struggle between order and chaos. It’s interesting to note that later gnostic sects held the concept of Horos, “the limit”, which was the division between the Upper and Fallen Aeons. As the sun, Horus also represents the entity between the world of humans and the world of the Neteru.

A Brief Word on Apep

The story of Apep and Set holding him back is also important. It goes that after his family disowned him, Set was adopted by Ra. Set would ride on the sun boat of Ra, and at night he would have to fight back the serpent Apep. It was thought that every night Apep would try to stop the sun in its course by hypnotizing it was a stare. When facing Apep, all the Neteru in the boat would faint, except Set, who pushed the snake back. Apep can be seen to represent absolute chaos, non-existence, delusion, and so forth. It seems that Set was the only Neter not swayed by Apep, likely because Set was understood to be Dark and Chaotic as well. It has been theorized that Apep was understood as a more eldritch form of Set, almost a kind of dark Gnosticism except Set is the actual good guy. Either way, Set was absolutely necessary again, which correlates to his resurgence in the second intermediate period and new kingdom (Te Velde, 1967; Webb, 2011).


Finally there is the question of consorts, as Egyptian Neteru are always paired with a female aspect (Budge, 1969; Te Velde, 1967). Horus is difficult, as he is commonly considered either a child of Osiris and Isis, or the fifth sibling of the Ennead that did not have a consort. This is in keeping with the Osirian mythos though. We can see either Isis or Hathor as the consort of Horus, though it can also be argued that these two Neteru are inherently the same. They represent the earth, material pleasure, drunkness and celebration, the harvest and agriculture, domestication, nurturing motherhood and the wrath of an angry parent. This is the classic fertility goddess, associated with Life in line with Horus.

Many sources recognize Taweret as the wife or concubine of Set (Morgan, 2005; Gordon, 2001; Wilkinson, 2003; Ancient Egypt Online, n.d.; Seawright, n.d.). Te Velde (1967) suggests that the Sa symbol, associated with Taweret, is grammatically related to the Sha animal, the dog form of Set. This would be in keeping with the wordplay used in early Egyptian language. During the early times of the language, word-play and puns were one of the main ways in which Egypt-created their language. In many instances it was seen that Taweret was responsible for keeping Set separated from the Gods in the Northern skies, whether to “retain his evil” or, earlier on, literally to be the Separation between Set in the Gods (Morgan, 2005; Seawright, n.d.; Ancient Egypt Online, n.d.). Set’s name itself, in early Egypt, was often a single symbol representing “Separator” or “Isolator” (Te Velde, 1967). Another way she was connected with Set was that they were both related to the northern circumpolar stars (Te Velde, 1967; Aquino, 2014; Levenda, 2008; Webb, 2011; Flowers, 2012). Taweret was seen as the constellation Draco, which may have been envisioned as much larger to the Egyptians (Morgan, 2005; Gordon, 2001; Ancient Egypt Online, n.d.; Seawright, n.d.). It is possible that she was seen as a mother to the gods. Ursa Minor was seen as Sobek riding on Taweret’s back in some situations, or part of Taweret herself (Gordon, 2001; Ancient Egypt Online, n.d.; Seawright, n.d.). However, in the Dendera zodiac, Ursa Minor is seen as the Jackle of Set (Gordon, 2001).


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"Mysteries of the Graal" from Black Runa

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