All in all, the activities of the Great Ennead as a family rank them high with other historical and fictional families renowned for their corrupt and evil ways. Various members of the Great Ennead were at one time or another guilty of drunkenness, theft, incest, torture, matricide, and mass murder. But every family needs a black sheepi and every story needs a villain. In Egyptian mythology this role is given to Seth God, whose misdeeds make those of the rest of his family look innocent by comparison.
|Seth Egyptian god picture|
In this role he was to be defeated, even maimed, in battle, but he was never killed or eliminated, for his power was too great and of too much use to other gods. Much like Milton’s Lucifer, he is a fascinating and compelling incarnation of evil, the manifestation of a recognized and necessary component of human behavior, and ultimately an agent of other gods who ironically accomplish their good through him. Most of the myths concerned with Seth God depict him in this role.
The Pyramid Texts credited Seth God with a violent nature from the moment of his birth: “You whom the pregnant goddess brought forth when you clove the night in twain you are invested in the form of Seth God, who broke out in violence.” Early in his career Seth God used his fierceness on behalf of other gods. He was placed in the] front of the solar boat in order to fight off the enemies of Ra. In reticular, he was responsible for successfully defeating Apophis nightly with the curse: “Back, Villain! Plunge into the depths of the abyss, into the place where your father ordained that you should be destroyed! Keep far away from this station of Ra, at whom you should tremble.”
Eventually, however, his jealousy at the success of his older brother Osiris led him to murder him and persecute Isis in an attempt to take over the empire of the god of corn and vegetation. In the many different texts from the period, there were varying stories that placed Seth God in combat to gain power for him. The earliest of the stories told of the battle as a simple contest between day and night. A later story personified that idea: it showed Ra and Seth God locked in combat, with Seth God attempting to prevent the sun from rising each morning.
In this version, strangely enough, Seth God was associated with Apophis and attacked the solar boat he had earlier defended. His weapons were clouds, mists, rains, and darkness-a mythical explanation of natural phenomena that obscure the sun. In the third version of the conflict, Seth God was pitted against his brother Osiris in an attempt to take over his powers. Finally, in the fourth version, Seth God fought his nephew Horus the Younger in a battle that began with Horus’ attempt to avenge his father's death, and ended as a fight for the territory once controlled by Osiris.
As the personification of sin and evil during this later period, Seth God was god of storms and winds and was particularly associated with the desert, which was thought of as a place of death. One myth identified him with the sun as it set in the evening, and another related how he stole the fading light from the sun god, causing untold evil and harm. Thoth, the lunar god, brought renewed light with the rising of the moon, but Seth God fought him too for the light of this heavenly body. Using storms, Winds, earthquakes, and eclipses, Seth God was able at times to gain a brief advantage over the sun and moon, but Ra and Thoth always won in the end.
The result of these character traits was that the Egyptians, as Plutarch recorded, held Seth God “in the greatest contempt, and do all they can to vilify and affront him.” At various times, specific rituals were observed to keep him from gaining) power over light and vegetation. At one point, a black pig (an animal often associated with Seth God) was brutally cut into pieces on a sand altar built on the river bank. At another time a model of a serpent was hacked to pieces. At another festival, recently captured birds and fish representing the god were trampled underfoot, to the chant: “You shall be cut into pieces, and your members' shall be hacked asunder, and each of you shall consume the other: thus Ra triumphs over all his enemies ....”
Sometimes, however, Seth’s ferocity was respected. Kings in the Ramesside period of the Nineteenth and Twentieth dynasties took him as their patron, and the name Seti of several of the kings-including the father of Ra messes II was derived from the name of the god.
|Seth Egyptian God Symbol|
The physical form given to Seth God was often that of a human body with the head of an animal. (Today the animal is called the “Seth animal” because it is not otherwise identifiable.) The nose looked rather like that of a camel or an ass, and it had a tail that stood straight up and forked at the end. Some scholars think it might have been some sort of desert animal that was hunted to extinction at an early period, but others identify it as an aard- vark, canine, or some other surviving creature. In truth, it does not look quite like any animal we know today. At times Seth God was simply portrayed in animal form without the human body.
He was also associated with the serpent, ass, antelope, pig, hippopotamus, crocodile, and fish. Seth God was a red god. His domain was the red desert, and only red oxen were sacrificed to him. Red- haired men were distrusted as his representatives on earth. He was married to Nephthys and their child was Anubis, the jackal-headed god of death, although there is some questions of his paternity. After Seth’s murder of Osiris, however, Nephthys was usually depicted as supporting Isis against Seth God.
In the Valley of the Kings, Seth God can be seen pouring libations over Seti I in his tomb, placing the crown on the head of Ramses II, and teaching the young Thutmose III to use a bow and arrow. He was remembered at Kom Ombo, and at Edfu there are famous wall carvings that depict the battle between Seth God and Horus. His fame spread from the oases in the desert to the fertile land of the Delta, where he was worshipped at times. There are not many surviving statues of Seth God , but the Egyptian Museum in Cairo contains one of Seth God and Horus crowning harnesses III. Seth’s figure in this piece was damaged, perhaps deliberately, but has now been restored.
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