Aset and Set

Set was the brother of Aset and her siblings Wesir, Nebet Het, and Heru Wer. His parents were Geb and Nut. His wife was Nebet Het and his son by her was Yinepu. His other consorts were Nit, and the Semitic goddesses Anat and Astarte. Sobek, the crocodile god was the son of Nit and Set. Like Nebet Het, Set was associated with “drunkenness, violence and other forms of liminality” (Siuda, 16; footnote 63).

Set was the god of the desert, foreign lands, storms, strength and male sexuality. Set was originally a god of Kingship alongside Heru Wer. As far back as the Pyramid Texts, he is said to have murdered Wesir which allowed Wesir to become King of the Duat.

Set was also the only god who could slay Apep each night on his journey with Ra in the Sun Bark. He was especially venerated in Upper Egypt and during the Reign of the Ramesside Kings as their patron god. He was a god of violence and war. During the Third Intermediate Period, the foreign invaders the Hyksos identified their god Ba’al with Set and so he became less popular, even to the point of being demonized among the native ancient Egyptians. The Greeks identified him with Typhon who was against all gods.

His theophanies include the pig, panther, bull, hippopatomus, donkey, oryx, griffin and crocodiles (Pinch, 192). He was often depicted as a man with the Set-animal on his head or in an animal form of the Set-Animal.

Within Kemetic thought, Set is a god of necessary change. He uproots so new things can grow; he destroys with the purpose of creation. He is a necessary part of the system. His struggle and reconciliation with Heru (either Heru Wer or Heru-sa-Aset) is integral to the duality of complimentary opposites which permeate the Kemetic worldview. Heru is concerned with the community, while Set is concerned with the strength of the individual. One can not be strong without either.

Set killed Wesir. Without this act, the Akhu would have no king, no judgment and no afterlife. Set did what he did because it was necessary. He is not an evil god. He just does what needs doing. After he killed Wesir, Set took his brother’s throne since at the time, he was the only one who could. Once Heru-sa-Aset could challenge him, it was Set’s trials that made Heru-sa-Aset a stronger candidate for kingship.

Heru-sa-Aset goes through a transformation from a weak son into a strong man who has the ability to rule. He goes through this transformation because of the challenge of Set and the restorative magical powers of Aset. Aset brings life and renewal to what Set destroys including Heru’s Eye and Wesir.

Aset as the goddess of the throne, the king’s authority and sovereignty, challenged Set’s claim to the throne throughout the trials. One way to interpret this is that Aset was the symbol of the ancestral kings and social order. Set as an agent of change was holding the throne inbetween times of stability.

Renowned for her great magical gifts, Aset possesses the cunning and skill needed to challenge Set’s lustful passions, which now threaten to cut her (and Egypt) off from all tradition, custom and ancestry by his claim to the throne of Wesir (Roberts, 101-102).

During the night, the sun travels to the Duat. A cosmic battle ensues between the Gods and Apep, a serpent who is the embodiment of Uncreation. Apep doesn’t just want to destroy creation, he wants to unmake everything so that nothing ever existed.

Every night the gods fight this entity. Aset uses her magic to ensare him and make him powerless; then Set slays him. These two gods must work together in order for creation to continue each day.

As the strongest of the gods, Set is the one who kills Apep. He does this task because he’s the only one who can. Likewise, as the strongest of the goddesses, Aset is the only one who can do what she does. She will do just about anything—including stopping the Sun Bark itself—in order to preserve the natural cosmic order of the Universe and thus preserve all life. While Set is a deity of change, Aset is a deity of transformation. One is a more blunt process than the other. As Set challenges the rightful King, Aset challenges how the King wields his/her power and authority appropriately.

As Set is the god of thunderstorms, Aset is the goddess of the life-giving rains. While Set’s storms cleanse so that new growth can occur from even the most desolate of lands, Aset’s cleansing has to do with the renewal of the ka of all living things. She replenishes while he destroys, but both bring renewal.

Yet Aset also reconciles the Two Lords. She does so “without dissolving their opposition” (Baring and Cashford, 240). In one myth, she heals Heru’s Eye by restoring it to life in a vineyard while in another myth, Aset healed Set when he was harmed by the Seed Goddess. She restores both of them to wholeness.

Aset renews after Set clears away damage to a system. Their dance is that of the constant healing and renewal of Heru’s Eye. Set sees a broken chain, a weak spot in a system or in a person and pushes against it in the hopes that it will become stronger. Aset renews and restores the stability of the system. Her form of renewal is from the ka. When the ka is cleansed and fed, transformation can occur.

Both Set and Aset strip away what is no longer needed via Set’s method of direct confrontation or challenge and Aset’s magical hekau and ka cleansing. Their different methods can restore one to wholeness.

Sources

Baring, Anne and Jules Cashford. “Isis of Egypt: Queen of Heaven, Earth and the Underworld”. in The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image. Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, ed. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Pinch, Geraldine. Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Roberts, Alison. Hathor Rising: The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt. Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1997.

Siuda, Tamara. Nebt-Het: Lady of the House. Illinois: Stargazer Design, 2010.

Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003.

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3 thoughts on “Aset and Set

  1. “Heru is concerned with the community, while Set is concerned with the strength of the individual. One can not be strong without either.”

    – I really like the way you phrased this particular statement. When I try to describe the dichotomy between Horus and Seth, I find it difficult not to go on and on and on for what seems like forever. But here, you pretty much summed it all up in one sentence! Good work! 🙂

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