Set was the Egyptian god of deserts, storms, disorder, violence and foreigners.

Symbols: Was-sceptre, Set animal
Cult Centre: Ombos
Parents: Geb and Nut
Siblings: Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, Horus the Elder
Consort: Nephthys
Children: Anubis
Greek equivalent: Typhon

Set and Horus adore Rameses II in the small temple at Abu Simbel.

Set Animal

Set is usually depicted as an enigmatic creature referred to by Egyptologists as the Set animal, a beast resembling no known creature, although it could be seen as a composite of an aardvark, a donkey, a jackal or a fennec fox. The animal has a curved snout, long rectangular ears, a thin forked tail and canine body, with sprouted fur tufts in an inverted arrow shape; sometimes, Set is depicted as a human with the distinctive head.

Statue of Set and Nephthys, c. 1279-1213 BC, Louvre. (c) Rama

Conflict with Osiris and Horus the Younger

Set wanted the throne of Egypt, which belonged to his brother, Osiris. Set murdered Osiris to gain his throne. The method of this murder differs depending on the source of the story. Most Egyptian copies just say that Set drowned Osiris. The Greco-Roman copies are much more elaborate. They begin with Set building a sarcophagus that fitted Osiris exactly.

Horus spears Set, who appears in the form of a hippopotamus, as Isis looks on. Edfu Temple. (c) Remih

Then Set tricked his brother into getting inside the sarcophagus. He then sealed the coffin and threw it into the Nile. Isis recovered Osiris’ body but Set stopped her before she could restore her husband to life. Set then cut up Osiris’ body and spread the pieces throughout Egypt. Isis and her sister Nephthys recovered all the pieces of Osiris’ body but one, which a fish ate. Isis managed to bring Osiris back for one night during which she conceived Horus the Younger. She hid Horus from Set while he was growing into adulthood. Set tried to kill Horus while he was a boy but the attempts failed.

When Horus grew up, he fought Set to avenge his father. The conflict lasted for decades. Finally, Set turned into a hippopotamus and tried to destroy Horus’ boat. Horus speared Set but the other gods stopped him from destroying his uncle. This was how Horus avenged Osiris’ murder and gained the throne of Egypt.

Relief depicting the god Horus standing on a boat and avenging his father’s murder in a battle with his Uncle, the god Seth, depicted in the form of an hippopotamus underneath. Horus holds the hippo with chain and spear. 3rd c. BC. Edfu Temple. (c) The Not So Innocent Abroad

Protector of Ra

In Egyptian mythology, Set also had a positive role, where he accompanies Ra on his solar barge to help defeat the dark serpent of chaos, Apophis, by standing on the prow of the barge and spearing the Apophis.

Papyrus of Set spearing Apophis on Ra’s solar barge. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
Relief of Set. Egyptian Museum, Berlin. (c) Joan Lansberry

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