Sutekh (deity) - Origin - Conflict Between Horus and Set

Conflict Between Horus and Set

In the mythology of Heliopolis, Set was born of the sky goddess Nut and the earth god Geb. Set's sister and wife was Nephthys. Nut and Geb also produced another two children who became husband and wife: the divine Osiris and Isis, whose son was Horus. The myth of Set's conflict with Horus, Osiris, and Isis appears in many Egyptian sources, including the Pyramid Texts, the Coffin Texts, the Shabaka Stone, inscriptions on the walls of the temple of Horus at Edfu, and various papyrus sources. The Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 1 contains the legend known as The Contendings of Horus and Set. Classical authors also recorded the story, notably Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride.

These myths generally portray Osiris as a wise lord, king, and bringer of civilization, happily married to his sister, Isis. Set was envious of his brother, and he killed and dismembered Osiris. Isis reassembled Osiris' corpse and embalmed him. As the archetypal mummy, Osiris reigned over the afterworld as a king among deserving spirits of the dead. Osiris' son Horus was conceived by Isis with Osiris' corpse. Horus naturally became the enemy of Set, and the myths describe their conflicts. Some Egyptologists have reconstructed these as Set poking out Horus's left eye, and Horus retaliating by castrating Set. However the references to an eye and testicles appear more indirect, referring to the evil Set sexually abusing the young Horus, who protects himself by deflecting the seed of Set, which can be construed as the theft of Set's virile power.

It has also been suggested that the myth may reflect historical events. According to the Shabaka Stone, Geb divided Egypt into two halves, giving Upper Egypt (the desert south) to Set and Lower Egypt (the region of the delta in the north) to Horus, in order to end their feud. However, according to the stone, in a later judgment Geb gave all Egypt to Horus. Interpreting this myth as a historical record would lead one to believe that Lower Egypt (Horus' land) conquered Upper Egypt (Set's land); but, in fact Upper Egypt conquered Lower Egypt. So the myth cannot be simply interpreted.

Several theories exist to explain the discrepancy. For instance, since both Horus and Set were worshipped in Upper Egypt prior to unification, perhaps the myth reflects a struggle within Upper Egypt prior to unification, in which a Horus-worshipping group subjugated a Set-worshipping group. What is known is that during the Second Dynasty, there was a period in which the King Peribsen's name or Serekh — which had been surmounted by a Horus falcon in the First Dynasty — was for a time surmounted by a Set animal, suggesting some kind of religious struggle. It was ended at the end of the dynasty by Khasekhemwy, who surmounted his Serekh with both a falcon of Horus and a Set animal, indicating some kind of compromise had been reached.

Regardless, once the two lands were united, Set and Horus were often shown together crowning the new pharaohs, as a symbol of their power over both Lower and Upper Egypt. Queens of the First Dynasty bore the title "She Who Sees Horus and Set." The Pyramid Texts present the pharaoh as a fusion of the two deities. Evidently, pharaohs believed that they balanced and reconciled competing cosmic principles. Eventually the dual-god Horus-Set appeared, combining features of both deities (as was common in Egyptian theology, the most familiar example being Amun-Ra).

Later Egyptians interpreted the myth of the conflict between Set and Osiris/Horus as an analogy for the struggle between the desert (represented by Set) and the fertilizing floods of the Nile (Osiris/Horus).

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