In ancient Egypt, Set was considered the deity related to confusion, indecision, chaos, and evil. Often depicted with a human body and a head with a long nose and square ears, Set most closely resembled an African anteater. It is also possible that the image of Set was that of a purely mythical creature. When presented in full-body form, Set could have an erect forked tail and a canine body. At various other times, Set might be depicted as a donkey, a hippopotamus, or a pig.
Set is an old deity. There is no authoritative source that states exactly when Set appears in the ancient records. The earliest known depiction of him dates from 4000 BC on a carved ivory comb. Set is also depicted on the mace head of the proto-Dynastic ruler Scorpion around 3200 BC. Inasmuch as Scorpion may have been one of the first authenticated rulers of ancient Egypt, this puts Set at the beginning of the ancient dynasties.
Set is the son of Geb and Nut, the brother of Ausar, Auset, and Nebhet. According to the mythology, Set was born in Naqada and became the patron of the foreign lands. He is also associated with the foreign goddesses Astarte and Anat. Geb the Earth and Nut the sky represent the progenitors of the terrestrial creations.
The great drama of Set's struggle against his brother Ausar and his nephew Heru occupies much of the moral narrative of ancient Egypt. According to the mythology, Set attempted to kill his brother Ausar. He was initially unsuccessful, but then was able to murder Ausar, cut his body into 14 pieces, and spread them around the world. Set then engaged in a long violent contest against Heru, the son of Ausar, that ended when Heru finally defeated Set at Edfu.
When the gods were called on to judge whether it should be Set or Heru ruling the Earth, they decided that Set, who was favored by Ra, should rule the underworld, and that Heru would be the god of the living. Although Set did not gain the throne, he was able to remain a companion of Ra and therefore to exercise considerable power over activities on the Earth. Set's power could be used to create chaos in the weather, for example.
Set was revered by many in ancient Egypt and in the 2nd dynasty had a status that was similar to that of Heru. Actually, the 2nd-dynasty king Peribsen chose to write his name in a serekh surmounted by the image of Set instead of Heru. However, after this dynasty, the serekh was only associated with Heru.
When the Hyksos ruled the Delta region, they worshipped Set because he was similar to their god, Baal. Set and Baal were both thunder gods. By the time of the 25th-dynasty kings, Set was widely accepted as evil, and the Egyptians believed that Heru should be celebrated for his moral authority.
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