Ekunyi's Embers

Why Set?

Despite having a bit of a rough go with a return of severe bronchitis/minor pneumonia two weeks after the last bout cleared up, my illness allowed me the pleasure of digging into Meeks’ Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods while doing my best to rest and recover. This served me well when an occasion arose to offer a different perspective on my divined Father to an individual who, through various challenging life experiences, had come to associate Him solely with Ap_p, and other incarnations of pure “evil.”

I’ve adapted my response below, removing direct responses to this acquaintance which would share the individual’s personal information (it was a private conversation, after all), but I wanted to record the bulk of what I wrote. I have seen several others share posts in the past few months detailing their life-changing experiences with Set — I highly recommend Devo’s take on a years-long Cycle involving this god, as well as Aeshna’s six part series on how Set came into her life — and felt it important to save this brief take on my own experiences in a more permanent place.

(When I am feeling a bit better and have more time post-”familial holiday shenanigans” I will come back and place page citations throughout the blurb. For now please accept my apologies for the sloppy scholarship, and keep in mind that the references to various texts and tales below are coming largely from Meeks and Te Velde.)

“I come from a Christian background. Essentially every person on both sides of my family is either Methodist or Episcopalian, save myself, and I acknowledge that a fair portion of my moral values likely stem from my religious upbringing. I still attend church when I visit my parents, and generally I have no quarrel with the faith itself: I agree very strongly about living a compassionate life, taking others’ needs into consideration, not benefiting at the expense of others. My issues with Christianity, and the reason I no longer consider myself to be “Christian,” stem largely from the tendency of its followers to take the Bible at face value, reading many of the stories and regulations literally, without consideration of the passing of time and shifting cultural needs/values; without acknowledging that the book , like all books, was written by human hands no matter how much of a role God played in it’s inspiration. So much, too much, has been lost in translation.

I feel similarly about Kemetic texts. If we merely pick and choose certain stories described in the various sources available to us as the be all end all for what a god represents, why would anyone want to worship any Name? Set is of course the violent trickster from the beginning, but digging into other tales we find Ra sending His Eye to destroy mankind, Heru-sa-Aset cutting off his mother’s head in a fit of rage when she accidentally injured Him, Sobek eating the body parts of several other gods with his voracious appetite… I think there is so much more to each and every aspect of Netjer as a whole, in their multiplicity of forms, that merits our attention and can provide important lessons. I personally feel that the manifold assortment of forms and representations inherent to every Netjeru through their complex assemblages of associations and tales, permit them to appear to human individuals in the form that we need most, even if we mortals are unaware of the reasoning at the time.

This is not to discount, ignore, or make light of the cruelty, violence, and mistakes of the gods. They are fallible: they argue, wound each other, manipulate. But this can be as much a lesson as their good qualities. Working with my Father Set, studying the results of His uncontrolled rage, has encouraged me to maintain better control of my own emotions; to get less upset over little obstacles, and to find a conscious, constructive purpose for my temper when it flares rather than letting it go uncontrolled upon someone who did not deserve that wrath. Sometimes we learn best, even from our interactions with other people, by discovering what NOT to do. I believe Netjer knows this, and reveals itself to us accordingly.

Back to Set himself: many do not “do their research” when it comes to this god. They place him as the anti-hero in their personal life’s tale and latch on to Him as a justification for selfishness. They don’t take into account that this was a god who filled many, many different roles over the course of history. His purpose was constantly in flux: from a trickster god, strongest amongst Netjeru, supported by Ra whom He defended each dawn from Ap-p, once beloved brother who fought at the Elder Heru’s side… To the chaos bringer, inviting tumult and change from the day of His untimely birth, fighting and killing for a throne which was arguably not His to claim, eventually exiled and/or changed into a boar and dismembered, even His own mother having given up on Him.

But Egypt needed Him to explain what was going on in their world when things became challenging. Life isn’t kind, accidents happen, people are hurt and sick, loved ones leave us or we must take our leave from them. Set provided a logic for the uncertainties and trials of our day to day existence; there was a reason for those things which, while not evil or inherently destructive, made humanity hurt, weep, and change themselves in turn in order to keep going. His exile and subsequent association with that which was not Egypt, that of outsiders and wars, gave a reason for the attacks and eventual downfall of the kingdom to invading forces. Far better to have Set to curse and blame than have no rationale for why the world outside was harsh and out to get you — our imagined nightmares, stemming from the unknown, are forever so much worse than what our worldview explains.

With this all in mind, I would return to my original issue with Biblical interpretation to say that I believe that our gods are living gods. Their goals, their stories, are still in the making. They adapt (and in a way, through our interaction with them, we adapt them in turn) to the needs of our current situation. So, what is our present situation?

Frightening, to be sure. My Mother, Bast, perhaps encourages me to remain aware of the problems in the world even more than Set. She is an Eye of Ra, the sun itself, a fierce warrior as much as She is a patron of music and affection (to view Her via the later incorporation of many of Hethert’s traits.) In my experience with Her, there is no turning away from the reality of our current world. Though my background is one of acknowledged privilege, I can empathize with this hurt in the world through my relationships with family and friends who have experienced much greater hardship than I. I remain aware of the drugs, the violence, the wars, the environmental concerns, the growing health problems. I do not turn a blind eye to these things, nor do I simply forgive myself with each new Zep Tepi if I contribute to the injustice of the world on any given day. Some day, when I die, my heart will be weighed — I am accountable: for the safety of my ba, and simply because of what I believe to be a good and right way of living.

Set, for me, in this day and age, and based on our personal interaction, helps me to live an empowered life in which I am strong enough, healthy enough, to combat these injustices. He would not let me sit in the depression that once ensnared me and damn near brought me to take my own life, but forcibly challenged me to get up, examine the aspects of my day-to-day existence (an abusive relationship, lack of boundaries with a relative taking advantage of me, lack of physical activity, an unhealthy workplace) which kept me bound, static, to emotional and mental despair.  Together we tore them down. Did I hurt anyone in the process? Yes. My ex and the relative were largely cut from my life, my co-workers may lose the organizer they’ve come to rely on to build community. But these things are balance, not evil. For someone like me, with limited self-esteem and a propensity to let herself get walked on, a healthy dose of self-prioritization was absolutely necessary to get me out of being a useless shell of a person, and instead one who feels fulfilled, who has the strength of will and enough belief in her own merit to get up each morning and want to do something with my life. I do not easily hurt anyone, but sometimes we must be able to hurt someone if we are not to destroy ourselves.

As for the awful nature of the world at large, I attribute the truly destructive aspects to Ap-p, and Ap-p alone. As mentioned by Tif on the forums, Set always leaves something behind. Wesir, though murdered, became god of the dead; Heru-sa-Aset, His eyes stolen, became all the more powerful and supported by the other gods for His uncle’s meddling and scheming. We can’t ignore that Set used morally reprehensible methods to accomplish these things, but in the cases where our hurts serve to forge us into the stronger individuals we are today, we can see His hand at work; though it can take years to look back and see the positive that comes from such situations, given how we wept and struggled at the time.

So Who is Set to me, and how can I follow Him? To me He is balance: the changes in the world that force us to move, adapt, and genuinely live our lives rather than never growing; sloughing off old versions of ourselves and becoming something more. He is a cautionary tale, the example of what not to do in certain situations, because as intelligent, inquisitive humans we will not simply take an order to control our anger and our excesses, we must learn by example as to what fate can befall us if we do not. He is self-preservation, for those of us who have lived lives where we were taught to be timid, subservient, felt ourselves to be worthless. He is belief in oneself, unfailing confidence, the capacity to find oneself worthy of what one wants and needs from life. He is the sword at Ra’s prow, fighting the destructive acts that leave nothing in their wake, allowing the sun to rise another day and encouraging us to fight our own battles, large scale or small, that will permit time to keep marching on. He is “good” and “bad,” as complicated in his desire for enjoyment (in drink, in power) as he is in His place in the world. Indeed, He has been called one of the most human of Names in that regard.”

I am forever grateful for Him.

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