A wall relief depicting the Backward Face at the Temple of Edfu. Notice that its body has been stabbed with multiple knives – the Egyptian way of crossing its name out.
In Egyptian mythology, Seth-Typhon is often considered to be the enemy of Osiris and Horus. This is accurate insofar as Seth (1) drowns and dismembers Osiris and (2) has a feud with Horus that lasts for a ridiculously long time. But it bugs me to think that whenever we hear about these figures in Western pop culture, Their conflicts are always presented to us as if they’re equivalent to the Christian idea of “God versus Satan.” This is a superficial understanding of the lore that really says a lot more about Westerners than it does about anything the Egyptians actually believed. The miracle of Osiris is that He comes back from the dead, and you can’t come back from the dead unless you die first. The miracle of Horus is that He and Seth eventually put aside Their differences and call a truce, then go to uphold Ma’at (truth, order, balance, and justice) in Their own separate ways (Horus doing so on Earth as the Pharaohs, and Seth doing so in heaven, defending the Creator from chaos monsters). So while Typhon’s actions in the Osirian drama are extremely unpleasant, they are nevertheless understood to be a necessary part of how the world works. They also contain the seeds of hope, and to my mind at least, Seth is really partners with Osiris and Horus (albeit in ways that don’t always make sense to human beings).
The true enemy of Seth-Typhon is a monster I’ve decided to call the Backward Face (a title it is given in Budge’s Egyptian Magic). The hieroglyphic for its name is a gigantic serpent, its body looped in cyclopean coils, its flesh pierced with the knives of the Gods.
The fundamental difference between Typhon and the Backward Face is that Typhon keeps the Wheel of Life in constant motion, slaying the present to create the past and make room for the future. There are times when this might seem villainous (as when He slays Osiris), but Big Red does whatever it takes to get the job done.
The Backward Face, on the other hand, wants to bring the Wheel of Life to a screeching halt. It wants to swallow the past, the present and the future, leaving total inertia in its wake. It too will do whatever it must to achieve its goal, and if it can’t wipe out the entire cosmos all at once, it will settle for wiping out one civilization, one community, or even just one soul at a time.
Seth prevents this beast from swallowing all of Creation directly; but for humans, the greatest battle is within ourselves. That’s why I think this monster is best described as having a face that’s “backward”; given a chance, it will slither into your heart and turn you against yourself.
Battling the Backward Face is an important part of worshiping Seth, or at least it is for me and my family. One of the most important rituals we use is what’s called an execration spell. Basically, we create things to represent our deepest, darkest problems; we invoke the Backward Face into those objects; then we invoke Typhon into ourselves and smash, slice, or burn the objects in His name. Doing this doesn’t make all of our problems go away, but it does help us deal with those problems much more effectively when we leave the ritual chamber, and that’s the point. The Backward Face can never be completely destroyed, and it will always return to strike again; but we don’t have to meekly submit to it in fear or despair, either.
An execration pot with words and symbols representing the things I was fighting during a family execration ceremony in May 2015.
This is what we did with our execration pots during the ceremony, following an invocation to Seth.
Don’t mistake me for claiming that prayer or magic is all anyone needs to fight the Backward Face, because it isn’t. If we really want to kick this monster’s teeth in, we must also have compassion, empathy, and concern for other people in our everyday lives. Just smiling at a complete stranger and wishing them a good day might be all it takes to prevent that person from finally going over the edge and killing a bunch of people. We must also take the subject of mental health seriously. So many of the terrible things that happen in this world could be avoided if people simply got the kind of medical attention they need, and if they received some kind of positive reinforcement from others for seeking help. When people roll their eyes at you for being too depressed to function at work, or when you decide not to see a therapist because you’re afraid of what others might say if they find out, this only helps the Backward Face in its efforts to destroy you. So while religio-magical rituals can be extremely helpful in helping us fight the monster, it must also be fought with secular things like medical science and social activism.
There are some occultists out there who think it’s fun to invoke the Backward Face and try to “work with it” to achieve their goals somehow. I’m thinking specifically of people like the late great Kenneth Grant (of the Typhonian Order) and Michael W. Ford (the guy who writes all those Luciferian witchcraft books). With all due respect to these gentlemen, I side with the Kemetic Pagans who think this idea is fantastically stupid. Maybe it’s because I actually tried to offer myself to the Backward Face at one point in my life; I was in such despair that I wanted not only to die, but to avoid having any kind of afterlife at all. Thankfully, Big Red put the smackdown on Ol’ Double-Ugly and helped me do what I needed to do to pull myself back out of that pit. But whether you take the idea of the Backward Face literally or not, I’m here to tell you that this shit is nothing to be playing around with. As far as we’re concerned in my family, there is only one appropriate way of interacting with the Backward Face, and that’s to execrate the damned thing.