Words of wisdom from a regular jackass
I first learned about Big Red as a child through things like The Mummy (1932), Sesame Street’s Don’t Eat The Pictures (1983) and my local library; but it wasn’t until much later that I learned about the people who continue to walk with Him today. And I only acquired this knowledge through my exposure to Marilyn Manson, Anton LaVey, the Church of Satan, and (finally) the Temple of Set. So when I was still a young Typhonian foal (long before I became the full-grown Jackass I am today), I was deeply influenced by these people’s ideas and I was much more confrontational about things. The way I saw it, my God existed in total conflict with the Jewish, Christian and Islamic paradigms, and I was very proud to think of both Seth and myself as “satans” (i.e., the Hebrew word for “adversary”) against those worldviews. As far as I was concerned, the Christian God was not a true Deity but just an evil spirit that wanted to control human beings through tyranny and fear. Jesus Christ, in turn, was just a a rip-off of earlier dying-and-rising Shepherd Gods (like Osiris and Tammuz). I wanted no part in the God of Abraham or His followers, despite the fact that this would have included most of my friends and family.
I’ve long since abandoned such views, and I have a much more conciliatory attitude about these matters today. I still have some major issues with the Abrahamic faiths, but I’ve learned to distinguish these issues from the Deities those religions follow. As a polytheist, I don’t believe that Yahweh/Allah is really the Creator of the universe or the “One True God”; nor do I believe that Jesus Christ literally lived, died and rose from the dead as described in the Gospels. But I do believe these spiritual entities actually exist, that They aren’t just “corrupted” versions of earlier Divinities, and that Their intentions toward Their worshipers are essentially benevolent. I no longer blame Them for all the homophobia, misogyny and sectarian violence that many of Their scriptures and followers have supported over the years. It seems clear to me now that such evils are rooted in human agendas, biases and fears, not in the will of any divine being. If they’re inspired by anything paranormal at all, their most likely muse is the Backward Face. (For example, I don’t believe ISIL are truly doing what Allah wants Muslims to do. I think they’ve essentially become human qliphoth, and that when they “hear” commands from “Allah,” they’re actually hearing things from the Backward Face. I think the real Allah probably feels just as blasphemed by these terrorists as Deities like Ishtar, Shamash and Tammuz do.)
There were a few things that led me to develop this more conciliatory attitude. The first was when I became friends with a Jewish kid at my high school in Philadelphia. His name was Brian, and he wasn’t the first Jewish person I’d ever been friends with, but he was the first to actually explain Judaism to me. I was surprised to learn that most Jews don’t believe in proselytism; they might think Yahweh is the only God that exists, but their faith isn’t really intended to be practiced by anyone else but ethnic Jews. In fact, people who want to become religious Jews but who aren’t ethnically Jewish – like Sammy Davis, Jr. – have to go through a very difficult process to achieve this goal. It’s not like going to an evangelical church, where the Christians will practically amputate their own legs just to have you become one of them (and all you have to do is say you love Jesus and get baptized). This is because being Jewish isn’t just a religious thing, but is also an ethnic thing. It’s an ethnic religion in the same way that ancient Egyptian polytheism was an ethnic religion; the Egyptians didn’t expect anyone else to worship their Gods, and in much the same way, Jews generally don’t expect other people to worship their God. Furthermore, the laws outlined in the Torah (a.k.a. the Old Testament) were really only intended for Israel and don’t necessarily apply to Gentiles (i.e., people who aren’t ethnically Jewish).
Even Christianity was really just a Jewish thing to start with. Jesus Himself was Jewish, as were His disciples and Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. the Apostle Paul). Most of the people who came to follow these men were Jews, as well. Basically, Christians were Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, or the Jewish equivalent to a Pharaoh who was destined to restore Israel’s former glory. Most Jews rejected this idea because Jesus was only a lowly carpenter (rather than a king), He never restored Israel, and He died a humiliating death on the cross. So somewhere along the line, someone realized that if Christianity was ever going to get off the ground, it had to be practiced by more than just Jewish people. An effort was therefore made to gain Gentile converts, and though it remained a fringe cult that was criminalized and persecuted for a while, everything changed when the Roman Emperor Constantine became a convert. Christianity now had its first political advocate, and it soon became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Other Gentile kings eventually converted as well (usually for political reasons), and when it came to these kings, their conversions were often (though not always) by choice. When it came to the people they ruled, however, there was never that much of a “choice” at all. If your king became a Christian, you became a Christian too (and if you didn’t, you were either killed or banished).
Kinda makes you wonder what Jesus might think about that, huh?
Of course, folk traditions die hard, and this is why the Catholic Church eventually decided to absorb them into its version of Christianity. (It literally had no choice but to adopt things like Samhain and polytheist Deities-turned-saints; if it tried to kill everyone who believed in such things, it would have run out of peasants to keep it in business.) But the point here is that forcing people to worship Yahweh was never really a thing outside of Jewish communities until the Romans appropriated Christianity as their new state religion. True, the Old Testament is full of stories about the Israelites slaughtering other people and blaspheming their religions; but that was when Israel was a major political power, which only lasted for a short while. (And let’s be honest, here; the Canaanites and Phoenicians weren’t exactly “innocent,” either.) For most of their history, Jews have been living in diaspora…which brings me to something else that fascinated me about my friend Brian. He explained what it was like for Jews to be marginalized and misunderstood even here in our modern American culture, and in doing so, he echoed my own frustrations as a polytheist. (We especially bonded over the fact that neither of us really cared about Christmas, even though everyone else seemed to think we should.) Yet this was all coming from a monotheist, and monotheists were supposed to be my “enemies.”
Another thing Brian told me that I found extremely was interesting was that Jews don’t believe in “the devil.” Satan exists in Judaism, but he’s completely different there than he is in Christianity and Islam. Instead of being the enemy of Yahweh and the author of all evil, he’s something more like a prosecuting attorney whose job is to test Yahweh’s worshipers. He’s a faithful servant of his Maker, and if he does something bad or evil, it’s only because Yahweh wants him to (as in the Old Testament story of Job). If we extrapolate from these details, we are forced to draw a very different conclusion about Yahweh than the one that’s drawn in Christianity. Yahweh Himself is the source of all good and all evil, and Satan is merely a vehicle for His dark and judgmental side. As Brian explained it to me, it’s like Christians just couldn’t handle the idea that Yahweh can also be “bad,” so they cut Him in half and called the “good” part “God” while blaming the “bad” part on Satan. From Brian’s perspective at least, it’s similar to how some people say they “love nature” but cringe when they hear about male lions raping females or eating their cubs. These things are horrible and extremely depressing to see, but Brian’s point was that the Jewish God can sometimes be just as hideous and cruel as nature can be, and that if one is going to praise Yahweh, one ought to praise His shadow as much as one praises His light.
And keep in mind, Job never rebuked Satan…
I could easily identify with Brian’s point here, for almost everything I heard about Seth-Typhon at the time was telling me that He was the “evil” Egyptian “prototype” for Satan. Such notions were constantly being repeated and reinforced in movies (1982’s Conan the Barbarian), comic books (e.g., the Marvel Universe), role-playing games (Vampire: The Masquerade), science fiction shows (e.g., classic Doctor Who) and coffee table books about Egypt. But a very different idea of Seth was being formulated by my own private spiritual experiences and my exposure to more in-depth academic sources. Sure, He’s dark and frightening; He created death, He killed another God, and He rules several dangerous animals and places. But Seth is also a Savior. He might roast you alive in the desert, but He can also guide you to an oasis. He might kill the Sun and plunge the world in darkness, but His Big Dipper always points due north at night. He might rip the world asunder with His storms, but there is peace in the eyes of His hurricanes. Seth can be volatile and destructive, but so can Yahweh; and Yahweh can be merciful and forgiving, but so can Seth. Both share a capacity for tumultuous wrath, but both are ultimately good. So you might say that if one is going to curse the Red Lord, one ought to curse His light as much as one curses His shadow…
Though Doctor Who did make Sutekh look pretty cool.
It was also around that same point in my life that I had a very bizarre gnostic experience. I was listening to Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark At The Moon (1983) late one Sabbath when I suddenly had a vision of Seth being crucified by a horde of angry people. (I explain the circumstances of this vision a bit more deeply in my review of the aforementioned album.) I watched in horror with my mind’s eye as large iron spikes were hammered into my God’s wrists and ankles, and I watched in disbelief as the wooden cross was hauled upright. The mob laughed and jeered as the donkey-headed man squirmed and bled and asphyxiated to death. And just like that, the vision disappeared. To this day, I can’t say where it came from (or where it went). I only know that I think of that vision whenever I listen to Bark At The Moon, and that I wouldn’t learn its possible meaning until an entire decade later. Imagine how shocked and stupefied I was when I opened a copy of Richard Viladesau’s The Beauty of the Cross: The Passion of Christ in Theology and the Arts (Oxford, 2005) and found that infamous image known as the Alexamenos graffito. Imagine how my back suddenly erupted into gooseflesh when I saw the image of a crucified man with a donkey’s head in a book I had never seen before. “Holy shit!” I said to myself when I saw it; “This isn’t real, that was just in my head; this CAN’T be real!”
The Alexamenos Graffito
The Alexamenos graffito is essentially a cartoon belittling an ancient Roman soldier for becoming a Christian. The donkey-headed man in the image is Jesus, but it’s also sort of a back-handed reference to Seth. Donkeys are one of Seth’s sacred animals, and when He was demonized during the classical period, they were demonized too. (Many an innocent donkey was ritually pushed off a cliff just to spite the Big Guy; in fact, donkeys are still abused all too often in modern Egypt.) Donkeys therefore became a symbol for “evil,” and whenever someone was drawn with a donkey’s features, it was much the same as drawing someone with “devil horns” today. Yet this anti-Typhonian construct was also anti-Semitic, for Jews in Alexandrian Egypt were often accused of performing “disgusting rites” with donkeys. The Egyptian historian Manetho even claimed that Jews were “leperous” descendants of Seth-Typhon (which, in turn, was a result of confusing Sutekh with Sheth, the third son of Adam and Eve, since both Sutekh and Sheth’s names were rendered as “Seth” in Greek). When Christians came along, they were similarly accused of being “Typhonians” (which was like being called a “Satanist” at the time). This was reinforced by the fact that Yahweh was explicitly identified with Seth-Typhon in the Greco-Roman magical papyri. All of which explains why Christ is shown in the Alexamenos graffito with a donkey’s head.
For shame, Egypt! (From ViralForest.com)
There is one particular name that was specifically used for both Seth-Typhon and Jesus Christ. This is the name Aberamentho, which is used for Christ in the Pistis Sophia (a Gnostic text) and for Typhon in the Demotic Leiden Papyrus. Confusingly, this name is supposedly a Hellenized conflation of the Hebrew abyr mym (“power of waters”) and the name of the Egyptian God Thoth. (I’m not sure this has ever been proven, however; many of the magical names and phrases that are listed in these texts are pure gibberish.) Thoth, of course, is the scribe of the Gods and was later identified as “Hermes Trismigestus,” the legendary founder of Hermeticism. Just why in hell anyone would connect Seth and Jesus together through Thoth is beyond me, but some people think it has something to do with Jesus calling on Yahweh while standing upon the water. I have no idea just what that’s supposed to mean from a Typhonian view, but that doesn’t change the fact that Seth and Jesus were both called by the same name in these texts. Could this be a result of confusing Sutekh with Sheth, since Sheth was believed to be the Gnostic Savior (of whom Jesus was said to be a reincarnation)? I find this doubtful because the references to “Seth” as Aberamentho in the Demotic Leiden Papyrus are very clearly referring to the Egyptian God (and not the biblical patriarch). But the jury will probably be out on this matter forever.
The fact that classical polytheists conflated both Yahweh and Jesus with Seth-Typhon is extremely controversial for many people. Many Jews and Christians find it insulting because it means they were being accused of “devil worship.” Some Kemetics find it insulting because it was part of a movement to demonize Seth. (Scholars often neglect to mention – or even notice – that Typhonian people and animals suffered from this at least as much as Jews and Christians did, if not more). Ironically, there are even Satanists who find it insulting because they think Seth and Satan are the same guy, and they don’t like to think that Seth could ever be pro-Abrahamic. Yet there are some people out there (e.g., Zeena Schreck) who seem to accept that Big Red could actually be related to Yahweh in some way. Hell, one can even interpret the Exodus story (mythical and symbolic as it actually is) in such a way that Moses is a prophet of Seth, the ten plagues are Seth’s way of punishing Egypt for rejecting Ma’at, and the parting of the Red Sea is an act of Typhonian apotropaic magic. As explained above, there was a time when even I would have found such notions unthinkable; and yet it was Typhon Himself who started challenging my anti-Abrahamic views when He first appeared to me in a live-action vision of the Alexamenos graffito (before I even knew it existed)! Just what the hell does all of this really mean, anyway?
Well, I think most people will agree with me that Seth is probably not the same as Yahweh or Christ. As multifaceted as these beings are, Their personalities are just too different; Yahweh the stern lawgiver is not Typhon the fringe anarchist, and Jesus the gentle humanitarian is not Seth the slayer of Gods and monsters. Seth also doesn’t share Yahweh or Christ’s interest in being worshiped by large throngs of people; He’s much more private and only involves Himself with select individuals. But I do think these Gods are “agreeable” with each other in certain ways. Consider Their shared empathy for “little people”; Egyptian mythology, the Torah and the New Testament all agree that They don’t care as much for privileged social elites as They do for immigrants, peasants, and other social “inferiors.” Yahweh’s Chosen People began as a nation of slaves; Christ spent most of His time with drunks, lepers and prostitutes; and Seth favored anyone the Pharaohs didn’t like. It’s conceivable to me that Typhon really did have an affinity for Jews during the classical period, but I don’t think this necessarily had anything to do with them being Jewish. I think Seth just always roots for “the underdog” no matter who or what they might be, just so long as their heart is right with Ma’at. (Which is to say that as long as the underdog doesn’t behave like the Backward Face, Big Red is probably on their side.)
My eyes were really opened to all of this a few years ago when my mother-in-law had to go to the hospital for something I won’t explain here. I should mention that my mother-in-law was a formerly Catholic born-again Christian (ostensibly evangelical, but not really). She was all about Jesus, she believed in the Bible, and she really couldn’t understand Paganism at all when my wife and I first met. However, when she was in the hospital during this particular occasion, she swore up and down that Seth came to her and told her she was going to be all right. Thankfully she did in fact turn out all right, and since that time, she was what I call a “friend of Seth” (i.e., a person who believes that Seth exists and who respects Him, but who doesn’t worship Him). She continued to believe in Jesus and the Bible, but she also accepted that Seth is real and that He isn’t just “the devil.” She went to church every Sunday, she didn’t involve herself in anything she thought was “satanic”…and yet she respected both my faith and my wife’s. She even asked to participate in a family execration of the Backward Face that we did during the spring of 2015, and she never considered Seth’s existence to negate the reality of her own faith at all.
If that seems really confusing…well, rest assured that you’re not alone. I can’t claim to make any better sense out of all this than anyone else can. All I know is, Seth-Typhon was all right by my Ma-in-Law, and Jesus is all right by me.