Zeus and Typhon. Detail from Chalcidian black-figure hydria c. 540-530
The name Typhon originally belonged to a Greek Titan who appears as a giant with a hundred serpents for heads and a hundred serpents for legs. The Titans were primordial beings who existed before the Olympians (e.g., Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, etc.) and who were ruled by a God named Kronos. After Zeus dethroned Kronos and took control over the universe, Typhon led the Titans to war against the Olympians. But Zeus overpowered him in battle and buried him alive beneath the Earth, from whence he now sends lava and volcanic eruptions. Typhon’s mate is the gruesome snake-woman Ekhidna, with whom He sired such terrible chaos monsters as Cerberus and the Chimaera. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence that the Greeks ever worshiped Typhon (though if anyone out there is aware of such evidence, please let me know). It would seem that he was only ever feared, much like the Backward Face was in Egyptian religion.
Yet the name Typhon also became strongly associated the Egyptian Seth after the New Kingdom fell to foreign invaders during the 8th century BCE. Since Seth is the God of all things foreign to Egypt, He was blamed for these invasions as well as for the final dissolution of Pharaonic power. So the Egyptians went apeshit and smashed His statues, scratched His name off of monuments and killed His sacred animals in excessively cruel ways (e.g., pushing scared and defenseless donkeys over cliffs). They ceased to believe in Him as the Savior of Ra and equated Him with the Backward Face instead. They also persecuted and sometimes killed anyone who either continued to follow Seth or who resembled Him too much (e.g., people with red hair). This would eventually lead to one of the earliest recorded cases of blood libel, in which Alexandrian Jews were accused of practicing “onolatry” (i.e., donkey worship) and of poisoning wells. Even Yahweh Himself was equated with Seth, which meant that Jews and Seth worshipers were both seen as being something like a pre-Christian “satanic cult.”
By the time guys like Herodotus started writing about the Egyptians in the 5th century BCE, there was far more of the Backward Face in the popular understanding of Seth than there was of Seth Himself. So when Herodotus applied the concept of interpretatio graecia to the Egyptian pantheon (i.e., identifying foreign people’s Gods as Greek Gods under different names), he identified this fallacious hybrid with the Typhon of his own culture. Once he made that link, Greco-Egyptian syncretists began to call Big Red Seth-Typhon as a matter of course. At the same time, people who continued to worship or “resemble” Seth became known as Typhonians. This was a term of hostile derision, and classical Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used it in much the same way that Western culture continues to use the word “Satanist” today.
Now this is probably going to confuse some people at first, but please bear with me; hopefully it will all make sense by the time I’m finished. The truth is, I’m actually not a big fan of interpretatio graecia; I understand why it made sense to the Greeks, but I’m skeptical of it myself (especially in this case). It doesn’t take an archaeologist to see that the Egyptian Seth and the Greek Typhon are almost nothing alike. Sure, there are certain similarities; both became scary “bad guys” for a while. But until the 400s BCE at least, it had always been an accepted part of Seth’s arc that He’s a villain-turned-hero. He also had a proper priesthood of His own and was worshiped by certain Pharaohs; this clearly wasn’t the case for Typhon.
If Seth and Typhon truly are identical, then Typhon’s family in Greek mythology should be like a “second family” that Seth has apart from His Egyptian and Canaanite relatives. Theoretically at least, this would mean that creatures like the Chimaera and Cerberus are fellow Children of Seth and that I should be able to share some kind of spiritual familiarity with them. Again, theology is not a science, so there’s really no way for anyone to be 100% certain; but aside from the complete absence of any lore to this effect, I’ve never acquired any gnosis that would support this idea. Ekhidna and Her frightening brood just don’t feel like They’re related to Seth. And if Seth is sterile and can’t produce children, how the hell could He procreate with Ekhidna anyway? Granted, I know mythology shouldn’t be taken literally; but there needs to be some internal consistency at the very least. If Herodotus is correct and Seth and Typhon are really the same guy, then either Typhon should be childless or Seth should have a passel of gigantic monster children. Am I right?
But you’ve probably noticed that I use the name Typhon in reference to Seth all the time on this website. What the hell? Isn’t this hypocritical? Aren’t I blaspheming Big Red by using a name that was given to Him out of hatred and fear? Shouldn’t I just stick to His Egyptian names and tell Herodotus to get the hell out of Dodge? And shouldn’t I have more respect for myself than to accept the label of Typhonian?
It has occurred to me that other Companions of Seth who read this website might not like my use of the Typhon moniker. (If that’s true, then I thank you all for being extremely polite to me; no one has written any angry emails to me about it yet.) But I actually have several very good reasons for using it, despite everything I’ve explained above:
1. It has historical precedent.
There are numerous spells in the Greco-Egyptian magical papyri, and many of these invoke a “Typhon” who is not in keeping with the the Greek Titan’s character at all. The “Typhon” of the paypri is strongly associated with iron, donkeys, the color red, the Great Bear, and Hellenized corruptions of Hebrew God names. He’s even called “hater of the wicked” in one particular spell, which isn’t like the Greek Typhon at all. Furthermore, most of the spells involving “Typhon” are not malefical (e.g., death curses) but are incantations for love, protection, and other varieties of good fortune. Absolutely none of these things are consistent with the Greek Typhon at all…but they are consistent with Seth as He was worshiped prior to the Late Period.
Also, I can personally attest that these spells carry quite a lot of firepower and that Big Red responds favorably to them. One would think that if He didn’t like being called Typhon, the spells would fail utterly (or have deadly results). There are many different theories as to why magic works, of course, and not all of them are predicated on the assumption that Deities make the magic happen. But even if the Greco-Egyptian spells are just exercises in self-hypnotism, their Typhonian procedures are clearly modeled on the Egyptian Seth and not the Greek Typhon.
2. The word Typhonian pretty much belongs to Seth.
This term simply didn’t exist prior to the emergence of Greco-Egyptian syncretism. When it was first coined, it was used to describe animals that are sacred to Seth (e.g., the sha, donkeys, fish, hippopotami, etc.) and people who resonate with Him. So while it might be taken from the name of a different entity, Typhonian has always been specifically used for things that pertain to Seth. (This is probably due to the original Typhon never having a cultus of his own.)
3. Typhon is very useful against academic hair-splitters.
In academia, the Egyptian Seth is often called Seth-Typhon to distinguish Him from the biblical Seth (i.e., the third son of Adam and Eve). The latter plays an important role in certain heretical forms of Judaism and Christianity that developed during the latest years BCE and the earliest years CE. These belief systems are often called “Sethianism” or “Sethian Gnosticism,” and with this in mind, many scholars will clarify when they are discussing the Egyptian Seth by calling Him Seth-Typhon. They also tend to use the word Typhonian for things that pertain to Him, while I more often see Sethian used for Gnostic stuff.
In a way, this stinks; Big Red gets the short end of the stick while an obscure Bible character (who’s barely even mentioned in the book of Genesis) gets preferential treatment. But be that as it may, using the name Typhon in conjunction with Seth’s is certain to dispel any potential confusion with Sethian Gnosticism.
(I should note that some of Big Red’s modern followers think He and the Gnostic Seth really are the same entity. I respectfully disagree with this idea myself, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
4. The meaning of the name makes perfect sense.
Typhon literally means “whirlwind” in Greek, which ties in with Seth’s role as a God of wind and storm. The name is also linked to our modern word typhoon, which is the Pacific Ocean’s equivalent to a hurricane. Therefore, the name doesn’t actually mean anything insulting in and of itself; if anything, it’s a totally valid description of Seth’s jurisdiction in nature.
5. It describes one of Big Red’s much-forgotten aspects.
Remember how Seth chopped Osiris up and fed His penis to a fish? It may seem ironic that a desert God would be associated with an aquatic animal, but it happens to be the case. Fish – especially those of the Mormyridae or elephantfish family – were especially sacred to Seth in areas like Oxyrhynchus. Hippopotami are also sacred to Him, and they’re aquatic animals too; they spend most of their time in water. So based on Egyptian religion alone, Seth most definitely has an aquatic aspect.
In LV-426, we also have a gnostic basis for this belief. We often make offerings to Seth at the shores of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and we experience a very different side of Him when we do. His inland aspect is very much about fire, aridity and shaggy beasts with horns and hooves; yet there is another side to Him that has more to do with water, deluge and scaly critters with fins. We can think of no better name to use for this aspect of Seth than Typhon; it just evokes the haunting sound of distant whalesong in our hearts.
6. It keeps us vigilant against blood libel.
Like I said, the name Typhon was given to Seth by people who feared Him so much that they were willing to harm innocent animals and people to drive Him away. It may seem blasphemous to call Him by this name for that very reason, but we think it’s a good way of constantly reminding ourselves about the evils of blood libel. The Burning Times, the Salem witch trials, the Holocaust, the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s; these were all just different versions of the same thing that was done to Typhonian and Jewish people in Alexandrian Egypt. Remembering these horrific events is a huge part of our own unique cultus here in LV-426 (especially the “Satanic Panic,” since we were all alive while it was still happening). So reclaiming the name Typhon as a positive term for Seth and ourselves is much the same for us as reclaiming words like witch and queer is for other people.
7. Seth’s never killed us for using it.
We’ve been calling Seth by the name of Typhon for a very long time now, and He’s never given us any grief about it. If anything, He seems to dig it. (And if He didn’t, we’d probably all be dead by now.) If other people don’t want to use it, that’s fine; but He doesn’t seem to care Himself.
8. Who cares about the Greek Typhon, anyway?
I’ve never met a single person who’s ever claimed to worship or even care about the Greek Typhon in and of himself (and trust me, I’ve searched for such a person far and wide; if there are any Hellenic reconstructionists out there who worship Typhon and who happen to stumble upon this post, I hope they’ll share their thoughts on this). Whenever I meet anyone who works with something they call “Typhon,” the entity they’re experiencing always turns out to be Seth upon closer inspection. (Except in the case of Kenneth Grant, whose “Draconian female” Typhon strikes me as being a misidentified version of Taweret.) If the original Typhon has no cult to speak of, and if the Greeks themselves gave his name to Seth, why should I care? Does anyone even care that I’m talking about this?
Anyway…So are Seth-Typhon and the Greek Typhon one and the same entity? Pan-culturalists might say “Yes” and hard polytheists might say “No,” but who can ever know for sure? All I know is, They don’t seem the same to me…but that doesn’t mean They can’t also have the same name. If there can be more than one “Seth,” why can’t there be more than one “Typhon?” And anyway, the word Typhonian just sounds awesome. Go ahead, say it with me now: “tie-PHONE-ee-uhn.” Doesn’t that just sound cool?