In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Seth In Popular Culture (Part 2)

Part 1 of this series can be read here.

Seth in G.I. Joe (1985)

Believe it or not, Seth – as well as Osiris, Horus, Thoth, Buto, Ammut, Ma’at, Amen-Ra, Sekhmet and Anubis – appears in a 1985 episode of G.I. Joe called “The Gods Below.” The plot of this episode concerns an Egyptologist who’s discovered “the Tomb of Osiris” and who is then kidnapped by the terrorist group, Cobra. Cobra Commander and the Baroness hope to plunder the treasures of this tomb to fund their next evil plan, and somehow the G.I. Joe team catches wind of this. Before you can say, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the Cobras and the Joes are running around inside Osiris’ tomb, firing bazookas at each other (and somehow not causing the entire structure to cave in on them). They do succeed in attracting the attention of the Netjeru, however, and the Joes are tested in the court of Osiris to determine their moral worthiness. Meanwhile, the Cobras encounter Seth and try to trick Him into giving them the treasure they seek. They do this by pretending to worship Him, but Big Red sees right through their bullshit and stomps their asses with a powerful thunderstorm.

Seth is of course described as “the God of Evil” by several characters throughout this episode, but He actually helps to stop Cobra in the end, and He does so without harming anyone. Even better, He’s depicted in His proper form as a big muscular dude with the head of His holy sha beast. He does take the form of a gigantic serpent at one point, but it’s clearly indicated that this isn’t His true form, and the context in which this occurs is quite remarkable. When the Cobras first encounter Him, Seth asks if they are “worshipers of the Serpent.” They say yes, and He transforms Himself into a big snake and commands them all to kneel. They do so, and Seth changes back to His sha form and gives them the treasure. Then the Cobras leave, and Seth attacks them in the sky while they’re flying away. The way I read it, this whole exchange is a trick to see if the Cobras really know what it means to worship Seth. By kneeling before Him while He’s in snake form, they prove that they know nothing about Him and that they see no difference between worshiping Him and worshiping His enemy, the Backward Face. This, in turn, incites Big Red to smite the rotten bastards just when they think they’ve won.

Big Red actually looks kind of cute here!

As a Sethian, I think that’s pretty fucking awesome! I love G.I. Joe, and I really love this episode. Who would have thought that a simple-minded cartoon from the Reagan era would contain one of the very best representations I’ve ever seen of the Red Lord in Western pop culture?

Seth in the Puppet Master Movies (1989 – Present)

Oh, boy.

So the Puppet Master franchise is a series of cheap direct-to-video horror films that are produced by Full Moon Entertainment, which was probably the King of direct-to-video schlock in the 1990s. Have you ever seen the Trancers, Dollman, Demonic Toys or Subspecies movies? They’re all Full Moon flicks, and Puppet Master, like the rest of them, barely qualifies as “horror.” These flicks are more like unfunny comedies that just happen to include healthy portions of gore and sleaze. It’s impossible to take them seriously; but as long as you don’t try, some of them can actually be pretty enjoyable. That being said, the Puppet Master movies concern the legacy of Andre Toulon, a French alchemist in World War II who discovers a magic elixir that can bring inanimate objects to life. When the Nazis kill his wife, Toulon gets revenge by bringing his puppets to life and sending them to bleed those fascist bastards dry. Then Toulon and his puppets relocate to America, where the puppets cause more trouble long after Toulon’s death.

It just so happens that one of the villains in this series is Seth, who’s known here as Sutekh (as in Doctor Who). And to be honest, this has to be the most original design for Big Red that I’ve ever seen in any movie (though I don’t mean that as a compliment). Full Moon’s Sutekh resembles a pudgy BDSM Buddha with a face that looks like a skull carved out of a spoiled cabbage. He also has two glowing Florida oranges for eyes, and He even has nipples. (Nipples, I say!) Apparently, this version of Seth is responsible for creating the magic elixir that gives Toulon’s puppets their life, and He wants it back so He can use it to unleash the apocalypse somehow (naturally). Of course, Sutekh is trapped in some kind of alternate dimension (I wonder where they got that idea), and He’s only powerful enough to send really tiny versions of Himself into our world. These miniature clones are called “Totems,” and they’re just about the same size as Andre Toulon’s puppets (which means we get to see lots of puppet vs. puppet action).

Just where the hell did THAT come from?

I have to hand it to Full Moon Entertainment; at least they didn’t take the lazy way out and go with the “Seth is a giant snake” idea. But this particular version of Big Red is so bizarre, I can’t even figure out where it came from. At least the Sutekh in Doctor Who actually looks like Seth (complete with those cute rectangular ears of His). But how the hell did they come up with the idea for a bald, naked potato-man Sutekh with glowing googly eyes? (And one who can only get hokey-looking 3-inch dolls to do His bidding?)

Seth in Vampire: The Masquerade (1991)

In the role-playing game, Vampire: The Masquerade, there’s a clan of vampires known as the Setites or the Followers of Set. Unfortunately, Seth is defined not as a God in Masquerade lore, but as an Antediluvian vampire (i.e., a vampire from before the biblical Flood) who has merely set Himself up to be worshiped as a God (and as an evil “snake God,” to boot). You see, Masquerade posits that all vampires are descended from Cain (i.e., the biblical son of Adam and Eve who slew his brother, Abel). According to this thesis, Seth is just one of thirteen vampires that were later created by Cain’s immediate descendants, Enoch, Irad and Zillah. In other words, Masquerade is saying that an ancient Egyptian God was brought into being by a rejected biblical patriarch—and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I find this idea “offensive,” I do think it’s pretty ridiculous. (I don’t care if this isfiction; Gods trump vampires, and Seth trumps Cain.)

In the game, Setite vampires have special interests, abilities and weaknesses that are not necessarily shared by other vampires, and this is due to their descent from Seth. Their main interest is in spreading as much corruption in as many different areas of life as they can (e.g., promoting crooked politicians, funding terrorist organizations, supporting the snuff film market, selling hard drugs to little children, etc.). They also have a discipline called “Serpentis,” which is the ability to control or take on aspects of snakes. Their greatest weakness is that they are far more sensitive to light than almost any other kind of vampire; they can even be harmed by strobe lights. Apparently, their obsession with ruining the world is all part of their religious devotion to Seth, whom they believe is still alive and sleeping somewhere deep in the Earth, waiting to return at some future time when He will destroy the Sun (thus liberating all Setites forever). As such, the Setites are something like the Islamic State of the Masquerade world; they’re just a bunch of dangerous religious fanatics whose ultraviolent activities don’t make any sense.

I’m guessing this is what Seth “really” looks like in this game.

I know there are people out there who really enjoy Vampire: The Masquerade and who are especially interested in playing as Setite characters. That’s all well and good, I suppose, and I know Big Red doesn’t really care what some role-playing game has to say about Him. But while I can forgive someone saying that He was created by a Bible character, I find all this stuff about “corruption” to be pretty damn offensive. Just in case there are any Masquerade players reading this, I’d like to you to know that the real Seth has nothing to do with that stuff. He might have killed Osiris, but it was a necessary event in the Creation of the universe. (How else could Osiris rise from the dead if He didn’t die first?) Furthermore, Gods killing Gods is very different from mortals killing mortals; we all know that it isn’t a good idea to re-enact what professional wrestlers do in our own living rooms, and the same principle applies here. I might also mention that Seth only killed Osiris once; as the Defender of Ra, He rescues us all from the Backward Face every single day. So regardless of the value judgments that people might attach to Seth’s role in killing Osiris, that role is secondary to His primary job as a Savior God.

Also, real-life Seth enthusiasts are not evil people who want to ruin the world and destroy the Sun. We’re just like everybody else; we have families, we work jobs, and we try to live as best we can. Many of us are environmentalists (especially those of us who identify as Pagans), and even those of us who walk the left-hand path are usually humanitarian to some degree at least. Do you know where this whole idea of wanting to ruin oneself and murder the world really comes from? It comes from the Backward Face, which is the arch-enemy of Seth (and, indeed, of all Gods and creatures). The things that Setites are supposed to do in Vampire: The Masquerade are not Sethian or Typhonian at all, but are utterly qliphothic instead. I’m not trying to launch a personal crusade against White Wolf Entertainment or anything like that, but I do think that linking Seth worshipers to things like terrorism and the snuff film industry is going too far. And since I’ve never seen anyone else come out and criticize Vampire: The Masquerade for doing this, I decided to go ahead and scratch this off my bucket list.

(I might also mention that the word Setite is not the intellectual property of White Wolf Entertainment. To the best of my knowledge, it first appears in E. A. Wallis Budge’s From Fetish To God in Ancient Egypt, which was originally published in 1934. In that book, Budge uses the word Setite in reference to people in ancient Egypt who worshiped Seth. Now I’ve never met a real Seth follower who actually wanted to call him or herself a Setite, and this is probably because we all know it would lead people to confuse us with the fictional vampire clan. But just in case anybody out there really likes that word, I just want everyone to know that it pre-exists Vampire: The Masquerade and that it was actually coined by a real life Egyptologist.)

Seth in Stargate SG-1 (1997 – 2007)

Stargate SG-1 is based on the popular 1994 film Stargate, which was directed by Roland Emmerich and written by Dean Devlin (i.e., the same team that brought us 1996’s Independence Day and the horrifically awful 1998 version of Godzilla). This is the one where Kurt Russell and James Spader walk through an ancient intergalactic wormhole machine that spits them out on another planet that looks like ancient Egypt, and which is ruled by hostile aliens that claim to be the Egyptian Gods. In SG-1, Richard Dean Anderson plays the Russell role, Michael Shanks portrays the Spader character, and the evil Egyptoid aliens are given a backstory. Here the aliens are identified as the Goa’uld, a race of parasitic snakes from the planet P3X-888. They take possession of people’s bodies and then use their advanced technology to pose as Gods, demanding worship.

It’s never made explicitly clear as to whether the Goa’uld are merely impersonating Egyptian Deities, or if they’re actually supposed to be “the reality” behind our Gods. Considering the amount of respect the show’s writers seem to have for ancient mythology (which is to say, none), I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s the latter. Either way, there is a Goa’uld who’s “based” on Seth in this show. Called Setesh, He appears to have hidden Himself away on Earth for thousands of years, convincing different groups of people to worship Him throughout history. The SG-1 team manages to track Him down and kill Him pretty easily (in just one episode, in fact!). Considering the way Seth is normally treated in fiction, it’s surprising that He would only be a “Villain of the Week” here (rather than a recurring villain who’s integral to an entire story arc). I’m not quite sure if I should be thankful for this or if I should feel insulted, but whatever.

Well at least He’s handsome!

(I suppose SG-1 deserves credit for not going with the whole “Seth is an evil snake God” idea…Oh, but wait! The Goa’uld are evil alien snakes! Dammit!)

When people find out that I worship an Egyptian God, they always ask me if I’m a fan of this show for some reason, or if I’m personally offended by it. No, I’m not a fan of Stargate, and I wouldn’t say that I’m “offended” by it. I do find it a little annoying that polytheist Deities are so often depicted in fiction as evil aliens that only pretend to be supernatural. (Stargate SG-1 even has a Gao’uld character who’s based on a Hindu Deity, which seems especially insensitive since Hindu Deities are still worshiped by thousands of people today.) You almost never see this sort of thing done with Jesus; the only exception I can think of is in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987), where the J-Man is revealed to have been an extraterrestrial. But aside from this bit of mild annoyance, I don’t think such ideas are really that harmful; I just don’t care for them that much.

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2 responses to “Seth In Popular Culture (Part 2)

  1. Horned Wolf January 9, 2017 at 2:03 am

    Oops, I actually play VtM on the weekends. VtM… is supposed to take place in an intensely brutal version of our world, or at least in the 90s (when imaginary cops weren’t corrupt, therefore corrupt cops is part of the world description). Thus, any of the vampire clans are easily described as being despicable, and part of the game is about the character struggling with this reality (the “nicer” clans are only such so there’s clans that are easy-mode. When someone is more used to playing a vampire, they might want more challenge in terms of decision making and behavior, so the “bad” clans offer this). Further, the game is massively flawed beyond their understanding of Set– have you checked out the clans Assamite, Ravnos? A lot, or hopefully most, people who play the game try to fix the problems as they play the game. House rules and all that, as well as making sure everyone’s comfortable (it’s a primarily social game after all). The game also encourages people not to take everything in it literally, whether as player or character (deception is the name of the game, the information in the game book may be the most common but not correct in the game setting). White Wolf did later write and publish Vampire: the Requiem as one of the games for the next edition of their World of Darkness games, and they did correct many of the problems (for example, conceding any number of Vampire origins and making more explicit references acknowledging Paganism; Removing offensive clans, etc). The rules are better too. Unfortunately I can’t seem to get my hands on the fucking core rule book for World of Darkness, although I have the book for Requiem, but WW had decided multiple books just to play one thing was a good idea. On the other hand, a heavily flawed game that needs discussion and tweaking is also fun to play, and I have the books for it, so we do. :V V:

    Liked by 1 person

    • G. B. Marian January 9, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      I don’t hold anything against anyone who might enjoy the Vampire game. It’s just a game after all, and I don’t actually lose any sleep over its depiction of Set. (It’s not like I think He’ll feed your soul to Ammut if you play it; hell, maybe He’s a fan for all I know!) Also, I’m admittedly going only by the stuff that was out in the 1990s; I don’t know as much about the changes they’ve made since then, but thank you for explaining it. All I know is, you never hear Set worshipers say what they think about all these pop cultural references to Big Red that much, so I figured I’d oblige. I still have to write about the Tomb Raider game, too.

      Like

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