In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Seth in Popular Culture (Part 1)

Introduction

As most of you who follow this site already know, I spend a lot of my time figuring out how to interpret certain films, TV shows and popular music from a Sethian or Typhonian perspective. This isn’t just a “hobby” for me; it’s an extremely important part of my personal religion. I believe very strongly that Seth and other Divinities like to reveal Themselves throughout our entire popular culture – and I’m not just talking about things that are obviously inspired by ancient cultures, either. Sure, it’s easy to find the Goddess Isis in that old 1970s TV show, The Secrets of Isis, where She’s an actual character who fights crime and rescues high school kids. But have you ever stopped to think how The Terminator (1984) is an almost perfect re-telling of when Isis had to flee from Seth to ensure the safe birth of Her son, Horus? (Just imagine that Sarah Connor is Isis, Kyle Reese is Osiris, Seth is the Terminator, and John Connor is Horus and you’ll see what I mean.)

Mind you, I’m not arguing that James Cameron was thinking about the Egyptian Gods at all when he made that film; far from it. Instead, I think the Gods impressed Themselves upon him somehow while he was writing the script (and without him even knowing it). That’s why I consider movies like The Terminator to be sacred, and that’s why I keep looking for the Gods in them. Call me silly if you like, but to me, it’s no different from divining omens from tea leaves or the stars. Just because films are created by human beings doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the natural world, for we ourselves are really just another kind of animal; and if the Gods can reveal Themselves through clouds and trees and dreams, They can just as easily reveal Themselves through Hollywood.

So far, I’ve discussed many films on this website that have nothing to do with ancient Egypt, but which I nevertheless think are very Sethian for one reason or another. However, there are certain films, TV shows and other popular media in which Seth actually appears as a character (or is at least mentioned by other characters in the film). Some of you are probably wondering what I think about these particular things; shouldn’t there be more of Seth in, say, Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) than there is in Godzilla (1954)? Sadly (or perhaps happily), I don’t think so; I think it’s much more authentic when a film contains Sethian themes without actually intending to do so. But I feel it’s time we take a look at certain things in which the inclusion of Seth has been intentional.

Seth in Robert E. Howard’s Conan Cycle (1930s)

Seth appears in Robert E. Howard’s Conan cycle as Set, which is an amalgam of Seth and the Backward Face. In this fictional form, Set is a gigantic snake from outer space who was originally worshiped by a race of alien Serpent Men. What’s more, He plots to cause the extinction of humanity so that these Serpent Men can rule the Earth once more. In another article, I explain how Seth – a mammalian God who’s primarily associated with herbivorous artiodactyla – became demonized as a malevolent “serpent demon” during the classical era. The reasons for this happening were more political than anything else, but the concept of Seth as an “evil snake” comes from this classical misappropriation of the God (which was taken at face value by Egyptologists in Robert E. Howard’s day). Yet Howard makes his version of Seth only slightly different from the Backward Face; He is less concerned with uncreating the cosmos and will apparently settle for just the extinction of human beings.

Robert E. Howard’s Set, as depicted in Marvel Comics

I really enjoy Howard’s Conan stories, but I can’t help but laugh at this fictional version of the Red Lord. If you’re a Christian, imagine what it might be like if Jesus appeared in a story as a giant alien goat that just wants to eat everybody. That would be pretty silly, right? (I mean, Seth could appear as a giant snake and eat everybody if He really wanted to; but…)

So is there anything of the real Seth in Howard’s fiction? Actually, I would say yes…but not in the form of Set the Stygian Snake God. I would contend that Seth’s true nature is better revealed through the character of Conan himself, a nomadic anti-hero who rejects the authority of kings and priests. He’s primarily interested in his own gain, but he also rescues the innocent and defeats frightening monsters…just like Seth. In one particular story, “The Tower of the Elephant,” Howard describes some of Conan’s feelings about the organized religions that are practiced in his world, and I believe his views on this subject are in keeping with Seth’s.

He had entered the part of the city reserved for the temples. On all sides of him they glittered white in the starlight—snowy marble pillars and golden domes and silver arches, shrines of Zamora’s myriad strange gods. He did not trouble his head about them; he knew that Zamora’s religion, like all things of a civilized, long-settled people, was intricate and complex, and had lost most of the pristine essence in a maze of formulas and rituals. He had squatted for hours in the courtyard of the philosophers, listening to the arguments of theologians and teachers, and come away in a haze of bewilderment, sure of only one thing, and that, that they were all touched in the head.

His gods were simple and understandable; Crom was their chief, and he lived on a great mountain, whence he sent forth dooms and death. It was useless to call on Crom, because he was a gloomy, savage god, and he hated weaklings. But he gave a man courage at birth, and the will and might to kill his enemies, which, in the Cimmerian’s mind, was all any god should be expected to do.

– Robert E. Howard, “The Tower of the Elephant”

Obviously, I don’t think it’s “useless” to call on Gods for help (and there are times in the stories when even Conan must do so); but I do agree that spirituality should be kept as simple and practical as it possibly can. The fact that Conan thinks this way makes sense, since he’s a nomad. He doesn’t have time to sit around and discuss theology; he only cares about what works at any given time. Who cares whether the Gods are spirits, aliens or Jungian archetypes so long as our prayers and rituals to Them continue to work? And since Seth’s most ancient worshipers were nomads who lived in the Sahara Desert, I believe they would have thought in much the same terms. We try to maintain this attitude here in the LV-426 Tradition as well, eschewing theological arguments in favor of whatever works to get us through the struggles we must face. In this sense, I believe there really is quite a bit of Seth in Robert E. Howard’s fiction; just not in the way you might expect.

Seth in the Marvel Universe (1970s)

In the 1970s, the Marvel Comics Group was licensed to print its own stories based on Robert E. Howard’s Conan character, and it incorporated Conan’s world into its own unique universe. As a result, Howard’s version of Set was expanded upon and became an integral part of Marvel’s lore. According to this version of events, Set originated as one of the Elder Gods at the beginning of time, and He became evil by cannibalizing His own kind. Then, to escape from the vengeance of a younger God called Atum (who’s named after Atum-Ra), He slithered away into an alternate dimension. (Yes, this Set is still a giant snake.) Unfortunately for Set, He can’t escape this dimension by Himself, but must instead procure servants in this world to help facilitate His return. This role was originally filled by the Serpent Men of the Conan stories, but Set would also recruit followers in the twentieth century. This, in turn, would lead to several confrontations between the followers of Set and such well-known superhero teams as the Avengers.

Confusingly, Marvel Comics also created another fictional version of Seth who is identified as being the actual Egyptian God (as opposed to the Stygian God). He’s a recurring villain in the Thor comic books, and most of His role in the Osirian myth cycle is kept intact. He actually tricks Osiris into a coffin, then drowns Him in the Nile and dismembers Him. Naturally, Marvel built upon this story in certain ways to integrate it with its universe (and they conveniently removed all the parts about Seth defending Atum-Ra from the Backward Face). But the strangest twist is when Seth supposedly tricks mortals into worshiping Him by transforming Himself into a giant snake and pretending to be Set (i.e., the Snake God of Howard’s Serpent Men). In other words, a demonized version of Seth pretends to be another demonized version of Seth to gain His followers.

Seth – as opposed to Set – according to Marvel Comics

If that doesn’t strike you as sounding completely nonsensical, let’s switch the names again. Not only is Jesus really a giant space-goat who wants to eat everybody; now there’s another, less-powerful Jesus who impersonates the space-goat Jesus so that people will worship Him. (Huh?)

Seth in Doctor Who (1975)

Big Red appears in the episode Pyramids of Mars as Sutekh, an alien tyrant from the planet Osiris. (Yeah.) He destroyed His own people and planet aeons ago, but then He was imprisoned by His brother Horus in a tomb on the planet Mars. When Pyramids of Mars begins, Sutekh uses His telekinetic powers to possess a guy here on Earth in the early 20th century. He then makes the guy build a bunch of robot mummies, as well as a rocket. The plan is for Sutekh’s hypnotized slave to fire that rocket straight into Sutekh’s prison on Mars. This will effectively release Sutekh from His prison, allowing Him to resume His dastardly plan of atomizing the entire universe (for no apparent reason). Thankfully, our favorite Gallifreyan Time Lord, the Doctor (played here by Tom Baker) is on the case. (And since this episode aired in 1975 and Doctor Who is still being made here in 2015, I’m sure you can guess how things turn out for this version of Big Red).

Sutekh the Destroyer from the planet Osiris (with mask)

Though the writers of Pyramids of Mars clearly didn’t know (or care) that much about Seth or Egyptian mythology, there are a couple of things going for this version of Sutekh as defined by the BBC. For one thing, at least they had the good sense to depict Him with the head of His sacred sha beast; I can appreciate this over depicting Him as a giant snake. For another, Sutekh is played by Gabriel Woolf, who has the coolest-sounding supervillain voice ever. (Woolf would later return to the series to voice the character of “the Beast” in 2006’s The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit.) If you’re going to make Seth a villain, at least make Him impressive and charismatic like Doctor Who does. I for one think it would be pretty awesome if they revisited this character in a future episode.

Sutekh the Destroyer from the planet Osiris (without mask)

Seth in Conan the Barbarian (1982)

In this magnificent film adaptation of Howard’s Conan stories, the villain is a wizard named Thulsa Doom (played by James Earl Jones), who is actually two characters in one. Thulsa Doom was originally the name of a very different villain in Howard’s Kull stories, an undead necromancer with a skeletal face. (Actually, Skeletor from the 1980s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon is basically a child-friendly version of Thulsa Doom.) The Doom in this movie is actually Thoth-Amon, a Stygian sorcerer and priest of Set who was Conan’s arch-nemesis in the original stories. I have no bloody idea why the filmmakers decided to mix up the characters’ names like this, as it serves no rational purpose that I can see. But it doesn’t matter that much, because the movie is still awesome to behold (and Jones’ performance as “Doom” is simply amazing).

James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian (1982)

In this film, it remains unclear as to whether Howard’s Set (or any other God) actually exists or not. The film does hint that the Set cult has existed for much longer than Thulsa Doom has, but the cult doesn’t appear to have any substantial interest in facilitating Set’s return to their dimension. If anything, Doom seems to have appropriated the cult and turned it into a vehicle for his own personal gain; one might even say the cultists are far less interested in worshiping Set than they are in worshiping Doom himself. And as far as I can tell, they don’t do anything aside from practice cannibalism, throw wild sex orgies, and feed beautiful naked women to giant snakes. Honestly, this is more of a commentary on dangerous cult leaders like Jim Jones than a straight adaptation of Howard’s fiction. That being said, I actually like this version of Howard’s Set cult much better. It wasn’t necessarily evil from the beginning, nor does it necessarily follow an evil God; it’s just been twisted to fit an evil wizard’s agenda. (Though I will admit that it’s pretty damn cool to hear James Earl Jones preach about how “THE EYE OF SET IS UPON YOU!”)

I do believe there are messages from Seth in this film; but as with the original Conan stories, they’re to be found in the character of Conan more than in Thulsa Doom. If anything, I think the story is telling us that Seth doesn’t like it when power-hungry madmen like Doom appropriate His worship for such horrific ends, and that He actually favors people like Conan. In fact, it’s possible to interpret Conan as a warrior chosen by Seth to cleanse His religion of Doom’s twisted fanaticism.

Conan the Adventurer (Animated, 1993)

In the 1990s, there was an animated Conan series. In this adaptation, Set is clearly real and can actually act upon Conan’s world. (He’s even played by a voice actor!) Set appears as a gigantic talking cobra that comes from some alternate universe and that wants to take over the world. Long ago, He was banished to “the Abyss” by damn near every living wizard on Earth; but Set has His own wizard, Wrath-Amon, whose mission is to collect what he calls “Star Metal.” This is a magical glowing iron that comes from meteors and that can apparently open doorways to interdimensional worlds. This is a rather interesting idea, considering that iron (especially meteoric iron) is quite sacred to the real-life Seth and is used in His worship to “open the mouths” of physical objects (which turns them into magical “interfaces” with the spirit world).

Enough of the giant snake thing, already!

Wrath-Amon is clearly based on Thoth-Amon from the original Robert E. Howard stories, but they decided to change his name and turn him into a Serpent Man (rather than let him be a regular human, like Thoth-Amon). This begs the question; just what the hell is so difficult about adapting the Conan stories into movies, cartoons, or even TV shows? Why is it that every cinematic adaptation has to mix characters up or reverse their names or give them names that are kind of the same, but slightly different? Is there a law somewhere that says they have to do this?

To Be Continued…

Tune in next time, when we’ll discuss Seth’s debatable appearances (?) in movies like the Puppet Master series, TV shows like Stargate SG-1, role-playing games like Vampire: The Masquerade, and video games like Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation.

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6 responses to “Seth in Popular Culture (Part 1)

  1. Cassie & Sophie December 7, 2015 at 10:31 am

    interesting. I hadn’t really thought about how deities including our own might impress themselves on modern culture through films. I suppose it makes sense to use the language and sensibilities of the age. Lots of scope for thought there… Cassie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fny January 9, 2017 at 12:41 am

    ” That’s why I consider movies like The Terminator to be sacred, and that’s why I keep looking for the Gods in them. Call me silly if you like, but to me, it’s no different from divining omens from tea leaves or the stars. Just because films are created by human beings doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the natural world, for we ourselves are really just another kind of animal; and if the Gods can reveal Themselves through clouds and trees and dreams, They can just as easily reveal Themselves through Hollywood.”

    — I am so glad to see that I am not the only who sees how movies can convey the sacred, just as it can be channeled through other art forms. Quite often lately have I thought of this, pondered how it might work, and felt a bit saddened that so many would scoff at the very idea. But in truth, it isn’t far fetched at all. No more so than seeing how a poet can pick up on a sacred content! Be it by active participation of a divine being (by planting ideas) or by intuitive knowledge of the human creators – just as how that intuitive knowledge might show in visions or prophetic dreams it might show in artistic inspiration after all.

    Aaaah there is so much more to say! I might have to write something further about this as well. Thank you for bringing up the topic!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. templeofathena January 9, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees things like this. I’ve been thinking about doing a “Star Trek for Pagans” series, since that was my first introduction to the idea of sacrality and polytheism and lot of other things that Pagans take for granted, I encountered first in Star Trek as a kid. Star Trek has always been my happy place and I see a LOT of Pagan symbolism in it, but I wasn’t sure how it would be received so I’ve been keeping it to myself for now. This makes be reconsider working on it.

    Like

    • G. B. Marian January 9, 2017 at 11:49 am

      I completely agree – there’s quite a bit of Paganism to be found in Star Trek! I hope you do write this series of posts you’re thinking about, as I would totally love to read them!

      Like

      • templeofathena January 10, 2017 at 2:06 pm

        Maybe I will then. I’ve been working on something about Klingon religion off and on for a while, so I’d already have the first post close to done for it. I’m also a bit leery of biting off more than I can chew.

        Liked by 1 person

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