I consider myself to be a deeply religious person, but I use the word “religious” a bit differently than most Americans do. I’m not a Buddhist, a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew. I don’t regard any particular book as being “sacred.” I don’t follow a bunch of rules, I don’t answer to any human religious authority, and I don’t believe that my faith is the only “correct” one. For me personally, religion basically means believing in one or more Deities and interacting with one or more of Them in certain ways and at certain times and places. I’m a polytheist, which means that (1) I accept all Deities as being at least potentially real in some way and (2) I care more about proper ethical and ritual conduct than I do about whether anyone’s beliefs are “correct” or “incorrect.” People like myself are often called Pagans. That being said, I’m specifically devoted to worshiping one God in particular, and my entire subjective universe revolves around Him.
A statue of Seth-Typhon that I keep on my altar
My tutelary Deity is Seth-Typhon, who’s also known as Ash, Nubti, Sutekh, and a bunch of other names. He’s also called “the Red Lord,” “the Face of the Nighttime Sky” and “He Before Whom the Sky Shakes.” He was worshiped in ancient Egypt from predynastic times to about the 4th century C.E. The meaning of His first name is related to various Egyptian words for storms, violence and upheaval, while Typhon means “whirlwind” or “smoke” in Greek. And in classical antiquity, His worshipers were called “Typhonians.”
I’ve written a more detailed explanation of Seth-Typhon for those who prefer to have an academic treatment of the subject, but for those who prefer the “Cliff’s Notes” version, Seth is one of four Deities who were born to the Sky Goddess Nut at the dawn of time. (And unlike His siblings, Seth-Typhon is said to have ripped Himself right out of Nut’s womb at a time of His own choosing.) His older brother and sister, Osiris and Isis, are the heterosexual Deities of fertility and reproduction; They invented agriculture and eventually gave birth to Horus, the God of kingship and civilization. Seth-Typhon and His younger sister Nephthys, on the other hand, are the barren (or “Third Gender”) Deities of aridity and death; They rule the hostile, untamed wilderness that exists outside of civilization. Theologically, Seth has three primary roles: (1) to drown, dismember and bury Osiris, (2) to battle and be reconciled with Horus, and (3) to protect Ra (the Creator) from a terrible chaos monster called
Apep or Apophis.
People often misunderstand Seth-Typhon as a “bad guy” for killing Osiris, but fertility and reproduction can’t exist without death. If we never died, why would we need to be fertile, grow crops or have babies? Death is the cost of reproduction, and it’s Seth’s job to make Osiris pay that price. Besides, lots of positive things happen in Egyptian mythology as a result of Osiris’ death. First, Osiris comes back from the dead (which would be impossible if He never died in the first place). Then, He has sex with Isis and She becomes pregnant with Horus. Finally, He descends to the Afterworld and administers justice to the dead, rewarding the just with paradise and punishing the wicked with oblivion. So Osiris’ death was theologically necessary; it’s a sacrifice that keeps the universe from winding back down into total disorder. Thanks to Seth-Typhon, every death in Creation – whether it’s a literal death or just a symbolic one – is also another beginning, a transitional process that keeps the Wheel of Life in constant motion.
Typhon’s also misunderstood because of His relationship to Horus. As the driving force behind human civilization, Horus was incarnated within the Pharaohs, who were both the political and religious leaders of Egypt. Just like the political and religious leaders we have today, they controlled much of the way in which their people perceived reality. When Seth claws out one of Horus’ eyes, He’s also disturbing the vision of reality to which a society adheres. This usually happens when that society is forced to deal with something it isn’t prepared to understand. When Horus castrates Seth, He’s “domesticating” Seth’s chaos to make it work for society rather than against it. When the two Gods are reconciled with each other, a new vision of reality has been established. In other words, Their conflict is a cosmic dialectic that progresses from thesis to antithesis and finally to synthesis. It’s reflected in human social change and it causes society to adapt and evolve.
The name Seth in ancient Greek
Strangely, Seth-Typhon’s role as the Savior of Ra is the one that people are generally least familiar with. According to what’s called the Heliopolitan cosmogony, Ra organically produced the entire cosmos from His infinite body. This means that everything in nature is really a part of Ra. Now
Apophis is basically this soulless vacuum from the chaotic Void outside of Ra’s body, and all it ever does is scream and eat. It’s kind of like the Egyptian version of the devil, except that it isn’t crafty or sneaky; it’s just ignorant and stupid. It wants to eat Ra – which means it wants to eat everything – and Seth-Typhon is the only member of the Egyptian pantheon who’s powerful enough to battle the monster face-to-face. When Seth kills Osiris and battles Horus, He’s slaying the present, sending it to the past and making room for the future. But when He puts the smackdown on Apophis, He’s making sure the future is safely born as a new present.
The Salvation of Ra
Part of the reason for Seth’s bad reputation has to do with where people lived in ancient Egypt. Those who lived in the cities – where the law and order of the Pharaohs was ever present – feared the Red Lord as an interloper. They didn’t like it when He made trouble for Osiris and Horus because they were focused on keeping things the same as much as possible. People who lived in the deserts, however, were more focused on adapting to chaos. Absolutely anything could go terribly wrong for them at absolutely any time, and this made a God like Seth seem more heroic. If you appeased Him, He would give you and your tribe the strength to conquer any chaotic thing that came your way. The problem is that people in Egypt were more likely to be educated and learn how to write if they lived in a city; those who favored Seth were more likely to be illiterate and to hand their traditions down orally. Since most Egyptian literature was written by urban Egyptians, it’s understandably biased against Seth-Typhon in certain ways.
In some Western occult traditions, the Red Lord is also considered to have power over the qliphoth, which are defined in Hermetic Qabalah as the astral “peels” or “husks” of dead things that cling to life and harass the living. Typhon is said to travel the nightmarish worlds of these creatures through what are sometimes called “the Tunnels of Set.” These tunnels are the “sublunar” or “nightside” versions of the 22 Paths of Wisdom on the Qabalic Tree of Life (which, in turn, are identified with the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot). Qliphoth are evil and extremely dangerous to contend with; they’re precisely the sort of thing Seth-Typhon was invoked by His ancient followers to banish. Some occultists try to use Him so they can learn from the qliphoth in their quests for power and knowledge, but I’ve never seen anything good come out of this personally. Based on my own experiences, I don’t recommend doing this sort of thing if you value your mental health. I think it’s better to ask for Typhon’s help in keeping such entities away.
The Red Lord is often confused with “Satan” by many people today (including some of His own followers). It’s true enough to say that the Christian devil inherited his red hair and his pointy tail from Seth, but that’s really the only similarity between the two. Seth-Typhon may be disruptive and sometimes even frightening, but He’s not evil, and He’s definitely not some weak little fallen angel that tries to lead us astray. He’s a full-blown Deity, which means He’s essentially benign no matter what people might think about Him. He’s just not the sort of God who really cares that much about public relations; He only seems to concern Himself with certain individuals across the globe, not with the masses. Those of us who walk with Him are following a different kind of religion altogether; we’re pilgrims who tread in the wake of a Holy Outlaw.
I should mention that different followers of Seth-Typhon use different versions of His name, and that everyone has their own reasons for doing so. I actually call Him “Sutekh” when I pray to Him, but since this name is also associated with a DJ and a Doctor Who villain, I’m disinclined to use it in public. “Seth” is the most well-known version of His name in contemporary Western culture, but this sometimes leads people to confuse Him with either the Hebrew or Gnostic Seth (i.e., the third son of Adam and Eve) or the New Age Seth (i.e., the one in the Jane Roberts books). These three Seths are completely unrelated to each other, and it just seems easiest to prevent confusion by referring to the Egyptian God as “Seth-Typhon” and to describe things that resemble Him as “Typhonian.” (When all else fails, my brothers and I call Him “Big Red.”)
Again, for a more in-depth explanation of Seth and how He fits in with the rest of the Egyptian religion, please have a look at the following two articles that I’ve written:
And here are some informative links for further research: