The appearance of the ancient Egyptian gods seems quite simple and unsophisticated at first glance: they were anthropomorphic half-humans and half-animals. From Horus with the head of a falcon, Sobek with the head of a crocodile, or Thoth with the head of an ibis, it seems that the ancient Egyptians found inspiration in the animals of the Nile for their portrayals of their gods. But scientists still do not understand which animal depicts the god Set, also known as Seth or Sutekh or Seteh.
Seth was one of the most ancient gods of the ancient Egyptian pantheon and is believed to have been worshipped as early as the Pre-Dynastic period. The earliest representation of Seth may be found on a carved ivory comb from the Amratian period (4000 to 3500 BC).
According to ancient Egyptian mythology, Seth is known as the god of storms, disorder, desert sands, violence, destruction, war, and overall chaos. In ancient times, Seth was also called the Greek Typhon, the Typhonian Beast, or the Typhonian Animal. There is an image of this Typhonic beast in the form of a real animal, but even then it cannot be correctly identified.
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Seth’s head is a bit like that of a dog or a jackal, however, his ears are very long and stand upright, and his jaws are not only strongly elongated but also curved, like an anteater’s snout. Interestingly, anteaters can only be found in Central and South America, and they do not have such ears. No other native animal has a similar head, so it is no surprise that the debate over which animal’s head the god Seth has been raging for hundreds of years.
Because of this, many historians believe that Seth had the head of a fictional animal that never existed in reality. However, this looks very strange against the background of the fact that other Egyptian gods have the heads of completely real animals. Some researchers have suggested that it is possible that the animal which Seth depicts could now be extinct.
Some speculated that the head of Seth is a stylized image of a jackal, a fox or even a hyena, but again, in all the images of Seth that have come down to us, he has a strongly curved muzzle, while these animals have a straight muzzle. And if the Egyptians did not bend the face of a crocodile or a cat for their other gods, then why on earth would they do this specifically for Seth?
Besides, Seth has a very remarkable tail, which is often depicted standing upright and having a tassel at the end like a lion, or with a forked end. Moreover, the Egyptian god Anubis has been seen with the head of a jackal with a muzzle and ears that are a fairly accurate image of the head of a real jackal. So, when the Egyptians drew Seth with just such a head, different from the jackal head of Anubis, they definitely did not just stylize the head of a jackal but portrayed exactly what they wanted.
Some researchers have even suggested that Seth has a giraffe’s head, although in colored frescoes Seth’s head is always very dark, often generally black or dark red, but not yellowish-orange, like a giraffe. Many agree that the head of Seth is very similar to the dog of the greyhound breed, which are very ancient, but the ears of the greyhounds are completely different, and this breed is not at all suitable for the god of rage and war.
Other theories suggest that Seth has the head of a donkey, some unknown wild dog, a pig, or even an okapi (a relative of the giraffe). One of the most controversial theories was expressed by ancient astronaut theorists who believe that Seth is depicted in his true form as an extraterrestrial, which all the ancient Egyptian gods had originally been before they became heroes of myths.
Seth, an evil God?
Originally, Seth was believed to be a benevolent god who lived in the Underworld and was responsible for helping the dead reach heaven, though he was later regarded as an evil god during the conflict with Horus.
The conflict between Seth and Horus is a well-known ancient Egyptian myth. According to the creation myth of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis, Seth was the son of Geb and Nut, and the brother of Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys, who was also his wife. Osiris became the ruler of Egypt, and Seth, who was jealous of his brother, plotted to murder him through trickery. Although Seth succeeded in killing Osiris, Isis (the wife of Osiris) managed to revive her husband with magic long enough to become pregnant with a son, Horus. When Horus grew up, he took revenge upon Seth, was victorious, and became the new ruler of Egypt.
Whilst many myths regarded Seth to be a force of evil, this was not always the case. In some myths, the gods used Seth’s strength and power for good. The best known of these is Seth’s role as a defender of Ra’s sun boat. Every night as the sun boat made its journey through the Underworld, Set fought Apep, the chaos serpent. Seth is often depicted as standing on the prow of the sun boat, and spearing Apep, an ancient Egyptian deity who embodied chaos (ı͗zft in Egyptian) and was thus the opponent of light and Ma’at (order/truth).