God of Confusion

W.B. Kristensen once remarked that the supposition that the origin of a phenomenon is simpler and more easily understood than that which proceeds from it, is untenable.  Every origin is in itself already a complex phenomenon, sometimes of an even more mysterious nature than that which it is supposed to explain.

Seth, God of Confusion,

    H. Te Velde, Brill, 1977

Seth was the Egyptian trickster / fool god of disorder, confusion and separation, deviance and licentiousness,  deserts, borders, foreigners and their gods, drunkenness, thunder, war, nightmares, crocodiles, and death. He was Horus’s uncle, seducer, and wife (and by Horus, the mother of Thoth), but they were also enemies, and when young Horus reached his full growth he tore Seth’s balls off. At times two were a duality in yin-yang opposition, at other times Seth ceased his independent existence and was absorbed into his nephew, at still other times they were joined into a Horus-Seth unity, and in the end Seth became simply evil.

So he’s like Loki, Coyote, Crow, Kung Kung, Hermes, and the various other gods of strangeness, order-disorder, transformations, trickery, and so on.

As god of separation, Seth (the god of murderous life) dismembered his brother Osiris (the God of life-giving death), of whom he may have been an emanation. On behalf of Re, his adoptive father, he put his violent nature to good use by warding off Apopis, the snake of chaos, who otherwise would have destroyed the natural order. As the god of foreigners, Seth was identified with Baal and several other gods, and it may have been partly because of his foreign identification that Seth became a devil-figure.

This book seems delightfully archaic, a relic of 19th century philology (a tradition I’m glad to see has been kept alive).  As often with studies of myth, there’s the combination of a lot of  detail work on an enormous mass of difficult material, an exotic and mysterious subject matter, and an uncertain methodology. Myths seem to be Rorschach tests from both directions: the original  mythmaking is obviously an expression of the subconscious,  but sometimes the modern interpretations work that way too.

[Trivia: Because of its aphrodisiac qualities, Seth ate only lettuce.  Sickness can be cured with large quantities of beer, which befuddle the demons responsible.  Aristotle believed that masturbation causes blindness. Egyptians suspected Jews and Christians of worshipping a donkey-headed Seth.

I guess it’s escapism, but here I am writing about myth again. Don’t worry, this won’t last forever. Note that the Kristensen quote applies to more than just Egyptology.]

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Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 3:55 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. The Egyptians had funner gods than we do now. I am again tempted to become a polytheist.


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