I am delighted to host this essay by Catherine Schaff-Stump on the Egyptian god Set! Set plays a villainous role in her new novel, The Wrath of Horus, part of her excellent Klaereon Scroll series. The Wrath of Horus will be out on October 31st. Preorder it now!
by Catherine Schaff-Stump
In stories, it is in our human nature to look for a villain. When we Americans in the twenty-first century settle on a mythological villain, we often settle on a version of the god of death. For example, the Greek god Hades often gets a bad rap , like in Disney’s Hercules. Hela, daughter of Loki from Norse mythology, is portrayed as a villain in Marvel comics and movies. While the Grim Reaper himself gets fair treatment from Terry Pratchett, most of the time he is to be avoided, outwitted, and run from.
Recently, I’ve been using Egyptian gods as characters in my Klaereon Scroll series. Egyptian mythology presented me with a problem: no clear-cut god of death to vilify. Anubis is cast in a villain’s role in a variety of films and books, which is the equivalent of making the archenemy of a given hero the undertaker of a town. Frankly, Osiris should get the honors as the true Egyptian ruler of the dead, but the story of Isis’ dedication in finding and reassembling Osiris after his brother Set chops Osiris up becomes a strangely romantic tale of wifely duty and loyalty.
I haven’t been very good to some other Egyptian gods, vilifying them a little. In my series, Ra tried to control his mortal partners to become king over gods and mortals. Horus has an ego that interferes with his being a proper guardian. Isis schemes and plans and manipulates with little concern for others.
That does leave us with Set, the brother who did the chopping up of Osiris. I’ve spent a year vilifying Set. In my book The Wrath of Horus he does unspeakably evil things. In Set, I’ve created a villain who tortures and rapes, the ultimate narcissist who is sure all dark magical powers and persons are his to use. I’ve managed to redeem Ra a little, and I am pretty sure I can redeem Isis, but I don’t think I can redeem Set in a future book in any way.
Perhaps I have done Set a disservice. Dark gods have their places in mythology, and not just as foils for heroes. Set embodies chaos to the Egyptians. Modernity has forced us into a false sense that we control our environment more than it controls us, but recent events have brought chaos back. Chaos is, if not in fashion, now an inevitable and immoveable force in our lives as we struggle under the twin yokes of global pandemic and global warming. If we have gods who govern all aspects of our life, a god needs to be responsible for chaos. Where does chaos come from? Why do we have it? Gods are cruel and unjust and do a lot of smiting. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do the smiting.
Egyptian gods are multi-faceted. Set brings chaos, so it seems natural his duties might extend to dominion over storms and war. One of Set’s roles is to help bring the sun back every morning by actively subduing Apep, the snake that tries to eat the boat of the sun. I guess some things are too chaotic for even the god of chaos. Set and gods like him represent humanity trying to make sense from entropy, to understand the universe against forces that are hostile to us. In The Wrath of Horus Set wants what he thinks is his, and he’s not afraid to employ the ultimate power of chaos to shape his servants to be worthy agents of chaos, literally getting under their skin.
It is telling that I wrote the grimmest story I’ve ever written during one of the grimmest times in both my personal history and in the environment around me. As my characters Greg and Flavia are submitted to Set’s actions, their lives and their worlds are upended. Uncontrollable chaos sweeps over them and leaves them in tatters. Their next steps, and ours, matter in the ongoing quest to recreate order out of chaos. I’ll see how Greg and Flavia are doing in book four. A few years from now, I’ll look back and see if the rest of us managed to pull our lives back together.
For more information about the mythological Set, I recommend https://www.badassoftheweek.com/set
Cath Schaff-Stump writes fantasy for children and adults. She writes funny stories, dark stories, and everything in between. She is the author of the Klaereon Scroll series and the Abigail Rath Versus series. Cath lives and works in Iowa. During the day, she teaches English at a local community college. More of her fiction has been published by Paper Golem Press, Daydreams Dandelion Press, and in The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. You can find her online at Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, @cathschaffstump, and cathschaffstump.com. Follow Cath’s Kindle Vella serial The Autumn Warrior and the Ice Sword.