SET AND HORUS
Do you want to finally understand the founding myth of Egyptian civilization opposing Set to Horus? To understand why Set killed his own brother Osiris, the perfect Pharaoh god? To know who of Horus or Set won the various tests organised by Ra to find out who would succeed Osiris?
You've come to the right place: as specialists in ancient Egypt, we will tell you about this beautiful and fascinating myth!
In the "myth of Osiris", Set kills his brother Osiris, the perfect pharaoh, to take over Egypt. However, Osiris' heir, Horus, challenges him to the throne. A series of tests imposed by Ra, the sun god, then follows, pitting the two contenders against each other to determine which of them will be the most fit to reign.
In this article, we will see:
- The cause of the confrontation between Set and Horus
- The different trials between the two gods
- The outcome of this terrible confrontation has greatly influenced the polytheistic Egyptian religion
Without further ado, let's tackle this archaic myth!
1) The cause of this confrontation comes from the Osirian myth
Long ago, Osiris, a being of perfect uprightness and remarkable wisdom reigned as Pharaoh of Egypt alongside his sister-wife Isis. Osiris brought peace and prosperity to his country with the greatest of ease. But his elder brother, Set, became insanely jealous of this success and locked Osiris in a chest with a clever ploy before drowning him in the Nile ⚰️.
Later, Isis, will succeed in finding the body of Osiris and resurrect him during one single night. This allowed her to become pregnant with a child: Horus.
There followed a great and bitter struggle for power between the two pretenders to the throne: the regicide Set and the son of Osiris, young Horus, a hawk-headed man.
As the son of Osiris, Horus claimed the throne from a court composed of three of the most powerful Egyptian deities: the sun god Ra, the wisdom god Thoth and the air god Shu.
Set maintained that Horus could not be king because he has the head of a hawk. However, falcons are cousins of ravens. Since ravens are cursed animals in Egyptian mythology, Horus would become a danger to the whole of Egypt if he became pharaoh.
Because of the indecision of the council of the gods, Horus had to face his uncle Set to assert his right to the throne of Egypt. The series of trials that followed was not easy for Horus, as Set redoubled his cunning in each trial to guarantee his victory 🥇.
Thoth and Shu immediately gave Horus their agreement to become the legitimate ruler of Egypt.
Indeed, the candidature of Set seemed to them invalidated by the murder of Osiris. But Ra, the god with the solar disc, the most powerful of the gods of Egypt, was annoyed that his opinion was not sought first, arguing that Set as brother of Osiris therefore deserved the throne because he was older than Horus.
2) The trials between the two deities
In the myth of Horus, as the council was not unanimous, the two rivals had to settle their differences.
However, Set did not show a single ounce of honesty. In each of the various trials against Horus, Set cheated and was proclaimed the winner in every one.
Isis then began to doubt Horus' ability to overcome Set's perfidies. She decided to help her son by laying a trap for Set. She trapped him in a cage during one of the chariot races where Set was trying to cheat once again. Isis first wanted to kill Set in order to put an end to the incessant trials imposed by Ra. But she took pity on him and left him alive when he, who was still her brother, begged her to spare him.
Horus was shocked by his mother's action, which he interpreted as a betrayal, since she had not believed enough in his ability to triumph over Set. Horus then became terribly angry with Isis and beheaded her (before the god Thoth resurrected her).
This action earned Horus the contempt of the other gods, who could not condone any violence against a mother figure. To punish him, they decided that there would be a final trial and that Set would choose it.
In the evening of that bloody day, tired of all these events, the son of Isis and Osiris fell asleep at the top of a high mountain so that no one could disturb him in order to be in shape for the final event.
Set, taking advantage of the opportunity, gouged out one of his eyes and cut it into six pieces before throwing them into the Nile. But Thot, wanting the final test to be fair, tried to re-form the eye of Horus but only managed to recover five pieces.
He therefore decided to forge a sixth enchanted piece which, combined with the other five, became the Udjat Eye, an eye enabling its bearer to perceive the world beyond reality, which he gave to Horus as a gift.
The famous Oudjat Eye, often painted on the bows of Egyptian ships, allowing them to see "that which is invisible" and keep their course.
3) The fall of the god of chaos
Set decided that the last round of the competition would be a boat race in the marshes of the Nile delta. However, in order to make this last encounter out of the ordinary, he decided that he and Horus should race with boats built in stone. Horus, trying his hand at cunning, discreetly built a wooden boat covered with limestone plaster resembling stone.
As the gods gathered to watch the race, Set cut the top of a mountain to use as a boat and launched it into the water. Of course his "boat" sank immediately and all the other gods and goddesses mocked him.
Furious, Set transformed himself into a hippopotamus and attacked Horus on his boat, which flew into flames, revealing the deception. Horus then quickly took the advantage but the other gods stopped him before he could kill Set. The council of the gods decided that the two contenders were equal (Horus having cheated and Set having been a bad loser).
The jury of gods began to lean towards the ascension of Horus to the throne of Egypt. However, its members remembered the falcon god's bloodthirsty anger towards his mother (having shown a beautiful and noble act of mercy towards Set). Thus, the jury was completely unwilling to name Horus king of Egypt.
Reigning over Egypt is no easy task, which is why the council of the gods hesitates a lot and tries to separate Set and Horus through many different trials so that the two contenders can prove their worth.
Osiris answered clearly: he declared that no one had the right to take the throne of Egypt by an act of murder such as that committed by Set. By this fact, his son was therefore the legitimate king and had to be placed on the throne of Egypt. Moreover, to force the hand of the three gods of the jury, Osiris called the sun and the stars, his unfailing allies, to descend into the underworld of the dead in order to leave the world in utter darkness.
Unsurprisingly, all the gods agreed with Osiris and accepted Horus' claim to his birthright as ruler of Egypt and blessed him with the wish that his reign would be long and prosperous throughout the land of Egypt. Isis and Osiris could be proud of their son.
Set was banished to the desert for eternity, but found his redemption by protecting Ra every night from the serpent Apep who wanted to devour him every night.
A myth at your service!
More heroic than the "myth of the murder of Osiris", the "myth of the confrontation between Horus and Set" is one of the great founding myths of the Egyptian polytheistic religion. A forerunner of the many Greek and Roman myths, this myth is memorable because it helped to lay the foundations of what were to be the ancient myths and legends which have in turn left their mark on our modern society.
You have just become acquainted with a great and beautiful story written more than 4500 years ago that you will be able to tell to all your loved ones without parsimony.
If you liked this story, we suggest that you make it all your own with a fragment of ancient Egypt in the form of one of the small masterpieces that are our Egyptian necklaces with the effigy of the god Horus and his eye.
👉 See all our necklaces inspired by Egyptian mythology.