Do you want to understand why Set killed his own brother Osiris, the perfect pharaoh god? Do you want to know who of Horus or Set won the various trials organized by Ra to find out who would succeed Osiris?
You've come to the right place: as great enthusiasts of Egyptian mythology, we will relate to you the myth of Set and Horus.
In the "myth of Set and Horus," Set kills his brother, the perfect pharaoh Osiris, to take over Egypt. However, Osiris' heir, Horus, challenges him to the throne. A series of trials imposed by the Sun god Ra then follows, pitting the two contenders against each other to determine which of them will be the fittest 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 confrontation (that has greatly influenced the polytheistic Egyptian religion)
Without further ado, let's tackle this archaic myth!
1) The Osirian myth
Long ago, Osiris, a god 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. Yet, his older brother, Set, became insanely jealous of this success and locked Osiris in a chest 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 god Set and the son of Osiris, the young Horus, a hawk-headed god.
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 explained that Horus could not be pharaoh because he has the head of falcon. And, falcons are cousins of ravens. Since ravens are cursed animals in Egyptian tradition, 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. Yet, the Sun god Ra, the creator of the Universe, was disgruntled that his opinion was not sought first. Thus, Ra argued that Set as brother of Osiris deserved the throne of Egypt 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. Yet, Isis took pity on Set (because Set and Isis are brother and sister). Thus, Isis left Set alive when he 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 that the kind god Thoth resurrected her).
This action earned Horus the contempt of the other gods. Indeed, they could not condone any violence against a mother figure. To punish Horus, the three gods of the jury 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 fit for the final event.
Set, taking advantage of the opportunity, gouged out the left eye of the falcon god and cut it into six pieces. He then threw them into the Nile. Thoth, wanting the final test to be fair, tried to re-form the eye of Horus. Yet, he only managed to recover five pieces.
Thoth 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 future of the world. Thoth then give this new eye to Horus.
The famous Udjat Eye, often painted on the bows of Egyptian ancient ships (to "increase their chances of avoiding the reefs").
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, Set decided that he and Horus should race with boats carved in stone. Horus, trying his hand at cunning, discreetly built a wooden boat covered with limestone plaster resembling black stone.
As the gods gathered to watch the race, Set cut the top of a mountain to use it 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. He attacked Horus on his boat, which breaks on all sides, revealing the deception: the interior of the boat is made of wood.
Horus then quickly took the advantage of Set. However, 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 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. They blessed him with the wish that his reign would be long and prosperous throughout the land of Egypt.
Deprived of its immunity as a candidate to the throne, Set was banished to the desert for eternity.
The myth of Set and Horus
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.
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 our Egyptian necklaces with the effigy of the eye of Horus.
See all our eye of Horus necklaces inspired by Egyptian mythology by clicking on the image below.