Set

HYENA-like animal of North Africa.

Etymology: Transliterated sts, from the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Set may have given rise to the Hebrew satan ("adversary"), the original derivation of the word Satan.

Variant names: Seth, Sutekh, Typhon (Greek). Physical description: Doglike quadruped. Larger than a jackal. Reddish-brown color. Black face. Long, erect, squared-off ears. Curved, elongated snout. Forked, upraised tail.

Behavior: Nocturnal. Powerful and dangerous. Hunts in packs. Makes a loud noise. Has a foul odor. Eats meat and carrion. Spews rabid saliva. Habitat: Desert or wasteland. Distribution: Southern Egypt. Significant sighting: Set was originally a zoomorphic local god of Upper Egypt, possibly established as early as the predynastic Nagada culture. After the arrival of the Osirian religion in the Fifth dynasty (2498-2345 B.C.), Set became the epitome of chaos as the god of darkness, war, and the wilderness. The god Set was widely despised, so his animal may have been one that was hunted down and eradicated. Possible explanations: (1) Egyptologists have proposed a Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), a Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), a Snake (Order Squamata), an Ass (Equus asinus), an Onager (Equus hemionis onager), a Camel (Camelus spp.), a Fennec fox (Fennecus zerda), a Desert jerboa (Jaculus jaculus), a Hare (Lepus spp.), a mouse with a long snout (Subfamily Murinae), a

SET, a zoomorphic god of ancient Egypt, possibly based on an unknown hyena-like animal. (© 2002 ArtToday.com, Inc., an IMSI Company)

Domestic pig (Sus scrofa var. domestica), a European wild boar (Sus scrofa), an Oryx (Oryx spp.), a Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), a Gazelle (Gazella spp.), an Aurochs (Bos primigenius), a Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), an Aardvark (Orycteropus afer), an Elephantfish (Family Mormyridae), an Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), and various dogs and birds. Few of these animals come close to matching Set's description and behavior.

(2) The Golden jackal (Canis aureus) has a characteristic and high-pitched howl, is nocturnal and omnivorous, and may hunt socially. But the Egyptians had other jackal deities (such as Anubis) and did not regard the golden jackal as particularly unpleasant.

(3) The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) has a musky odor, a black face, and hunts in packs. Its ears are prominent, and its tufted tail is semierect. It is active in the day and has a distinctive, marbled pelt.

(4) A wild predecessor of the greyhound, thought to have originated in the Middle East. A greyhoundlike breed called the tesem was depicted on Egyptian tombs as far back as 3000 B.C. Saharan rock art also shows prick-eared hunting dogs with long tails. The Shilluk dog, bred by the Shilluk and Dinka Nilotic peoples, is similarly descended from the tesem and shares some Set characteristics. The long ears and snout and the erect tail may have been bred out as undesirable features long ago.

(5) A surviving fossil hyaenid, such as Chasmaporthetes nitidula from the Pleistocene of Morocco, with teeth suitable for slicing meat, suggested by Michael Swords.

(6) Herbert Wendt suggested that the head of Set was based on fossil skulls of Libytherium, an extinct, short-necked giraffid. Its substantial horns may have been interpreted as erect ears. Large fossil bones have been found in at least two Egyptian shrines to Set, where worshipers apparently donated them.

(7) An amalgam of the characteristics of various animals.

Sources: Herbert Wendt, Out of Noah's Ark (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959), pp. 416418; H. te Velde, Seth, God ofConfusion (Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1967); John Gwyn Griffiths, The Origins of Osiris and His Cult (Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1980); Michael D. Swords, "On the Possible Identification of the Egyptian Animal-God Set," Cryptozoology 4 (1985): 15-27.

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