One of the Reverends in my Temple, the House of Netjer, decided to initiate an “Art a Week” challenge to last until the end of the Kemetic year. That is, from now until the end of July. Each week, the participants are given a one-word prompt, and from that create a relevant artwork.
This week, our prompt was “desert.” I went the obvious route, and chose to make a piece for Set. It took me about three days to complete.
I decided to depict Set in the center of a desert valley, as His idiosyncratic sha-creature. He is shown with two knives in His forepaws, standing atop a row of bound and decapitated enemies, whose blood pools into a lake beneath them. The meanings of these symbols will be explained in greater detail below.
A number of my fellow Kemetic Orthodox have been suffering with illness of late. As have I. I wanted to take the opportunity presented by this week’s prompt to create disease-exorcising Set heka that we all might make use of.
From left to right, the (messy, slightly grammatically flawed) Classical Middle Egyptian text above reads:
[Djed medu Set User Khepesh:]
Inek User Shefyt, biti er Netjeru er remetj.
User neb en i imy.
Inek Rer Kem Her; hena sefty adji djuut neb.
Ir metjen Shemau i her inek Neb Deshret, Wer Hekau, Meri Tjun Kheftief.
Iu senedj i er Netjer neb her ankhu neb.
[Words spoken by Set, Powerful of Foreleg : ]
I am the One of Mighty Respect, more Kingly than Gods or men.
All power belongs to Me.
I am the terrible Black Boar; with two knives I hack-apart all evils.
I drive out illness.
The Shemau (a class of demons of disease) obey Me, on account that I am the Lord of the Desert, Great of Heka, the Fighting Bull Who gores His enemy.
They fear Me more than any God and all the living.
As I discussed during this past year’s Epagomenal Days, concerning my last Set piece, the Khepesh is the chief seat of Set’s incredible strength and His unique heka. It deals death, and can also be employed to usher-in life. I listed His “Powerful of Foreleg” epithet directly after His name in the introduction of the utterance, since it proclaims His indomitable heka-force from the outset, and because it is mentioned in ancient spells as His weapon against disease.
As Lord of the Desert, Set is conceived of as having power and authority over all demons, which are responsible for disease. The desert was traditionally regarded as a place where demons tended to dwell, as they live out anti-rational existences which are inversions of human existence. As a skilled and crafty Hekau, Set is also a healer — though He is perhaps less well known for operating in such a capacity, it is both an indirect association of His and an explicitly attested function — thus He has power over all demons and disease in this sense. Here, the disease-demons are represented by the bound and beheaded figures whose blood (deshru) pool into a lake below, mirroring Set’s “redness” (deshru). This is also intended as an oblique reference to Herishef’s lake of blood, to Set’s fertilization of Henen-nesu, and to Herishef’s “flourishing of slaughter.”
Set’s epithet Rer Kem, “Black Boar,” relates to the myth wherein Set wounds Heru’s eye by taking on a horrifying form and consuming the eye. This is generally interpreted as a metaphor for lunar eclipses — an evil omen. It is an uncontrollable, gluttonous, profoundly dangerous form of the God, and one not normally invoked. Here, this terrible form, this evil omen, visits Itself upon the diseases. His knives — potent “magical” weapons in Ancient Egyptian conception — relate to His tusks, and with them He destroys evil. “Evil to cast out evil,” in other words. Set is not an innately “evil” deity, mind, but He is most definitely a morally ambiguous one. In the driving-out of undesirable influences, not only the “good” qualities of a deity are invoked or taken-on by the hekau. Set’s wicked, terrible forms frequently employed by Him in His conflicts with other deities are likewise used to instill fear in wicked entities — hence “they fear Me more than any God and all the living” — causing them to either flee or perish. This is a counterbalance to the opening statement, “I am the One of Mighty Respect, more Kingly than Gods or men,” which asserts Him as a total force of Order, of ma’at, a King in the Divine realm. Both His positive and negative qualities are featured in this heka; both equally assert themselves over and drive out disease and various evils.