"Set" and the Prince of Darkness
By Geifodd ap Pwyll

Copyright 2006 Geifodd ap Pwyll.

In 1975 a major disagreement occured within the Church of Satan, the very first well-known public organization dedicated to representing Satanism as an alternative religion in its own right. According to some, Anton LaVey had made a decision to start selling positions in the Church priesthood to anyone who was willing to pay the right price. In other words, you could become a Priest of the Church of Satan simply by contributing to LaVey's personal bank account. Others say that the problem was primarily between LaVey and Michael Aquino's disagreement over the existence of a literal Prince of Darkness. Still others say that Aquino was not happy being subordinate to LaVey in the Church, and that the break occured due to a desire in Aquino to be the "head-honcho" of his own Satanic organization. Everyone seems to have a different version of what happened. Personally, I do not consider it to be any of my business what might have went on between LaVey and Aquino in their personal lives, and I am more than happy to remain unenlightened on the subject. But one thing is certain: Aquino and many other CoS priests decided to abandon LaVey's Church, and for a while they didn't know what to do. That is, until Michael Aquino invoked the Prince of Darkness on the North Solstice of 1975.

Supposedly, Aquino invoked the Prince of Darkness as Satan, but the Prince answered Aquino by the name of Set. From this invocation, Aquino transcribed The Book of Coming Forth by Night, a document that is said to have been inspired by the Prince Himself in His form as Set. It is from this document that the Temple of Set was founded. Essentially, the new Satanic church would be based upon the belief -- as outlined in the BoCfbN -- that "Satan," the Christian Devil, is not a mere symbol as in LaVeyan doctrine, but an actual being. What's more, Satan is not just a "fallen angel" that rebelled against Yahweh; rather, He was originally the ancient Egyptian god Set, whom Aquino and his associates define as "the Principle of Isolate Intelligence" (i.e., the idea that the mind or psyche exists apart from the rest of the universe on a fundamental level). Aquino's new Satanic paradigm also involved a neo-Egyptian mystical concept, Xeper (pronounced "Kheffer"), a formula which reads "I have come into being" in English and which outlines the process of expanding and refining one's independence from the rest of the universe.

Now the reason I am going into this little history lesson is not to lecture on Setian philosophy, or to argue whether LaVey was better than Aquino or vice versa, but rather to focus on this association between Satan and Set. To be fair, Michael Aquino was not the first occultist to make this connection; his predecessor in this matter was Aleister Crowley, the "Great Beast" himself, who considered the Christian devil concept to be identical to the Egyptian Set and to the astrological properties of Saturn. But I believe that Aquino's part in this story bears much more significance, because he was a Satanist who began to associate Satan with Set, while Crowley was not a Satanist but a ceremonial magician (or "magickian," as he would have spelled it).

When I first declared myself a Satanist in August of 1997, my definition of Satanism was largely similar to the Church of Satan's paradigm. That is, I perceived Satanism as being essentially secular humanism with "diabolical window-dressings." I did not believe in a literal Satan; rather, I perceived Satan as simply being a symbolic icon, rather like Uncle Sam or Santa Claus, and my idea of "Satan-ism" was more keyed to the concept of just "being my own god." This phase in my life as a Satanist was rather short-lived, however, for it was only one month later, in September of 1997, that I first discovered the Temple of Set. As I began to read some of their literature (beginning with their General Information Letter, then gravitating to articles by Don Webb and by Michael Aquino himself), I became fascinated with their metaphysical worldview. And it was at this time that I first began to feel that the Prince of Darkness is not simply a symbol or an "impersonal force in nature," but an actual living, thinking entity.

After reading literature by the likes of Michael Aquino, Don Webb, Michael Kelly, James Lewis and Balanone, I began to experiment with contacting the Prince of Darkness in rituals (previously, in my quasi-LaVeyan days, I had never seen any point in practicing rituals, or in attempting to contact any supernatural beings). My efforts were successful, to say the least, and before I knew it I was developing my own personal relationship with this God. Taking inspiration from the Setian model, I took to calling Him Set and used ancient Egyptian imagery and symbolism to represent His spirit and my worldview.

The identification of the Prince of Darkness with Set made sense to me on the grounds that Set was the neter (i.e., god) who opposed peace, harmony and order in Egyptian theology. That is to say, Set was the Rebel who initiated change and evolution by sparking conflict, disorder and strife. In like manner, the Prince of Darkness is an entity who "stirs up chaos" in order to cause growth to occur. Set was associated by the Egyptians with the color red (which is also traditionally associated with the Devil), and He was associated with the infertile desert regions surrounding the fertile land of the Nile (and the Devil is also traditionally associated with the desert, as in the New Testament story of Jesus' temptation in the desert).

Set was also the God of the Nighttime Sky, and I have always felt that there is a special connection between the nighttime sky and the Prince of Darkness. Set was perceived as being a very carnal and indulgent force (even though He was seen as infertile, He nonetheless had quite a reputation for chasing after members of both sexes), which of course lends itself easily to the idea of the Devil as the God of this World. Set was also God of foreigners, foreign lands and foreign influences, as was particularly believed by the Egyptians when their country was invaded by the Hyskos (who recognized Set, by the name of Sutekh, as their supreme god). This is similar to how I perceive the Prince of Darkness as being the "patron saint" of all that is strange, unknown and outside or against the norm. And just as the Devil has traditionally been associated with goats and other horned animals, so too was Set associated with horned animals and animals with pricked or pointy ears.

Set was originally perceived by the Egyptians as the one deity who was powerful enough to defend the Sun God Ra from the dragon of darkness, Apep, during the sun's nocturnal journey through the underworld. It was believed that Set would battle Apep every morning just before dawn, and that the rising of the sun was symbolic of Set's victory over the beast. In this context, Set can be seen as a Dark God who defends the light of civilization (i.e., Ra) from ignorance (i.e., Apep), and this is certainly consistent with my own idea of the Dark Prince as a Dark and Wild Horned God who is paradoxically a bringer of enlightenment.

However, as Set came to be feared more and more as the God of foreign and alien influences, Egyptian xenophobia caused Him to become identified with the serpent Apep. In some cases Set was considered to be in control of Apep, while in others He and Apep were considered to be one and the same creature. Since Set was often called "The Red Lord," I believe that His later identification with Apep may very well be the mythological origin of what St. John would later describe as the "Great Red Dragon" in his Apocalypse (and whom John specifically identified as Satan). The apocalyptic image of the maiden who gives birth to a holy child and who is chased by the Great Red Dragon bears some resemblance to the Egyptian story of Isis, who gives birth to Horus and who is chased by Set.

Yet another similarity I find between Set and the Prince of Darkness is that both seem to have an intimate connection with storms, particularly thunderstorms. Whenever a thunderstorm occurs around me, I cannot help but feel my connection to the Prince grow more intense as the storm endures. Even in the Bible, Satan is associated with storms when He is described as having fallen "like lightning from heaven."

So for a long time, I considered Satan and Set to be identical with one another. Much later it would occur to me that although some Setians postulate that the word "Satan" originally came from "Set-hen" (an alternate name for Set), this theory has not been validated in any credible archaeological resource of which I am currently aware. The claim does not seem very likely, due to the fact that the word "Satan" was originally not even a name, but simply a common noun, like "dog" or "cat." It was not applied to a specific individual entity, but used in association with any number of adversarial beings, including the Abrahamic god himself in some cases (as when he causes the Flood in the Old Testament). After doing some more extensive research, I could find no credible scholars or archaeologists who supported the theory that the Devil was originally Set in any of their works. However, I should point out that I have not completely exhausted all of the resources that are out there. But it would seem that the postulation by Setians that "Satan came from Set-hen" has no verification outside of the Temple of Set, at least to my knowledge. It would seem that it was merely an attempt to escape the limitations of Judeo-Christian symbolism by associating Satan with an earlier pagan deity, so that the Prince would not have to look like an "evil" deity (although the Devil is given a less "evil" image in the Book of Enoch, a Judeo-Christian scripture which paints a pretty positive image of Him for all its Abrahamic propaganda).

I also began to disagree with the Setian metaphysical model. For instance, I no longer believe that all the religions of the world are dualistically divided between the Right Hand Path (RHP) and the Left Hand Path (LHP), or that the RHP is the path of "nature worship" and the LHP is the path of "consciousness worship." I no longer accept the idea that the basic principle of Satanism is to Xeper so that one can remain conscious and therefore alive after the death of one's physical body. In fact, my idea of Satanism became more and more devotional through the years; I became continually less interested in occultism and more interested in simply worshiping the Prince of Darkness as my God. And since I could find no hard evidence that Satan and Set are identical, I also began to question my use for calling my God Set. Therefore, I abandoned my Setian phase and began to try separating the Prince of Darkness from Set in my mind. Later on, when I discovered Diane Vera's Church of Azazel website and the Book of Enoch, I took to calling Him Azazel.

However, my attraction to the name "Set" as an alternate name for the Master did not completely leave me. In the summer of 2004 I cracked out the Egypt books again in an attempt to find some possible historical link between Set and Satan that I might have overlooked. I became absolutely obsessed with proving that Satan and Set are the same entity. I believe the reason why this became so important to me is because of the fact that when I first came to believe in and experience the Prince of Darkness as a literal being, I knew Him as Set, not as Satan or Azazel. Therefore, despite my being dubious of Setian historical theories and metaphysics, I cannot help but feel that there IS some significance to the name Set in its modern-day association with Satan. Needless to say, I still have not yet discovered anything that would prove to a hard polytheist that these two gods are identical. Despite this, however, I believe that I have now reached a more honest and accurate understanding of the "Satan is Set" theory.

I believe it is best to assume that the Prince of Darkness is indeed a distinct entity from the ancient Egyptian neter Set, or at least that there is no way of proving otherwise. As a matter of fact, I think there is far more reason to equate the New Testament Satan with Apep than there is to identify Him with Set. However, thanks to people like Michael Aquino and the Temple of Set, "Set" does seem to have become an adopted name for the Prince of Darkness in the twenty-first century. Seeing how He first revealed Himself to me by this name, then I believe it is reasonable to say that it is valid to call Him such, provided that it be understood that by calling the Devil "Set," one is not necessarily worshiping the same "Set" that was worshiped in ancient Egypt.

As a way of illustrating my point, I will refer to the name "Lucifer," its original distinction from Satan and its later association with Him as an example. Originally, Lucifer was a completely different concept from Satan. Lucifer was a Latin name, used by the Romans for the Morning Star, which is really the planet Venus. Due to a misinterpretation of the biblical Book of Isaiah, however, "Lucifer" has now become a traditional name for the Devil in Western culture. I believe that this is also the case with the name "Set." Set may have originally been a completely separate divinity, but as with the name "Lucifer" in the Middle Ages, "Set" has been adopted in the twentieth century as an alternate name for Satan.

What's more, the name "Set" has been given to Satan by Satanists, the people who actually follow Satan; the name "Lucifer" -- and indeed all of His other names, such as Satan, Azazel, Belial, and Samael -- were all given to Him by the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims, the people who hate and fear Him. And even though Setians attempt to distance themselves from Satanism, they nonetheless continue to refer to Set as "the Prince of Darkness," and they also use the Satanic pentagram (i.e., with two points up) as the symbol of their religion. I feel it is pretty safe to assume that Set was not called "Prince of Darkness" or associated with the pentagram in ancient Egypt. For these reasons, I believe that the deity the Setians follow is not really the ancient Egyptian Set but the Devil under a newly adopted name. Whereas the Setians believe that "Set" is the oldest name for the Prince of Darkness, I would argue that it is actually one of His newest names.

Another good reason for accepting the name Set as an alternate name for the Prince of Darkness is this: although it makes more sense to identify Satan with the Egyptian Apep, Set was indeed identified with Apep when he went through periods of demonization in ancient Egypt. Therefore, Set as an aspect of (or replacement for) Apep in Egyptian religion may be regarded as an aspect of Satan as well.

I am not suggesting that we as theistic Satanists should discard all of the traditional names for the Prince of Darkness. I am not suggesting that we refrain from calling Him Satan, Lucifer, Azazel and other Hebrew names. I am merely suggesting that the name "Set" be added to our growing collection of "infernal names" for our God. I am not demanding that all theistic Satanists start calling Him Set, but I do feel that for some Satanists, it is somehow necessary to know Him (at least partially) as Set. I like to think that I have finally found a reasonable justification for calling Him Set that does not necessarily violate a hard polytheistic worldview.

Devil Worship