#09 The Contendings of Horus and Set

December 29, 2018

#09 The Contendings of Horus and Set

When Horus enters adulthood he challenges his uncle Set for the throne of Egypt. An often violent contest begins between them, known as the “Contendings”. The other remaining members of the Ennead, headed by the creator God Atum, observe the contest to make a legal judgment as to who should rule Egypt. The wise Thoth acts as an assistant to Atum and mediator in the dispute.

During the Contendings Set and Horus had various contests such as boat racing or transfiguring themselves into hippopotami and fighting to victory. Horus repeatedly defeated Set and is supported by most other deities. This is no quick contest, though and the Contendings last for eighty years, largely because the judge, Atum, favoured Set. Over time, the conflict extended and followers of the two deities became involved. Isis attempted to harpoon Set, whilst he was fighting Horus. She missed and struck Horus by accident. Enraged, Horus cuts off his own mother’s head and replaces it with a cow’s head.

One of Set’s major characteristics is his pansexuality. Set asked Horus to have sex with him, who agreed on the condition that Set gave him some of his strength. This encounter puts Horus in danger, because a deity’s semen is dangerous and poisonous. Horus thwarted Set, catching Set's semen in his hands. Isis retaliated by putting Horus's semen on lettuce-leaves Set subsequently eats. A golden disk appeared on Set's forehead, signaling his impregnation with Horus’ seed and ultimate defeat. Thoth removed the disk and placed it on his own head.

Horus proceeded to steal Set's testicles, causing Set to lose virility and strength. However, Set tore out Horus's left eye. One of Horus's major roles was as a sky deity, and his right eye represented the sun and his left eye the moon. The theft of the Eye of Horus in nature represented the darkening moon during the lunar cycle or eclipses. Thoth retrieves the Eye of Horus. Thoth is also a lunar deity (represented by the golden disc he removed from Set and placed on his forehead) and emerged in the form of the Eye of Horus, stepping in to mediate between the feuding gods.

The restoration of the Eye of Horus to wholeness represented the return of the moon to full brightness and the kingship to Horus, the rightful heir of Osiris. When the throne is at last given to Horus there is great celebration among the gods. Egypt finally has a rightful king. The judgment corrects the injustice created by Osiris's murder by Set and completes the process of Osiris’ restoration after death. Set had to carry Osiris's body to its tomb as part of his punishment. Horus performed funerary rites for his father, including food offerings to sustain him on his journey, including the Eye of Horus, in this case representing life and plenty.


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