Seth - Oxford Reference

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The Oxford Companion to World Mythology

David Leeming


Trickster deities were present in Egypt as in most of the ancient world. In a very general sense the gods Seth and Thoth might be understood as negative and positive aspects of the archetypal trickster god. Seth, like so many tricksters, was amoral and was driven by Iago-like pure evil, jealousy, and greed. Also like other sometimes reprehensible tricksters—Loki in Scandinavia, Ananse in Africa, Coyote in North America, for instance— he was extremely clever and could play positive roles as well. Early in the Old Kingdom, as we have seen, he was the patron of certain dynasties. And in his positive aspect, again like several trickster gods, he assisted the high god/creator. He was sometimes shown as a guardian of Re's sun bark, using his magic spells to defend it against the serpent Apopis. Depicted with floppy ears and an erect and divided tail, he was, however, usually a negative deity, standing in the way especially of the “good” gods, Osiris and his son Horus. Seth's wife was his sister Nephthys, who helped Isis to revive Osiris. Theologically speaking, Seth performed the necessary role of death and destruction in the overall process of life. It is he who was responsible for the death of Osiris and for the loss of one of Horus's eyes—the moon—which was retrieved by Thoth.

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