This may be due to (at least in part) the identification of the Set “animal” as an ass or donkey, specifically Equus africanus or the African wild ass, a species that is today nearing extinction but which still survives in the deserts of Somalia and Ethiopia having once been common in the Egyptian desert as well. This species thrives in desert places and is largely identified with the sere wastelands outside of the ancient Egyptian cities. (Indeed, one of the magical spells that appear in the Papyrus London- Leiden magical manuscripts specifically instructs the magician to use the
blood and head of a donkey in order to evoke Set-Typhon.)80 It is claimed that the sound the donkey makes—its peculiar braying—gave rise to one of the most common utterances to be found in Crowleyan (and, indeed, most Gnostic and Greco-Roman occult) literature: Iao or Io, both of which were considered names of the Egyptian god Set in the Greco-Roman literature and serve as invocations of that god.81
Set has been associated with foreign countries and their inhabitants. Thus, the peoples of Libya in the west were considered (by the Egyptians) to be followers of Set. The Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia in the east were also considered to be Set-worshippers and their god, Baal, was identified often with Set. Crowley’s prime female deity, Babalon, also is obviously Babylonian and authors have tried to identify the famous “Whore of Babylon” of the Biblical Apocalypse as the Babylonian Ishtar (Sumerian Inanna). This would seem to justify to some extent Grant’s (and Crowley’s) insistence that the source of the Thelemic testament, Aiwass, was Sumerian and that he might have been a priest of an Ur-form of Set- Typhon. If this could be supported by other evidence, then it is clear that Thelema owes a great deal of its identity to the influence of that exemplar of the transgressive forces of the universe … and that Lovecraft’s horror of the high priest of the Great Old Ones, Cthulhu or Kutulu, was at least in some measure justified!
In addition, it is tempting to see the Semitic word satan as a form of the Egyptian Set. They have the consonant sounds “s” and “t” in common, and they both seem to represent evil beings. Actually, while the relationship is hypothetical at this point, the two words do have a lot in common. Add to that the general reluctance of Egyptian scribes to write out the name of Set phonetically82—but who instead chose to use his hieroglyphic signifier in texts—and you have an apt comparison to the avoidance of pronouncing the initial consonant of Shaitan’s name by the Yezidis. Both, incidentally, begin with the same consonantal sound: the initial or sound used for the name of Set in transliterated Egyptian is believed to be identical to the sound s in Satan and sh in Shaitan, respectively.
The Hebrew word satan comes from a root meaning “adversary” or to “resist” as well as “enemy”, “obstacle”, or “obstruction”, depending on whether the word is used as a noun or a verb. It may come from the word sut which means “to fall aside or away,” or the word set which
means “one who revolts.” The final “n” in the Hebrew satan indicates an emphasis on the root for the purpose of personification, and thus “he who falls aside,” or “he who revolts,” or “he who obstructs.” We remember that one of the earliest suspected pronounciations for Set is indeed Sut.
If it can be shown that Semitic ideas of Satan derive from the ancient Egyptian god Set, then Grant’s hypothesis that Set-Shaitan-Typhon are one and the same takes on increased importance. By identifying Aiwass with this signifier we may understand the Book of the Law a little better, particularly its controversial third chapter which sets the New Aeon in complete opposition to the world’s religions in a dramatic and even violent way. The message of Liber AL then becomes a message consistent with the personality and objectives of Set, the Dark Lord.
On the other hand, there is a scene from the Book of Coming Forth by Day (more commonly known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead) in which Set is shown at the prow of Ra’s barque, fighting the serpent god Apophis. In this setting, Set is protecting the Sun God, Ra. If Set is “evil” as is often claimed, how is it that he also can be depicted defending the pantheon? Indeed, some pharaohs even took the name Set as their own or added it to their titles.
A recurrent theme in all of Grant’s work is that of sexuality, especially within a ritualistic context. The OTO is said to be a repository of the sexual secrets discovered by its German founders a century ago, and the OTO’s debt to the sacred spirituality advocated by the African-American mystic Pascal Beverly Randolph has been detailed elsewhere.83 Tantra forms the main context for Grant’s elaboration of the sexual mysteries at the heart of Thelema and Thelemic magic, and indeed Grant went much further than Crowley in his description of these mysteries and their relevance to Tantra and in particular to Vama Marg Tantra or “Tantra of the Left Hand Path” as it is often—erroneously—characterized. Grant’s Tantra is not the New Age, feel-good, Tantra of the West, but the transgressive Tantra of the Nath Siddhis, the Kaula circles and other traditions that view the human body—male and female—as both laboratories and temples combined. Tantra according to this approach is a technology of spirituality, spiritual power, and tremendously altered states of consciousness which has as its goal communion with supramundane beings … in other words, precisely what Love-craft described when he depicted the orgiastic rites in the swamps outside New Orleans in his short story “The Call of Cthulhu.”
While many readers will be familiar with the legend of Set murdering Osiris, and Isis giving birth to a child, Horus, who will avenge his father’s death in battle with Set, what is not so well known is the sexual component to the myth. For decades this aspect has remained somewhat hidden from the non-academic world and buried in obscure Latin phrases and euphemisms and generally ignored. That Set was understood to be either homosexual or at least bi-sexual will seem strange to those who have always believed Set to be the personification of pure evil and murder, a kind of Jungian “Shadow” archetype. But Set as representative of “the Other” in almost everything also represents sexual transgression, the perhaps ultimate expression of “Other-ness” and a natural characteristic of the type of Tantric sexuality that is the focus of Grant’s thesis.
To understand this—and its relevance to Grant’s Typhonian magic—it is necessary to know how Egypt described the origins of Set.
According to one of the cosmological systems of the ancient Egyptians, the supreme or eldest god, Atum, gave birth to the world by self-
propagating his two children, Shu and Tefnut, who in turn gave birth to Geb the earth god and Nut the sky goddess. These in turn gave birth to Osiris and Isis. However, they also gave birth to Set and Nephthys, which disturbed the order of the cosmos as, until that time, the system had been established whereby one male-female pair gave birth to only one other male-female pair, essentially what the Gnostics would refer to as syzygies. Further, it was claimed that Set was not born via the usual method but essentially tore out of his mother’s side on his own volition in an untimely season and violent manner. Thus it appears—though is not specifically stated—that Set did not have a childhood per se but entered life fully- grown. Even the word for “birth” is not used in the Egyptian texts in connection with Set’s origins. Indeed, his own mother refused him and his sister/wife Nephthys was also in horror of him. Isis, whose brother/husband Osiris was slain by Set, lived in fear of him as well, especially during her pregnancy with Horus. It was believed that Set (due to his unnatural birth) caused abortions and that he would “open the womb” of pregnant women so that they would miscarry or abort. And even though each of the male-female pairs of gods would go on to beget other male-female pairs, Set and Nephthys did not have children and Nephthys was characterized vulgarly as the one with the “useless” vagina. Nephthys runs to Isis in fear of Set, or to console Isis after the murder of Osiris, a situation more fit for a telenovela than the gravitas of Egyptian religious mysteries. Thus the Set and Nephthys couple or dyad represent the disorder of the universe; evil enters into the cosmos through their unnatural entrance into the pantheon and the carefully-crafted structure of the created world is ripped apart.
Thus Set is the ultimate (and perhaps the original) anti-hero. His birth and early years are models of rejection, abuse, and violence: rejected by his own family, he turns to the abuse of them and their offspring and violently attacks and kills Osiris and then waits to do the same to Horus, his biological nephew.
But not before sodomizing the Crowned and Conquering Child.
There is little doubt today among Egyptologists that Set was characterized as a homosexual god, and that the famous “Contendings of Horus and Set” contain an account of Set’s attempt to sodomize his nemesis. In fact, this attempted act of sodomy is the foundation for such an iconic Egyptian motif as the Eye of Horus. These associations were not
generally known in Crowley’s time outside a small circle of specialists. Had they been familiar to Crowley, they might have elicited a great many more musings on such themes as sexual magic, the mysteries of the Aeons, and the degree structure of the Ordo Templi Orientis. They certainly do lend support to such claims by later Crowley devotees that the New Aeon would be a “homosexual” Aeon, the males under the aegis of Typhon and the females under Maat.84
It was the mother of Horus, Isis, who suggested to her son that he avoid penetration by Set through the use of his fingers to cover his anus, thus capturing Set’s semen in his hand whereupon he flung the seed into a river. Set believed he had sodomized Horus successfully, and in a strange turnabout Horus deposited his own semen on a leaf of lettuce (Set’s favorite food). Set ate the lettuce and thereby was “penetrated” (orally, we observe) by Horus.
When Set bragged to the gods that he had sodomized Horus, the semen that Horus had thrown into the river spoke out and denied Set the satisfaction of his boast. At that time, Horus claimed that he had penetrated Set, and to prove it the semen that Set had consumed issued forth from Set’s forehead as a white disk.
Before the enraged Set could grab the disk it was seized by Thoth, the god of Wisdom, Magic, and Writing, and placed in the sky as the Moon.85
While this episode certainly shows Set as an aggressive and violent being with homosexual attributes, it is not the whole story. In other legends, Set is still violent sexually but in heterosexual as well as homosexual situations. It could be argued that Set represents desire or sexuality per se. While Isis may be a symbol of love, especially maternal love, she is not usually identified in terms of pure sexuality. Set, on the other hand, seems to embody lust unrestrained.
If we understand Set to represent raw sexuality we can realize Set’s place in the Egyptian cosmos. Set is power, at its most primal and basic (“uncivilized”) human level. Unrestrained, it results in rape and pedophilia among other depravations. Restrained, it can be a potent source of protection and occult power. But this power lives in a wild and uninhabited place, outside of society, a wasteland of invisible winds and unseen beasts. Society uses this power when the need arises; at other times, it wants it to
go away, to disappear—which is as good a description of modern humanity’s relationship to sexuality as any.
It could be argued that our reaction to the concept of sexuality is based upon its more controversial aspects. From teen pregnancy and pedophilia to rape, adultery, abortion, pornography, prostitution, sexually-transmitted diseases, and even gay marriage … sexuality to the modern mind (West and East) is a minefield of dangerous associations. Crowley himself has the reputation of being a polymorphously perverse libertine who engaged in virtually every form of sexual expression during the course of his lifetime and who had many multiple male and female sexual partners covering the entire spectrum of human society, from street corner prostitutes to celebrities, artists’s models, poets, actresses, and wealthy matrons. This was Set, the Dark Lord and God of the Midnight Sky and the circumpolar stars of True North in eternal struggle with Horus, the Lord of the Sun, the East, and the ecliptic. Crowley, like Jacob before him, wrestled with an Angel on the Ladder leading up to heaven, only in Crowley’s case it was the Egyptian god that the Golden Dawn had taught him to fear and distrust, a god that represented the very sexuality that Crowley championed as being the vehicle for attaining the True Mysteries. It was the god of the Black Mass, and the witches’s sabbat.
It was this type of sexual expression that so horrified H. P. Lovecraft to the extent that he never actually wrote about sexuality except in terms of disgust at the “orgiastic rites” of those worshipping the Ancient Ones. Lovecraft instinctively understood that extreme or at least non-traditional forms of sexuality were somehow linked to magic, occult power, and contact with supramundane entities. Lovecraft’s instincts thus are linked to Crowley’s magic and revelations to form Grant’s Necronomicon Gnosis. Set, as the Lord of sexual transgression—which means any sexual activity outside of lawfully-permitted reproductive sex—is a Tantric Lord as well in the broadest sense of that term. Grant claimed that Set offers access to other dimensions, and that a deep understanding of Tantra—coupled with western magical practice and analysis—would lead the magician to the dark side of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
This “Setian” Tantra would re-interpret Set’s infamous sexual acts as ritual requirements designed to plunge the operator into a dangerous realm of consciousness below that (or beyond that) of the waking world. These acts would include everything from solitary sexual practices to various
types of hetero- and homosexual acts, including oral and anal sex. While Grant has argued that the enigmatic XIth degree of the Ordo Templi Orientis did not involve anal penetration—insisting instead that the per vas nefandum (the “unmentionable vessel”) requirement in Crowley’s allusions to the ritual refers to the vagina of a woman during her menstruation, rather than to the anus, giving new meaning to the term “Scarlet Woman”—there is precedence for believing that many other forms of non- reproductive sex do have relevance for modern tantric practitioners. Shiva copulated extensively with his wife Parvati except that he did not impregnate her in the usual way but ejaculated either in her hand or her mouth. These (and many other) episodes from both Egyptian and Indian religion would seem to indicate that forms of sexuality other than those intended for reproduction are being implied, and to many mainstream religions any sexual act that does not have as its intention the reproduction of the species is, by definition, evil and forbidden.86 Thus, what we may call “sacred sexuality”—whether the pale and pastel mysticism of right- hand Tantra with its hours of silent and motionless meditation on the Shakti yantra, or the red meat rituals of the Black Mass replete with bodily fluids and loud fornications, and everything in between—is transgressive by its very nature and belongs to the realm of the Dark Lord.