Akem-Shield of Sutekh
Who is Great of Strength
2018. Genuine semi-precious mineral pigments, 22kt gold, 23kt gold, platinum, copper, semi-precious & precious stones, Austrian lead crystal on 5"x7" museum conservation wood panel
On a par with other Kemetic deities of a martial or defensive nature (Sekhmet, Neith, Montu, Anhur, Maahes and Sobek come to mind here), Lord Set is ultimately the instigator of change or transformation, and this process is often a violent one, described in the mythos as a rending, tearing, or cutting down of life. Very similar to the Goddess Sekhmet, Set appears as a terrifying catalyst when change is not only called for, but mandatory for the next phase of life and creation to begin. In the short term, such action reads as outright destruction for its own sake, and is therefore morally objectionable from a human perspective. But change does not apologize or ask for permission; it manifests as part of the natural order of the created world, and is a natural part of the cycle of life; and many of the Netjeru embody these forces actively at work in the forms of Their cult images, epithets, and mythos. Set is certainly one of these, however, He, like all other Netjeru, performs other functions aside from those recognized as His primary roles.
We tend to think of Set as entirely violent, destructive, vengeful or bloodthirsty, and yet one of His most prominent roles in ancient times was as a Binder or Uniter of the Two Lands with the God Heru. These two Gods, Who elsewhere may be seen as adversaries, are in fact engaged in a sacred dance of weaving together the warp and the weft of Kemet’s halves; the lotus of Upper Kemet and papyrus of Lower Kemet, which create the activity of sema-tawy or “Union of the Two Lands”. By taking up a vital role in this cosmic action, Lord Set is in fact bringing together the disparate aspects of the created world and joining them together as a harmonious whole. The fact that it is Set in this position, and not some other deity, is an indication of just how significant His role in creation was understood to be by the ancients.
Some may view Set’s inclusion in the sema-tawy motif as strictly one of representation of polar opposites, since Lord Set’s dominion is Southern or Upper Kemet, while Lord Heru’s is Northern or Lower Kemet; thus it would be natural for these two deities to appear together in the heraldic device signifying the reconciliation or unity of the Two Lands. But I believe that there is an even deeper significance to Lord Set’s appearance with Heru as a “Uniter of the Two Lands”. That significance is Cosmic Order and Rightness, Ma’at, which requires the operation of creation according to the principles established at the initiation of creation.
Set is sometimes said to be against Ma’at when He murders His brother Ausir, and in this instance we are seeing Ma’at on its micro level, which has to do with our view of what is just and humane on a social level. Murder is never acceptable, and its consequences can hardly be seen as “good”; however, there is the larger, macro view of Ma’at, which understands that the proper operation of creation includes death, dissolution and destruction as part of the natural process of creation. These things clear the way for the next stages of life, which result from the great change brought about by sudden violent action.
The sema-tawy motif, while symbolically representing the Two Countries of Upper and Lower Kemet, is also a device embodying the dichotomy of creation as seen through the lens of the two gods Whose very actions define this creative-destructive, life-death affirming dance in which all created things are engaged. We can no more deny the facts of birth and creation than we can the phenomena of death and decay, which are all woven together in the fabric of the created world; and it is Lord Set Who is the instigator, the catalyst, the propeller, and the protagonist of the change that compels the machine of life and creation forward. That is precisely why He stands with the God Heru as a “Binder of the Two Lands”.
The Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength is the second panel in the Lords of Valor Triptych, and forms an important contribution to my Aegis Series of icons. After months of prayer, meditation, ritual activities and offerings to the Netjeru, I have come to the conclusion that these panels are part of a system of spiritual technology for the defense of those who are actively engaged in the work of the Gods. On this point I may not elaborate further, other than to say that out of all the Netjeru Who have stepped forward to take part in this project, it was Lord Set Who let it be known that His presence is most vital to the aims of the Aegis Panels, and that His quality of protection is what is needed in our world at this time.
Suty nakht aah pehty neb pet sety, “Set the Mighty is great of strength (as) Sky-Lord (Who) Begets” read the medu (hieroglyphs) on the left hand side of the God. These epithets were very carefully selected, as always, after an intense period of prayer and meditation on the vast array of epithets and descriptions given to Lord Set in the historical record. There are numerous ways to write Set’s name in the medu, thus numerous ways to pronounce His name(3); but the form I have used, Suty, a variant of Sutekh, is not too dissimilar from the words setu, “arrow”, and seti, “shoot”, which is identical in pronunciation- and similar in its writing in hieroglyphs- to the word seti, “to shoot seed”, “ejaculate”, “impregnate” or “beget”. As placed in this icon, the epithets of Set form a play on sound and symbolism or meaning; for the God Set or Suty is the God Who shoots (seti) arrows (setuw), Who stands behind kings to guide their arm in archery, and Who, as a Netjer of rampant male sexuality, is known for His aggressive and potent sexual appetite. The *Set animal*, which is seen in its complete form four times in the Aegis of Sutekh, bears its distinctive arrow-like tail, which hints at the martial nature of this god Who is known to give kings ferocious strength in battle against the enemies of Kemet.
Behind the head of Set I have placed a rebus forming an epithet saying Sutekh-pehty- shuwyt (or shuwt) or “Set is the shade (or shadow) of strength (or valor)”. The origin of this epithet- insofar as I know- is contemporary and local, having been given to me by Lord Set during a walking meditation in the northwestern desert of Utah. This is a landscape my husband and I frequent continuously, and in regards to communion with the God Set it could not be a more appropriate setting. Lord Set has always been associated with the desert, or “Red Land” (deshret) as the ancient Egyptians called it; and the northwestern desert of Utah is very red, dominated by deep amber and red ocher-colored peaks, which for miles loom above the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. This is a truly Setian landscape, startling in its stark beauty, which in summer scintillates with the hostile waves of heat rising up from the Salt Flats. It was here in the presence of one of the red pyramidal peaks that Lord Set gave me a vision of Him in His wild animal form standing on the heads of two leopards. From His back rose up the ostrich feather sunshade carried in religious processions by the ancients, and in my heart’s ears I heard the words “I am Sutekh-pehty-shuwyt.”
This epithet for me denotes a local form of the God Set resident in the mountains and salt flats of the northwestern Utah desert, and yet, like all epithets given to Kemetic deities, it can also reference more universal or cosmic associations. The form of the sunshade- with its tall ostrich plumes- is often used to denote the presence of a deity or divine king, but always embodies the auspicious power or presence of a great being. The sacred boat shrines used by Kemetic priests to carry the cult images of the Gods are shielded by long-handled sunshades of gold with multicolored plumes. These are badges of a god’s power and influence, and carry with them the understanding that the god’s spiritual presence is present. However, the sunshade or shuwt is also used in the medu (hieroglyphs) to denote the seryt or military standard, which of course would have special significance in relation to Set as a god of the military and martial prowess.
But the shuwt-sunshade most especially represents that aspect of Gods or mortals that may best be described as a form of spiritual influence or existence connected with the physical body, and yet capable of projecting itself from the body, just as any material body or object may cast its shadow on the ground. The casting of this shuwt or shadow- in deities- is a manifestation of the god’s tangible power which has the ability to cross thresholds and boundaries; thus the use of divine sunshades in religious processions during which the cult image of the god crosses over the threshold of the sanctuary and out into the wider world. Sunshades, portable cult objects, and even temple sanctuaries themselves may constitute forms of a deity’s shadow, which have the ability to affect people and the natural world with Their power.
In the case of the God Set, He may rightly be called a shuwyt or shuwt of Ra, that is, a shadow of the Sun-God that is projected ahead of Ra in order to defeat His enemies. It is Set Who stands at the prow of the Ark of Ra as the valiant knight poised with His spear against the serpent-demon Apep, and He Who preserves the sacred maintenance of creation embodied in the Family of Ra. The presence of Set denotes the presence of Ra as the Defender of Ma’at or Cosmic Order, thus He is the “sunshade” of the Gods, the “shadow” of protective power cast off from the body of the Creator. The Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength houses the Shadow of the God Set as the Divine Protector and Representative of the Royal Family of Ra. It is a cult image which itself behaves as a shuwt of the Netjer, for its own physical shadow is the living presence of Set as it crosses the threshold of the material world. In its gold, gemstones, crystals and pigments it holds the spiritual potency of the God, which shines or casts from it a radiance that permeates the space around it. This affect, energetic, visual and physical, is the function of the shuwt as a metaphysical body.
I would further define the epithet Sutekh-pehty-shuwyt (pronounced soo-tech pek-tee shoo-yeet) with the following:
“It is Suty, Sutekh, Setesh Who stands as the Shadow, the Sacred Image, the Spirit of valor! Sutekh is the Shield, the Screen, the Safeguard of divine strength, and the very image of valor is Sutekh! Sutekh is the Shade of the powerful, the valiant, the Sacred, and His valor is the Shade of true power. With His strength the God Sutekh preserves, shields, and shades, and with His Shadow He becomes the protection of the Divine!”
On August 5, 2017 we celebrated the holy Wep-Ronpet or “Opening of the Year”, “New Year’s” Day festival, the heliacal rising of the star Sopdet (Sirius) and the official start of the Kemetic year. Before the New Year sun mounted our desert sky, my husband and I gathered some of our temple’s holiest treasures and made our pilgrimage to the center of the Bonneville Salt Flats. Along with our kar-shrine containing the God Ptah, we brought the completed Aegis of Djehuty and the Souls of Khmennu and the half-completed Aegis of Sutekh Great of Strength.
“O Sutekh, Setekh, Setesh, Suty, Set!
All Your names are fashioned from the metal of the sky,
from the northern sky where Your image is renewed daily.
O Lord, Red One of the deshret,
come and fulfill this offering of my heart,
for it is the Eye of Ra set firm in its place;
its seat is the center of heaven where You rise.
Take the essence of the Sacred Eye;
take its red wine of the north
and its white milk of the south;
the Two Countries bound together before You!
O Bull of the Sky, thundering with red hair,
Your place is with the Seven Stars
and Your mansion is above the Netjeru of the earth!
Your Father Geb has prepared Your rightful place for You
and Your Mother Nut has torn open Her side for You,
O glorious God of fearsome strength!
O Sutekh Who causes the sky to shake!
All Your forms are opened from that metal of the sky,
from that northern sky where Your power is renewed daily.
O Lord, standing at the prow of the Ark of Ra,
come and fulfill this offering of the sky,
for it is the shield of the earth set firm in its place;
its protection is the seat of the Eye where You rest.
Take the power of the Sacred Eye;
take its green essence as Chieftain of the Black Land
and as Lord of the Red Land;
may the Two Countries bind themselves together at Your feet!
– Excerpt from The Rite of Bringing the Shields of the Lords of Valor in The Book of the Guild by Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa