Kheperu and the Temple of Set
Written by: Michelle Belanger with acknowledgements to Don Webb
Anyone familiar with the Temple of Set's buzz-word xeper has got to wonder what connections, if any, there are between the Setian and Kheprian traditions. After years of such questions, we finally looked into some of the Setian beliefs through Don Webb's excellent introductory text, The Seven Faces of Darkness. Admittedly, even we were astounded to see so many striking parallels. The following article explores the similarities and differences between House Kheperu and the Temple of Set and considers how two totally independent systems could seize upon so many similar beliefs.
“Kheprian” is the term for a member of House Kheperu. Both “Kheperu” and “Kheprian” are derived from the ancient Egyptian word kheperu. This word, as a verb, can be translated “to transform, to change, to become.” It can also refer to birth, rebirth, and metamorphosis. The word is represented by a scarab and is intricately interconnected with the ancient Egyptian god Khepra who also shares the form of the scarab beetle. Khepra is a solar deity linked with death and rebirth. He is seen as the divine embodiment of the sun that dies each day at sunset but is reborn with each new morning.
The word kheperu appears in various modulations in the opening line of a creation story found in a papyrus known as “Knowing the Modes of Re and Overthrowing the Serpent Apophis.” This elegant and potent mantra of self-creation reads: “Kheper-i kheper kheperu kheper-kuy n kheperu m khepra kheperu m sep tepy.”
Translated, it is the self-created god's assertion of his metamorphosis and how the changes he has wrought within himself are subsequently responsible for inspiring change in everything around him. A basic reading is: “I Became and the Becoming became. I Became by becoming the form of Khepra, god of transformations, who came into being in the First Time.” Though this specific papyrus is dated to the Third Century CE, its source is believed to be far older, and variations on the kheperu mantra can be found in documents as old as the Pyramid texts (approx. 2500 BCE).
Because the language of the ancient Egyptians was multi-layered and multi-faceted in meaning, every instance and variation of the word “become” in the above passage can also be read as “transform” or “metamorphose”. Thus the passage is about transformation, metamorphosis, and even rebirth brought about through the process of Becoming.
Exceptionally important to Kheprian philosophy is the fact that later lines tell how the self-created god achieved his transformation “through this my Ba.” The Ba is the part of the soul that the ancient Egyptians linked to the life-force and to the process of rebirth and to Kheprians, it is associated with the energy center located just beneath the navel.
Set and the Art of Becoming
The concept of personal transformation is integral to the Kheprian philosophy. Furthermore, the notion that a being in the distant past (known to the Egyptians as the Sep Tepy or “First Time”) enabled a series of transformations by initiating his own transformation is a fundamental part of the Kheprian mythic history.
The Kheprians believe that this self-created being was the magician-priest Setem-Ansi, also known as Sem-Asa. Setem, it should be noted, is the Egyptian word for “priest.” According to the head of the Order of the Trapezoid, Setians often render this word Sethem and perceive it as meaning specifically a priest of Set, if not a priestly form of Set himself.
Similarly, in the Kheprian tradition, Setem-Ansi is also equated with the god Set. For the Kheprians, Set is not the dark god of chaos depicted in the later Osirian cycle of myths. Rather, the Kheprian vision of Set draws upon his pre-Dynastic roots as ruler of Upper Egypt and dark twin of Horus.
According to Kheprian history, Setem-Ansi achieves his transformation through a severing of the Universal umbilical as represented by the center in the belly associated with the Ba. The transformation, which enabled this being to transcend beyond a single incarnation, is the self-same transformation that marks the change into a Kheprian. Interestingly enough, Setians often represent Set through the symbol of the pesh-khent knife, a blade that formed the earliest known hieroglyph representative of Set's name.
In the Setian tradition, it is with this knife of meteoric iron that Set cuts away delusion. In more traditional interpretations, this strangely-shaped knife is believed to be used either to sever umbilical of a newborn or as some manner of castration tool (castration is significant in Set's traditional cycle of myths for, in the strivings of Set and Horus, Set put out Horus's eye and in retaliation, Horus castrated Set.)
There is no documented connection in the ancient Egyptian writings between Set and the self-created deity who speaks of Becoming in the “Modes of Re” papyrus. Yet both the Kheprian and Setian traditions, independent of one another, have made that leap. The Temple of Set has used the term xeper for many years, and this term is derived from the self-same Egyptian word, kheperu. For the Setians, the word “xeper” embodies their notion of Becoming, and it is often used in the imperative: xeper! (Become!), encouraging people to harness their inner power and transform themselves into something greater.
The Kheprian and Setian systems developed independent of one another, and it is only through recent information from Don Webb, current head of the Temple of Set, that many of the parallels between their beliefs have been made clear. As the Kheprian stream was developed primarily from remembered material, the similarities between some of the inner teachings are striking. Some of the parallels and leaps of logic made by these two systems seem to suggest that they stem from a common truth hidden in the veils of antiquity. Additional parallels can be explained by the fact that both systems drew inspiration from similar sources within the readily available ancient Egyptian material.
Despite similar sources of inspiration, however, the two traditions have taken things ideologically in very different directions, emphasizing the diversity of thought that is such a striking characteristic of the modern magickal community.