Set, the God of Vampires
Written by: Michelle Belanger
Many groups seek to place the origins of vampirism in the antiquity of Egypt. Even the use of the ankh, an inherently Egyptian symbol, to represent vampire-kind, seems to imply some Egyptian connection. The following is my commentary on and retelling of one of the many Egypt-related vampire origin stories. There are several different groups that place the origin of vampires in ancient Egypt. Detractors of these origin stories have referenced the stories of Anne Rice, suggesting that the tales of Akasha and her consort have heavily influenced the beliefs of the modern vampire scene. Certainly, there has been some influence in the past few decades from Anne Rice’s work. However, many of the groups which place their origin in Egypt or a pre-Egyptian society claim to pre-date the novels of Anne Rice.
My personal take is that Rice has played a part in at least some groups’ interpretations of their origins. However, the mythology of ancient Egypt is fertile ground for vampire myths, and so there is just as much likelihood that many groups’ interpretations were developed independent of Anne Rice.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead, a sprawling document that is actually a collection of many smaller texts, including the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts, provides ample material for a belief in some form of immortality as well as for a belief in powerful beings that feed upon life and drink human blood. A set of demonic entities that harrow the dead in the between-realm of the afterlife, known as the Devourers, are prime examples of this. The Devourers, or Amam, feed upon various parts of body and spirit, and one is specifically said to feast upon blood.
Many of the groups I have encountered purport some influence from the Book of the Dead, but rather than focusing on overly vampiric beings like the Amam, these groups instead focus their origin stories upon specific Egyptian deities.
Osiris, a dying and rising god who was murdered by his brother Set, is a prime candidate for becoming a modern vampire pre-cursor, but perhaps as a result of the role he plays in Anne Rice’s origin tale, he is often avoided by real vampire households. Many groups focus instead upon Set, the Egyptian god of chaos and darkness, who is the murderous brother of Osiris. Set’s mythic connection to Cain is apparent, and in some traditions, there is overt cross-over between these two figures.
The most widely-known vampire group that connects its origin to Set is the Temple of Set, a vampiric off-shoot of the LaVeyan Satanist Church that has developed into a significant occult body in its own right. White Wolf of course capitalized on the association of Set with vampirism, but the Temple of Set and numerous other Setian traditions predate the creation of the Vampire: the Masquerade clan known as the Setites. Here is one retelling of the origin of vampirism as it is tied to Set:
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Before Set was viewed by the Egyptians as a god, he was a high priest. This was in the days when the gods walked the earth, and these “gods” were priest-kings who presided over grand temples. Set ruled in the South, which is why he is still associated with that direction in Egyptian writings to this day. He is connected with the desert, with the red mountains of the land of death. Simultaneously, he is a god of darkness (akhekhu) and a god of the killing heat of the mid-day sun. He is a god of many contradictions, for he was also renowned for causing storms but at the same time was ascribed the power of quelling them – if he so chose.
The temple that Set ruled over was seen by many outsiders as a dark temple, for Set was a man who braved death to come back from the other side awakened and transformed. In this, he was perhaps the first shaman, initiating a whole tradition of death and rebirth. He brought others into his secret priesthood, and eventually they overtook this temple. In time, the temple stretched its influence across an entire society.
Many priests were initiated into the mysteries, and the process of death-and-rebirth made them vampiric. It also gave them great powers – astral projection, spirit communication, the ability to influence others with their charisma and will. The downside is that their greatened sensitivity to the world of spirit also made them overly sensitive to other things. The heat of the noon-day sun was a great bane to them, and they became very sensitive to the light. Thus, the initiated priesthood kept to the temples, often living in deep underground complexes that were dark and cool.
They ran things from the shadows, wielding great power. Their very presence became a thing that was whispered about, and myths rose up around them. They were the neteru, the Watchers, who wielded the power over life and death, whose hieroglyph is the killing axe. They were the mysterious denizens of Ro-se-tau, the guardians of the stages of the Duat.
Like all things, the age of the temple came to an end. However, though their power over society waned, the priests retained their power over life and death. And so, although they had to eventually release their hold upon their physical bodies, they had power to direct their rebirth. And they retained their memories and their metaphysical powers. And many of them waited on the other side as the world changed.
Eventually, the culture we know as ancient Egypt took hold upon the land that Set once reigned over from the South as the shadowy Priest-King. And much of his priesthood chose to be reborn within this ancient society. They brought back many of the ancient knowledges, and they are remembered in the Egyptian tradition as the akhu, immortal beings from the primeval golden age of the Sep Tepy who returned to teach the new culture their wisdom.