Mythos 45 – Varaha and Set


Ancient Egyptian Statue of a Sha

Ancient Egyptian Statue of a Sha

In Egyptian beliefs, Ra and Babi were accompanied by the odd-looking god Set, also called Seth.(1)H. Te Velde (1977) Seth, God of Confusion. Pages 105-107 Like many Egyptian gods, Set was either depicted as a human-animal hybrid, or as an animal, however unlike most other Egyptian gods, in the case of Set his animal is unknown. Ancient Egyptians called it the Sha, while Egyptologist call it the Set-Animal, and the Ancient Greeks, who also didn’t know what it was, called in the Typhonic-Beast. This creature was depicted throughout Egyptian history either in animal form or hybrid form, from Pre-Dynastic times until the Third Intermediate Period, when many statues of it were destroyed.(2)Robert Graves (1974) New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology The oldest known depiction of Set is from the mace of the Pre-Dynastic King Scorpion(3)H. Te Velde (1967) “Seth, God of Confusion: A Study of His Role in Egyptian Mythology and Religion,” Probleme der Ägyptologie, Volume 6, Pages 7-12 circa 5,150 years ago. It is likely that this creature was known in earlier times, as a similar creature was depicted in a tomb dating to the Naqada I phase of the Pre-Dynastic Period, between 6,000 and 5,500 years ago. The Sha was depicted as a dog-like quadruped, with a forked tale, human hands, and a strange head, which Egyptologists have various tried to identify as an aardvark, a dog, a donkey, a giraffe, or a boar.

Ancient Carving of Enusha at Durga Temple

Ancient Carving of Enusha (Varaha), stepping on Nagas (Snake-People) at Durga Temple, India

According to the Egyptian King Lists before the rule of kings, Earth was ruled by a series of gods and then demigods. One of these ancient god-kings was Set, who ruled between Osiris and Horus. In the Late Egyptian Kingdom, Set was vilified as Horus had become the national god, casting Set into the role of devil. In earlier times Set was revered as one of humanities saviors who fought with Ra and Babi in Ra’s Solar Barges against Apep, a gigantic snake that attempted to eat the Sun. In Hindu beliefs, long before the time of Kishna or Rama, the world was saved from a Celestial that was attempting to steal it, and take it to the deepest part of the cosmic ocean, by a similar looking deity: Varaha. While the thought of a snake eating the Sun might seem ridiculous, the effect of the sun disappearing would be the same as the Earth being moved deeper into space, away from the sun: the planet would freeze, and life would die. Both stories are describing a similar celestial creature, saving the Earth from another celestial creature that is described as a snake.

An Ancient Image of Babi and a Pig in Ra's Solar Barge

An Ancient Image of Babi and a Boar in Ra’s Solar Barge, in Set’s Normal Position

Varaha is a word that means boar in Sanskrit, however in the earliest surviving work he is mentioned in, the Shatapatha Brahmana from 2,800 years ago, he was called Emusha, which appears to be his ancient name in India. Emusha does not appear to be a Sanskrit word, which is likely why the Sanskrit word for boar replaced it in languages based on Sanskrit, such as Hindi. Emusha (Varaha) was not the only one of these boar-headed gods in India. One of the seven Matrikas was also depicted as boar-headed; her name was apparently Vairali, although she is commonly known as Vārāhī, meaning sow. The seven Matrikas, meaning seven mothers, have been revered in India since ancient times, originally representing the seven bright stars of the Pleiades Star Cluster.(4)Madhu Bazaz Wangu (2003) Images of Indian Goddesses. Page 187 Six of the Matrikas were traditionally depicted as human, while one was depicted as boar-headed. Unfortunately no ancient statues or description of Emusha exist from prior to the Aryan arrival in South Asia, and so it is unknown exactly what the ancient Dravidians were describing. We may never know if Emusha originally looked like a Sha (Set-animal), however the two stories of strange snouted beings saving the Earth from being separated from the Sun, do seem consistent.

A Statue of Narasimha From Around 950 AD

Within the Vaishnavist branch of Hinduism, Varaha is believed to have been an incarnation of Vishnu, who returned to the Earth as a human-lion hybrid called Narasimha. Narasiṁha is often visualized as having a human-like torso and lower body, with a lion-like face and claws.(5)Bhagavata Purāṇa 7.8.19-22 He is known primarily as the ‘Great Protector’ who defends and protects his devotees in times of need.(6)Steven J. Rosen (2001) Narasiṁha Avatar, The Half-Man/Half-Lion Incarnation, Page 5 The word Narasimha means ‘lion-man’ in Sanskrit which is itself not a word found in the Vedas, indicating that it was another term the Aryan immigrants invented after arriving in the ancient Dravidian civilization, along with names like Varaha (boar) and Krishna (black). In Egypt an identical deity was worshiped from Pre-Dynastic times: Bast the protector of Ta-Mehu (Lower Egypt). Bast became Bastet a human-lion hybrid goddess by the 2nd Dynasty, and slowly evolved into the goddess of house-cats by the 22nd Dynasty. The earliest myths involving Bast is that he or she was lion-human hybrid that killed the giant snake Apep. Apep was the same giant snake that Set stopped from eating the Sun. In Vaishnavist Hinduism Vishnu incarnated as Narasimha to kill the Asura Hiranyakashipu, younger brother of Hiranyaksha, the Asura that Varaha stopped from stealing the Earth.

An Ancient Egyptian Statue of Bastet

An Ancient Egyptian Statue of Bastet

These stories of Set and Bast, and Varaha and Narasimha, are intertwined. These strange ancient stories tell of a time long ago when a group of Celestial Snakes attempted to separate the Earth and the Sun, and were stopped by two groups of odd looking Celestials, Sha (boar/aardvark beings) and Bast (lion-men). As in the case of the Varaha, in the case of the lion-men, there were many recorded. In Ta-Mehu (Lower Egypt) Bast was venerated, while in Ta-Shemau (Upper Egypt) Sekhmet was worshiped. A male lion-man was also worshiped in Egypt called Maahes. In Nubia to the south of Egypt another male lion-man was worshiped called Apedemak. All of these gods have similar stories of protecting the world from a snake. Given that lions are not known to hunt snakes, and snakes are not generally known for eating the Sun, the independent development of these stories seems highly unlikely. Whatever the original source of the story, it seems to have been widely known in Pre-Dynastic times.

References   [ + ]

1. H. Te Velde (1977) Seth, God of Confusion. Pages 105-107
2. Robert Graves (1974) New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology
3. H. Te Velde (1967) “Seth, God of Confusion: A Study of His Role in Egyptian Mythology and Religion,” Probleme der Ägyptologie, Volume 6, Pages 7-12
4. Madhu Bazaz Wangu (2003) Images of Indian Goddesses. Page 187
5. Bhagavata Purāṇa 7.8.19-22
6. Steven J. Rosen (2001) Narasiṁha Avatar, The Half-Man/Half-Lion Incarnation, Page 5