The Set Bird


All of the Egyptian Gods have half human forms and animal forms for the important gods, except Osiris and Set. Osiris and Set were brothers, Set in a fit of jealous rage, chopped Osiris into pieces and threw them into the Nile. Osiris’ wife Isis, fished the pieces out and put them back together, holding them in place using mummy wrappings.

Set is never shown in animal form, unlike Bast, Anubis, Ma’at, Isis, Horus, etc. Also, they all have an identifiable animal form, Bast is a cat, Anubis is a jackal, Horus is a falcon, so on and so on. Set does have an animal head, they call it the Set Bird, because it doesn’t resemble any African animals.

I have been interested in Ancient Egyptian history since I was about 7. I have even taught myself to poorly read hieroglyphics. The first time, I saw Set, I couldn’t figure out why everyone said he was a bird. His head doesn’t resemble a bird. It has massive mule like ears and a long snout with the ability to show facial expressions. The mouth is usually depicted as slightly open.

This is the image of Set Wikipedia has. It doesn’t look like a bird http://By Jeff Dahl (talk · contribs) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3306905

It looks like an aardvark. I have always thought it looked like an aardvark. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/aardvark/

I have no clue why Egyptologists have proclaimed it was a bird for so long. And it might make sense for Set to be an Aardvark. Also, Set is one of the few gods depicted with visible fingernails and aardvarks have claws.

Just something to think about.

6 thoughts on “The Set Bird

  1. What Egyptologist has referred to Set as bird? i always thought that he was referred to as a god with an undetermined animal head. this is only normal, since he was the god of chaos, destruction and new energy that leads to creation. and yes, his head is usually depicted as some mule looking thing. Aardvark is a good description too, , considering that ancient egyptian culture has its root in older african ones, this makes sense.
    Like all Egyptian gods and myths, there are multiple versions of him as well as of his mythology, which is common of all religions.Just look at the two creation stories in the old testament; by the time the bible was edited and the versions most conducive to upholding the regional power structure were canonized, each sect got its own version. those still differ today.
    religions, after all, are sociopolitical systems that reflect a cultural and political reality. in egypt, religions went through multiple revisions while the overarching themes remained.

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    1. I’m not sure who first referred to it as a bird, but I have a half dozen books on Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses that refer to Set as having the head of the Set Bird a mysterious and unknown bird-like creature and the only “unknown” animal to be portrayed among the animalistic god forms from Ancient Egypt.

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      1. seems to make sense that the god of chaos has an indeterminate form. still, why they think he is birdlike is strange.your idea with the aardvark seems much more accurate.

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      2. I’ve always agreed that an indeterminate animal would be fine, but I don’t think that was the intent. The aardvark is fairly destructive and just one can tear down multiple termite colonies in only a few hours – the big amazing kind of colonies that only happen in Africa. Set was the god of war, chaos, destruction, and devastation, so an aardvark makes complete sense to me. Why it was seen as a bird and not an aardvark is the part that makes me scratch my head. I asked my Early Civ teacher about it and they just shrugged and he said he didn’t think it looked like an aardvark, he was fairly sure it was a bird. I have to wonder if there is something like the Mandela effect in action with the Set Bird. Multiple sources mentioned it was a bird and now everyone looks at it and says “oh yes, I see a bird” when in reality, it looks nothing like a bird.

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      3. that reminds me of the first thing you learn in anthropology. every find that cannot be understood or identified is labeled “religious”. that’s because people are so scared criticizing religious beliefs that everyone will just nod wisely and agree. i’m not sure if you know what a distaff looks like, but when the archaeologists found a few in a small are, it was declared as a cult’s divination implements and ascribed religious significance. books were written about this widespread cult that spanned from Egypt to the Black Sea and even further afield. then, eventually women were allowed into the field of archaeology. so at some point in the 60s or 70s some female grad student–a hippy who knew about spinning wool and cotton– goes to see the collection and says something to the effect that she couldn’t understand why those spindles were in the religious artifact collection. Yes, this led to the development of anthropology in a big way, since quite a few collections of artifacts had to be reassessed.
        today, medicine is finally realizing that gender and color influence medical issues, diseases, and medication and that test results from trial with white men, just isn’t good enough anymore.
        Set’s bird head follows the idea of confirmation bias. if the expert tells you it’s a bird, then the lay person will see a bird, even if it’s an aardvark.

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      4. Agreed and I feel mass delusion feeds into it. Aardvarks aren’t scary and Set should be scary, look at what he represents. Just ignore the fact that he was quite revered and viola, he must have the head of something confusing and terrifying… it must be a bird! All one must do is see Set as evil which isn’t his exact role, but modern religious understanding demands duality; good can only exist if evil also exists and suddenly The freaky bird’s head makes more sense. It only requires us to ignore a few inconveniences, like Set’s importance and that the Egyptians weren’t terribly interested in good v. evil in the way modern religions are.

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