Capricorn: Egyptian Tarot Set XV

The Capricorn Solstice is here depicted by the god Set-Typhon. The Devil XV is the traditional title of the trump, while the esoteric title is Lord of the Gates of Matter: Child of the Forces of Time. The Egyptian god Set is no devil as such but is the Opener of the Year and Lord of Initiation.

Egyptian Tarot Set XVSet is shown here as God of the South, wielding the was sceptre of sacerdotal authority in his left hand and the Ankh of Life in his right hand. His colour is black, his nemyss and apron of blue-black and indigo. His ornaments, sceptre and ankh are black, gold and grey as according to the key-scale colours of the  path of Capricorn and the ancient Egyptian title that was afforded Set, ‘the black and gold one’ (Set-Nubti). His peculiar ass-head with truncated ears has caused much bafflement. Some have thought he was modelled on a creature that has long been extinct. Whether this is true or not, Set is certainly among the most ancient of gods. Like Sokar, Lord of the Necropolis, Set is older even than the Pyramids. Perhaps he is older than the vast wilderness of the desert itself.

Most descriptions of Set focus on the later dynastic periods of Egypt, where he was demonised and known only as the slayer of Osiris. However, Set is the first and only begotten son of Nuit, the goddess of the night sky. His birth is by divine parthenogenesis. No paternal intervention is required for a star to manifest the mother, for this comes about through the mysterious power of Neïth, or Maya in Hinduism, and which is without beginning or end. To discuss Set-Typhon in terms of Osiris is a diversion from understanding Set’s true nature and function.

Set is the most difficult of gods to ‘pin down’; his very nature forbids it. He is on the other side of wherever we happen to be in terms of point of view. Thus, the Egyptians tended to think of Set as Mercury, called the shapeshifter in Western or Druidic traditions. In northerly locations, typical Setian totems are corvids—the raven, crow, jackdaw and magpie. The function of Set is dual. Firstly, Set veils the invisible in an almost infinite variety of forms. Secondly, he destroys the illusion of the appearance of things. Small wonder then, that Set is not only the ‘First before the Gods’, but is also the most misunderstood of all gods.

Set’s hieroglyphic name is shown at the top of the Tarot picture. The first two letters are phonetics (‘s’ and ‘t’) while the rectangle provides a further clue to Set’s mysterious origins. The rectangle means ‘stone’. This has agricultural and building connotations, as well as that of the graven image. Some of the earliest Dynastic kings of Egypt were Setians, and were noted for their great feats of architectural magnificence as well as introducing irrigation canals.[1] Esoterically, Set is the layer of the foundation of the universe from ‘before the beginning of things’. Likewise, Capricorn or winter solstice is the natural opening of the year. Capricorn is also the ‘height’ or summit of the Zodiac, figured as the tenth house of the midheaven. As height, the mountain upon which Capricorn leaps has its basis buried deeply in the earth—or in fact, as according to the ancient glyphs of the sign, the goat has a fishy tail, indicative of a more cosmic intepretation.

Capricorn: Iset Throne FoundationThe Iset throne of Isis typifies the foundation stone. Set and Isis, though portrayed as enemies in more recent times, are inseparable. Set is the elemental nature of Isis and is, through her identification with Nuit, her only begotten child. Turning to stone, as recounted in folk legends, can be an analogy for the petrification of the psyche, which amounts to being impervious to learning or knowledge. That, however, is only the most outward interpretation, for the ‘men of stone’ or Stone Age as it is termed, bore no relation to what historians have made of it. The great stone monuments and earthworks around the world testify to an ancient civilisation whose ways were utterly incomprehensible to people of modern times. In terms of knowledge, modernity is vastly degraded and is not in the slightest way superior to what is supposed to be ‘primitive’; if we use that word at all we should use it to denote what is primal or principial.

Tales of people being turned to stone are common in myth and legend. It is notable that in Cornish folklore, the origin of prehistoric megaliths and stone circles that abundantly populate the land is illustrated by stories of the petrification of men, women and giants. For example, the Merry Maidens and the Nine Maidens of Boskednan, the Tregeseal Dancing Stones and the Hurlers. A further version of the petrification is given among the legends of King Arthur. The wizard Merlin, in one account, is seduced by the witch, sorceress or nun—she is all these things—Morgan Le Fay. To impress her with a feat of magick he enters a group of standing stones, or a stone enclosure but is unable to leave. Thus, the knowledge of the ‘men of stone’ or old times was withdrawn at a certain point in time.

Capricorn, Set and the Eye of God

The twenty-sixth path of A’ain and Capricorn connects Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun, with Hod, the sphere of Mercury and mind. It is called the Renewing Intelligence. It is called thus because ‘thereby God renews all the changing things that are renewed by the creation of the world’ (Westcott). This indicates the cosmic renewal through perpetuity of all manifested forms.

Most depictions of the ‘Devil’ are a monstrous representation of the pre-religious Goddess of life and love, variously named Qutesh, Asherah, Lilith or Ashtaroth. For example the scarlet or golden girdle worn loosely about the waist of the Devil XV in early Tarot decks such as the Marseilles Tarot was the signature of Asherah and other primal dancing goddesses. Note that ‘Scarlet Woman’ (AShH ShNI) counts to 666, a number often associated with the Devil or Antichrist, though it is also a symbol of the Sun and of Spirit, and therefore of Christ. It must be said though that the Renewing Intelligence links the Sun with Mercury, and that Mercury is also the abode of Set.[2] The very confusion of symbolism over time might owe something to the Setian power to obfuscate through shapeshifting.

The magical powers of the twenty-sixth path of Capricorn are said to be the Witches Sabbath (so-called) and the Evil Eye. The former symbolises the degraded remnants of long forgotten rites, while the latter is the protection against the hostile forces thus unwittingly evoked. The Witches Sabbath is fictional, owing to the paranoid imaginings of fifteenth century clerics, but the symbolism is peculiarly apt.[3] The backwards dance of the revellers, for example, is a recollection of exceedingly antique rites as well as the whole underlying theology of ancient Egypt. Egypt recognised no ‘progress’ or ‘evolution’; the ideal was always to go back to the source, before the beginning of things. This return is not literally a going back to the past, or the ways of the past. It is a return to the principial origin, which is metaphysical. This spiritual truth is known by every yogin; it is certainly not in any way a symptom of a reactionary disposition among the Egyptians, as profane commentators have supposed.[4]


From the forthcoming book and Egyptian Tarot deck.

1. Even Seti I, the grandfather of Rameses II in the relatively late Middle to New Kingdom, was named after the great god and ensured the continuance of his cult—in spite of the fact Set was demonised by that time.

2. When a ‘star’ determinative (seba) is added to the name of Set then the hieroglyphs spell ‘Mercury’. Thus Set and Mercury, and the qualities of Mercury, are identical. See Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary Vol I, p. 707 A.

3. Malleus Maleficarum, or ‘Hammer of the Witches’, which pretended to be the product of fact-finding research, was a bestseller in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Propaganda was one of the first uses of the invention of the printing press.

4. One such profane commentator writes books on esotericism!

© Oliver St. John 2020, 2024.

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