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Out of the deeps rises the mysterious lotus. Stop in for refreshment, heka, and reflections from the sacred waters of ancient Egypt.

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Horus and Set: the Win-Win Epic

Good guy, bad guy, the epic struggle between light and dark, good and evil - this is the iconic frame around Horus and Set. Too often, Set has been portrayed as some sort of heart of darkness, with Horus as the righteous golden conqueror. In reality, ancient Egyptians for thousands of years showed respect for Osiris’ younger brother with the squared-off ears. Set was especially favored by soldiers, who appreciated his ability to effectively wield power.

But history is written by the winners, as they say, and when the Two Lands (Upper and Lower Egypt) were united under Narmer, the moment was fixed in memory as a one-sided victory for the Horus-king. Or was it?


The famous Narmer palette (many of us studied this in college, or saw it in the Tut touring exhibit) shows two animals with very long entwined necks. Their handlers struggle to hold them back, even as they seem to embrace each other. In another iconic image, we see Horus and Set themselves coming together astride several sacred symbols indicating unification of the Two Lands.


All of this imagery shows us two forces in dynamic tension with one another. We almost wonder if one could exist without the other. There’s no question that the winners here identify themselves with Horus because we see the hawk presenting to Narmer on the front side of the palette.

I’m not a personal fan of Set since I like a certain amount of order in my life. But I can feel in myself these forces which sometimes oppose each other, like troops on a battlefield. Chaos and balance are always simmering within me, sometimes jousting for dominance. At first glance the Egyptian carvings may seem binary, then we see the twists of the creatures necks on the Narmer palette, the graceful loops of cord, lotus and sedge with Horus and Set, and we are reminded that life is composed of such subtle nuances.

All of this encourages me to maintain my spiritual practices, to nurture my own emotional and spiritual health, as a way to keep the pot from boiling over. The Egyptians did this by developing an elaborate system of governance as well as temple rituals that carried them through several millenia. I do it by recognizing that there is always going to be a certain amount of tension, within me, but also around me, and we would all do well to stretch our necks as far as possible in order to hold the delicate balance.

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Holli Emore is Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the premiere educational resource for Pagan and other nature-based religions (, founder of Osireion (, editor/writer for Wild Garden: Pagans in the Growing Interfaith Landscape at, and serves on the board of directors for Interfaith Partners of S.C. (  She is co-founder of the original Pagan Round Table,, and author of "Pool of Lotus," available in print, or for Kindle or Nook, at


  • Mary Bettuchy
    Mary Bettuchy Thursday, 09 May 2013

    We all must embrace the tension in our lives, for it will always be part of us and to run from a part of ourselves is futile and damaging. Without chaos there can be no balace. Without Isfet there can be no Ma'at. Well written, Holli.

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