Symbology in Ancient Egypt: Horus, Seth, and King Khasekhem

As Egypt reached the end of what we call its First Dynasty, one might have thought that it’s prospects for the future were bright. A steadily growing economy, an increasingly established monarchy, and quickly expanding society left Egypt as a whole in a promising position. All things withstanding, the reality is that the records of Early Egypt are scarce and disjointed, leaving the precise facts up to debate. We have spent time examining the Palermo Stone, a historical treasure that sheds much light on a few specific swaths of Egypt’s early history. The Second Dynasty, however, occupies the dark area of history, and is a time period under much scholarly speculation.

One of the most credible possibilities for what occurred during the Second Dynasty centers around the monarchy’s assimilation with the Egyptian religious centers. The religious base of the god Horus was found largely in the regions of Lower Egypt, while the base of the god Seth was found in Nubt, a desert region in the south of Egypt. Horus was the celestial deity, while Seth was the desert god. What little evidence exists for the happenings of the Second Dynasty seems to show that Egypt’s monarchy devolved into a competition between successive kings. The royal capital was moved several times, and different monarchs tried to elevate different gods as their own personal icons. The predominant royal deity of the First Dynasty was Horus, but a Second Dynasty king attempted to move the capital and adopt Seth as the royal deity. In a nutshell, the petty personal feuds and selfish motives of the Second Dynasty kings were well on their way to making Egypt a fractured state of local warlords once again.

Horus the Falcon against Seth the Typhon

Enter Khasekhem. His name literally means “the power has appeared.” His intent, as signaled by his very name, was to restore the Egyptian monarchy to the potential it had possessed at the end of the First Dynasty. Upon his ascension to the throne, he quickly began to instate his vision upon the country, beginning with his re-adoption of Horus as the royal deity. The true success of Khasekhem’s reign, according to some scholars, was to avert the potential fracturing of the infantile Egyptian state. It had been unified by Narmer, but, as we have seen, began to be stretched during the Second Dynasty.

The best evidence supporting the theory that Khasekhem averted a potential rift is seen in the evolution of his royal title. He began his reign as Khasekhem, “the power has appeared.” By the end of his reign, he was known to Egypt as Khasekhemwy, a subtle difference in our English alphabet, but a major difference to the Egyptian mind. His new name meant “the two powers have appeared.” It can also be read “the two lords are at peace in him,” the two lords being Horus and Seth. Khasekhemwy had succeeded in unifying Egypt once again, as his royal title signifies by placing both Horus and Seth atop his royal cipher. Khasekhem placed Egypt on solid ground again, and in time, the first pyramids would rise from the solid ground.

The Royal Cipher of Khasekhemwy (Horus/Seth)

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