The ancient Egyptians were perhaps the first to personify evil as a distinct force in the universe, but they retained a concept of unity by representing the evil god Set as a brother of Horus, prince of light and goodness. Although Set was actually the younger brother of Osiris—who, with Isis, his wife, and Horus, his son, comprised the Egyptian trinity—he was represented as Horus's brother, because Set stood for the opposing forces of evil and darkness. Set was jealous of Osiris's power and sought to seize the throne from him. In ensuing struggle, Osiris was dismembered, leaving Horus to oppose his evil brother/uncle. In the war between the two that ensued, Horus and the forces of good prevailed. In the story of Set's insurrection can be seen a parallel with the Hebrew tradition of Lucifer's rebellion, his defeat by Michael and the angels, and his subsequent expulsion from heaven. Set, therefore, is clearly an early fore-runner of Christianity's and Islam's irreconcilably and absolutely evil Satan.
The Temple of Set maintains, however, that regardless of how evil Set may be portrayed, his "essential function" of "expanding the borders of existence and then returning that Chaotic energy to the center" has continued to the present day. In the temple's cosmology, Set stands separate and apart from the forces of the natural universe.
In 1975, Michael Aquino (1946– ), one of Anton LaVey's followers, left the Church of Satan after a disagreement and organized the Temple of Set in San Francisco. Aquino had been the editor of the Church of Satan newsletter, and when it appeared to him that LaVey was merely "selling" priesthoods, he lodged a firm protest with the Black Pope. In Aquino's view, priesthoods in satanic orders should be conferred solely on the basis of magical achievement. Unimpressed with Aquino's argument, LaVey dismissed the matter by explaining that he considered the degrees he issued as merely symbolic of the member's status in the outside world. In protest, Aquino resigned his priesthood in the Church of Satan and with Lilith Sinclair, head of the New York Lilith Grotto, formed the Temple of Set.
Aquino, a former lieutenant in Army Intelligence, specializing in psychological warfare, had joined the Church of Satan together with his first wife in 1968. An enthusiastic member of the church, he was ordained a satanic priest after he had returned from serving in Vietnam in 1970; and he envisioned his mission in life as one of destroying the influence of conventional religion in human affairs. Filled with missionary zeal, Aquino made it clear that he did not wish to convert everyone to Satanism, but he did wish to remove the shadow of fear and superstition that he believed had been perpetuated by organized religion.
On the eve of the summer solstice on June 21, 1975, after his split with LaVey, Aquino performed a magical ritual and sought to summon Satan to appear to him to advise him how best to proceed in his earthly mission. According to Aquino, the Prince of Darkness appeared to him in the image of Set and declared to his disciple the dawning of the Aeon of Set. It was revealed that Set appeared to Aleister Crowley (1875–1947) in Cairo in 1904 in the image of Crowley's guardian angel, Aiwass. At this time, Crowley was declared the herald for the advent of the Aeon of Horus and assumed the title of "The Beast." In 1966, Anton LaVey had ushered in the Aeon of Satan, an intermediary stage that was designed to prepare the way for the Aeon of Set, an age that would bring forth enlightenment. Aquino was delighted and honored to assume the mantle of "The Second Beast," and he even had "666," the number of the Beast in the book of Revelation tattooed on his scalp. At the same time, he also assumed Crowley's Golden Dawn degree of Ipsissimus as his own.
In Aquino's view, the Temple of Set offers its followers an opportunity to raise their consciousness and to apprehend what exists in each individual to make him or her unique. Such awareness, according to the precepts of the Temple of Set, will permit its members to use this gift of expanded consciousness to make themselves stronger in all facets of their being. To accomplish this, they state, they "perserve and improve the tradition of spiritual distinction from the natural universe, which in the Judeo/Christian West has been called Satanism," but they choose to call "the Left-Hand Path." To follow such a path, they promise, is to enter a process that will create "an individual, powerful essence that exists above and beyond animal life. It is thus the true vehicle for personal immortality."
The Temple of Set emphasizes the employment of black magic of a sort that focuses on "self-determined goals." While this form of magic may be utilized to accomplish everything from healing one's ill friends or relatives to obtaining a better paying position, the temple stresses that the practitioner must first learn to develop a system of ethics and discernment before putting such power to use. Using magic for "impulsive, trivial, or egoistic desires" is not considered to be Setian. Black magic is the means by which Setian initiates "experience being gods, rather than praying to imaginary images of gods."
The Temple of Set does not tolerate congregations of docile Setians. Those who attend must be considered "cooperative philosophers and magicians." According to their general information distributed to those who inquire about the temple, executive authority is held by the Council of Nine, which is responsible for appointing both the high priest and the executive director. There are six degrees of initiates: Setian 1, Adept II, Priest/Priestess of Set III, Magister/Magistra Templi IV, Magus/Maga V, and Ipsissimus/Ipissima VI. To be recognized as an Adept II, one must demonstrate that he or she has successfully mastered and applied the essential principles of black magic. Reading materials available to the initiates include the newsletter Scroll of Set and the encyclopedias entitled the Jeweled Tablets of Set.
The Temple of Set emphasizes that the black arts may be as dangerous to the newcomer as volatile chemicals may become to the inexperienced lab technician. It cautions that the practice of magic is not for unstable, immature, or emotionally weak-minded individuals. And it also stresses that the process offers to those who seek their "evolutionary product of human experience" is the kind of activity that no enlightened, mature intellect would regard as "undignified, sadistic, criminal, or depraved."
Lyons, Arthur. Satan Wants You: The Cult of Devil Wor ship in America. New York: Mysterious Press, 1989.
——. The Second Coming: Satanism in America. New York: Award Books, 1970.
Temple of Set. [Online] http://www.xeper.org/pub/tos/infoadms/html. October 31, 2001.