Set, the Serpent-Lord
Set, the ancient serpent god, was the master of darkness and the beasts that hunt by night, lord of the red desert, and ruler of the sunken cities and the black gulfs between the stars. Sometimes known as Yig, he commands hordes of hissing serpents, and he wracks the cities and the spirits of men with shrieking, violent winds.
For a million years or more, Set the Old Serpent had been worshiped by reptilian serpent people, whose empires once spanned the jungles of the pre-human continent of Thuria before the Ice Ages began.
Theirs was a world of dinosaurs, ancient demons and sorcery beyond that now known to men. Primitive humans, in reality little more than apes, were kept as slave races. Only on remote continents did bestial humans survive unmolested, slowly learning the use of flint knives and fire-hardened spears and making the mystic transition from beast to man, from instinct to reason.
The reign of Set and the serpent people was overthrown by these early humans and the global climactic changes that brought humanity to power, but the cult of the snake-worshipers survived in the deepest, hottest black jungles. The serpent-people returned to rule mankind once again, under the leadership of the undead sorcerer Thulsa Doom, but were defeated by King Kull of Valusia during the Pre-Cataclysmic Age. The serpent-men were once again banished to the steaming jungles of the South.
Then, the Cataclysm destroyed Valusia and the Seven Kingdoms of Thuria. Five thousand years later, when the dark empires of Acheron and Old Stygia dominated the world, the altars of Set were once again soaked with the blood of evil sacrifice. Today the black-robed cult of Set controls Stygia, and has many secret outposts in other lands.
Set, the Old Serpent, was Mitra’s arch-enemy, and the ancient god was revered and worshiped mainly in Stygia, and was known and worshiped as Damballah in the Black Kingdoms. Set was a cruel, jealous god who demanded constant human sacrifice from his subjects, and his priests were only too willing to comply as they brought naked virgins screaming to his altar to appease his blood-lust. In Stygia the snake was holy and to kill a snake was a mortal sin. If a snake slithered into the cities or on the streets, Set’s subjects would lay prostrate before him, hoping to be found worthy of his bite. Set’s priests were almost as frightening as the god himself, and they terrified their own people almost as much as they terrified their enemies. Stygia was a theocracy, and the mad and corrupt clergy ran the country on fear and wonder, as well as an indiscriminate willingness to sacrifice their own people.
The tenets of Set worship were difficult and sheathed in many layers of dogma. Principally, the temples professed that Set was the most potent of gods, advocate of the strong, devourer of the weak, a powerful friend and a terrible enemy, and that it is the fate of mankind to serve the Serpent-Lord. Set’s greatest opponent was Mitra, the god of the Hyborians. According to the Setite priests, Mitra was perhaps as powerful as Set, but lacked the strength of heart to use his power to rule over humanity. Thus, the Setites preached, Mitra was ever doomed to failure; no matter how many times he succeeded in foiling Set’s plots, Set needed to prevail only once.
Set’s avatar can assume any form which is a combination of man and snake, including full man and full snake forms. In any snake-tainted form, the avatar’s size can range from a small adder to a gargantuan serpent, but in full human form it is restricted to human size. Omens of Set usually take the form of howling desert storms, the sudden bite of a snake, or stars that disappear from the night sky.
It is believed that anyone who performs the proper rituals before an artifact known as the Black Mirror of Nekhen will call Set into the world. Set’s followers are a dark and scorned lot who, outside of Stygia, where they actually are the rulers, work under cover of darkness and keep themselves cloaked in treachery and deceit. Their seat of power is Stygia, where serpent-men are revered as demi-gods. The Stygian king who holds court in Luxur is in reality merely a puppet of the snake-worshiping priests. Priests of Set, usually called Scions of Set, were clean-shaven and bald-headed like most Stygian clergy members. Due to the priesthood’s exalted position, it was death for any Stygian commoner to even touch a priest of Set. Set’s cult especially favored red-haired people, seeing this color as a sign of the god’s favor. Initiates of Set who had learned some of the inner knowledge of the cult reported that Set also offered eternal life in the tomb as undead to those who served him faithfully.