Founded during the summer solstice of 1975 in Santa Barbara, California by Michael A. Aquino, the Temple of Set is based on the principles of the left-hand path of witchcraft and Western esotericism. Though it rejects the reverence of Satan in favor of their version of the Dark Lord, known as Set, it has been described as being “an actor in the same milieu.”
Michael A. Aquino, Founder of the Temple of Set
Aquino had joined the Church of Satan in 1969 and quickly rose within its hierarchy. He believed Anton LaVay was not merely the a charismatic orator; he believed he had been appointed by Satan himself to found the Church. He believed this “mandate” of Satan had been revoked and given instead to Aquino in 1975, at which point he left the Church of Satan to found his own.
Lilith Aquino, wife of the High Priest of the Temple of Set
Zeena LaVey, after leaving the Church of Satan and discontinuing contact with her family, joined the Temple of Set and served as its High Priestess in 2002.
Set is described as having gifted humanity with the “Black Flame,” or the “Gift of Set:” a questioning intellect which, through gnosis and “greater black magic,” enables humans to attain godhood. The realization of the Setian practitioner as a deity is represented by the Egyptian heiroglyph kheper, or “Xeper.” Upon reaching xeper, Setians then endeavor to isolate their greater psychic selves from the rest of the universe. This is antithetical to previously-established Hermetic practices, which encourage the practitioner to assimilate their psychic selves into the universal collective, rather like the concept of Nirvana. In this way, The Temple of Set is in opposition to Hermetic occultism the way Satanism is in opposition to Christianity. As explained in the General Information and Policies section on their website:
“Followers of the Left-Hand Path practice what, in a specific and technical sense, we term Black Magic. Black Magic focuses on self-determined goals. Its formula is ‘my will be done,’ as opposed to the White Magic of the Right-Hand Path, whose formula is ‘thy will be done’.
Black Magic is shunned and feared because to do Black Magic is to take full responsibility for one’s actions, evolution, and effectiveness.
Since magic enables you to influence or change events in ways neither understood nor anticipated by society, you must develop a sound and sophisticated appreciation for the ethics governing your own motives, decisions, and actions before you put it to use. To use magic for impulsive, trivial, or egoistic desires is not Setian. It must become second-nature to you to carefully pre-evaluate the consequences of what you wish to do, then choose the course of wisdom, justice, and creative improvement.
Black Magic is the means by which Initiates of the Left-Hand Path experience being gods, rather than praying to imaginary images of gods.”
Set, also known as The Prince of Darkness, is not revered by Setians as a god. Rather, he is a role model to which they aspire. There is no consensus of opinion as to whether or not Set is “real,” nor is there expected to be; members are expected to form an opinion on their own.
“The oldest known form of the Prince of Darkness, the archetype of isolate self-consciousness, is the Egyptian god Set, whose Priesthood can be traced to Predynastic times. Images of Set have been dated to ca. 3200 BCE, with astronomically-based estimates of inscriptions dating to 5000 BCE.
Set is a more complex figure than that of the Judeo-Christian Satan. Satan, the archetype of rebellion against cosmic order and stasis, may be the symbol for many people’s initial commitment to initiation, but this symbol is too closely linked to conventional religions and their moral codes to be an effective representation of the richness, subtlety, and complexity of the Left-Hand Path.”