This page contains relatively explicit discussion of sex and fertility myths. If this offends you, please look at another page.

As explained on the page about Set, Set has gone in and out of favour over the centuries. Set can be good or evil depending on the context. He tends to stand for order. An Egyptian legend describes Set saving the sun god Ra from the serpent Apep during the eclipse, thus saving the world from darkness and chaos.

Set appears in the Robin Hood stories as Guy of Gisbourne. In the Ballad of Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne Gisbourne is a dour mercenary hired by The Sherriff of Nottingham to bring law and order to the greenwood. Gisbourne wears a horse hide as a cloak, cowl and mask, so he appears to have the ears of a horse. Robin, in contrast is jovial, mischievous and dressed in green. Set's appearance is always dark, and there is something authoritarian about him. Authoritarianism is the dark side of order. People in positions of power abuse their authority. This is why Set is portrayed as a pederast in the Egyptian legends.

In the early part of the twentieth century, Set came back into favour. And by some strange process which I can't begin to descibe surfaced in 20th century American popular culture. Bob Kane originally conceived of Batman as a dark and sinister figure who strikes fear into the hearts of criminals. Kane's cultured assistant, Bill Finger, probably deserves credit for the best ideas in the early Batman comics. Batman wears a cowl with distinctive upright pointing ears, which are Set's trademark. Batman is continually attempting to bring law and order to Gotham City (the city of "fools and wiseacres" according to Washington Irvine).
One of the Batman scriptwriters (Frank Miller, I think) said that: "Metropolis is New York by day, Gotham City is New York by night". Batman's greatest enemy is an insane grinning, green haired clown, called The Joker. The Joker is the archetypal trickster. His aim is to joyfully bring about chaos. In Britain in 2000, posters and flyers for the Mayday 2000 anti-capitalist demonstrations featured a face which was a fusion of Tony Blair and The Joker. "Laugh in the face of global capitalism" was the slogan. The message about fools was also circulated around the same time. The green clown is Robin Hood and he is the "green man" who appears in old churches, grinning insanely as the green foliage of spring bursts out of his head and body. The green man is a nuisance in the heart of the city. The setting for the story is almost entirely urban. Harsh, treeless, dark, and unnatural. The Joker rears his crazy head in the cold streets of Gotham City like a dandylion in a gravel path. Bruce Wayne, Batman's alter ego in contrast, is a "millionaire playboy", whose parents had been murdered by a "common criminal".

In Egyptian legend Set is the rival of Osiris. Set deceives and murders Osiris. This is of course only one way of telling the story. The ancient Egyptian priests portrayed Osiris as a kind and just king on his throne, but to the common people, Osiris was an ivy wreathed fertility god with similarities to Dionysus. His celebrations were loud, colourful, ribald and raucous. A procession would take place in Spring when women would parade an effigy of Osiris with an amusingly large inflatable phallus (See "The Golden Bough" by Sir James Frazer for more on this).

One year after the Batman comic started, Batman acquired a young man as a companion: Dick Grayson a.k.a. Robin. This was apparently because the comic had been judged to be too grim for children. Robin was specifically identified as the spirit of the Greenwood in his first appearance. The best known Egyptian version of this legend tells how Horus, the son of Osiris and the goddess Isis, avenges the death of Osiris, by castrating and then killing Set, and losing an eye in the process. Earlier legends simply told of two rivals, Horus a sun god, and Set. The complex Egyptian legends seem to have distinguished this "greater Horus" from the "lesser or child Horus" who was the son of Osiris and Isis. Robin is a colourful and cheerful antidote to Batman's dark grimness. Robin is in effect a younger version of The Joker, whom Batman treats as his son. He is equivalent to the "child Horus". In Greek myth there is the character of Mercury/Hermes, messenger of the gods, god of traders, merchants and thieves. The greeks portrayed him with a winged hat (to symbolise fleetness of thought) and winged sandals (to symbolise fleetness of foot, and also ensuring that his sacred heel never touches the ground). It is no surprise that an enthusiastically capitalist mobile phone company chose to identify with him. The Norse equivalent of Mercury is considered to be the quirky one eyed sky god Woden. The Egyptian equivalent of Mercury is considered to be Thoth. The justification seems to be that Thoth, Mercury, and Woden, were all credited with the invention of writing. Thoth was born as a result of a bizarre homosexual encounter between Set and the young Horus. Mercury, Woden and Horus were also all believed to guide dead souls to the next life. The undertakers at Roman gladiator fights were apparently known as "Mercuries". Robin appears to have winged feet, because of the peculiar shape of his shoes. Robin also regards everything as sacred. This idea is common in many eastern religions ("Holy socks Batman" :-)).

The name Hermes derives from Herm, a kind of ancient Greek carved phallic pillar."Robin" is an old slang word for penis. So is "Dick". Can this mass of connections be untangled?

Much has been made of the homoeroticism in Batman (real and imagined). In the 1950's Dr. Fredric Wertham's book "Seduction of the innocent" (a polemic against comics in general) accused Batman of being a homoerotic fantasy. The book had a huge impact, and resulted in the McCarthyite Comics Code, which heavily censored American Comics, and resulted in the almost total domination of the comics market by two companies. Batman survived this, but minor changes were made to the storylines in largely unsuccessful attempts to prove the critics wrong. The links below discuss Fredric Wertham and his interpretation of Batman. They all disagree with my theory, but when it comes to the issue of Batman's sexuality methinks they doth protest too much :-)

Every age tells the story of Set, the Green man, the Goddess and Mercury it's own way. The twentieth century was a century of revolution and repression, Green anarchists and asinine politicians, fascists and surrealists. Above all it was an urban century. The twentieth century legend tells how cold, rational, ass eared Batman and his little friend Robin battle to maintain law and order, continually hindered by the unpredictable, irrational Joker. What is missing from the legend is nature. The backdrop is brick, tarmac and concrete. The goddess likewise seems to be absent from the story. Wertham criticised the Batman comics for their sexist portrayal of women, and on this at least he is clearly correct.

That was the twentieth century. What story will we tell in the twenty-first?

And while we're on the subject of archetypes. Think of Moses in the basket, and the baby Taliesin, floating in the spring tide, and the baby Perseus floating in a wooden chest on the sea, and the baby superman floating through the heavens inside a star. Superman appeared in the Spring of 1938. The following spring Batman made his first appearance, and Robin made his first appearance almost exactly a year later. Meanwhile as someone or other said, Hitler unleashed Woden on the twentieth century, and in the process declared war on the USSR, a country which had rushed headlong through the revolving doors of revolution and ended up with another kind of authoritarianism, one which revered the symbols of Jupiter and Saturn, the hammer and the sickle. But that's another story.

Links to other sites on the web

The Hembeck files: Batman and Robin
(and a bit about Dr.Fredric Wertham)
Robin: The "Mother" Of All Sidekicks
see also subsequent articles
Think Quest Library - censorship in comics
Wertham's ghost

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