Skip to content

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Raider and Wizard Setne

Chris Amandier
22 min read
Ancient Egyptian Tomb Raider and Wizard Setne

Table of Contents

A look at the magic-filled legends of Ancient Egyptian tomb raider and wizard Prince Setne, a character based on the son of Ramesses II, who goes on a tomb-raiding journey to acquire a magical book. And it’s the prequel to the stories about his 12-year-old boy wizard son, Se-Osiris.

Setne I, or Setne Khamwas and Naneferkaptah, is a story that’s survived on papyrus from Ptolemaic Egypt. It tells the story of a wizard who descends into a tomb to collect a book written by the god Thoth, only to find it guarded by ghosts. Indiana Jones-style hijinks ensue.

Highlights include:
• An eternal snake (ouroboros)
• A magical glowing book hidden inside a series of boxes
• The ancient city of Memphis, Egypt
• The wrath of Thoth
• A look at different types of Ancient Egyptian writing systems


Note: This episode contains brief mentions of drowning, suicide, incest, soliciting sex for money, killing children, and disinterring corpses



Episode Script for Ancient Egyptian Tomb Raider and Wizard Setne

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • I’m excited to talk about the legends about the 12-year-old ancient Egyptian wizard Se-Osiris, who’s also referred to as Si-Osire. I’m not sure how well known he is, but I got really obsessed with him when I was 11 or 12, so I wanted to dig up the old stories that I was so interested in, and tell them.
  • I have such a clear memory of being up late at night reading the myths, and then printing them out and putting them in a binder or folder so I could read them in my room, since the family computer was downstairs, which is a very early 2000s thing to do and which feels so quaint now.
  • Also, a number of the websites I consulted for this were pretty old, and I kinda have the feeling they’re some of the same ones–I kinda recognize the design of, for example. There’re a lot of very web 1.0-looking sites that mention him.
  • Today we’re going to talk about Se-Osiris’ father, Prince Setne, who was a skilled scribe and wizard, though he paled in comparison with his son.
    • Prince Setne is based on a real, historical figure who we’ll look at in a later episode, but a lot of liberties are taken in the fictional stories about him.
  • So first, let’s talk about the fictional Setne, specifically, the first story about him, Setne I.
  • The story involves tons of ghosts, tomb raiding, ghosts, curses, magical books, and lots of creepy stuff that made me think of the Brendan Frasier Mummy movies, which I love.
  • So first, let’s lay some context for these legends.
    • First, it’s unlikely that Se-Osiris actually ever existed.
    • We’ll be talking about a boy wizard named Se-Osiris, who’s not to be confused with the Egyptian god Osiris.
    • Also, I’ll be calling him Se-Osiris just because that’s how I’m used to thinking of him, but I actually think that’s a dated way to write and say his name. If you google him, many more results come up under “Si-Osire”, so I kinda think that’s a more common and modern way of referring to him.
    • But I did want to talk a little about Osiris, since it seems possible that Se-Osiris was named after him.
      • Osiris was the god of agriculture, fertility, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, and plants.
      • He was typically depicted as a green-skinned god with mumm-wrapped legs, a crown with feathers on it, and holding a crook and flail that stood for fertility and kingship.
      • As we’ll learn in next week’s episode, Osiris was in charge of judging the dead and allowing entry to the afterlife.


  • My two biggest sources for this story are a book called Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt by Lewis Spence, published in 1915, and a book called Ancient Egyptian Literature Volume 3 by Miriam Lichtheim. In reading the two accounts, I’ve found that the 1915 book yadda yadda yaddas over a bunch of pretty racy stuff, whereas the 1973 book really gets into it.


  • So, the story of Se-Osiris appears in a cycle of stories called Tales of Prince Setna.
    • There are two parts of cycle:
      •  Setna I, which was written during the Ptolemaic period, in a neat handwriting, and carefully numbered so it’s obvious that the first two pages are missing.
      • And then Setna II, which was written on the back of another papyrus from the Roman Period. The handwriting is messy, the pages aren’t numbered, it’s riddled with errors, and parts of it are missing, though we aren’t sure how much.
        • To read a bit from the 1915 book:
          • “This story was discovered written on some papyrus belonging to the British Museum. An English translation was published in 1900 by Mr. F. Ll. Griffiths, and one in French by Sir G. Maspero in 1901. It is written on the back of some official documents in Greek and dates from the seventh year of the Emperor Claudian. The papyrus is much dilapidated and pasted end to end; it is incomplete, and the beginning of the history has disappeared. By the writing one would judge the copy to belong to the latter half of the second century of our era.”
    • Both parts of the story were written on papyrus in Demotic, which is an ancient Egyptian form of writing.
    • So I wanted to pause and explain exactly what Demotic means, and talk a bit about writing and literature in ancient Egypt, as well as touch on some Egyptian history so we can place where in time all of this is happening.
    • First, basically, everyone knows about hierogyphic writing.
    • Hieroglyphs started being used around the early bronze age, so like the 32nd century BC, and it was used through the Late Period of Ancient Egypt, as well as the Persian and Ptolemaic periods in the 500s-300s BC.
      • For reference, if these periods are hard to place or visualize, since I for one didn’t learn much about Egyptian history in high school or in college and I figure most other listeners also didn’t:
        • the Persian period was when the King of Persia conquered Egypt and became Pharaoh. Darius I was one of these Pharaohs, as was his son Xerxes I, and you may have heard of them since they’re both mentioned in the bible.
        • And then the Ptolemaic dynasty was established after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in the 300s BC. Basically, Egypt was part of Alexander’s empire, and when Alexander died, a Macedonia Greek named Ptolemy got control of Egypt and said he was the Pharaoh.
          • The dynasty was actually the longest-ruling dynasty of Egypt, since they ruled for 300 years. It ended when the final Ptolemy ruler, Cleopatra, died, in 30 BC.
          • One random fact that I learned while researching was that apparently Cleopatra was the only Ptolemaic ruler who bothered to learn the Egyptian language; all the rest just spoke their native Greek.
    • So anyway, hierogyphics were still being used during those periods, when the rulers weren’t even Egyptian and didn’t necessarily even speak the language.
    • And there’re even examples of hieroglyphic writing being used even in the Roman Period, which began after Cleopatra died and lasted through 4th century AD.
    • But the last pagan temples were closed in the 5th century AD, and everyone who knew and understood hieroglyphics died off.
    • So anyway, if hieroglyphics were forgotten, what replaced them?
    • First there was Hieratic, which was sort of like a cursive version of hieroglyphics.
      •  While hieroglyphics were used in formal settings, and in religious texts like the Book of the Dead, once hieratic came along, it was more important that hieroglyphics, because it was the everyday style of writing. It was what students learned; it was just a select group of people who got the additional training needed to know hierogyphics.
      • So Hieratic was used for recordkeeping, legal documents, letters, and things like scientific, literary, and religious texts.
    • Demotic was basically an even-more-cursive way of writing. It was called “cursive Coptic” by some 18th or 19th century scholars, though it wasn’t really coptic.
      • Once Demotic came around, hieratic was relegated to religious texts, and demotic was used for administrative documents and literature
    •  And then after that, the last Egyptian language that came about was Coptic, which began being used during Greco-Roman Egypt.
    • Demotic was used from around 65 BC until the 5th century AD.
    • Coptic was an adaptation of the Greek alphabet, with some Demotic characters added in for sounds that didn’t exist in Greek.
      • It was used in literature until the 13th century, and while Arabic ended up replacing it as a language, Coptic is still spoken by Coptic christians. I assume it’s similar to how there’s still some Latin spoken in the Catholic church (or at least there was in the early 20th century).
    • As a sidenote, I’m vaguely aware of Coptic because in college, I had a roommate who was learning it. Because a lot of ancient literature was written in Coptic, it’s sill learned today, but at least in the states, it’s only a specific kind of academic or researcher who might learn it.
    • But people didn’t know how to read any ancient Egyptian writing.
    • Throughout the middle ages and beyond, people tried to decipher them, but it was unsuccessful until the 1820s, when the Rosetta stone was deciphered.
      • And the tl;dr on the Rosetta Stone is that it’s a stele, which is a big slab of rock with writing carved into it.
      • The Rosetta Stone bears a decree from 196 BC written in hieroglyphic script, Demotic script, and then Ancient Greek.
      • So when an officer in Napoleon’s army discovered it in 1799, scholars were able to compare Ancient Greek part, which they understood, to the different versions of the decree and figure out what the ancient Egyptian writing meant.
      • We talk a bit more about how Napoleon’s Egyptian campaigns inspired a huge interest in Egypt in the Victorian Egyptomania episode, and that’s a topic I want to return to later.


  • So anyway, while the story we’re talking about is set during an earlier period of Egyptian history,  during the reign of Ramesses II, the papyrus that the story was written down on was from a much later period.
  • There are a few reasons why this story is probably just a legend, even though some of the characters in it were real, but the fact that the written record of it is from so much later than the time when the story occurred is definitely one of them.
  • So the very beginning of the story was lost and they haven’t been able to reconstruct it, but the story of Se-Osiris begins with his father, a scribe named Setne.
  • Setne was the son of the Pharaoh, which is why he was referred to as a prince.
    • The first story about Setna is pretty explicit and has some weird incest stuff in it, but I’m gonna focus more on of the more magic-and-occult parts of that story. The translation that I read is from the 1973 book that I mentioned.
      • The book describes Setne as the son of Ramesses II, and a high priest of Ptah, the creator god, in Memphis, Egypt, which a major, important city of Egypt.
      •  It was believed that Ptah protected Memphis, and in Memphis, there was a huge temple to Ptah that was one of the most prominent buildings in the city.
      • In fact, the Greek word for this temple was Ai-gy-ptos, which people think is where the word “Egypt” came from.
      • Basically, one day, someone tells Setne about a book of magic that the god Thoth wrote. Thoth was associated with magical arts, writing, science, and the judgement of the dead. You may be familiar with his name if you’re into tarot, because Aleister Crowley’s tarot deck, the Thoth tarot, is a popular and cool deck.
      • So anyway, Setne learned that the book was kept in the tomb of a long-dead prince who was buried somewhere in the huge necropolis of Memphis.
      • So he goes to the tomb, and sees the book, which is literally glowing, and tries to grab it.
      • But as if this is some kind of Indiana Jones movie, when he reaches for it, the prince and his wife rise up to confront him and protect the book.
      • The spirit of the wife, Ahwere, tells Prince Setne how her husband had gotten the book, and how it’d cost both of their lives.
        • The husband’s name is Naneferkaptah, so I’m just gonna call him the prince from here on out.
      • She starts out by telling about how she and her husband were both children of the Pharaoh, but were in love with each other so ended up being together.
      • When they got together, the husband was kind of at loose ends; the book says that he
        • “had no occupation on earth but walking the desert of Memphis, reading the writings that were in the tombs of the Pharaohs and on the stelae of the scribes of the House of Life and the writings that were on the other monuments, for his zeal concerning writings was very great.”
      • And then one time the husband followed a procession in honor of Ptah and went into the temple to worship him.
      • In the temple, a priest laughed at him, and told him that he was wasting his time reading unimportant writings, but if he followed this priest, he’d take him to a book written by Thoth. The priest said:
        • Two spells are written in it. When you recite the first spell you will charm the sky, the earth, the netherworld, the mountains, and the waters. You will discover what all the birds of the sky and all the reptiles are saying. You will see the finish of the deep . . . When you recite the second spell, it will happen that, whether you are in the netherworld or in your form on earth, you will see Pre appearing in the sky with his Ennead, and the Moon in its form of rising.
      • I had trouble figuring out who Pre was, but I think it might be another name for the sun god Ra? But the Ennead were a group of 9 really important egyptian gods, and included the sun god Atum, the god Osiris, the goddess Isis, the god of deserts, storms, disorder, and violence, Set, sometimes the god of the sky Horus, along with some other gods. It sounds like in Memphis, Ptah was seen as more important than the Ennead, but in the major city Heliopolis, the nine were seen as the most significant gods.
      • So anyway, after talking up this magical book, the priest said he’d tell Setne where it was if he paid him 100 pieces of silver, and waived the taxes on the payment. (The ancient egyptians were very practical, as far as I can tell.)
      • So then the priest described the box, and I really loved this description:
        • The book in question is in the middle of the water of Coptos in a box of iron. In the box of iron is a box of copper. In the box of copper is a box of juniper wood. In the box of juniper wood is a box of ivory and ebony. In the box of ivory and ebony is a box of silver. In the box of silver is a box of gold, and in it is the book. There are six miles of serpents, scorpions, and all kinds of reptiles around the box in which the book is, and there is an eternal serpent around this same box.
      • So the prince left the temple in a daze, and Ahwere cursed the priest for having told him about the book, which she could tell was going to destroy their lives. She tried to keep her husband from going to find the book, but instead he went to the Pharaoh, asked for equipment for the journey, and set off to find the book with Ahwere and kid in tow.
        • Apparently the prince didn’t want to endanger anyone on the trip, so he made a crew out of wax figures and brought them to life using magic, so that’s who was on the boat with them.
      • The prince left Ahwere and their son in Coptos and went on the rest of the way alone, with rowers to bring him to where the book was kept.
      • So here’s what the prince did when he found the book:
        • He recited a spell to the six miles of serpents, scorpions, and all kinds of reptiles that were around the box, and did not let him come up. He went to the place where the eternal serpent was. He fought it and killed it. It came to life again and resumed its shape. He fought it again, a third time, cut it in two pieces, and put sand between one piece and the other. It died and no longer resumed its shape.
      • Then he goes to where the book is and does all of the unboxing to get it out. He cast both spells and everything the priest said would happen, did.
      • He brings the book back to where Ahwere had been waiting for him for days, and she was weak from not eating or drinking because she was so worried. When she examined the book, she cast the spells as well, and they worked.
      • Then, the prince, who was a very good scribe, wrote down all of the words from the book on some papyrus. Then he soaked it in beer, dissolved it in water, and drank it, so he knew everything that had been written in it.
      • However, as anyone who’s ever played the worldbuilder game Pharaoh (which is an old game that’s like sim city except in egypt, I downloaded steam onto my computer just so I could play that)–as anyone who’s played Pharaoh would know, it’s easy to displease the gods, and that’s something that you really don’t want to do.
      • So Thoth was mad that the prince had stolen his book, and also unhappy that he’d killed the guardian of the box, the eternal snake. (Who I think is an ouroboros, the snake eating its tail, since the ouroboros originated in ancient Egypt.)
      • So Thoth complained to Pre, which I think might be another name for Ra, the sun god? And Pre said “He is yours, together with every person belonging to him.”
      • So then they sent an order from the heavens that the prince and his family wouldn’t return to Memphis safely.
      • So first, their son fell out of the ship and drowned.
      • But the prince cast one of the spells he’d learned and brought him back.
      • Weirdly, it sounds like the son was able to relate what Thoth had said, but he was still dead.
      • So then they went back to Coptos, and their son was embalmed as a prince and buried in a coffin in the desert.
      • They left again, and right at the spot where their son had drowned, Ahwere fell out of the boat and drowned.
      • So the prince brought her back, cast a spell so he could question her about Thoth’s accusations, and then brought her back to Coptos, where she was embalmed, also in the tradition of a prince or important person, and then buried her in the tomb alongside their son.
      • The prince left again, but when he reached the place where his wife and son had drowned, he was overcome with guilt, and wondered what he would say to his father, the Pharaoh. He didn’t know how he’d explain why he was alive when his wife, who was of course also the Pharaoh’s child, and son, were dead.
      • So then the prince took a fine linen scarf and used it to bind the book tightly to his body. Then he jumped overboard and drowned.
      • They couldn’t find his body, but the sailors returned to Memphis, where the Pharaoh and everyone was in mourning.
      • Then they say that the prince was, quote, “holding onto the rudders of Pharaoh’s ship through his craft of a good scribe” whatever that means. I think that maybe he used some sort of magic to keep himself hanging onto the rudder even though he was dead.
      • When they collected his body, they say the book, and the Pharaoh said that the book must be hidden.
      • So then Ahwere closes the story, telling Setne:
        • These are the evil things that befell us on account of this book of which you say, “Let it be given to me.” You have no claim to it, whereas our lives on earth were taken on account of it!
      • You’d think that Setne would have then steered clear of the book, but instead he demands the book, saying that he’d take it from them by force if he had to.
      • The prince agreed to allow Setne play a board game for the book.
      • It didn’t go well. They played three games, and Setne lost all of them. After each game, the prince cast a spell so that Setne sank further into the sand, until he was up to his ears in sand.
      • Not to be deterred, Setne called out to his foster brother Inaros, who was apparently hanging around through all of this, and he asked him to go tell the Pharaoh what happened, and to come back with all of his amulets and sorcery books.
      • When Inaros came back with the amulets, he threw them on Setne, who jumped up and grabbed the book.
      • Ahwere and the prince were upset, but the prince says to Ahwere “Let your heart not grieve. I will make him bring this book back here, with a forked stick in his hand and a lighted brazier on his head.”
      • When Setne returned to the Pharaoh with the book, the Pharaoh told him to bring it back to the tomb, or he’d regret it.
      • So that was my favorite part of the story, and I’m just going to briefly touch on what happened next.
      • Basically, Setne was hanging out at the temple of Ptah, and saw a really hot lady named Tabubu who he decides that he just has to sleep with.
      • He offers her money, and she’s offended, saying she’s of priestly rank–she’s the daughter of a prophet–but she says that he can come back to her place anyway.
      • Setne agrees, though everyone around him was indignant.
      • When he arrives at her mansion, she says that she’ll sleep with him if he draws up a deed that gives her the right to everything he owns.
      • He agrees, and does that.
      • Then she says that she wants his children to sign off on the deed too, so her children don’t have to have legal disputes with his children over the inheritance.
      • So then he does that, and then she says that actually, he needs to kill his children if he wants to sleep with her, because that way, his children won’t argue with her children over his property.
      • I’ll just read a bit of this:
        • Setne said: “Let the abomination that came into your head be done to them.” She had his children killed before him. She had them thrown down from the window to the dogs and cats. They ate their flesh, and he heard them as he drank with Tabubu.
      • So then they go to sleep together, and right before he touches her, Setne wakes up. It was all a dream.
      • But unfortunately, he’d woken up naked in public, and then a noble person on a litter approached, and that person was his father, the Pharaoh.
      • Setne explains to the Pharaoh that the cursed book has put him in that state, and says that he must return it. So Pharaoh, after reassuring him that his children are all alive and well, gives him some clothes and Setne returns to Memphis with him.
      • After greeting his children, Setne talks to Pharaoh and tells him everything that happened. And Pharaoh says: “Setne, I did what I could with you before, saying ‘They will kill you if you do not take this book back to the place you took it from.’ You have not listened to me until now. Take this book back to Naneferkaptah, with a forked stick in your hand and a lighted brazier on your head.”
      • So he returns to the tomb, where they all greet each other warmly. Ahwere tells him that the only reason why he got there safely was because of Ptah’s protection.
      • Setne returns the book and asks if there’s anything he can do for them, and the prince asked if he could bring Ahwere and their son’s bodies back from Coptos and put them in the tomb with him.
      • So Setne traveled to Coptos, where he made offerings to the god Isis, whose temple was there, and then went into the desert with the priests of Isis and searched the tombs for 3 days and 3 nights, but they couldn’t find the tomb.
      • When the prince saw that he couldn’t find the tomb, he used magic to rise from the grave as a very old man, and met Setne. He pretended to be an old priest who remembered where the tomb was, and told Setne that they were buried underneath the south corner of the chief of police’s house.
      • Setne’s suspicious and thinks that he has a grudge against the police chief and just wants his house to be torn down. So the prince in disguise tells him that they can hold him and if they don’t find the bodies, they can punish him.
      • So they dug up the area and found the bodies. Then he brought Ahwere and her son to be buried with her husband the prince, and the magical book, and had the tomb closed up with all of them together.
    • So that’s Setne. Even though he behaves foolishly in this story, he was known for being the super smart, and he was the favored son of the Pharaoh. I think he’s set up as being skilled but not super wise so that in the next story, his son Se-Osiris is all the more impressive. The story we looked at today was called Setne I, and next week, we’ll look at Setne II, which is where the boy wizard appears.
    • One thing to be aware of: tomb raiding was seen as a really awful thing to do back in ancient egypt, so to quote an analysis of the story from
      • “Tombs were considered the eternal homes of the dead and tomb robbing was a very serious crime. Execration texts, better known today as ‘curses’ were often inscribed along with one’s autobiography on tomb walls, promising vengeance on any who would desecrate or steal from the deceased. The fact that Setna, identified as a prince, a scribe, and a magician, is punished for this sin would have made it clear that no one is exempt from eternal justice, and those of lesser status could expect even worse treatment.”
    • The same article talks about how the story of the prince and his wife stealing the book originally is supposed to teach people about how it’s dangerous to steal from the gods. The ghost prince is a sort of mirror of Setne, and like Setne, he’s punished harshly for his crime.
    • To quote a bit more of the article:

Setna I shows how even a skilled magician, learned in his craft, can make a terrible choice in desiring what he has no right to.

  • The article also talks about how Egyptologist Geraldine Pinch has said that the story of Setne and Tabubu can also be read as Setne being punished for lusting after a woman without seeing her as a person. He literally acts like he can buy her, and doesn’t see her as anything but a sex object.
    • Also, Tabubu wasn’t just any woman–she was the daughter of a priest of Bastet, and Bastet was a goddess who protected women, children, and women’s secrets, so she would have punished a man who disrespected a woman, especially because women were highly respected in Ancient Egypt, and Bastet was one of the most popular dieties
    • Also, throughout the story, Tabubu reminds Setne repeatedly that she should be treated with respect, and Setne keeps ignoring her and just keeps trying to sleep with her
    • It’s also been suggested that Tabubu was actually Bastet herself, in disguise
  • And the 1973 book talks about how “The tale exemplifies the traditional Egyptian view that magic is a legitimate weapon for man, but the ultimate secrets of life and the world belong only to the gods and may not be acquired by man.”
  • If you want to learn more, I’ll include a link to the book where I found this story; the full text is available on I wanted to keep this PG-13 so I left out some details of the story, but if you want the full thing, it’s all in that book, Ancient Egyptian Literature Book III, from 1973.
  • And in typical form, I found out so much cool stuff about Setne that of course I haven’t even gotten to the story of Se-Osiris, but we’ll get to that next week.
  • There are two big stories about Se Osiris: the first is the tale of a trip to the land of the dead, and the second is the story of a magical duel.


Sources consulted RE: Ancient Egyptian Tomb Raider and Wizard Setne

Books RE: Ancient Egyptian Tomb Raider and Wizard Setne

Websites RE: Ancient Egyptian Tomb Raider and Wizard Setne


Listen to the Ouija board series:

Don’t miss our past episodes:

episodeoccultegyptthothouroborosmagic bookhistory

Related Posts

Members Public

The Curse of the Luxor Hotel (Part 4)

Check out the rest of my look at the legends surrounding the Luxor Hotel: part 1, part 2, part 3 Content note: this one gets slightly gruesome, with mentions of that creepy Bodies exhibit. Despite my fond memories of the Luxor, it seems like there’s some bad vibes at

a halftone illustration of the Luxor hotel with the words The Curse of The Luxor Part 4
Members Public

The hype around the Panasonic RR-DR60

A look at lore surrounding the legendary Panasonic RR-DR60. How did the late 1990s audio recorder become a device that now sells for $4,000-5,000 USD on eBay? What makes the DR60 so special? Highlights include: * plenty o' nostalgia (and skepticism) * a digression about hard drives (everyone's favorite) * some

a diagram of a DR60 overlaid on a swirled purple background with the words "the hype around the Panasonic RR-DR60"
Members Public

The Curse of the Luxor Hotel (Part 3)

Check out the rest of my look at the legends surrounding the Luxor Hotel: part 1, part 2 De-theming The last couple days, I've talked about some of my nostalgia the Luxor (as it was when I visited in 1995) and some of the original aspirations and creativity behind the

a halftone illustration of the Luxor hotel with the words The Curse of The Luxor Part 3