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Myth Madness: Apep

Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?

Apep is a truly awe-inspiring Ancient Egyptian deity. Known as the God of chaos, destruction, darkness, and evil, Apep is perhaps the only Egyptian god to be considered all-powerful. He was never defeated or killed in mythology, and he could only be temporarily subdued; some say that this is due to the fact that he resides mostly in the underworld. He was never worshiped, never sacrificed to – he was only ever feared and despised, and for good reason.

Apep was considered the ultimate enemy of Ra, the sun god. Often pictured as an enormous, golden, flint-headed serpent, he was known as the “encircler of the world” because of his immense length. It was said that he lived just beyond the horizon in the underworld, the Devourer of souls waiting to try and ensnare Ra with his magical hypnotic gaze in order to devour him as he passed through each evening. Apep was always bested, however, as Ra always traveled with an elite guard in his Sun Boat, usually made up of gods such as Isis, Bastet, and Geb. On occasion, Apep would obtain the upper hand over the passing gods; when this occurred, the world Ma’at, or order, would collapse, and massive storms and earthquakes would ravage the world until goodness regained the upper hand and continued on. When they denied him his quarry, Apep’s roar would shake the underworld asunder as they made their escape. Legends stated that if Apep ever succeeded in swallowing Ra, the entire world would be plunged into darkness as the source of creation was devoured whole.

During the 18th, 19th, and 20th Dynasties, Apep was most prevalent in Ancient Egyptian lore. Egyptians were extremely superstitious, to the point that they feared to render Apep in any drawing without some form of monster temporarily subduing him, as though if left alone Apep would gain power, or even be summoned, if he were drawn in a whole, unmonitored form. They practiced a number of rituals to ward off the presence of the ‘Lord of Chaos’.

One ritual practiced annually by the priests of the ancient temples was known as the Banishing of Chaos. Here, the priests would build a massive effigy of the golden serpent and imbue it with the evil and darkness he was sure to inflict upon Egypt during that year. Afterwards, the priests would parade through the streets with the effigy, allowing the people to beat, stomp on, crush, and smear mud over the statue, before allowing it to burn in a ceremonial bonfire. With this, hopefully, Apep’s dark influence would be thrown off for another year.

The priests even possessed a detailed guide book to fighting Apep should he ever invade your home. They were titled ‘The Books of Overthrowing Apep’ or otherwise known as ‘The Book of Apophis’ (the Grecian name for Apep). While the books could not advise someone on how to kill the unkillable god, they could subdue and banish him. Some of the chapter titles below give a fair idea on how they would go about such a thing as temporarily detaining and mutilating the god of destruction:

  • Spitting Upon Apep
  • Defiling Apep with the Left Foot
  • Taking a Lance to Smite Apep
  • Fettering (Restraining or Chaining Up) Apep
  • Taking a Knife to Smite Apep
  • Putting Fire Upon Apep

That’s right. It wasn’t enough to stab the giant evil god snake; citizens also had to spit upon him, defile him with their left foot, and then set him on fire. This wasn’t even enough to kill him – it would just inconvenience him enough to (hopefully) discourage him from seeking you out again. Apep was a god that could never be reasoned with, his evil absolute and unyielding – unlike Set, brother and murderer of Ra and another god of Chaos.

Interestingly enough, it is because of Set that many do not know widely about Apep. As the years went by, and Set’s reputation grew darker to the point where he became the supreme god of darkness and evil, mythology began to attribute much of what made up Apep’s background and identity and handed it off to Set, until all that was left of Apep’s legend was the world-encircling snake of the underworld, devourer of souls to be placated or denied with spells buried with the dead.

Nowadays, the most interesting thing about Apep is his unnerving similarity to Jormungandr, the Midgardian Serpent son of Loki set to swallow the world during Ragnarok, the Norse Apocalypse. But we’ll discuss that more in detail next week.

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This entry was posted on 09/11/2014 by in Myth Madness and tagged , , , , , .
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