Apep

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This article is about the Egyptian demon. For the Stargate SG-1 character, see Apophis (Stargate).
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An Egyptian deity wards off the snake-like Apep

In Egyptian mythology, Apep (also spelt Apepi, and Aapep, or Apophis in Greek) was an evil demon, the deification of darkness and chaos, and thus opponent of light and Ma'at (order/truth), who was believed in from the Middle Kingdom onwards. Apep formed part of the more complex cosmic system resulting from the identification of Ra as Atum, i.e. the creation of Atum-Ra, and the subsequent merging of the Ogdoad and Ennead systems. Consequently, since Atum-Ra, who was later referred to simply as Ra, was the solar deity, bringer of light, and thus the upholder of Ma'at, Apep was viewed as the greatest enemy of Ra, and thus was given the title Enemy of Ra.

As the personification of all that was evil, Apep was seen as a giant snake, crocodile, serpent, or in later years, in a few cases, as a dragon, leading to titles such as Serpent from the Nile, and Evil lizard. Indeed, his name is thought to translate roughly as Great snake. Some elaborations even said that he stretched 16 yards in length and had a head made of flint.

Because his name can also mean (he who was) spat out, it was said that Apep had been formed by Neith, who had been the deification of the primordial waters in the Ennead, from a length of spit she had spat at Nu, the deification of the primordial waters in the Ogdoad. Romans referred to Apep by this translation of his name. Some subsequent commentators extracted from this that Apep must therefore have been an earlier creator, and chief god, thus explaining why he had so much enmity towards Ra, though there is no evidence for such a conclusion.

After the end of the Middle Kingdom, the foreign Hyksos, now rulers over Egypt, chose Set, as their favourite deity, since he had been protector of Ra, and was associated with Lower Egypt, where their power base was. Consequently, because the foreign overlords were hated by nationalistic groups, Set became gradually demonised, and started being thought of as an evil god. Indeed, because of the extreme level of nationalism and xenophobia, Set eventually became thought of as the god of evil, and gradually took on all the characteristics of Apep. Consequently, Apep's identity was eventually entirely subsumed by that of Set.

Battles with Ra

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An Egyptian deity slays the snake-like Apep

In the New Kingdom, many tales, of Apep's battles against Ra, grew up. Since the sun was demonstrably not attacked by a giant snake each day, it was said that Apep lay just below the horizon, thus being a part of the underworld, and attacked as soon as the sun went below it, at night. In some stories Apep waited for Ra in a mountain in the west, where the sun set, called Bakhu, and in others he lurked just before dawn, in the Tenth region of the Night, the wide spreading of Apep's possible location gaining it the title World Encircler. It was thought that his terrifying roar would cause the underworld to rumble. Some myths say that Apep had been imprisoned there, either because he had, in the myth, previously been the chief god, and suffered a coup d'etat by Ra, or because he was evil and had to be.

In his battles, Apep was thought to use a magical gaze to hypnotise Ra, and his entourage, whilst choking the river, on which Ra travelled through the underworld, with his coils, and attempting to devour them. Sometimes Apep had assistance from other demons, named Sebau and Nak. Ra was assisted by a number of defenders who travelled with him, the most powerful being Set, who sat at the helm. Other gods who feature in later tales as the defenders include fierce warriors such as Mehen, Serket, Maahes, and Bast, together with Shu.

In a bid to explain natural phenomona, it was said that occasionally Apep got the upper hand, the damage to order causing thunderstorms, and earthquakes. Indeed, it was even thought that sometimes Apep actually managed to swallow Ra, and his companions, causing a solar eclipse the next day, but with Ra's defenders eventually cutting him free, ending the eclipse. On the occasions when Apep was said to have been killed, since he lived in the underworld anyway, he was able to return each night. In Atenism it is, obviously (since he is the only god in the belief system), Aten who kills the monster.

Worship

Apep was not so much worshipped, as worshipped against. His defeat each night, in favour of Ra, was thought to be ensured by the prayers of the Egyptian priests and worshipers at temples. The Egyptians practiced a number of rituals and superstitions that were thought to ward off Apep, and aid Ra to continue his journey across the sky.

In an annual rite, called the Banishing of Apep, priests would build an effigy of Apep that was thought to contain all of the evil and darkness in Egypt, and burn it to protect everyone from Apep's influence for another year, in a similar manner to modern rituals such as Zozobra.

The Egyptian priests even had a detailed guide to fighting Apep, referred to as The Books of Overthrowing Apep or (in Greek) the Book of Apophis. The chapters described a gradual process of dismemberment and disposal, and include:

  • Spitting Upon Apep
  • Defiling Apep with the Left Foot
  • Taking a Lance to Smite Apep
  • Fettering Apep
  • Taking a Knife to Smite Apep
  • Putting Fire Upon Apep

In addition to stories about Apep's defeats, this guide had instructions for making wax models, or small drawings, of the serpent, which would be spat on, mutilated and burnt, whilst reciting spells that would aid Ra. Fearing that even the image of Apep could give power to the demon, any rendering would always include another deity to subdue the monster.

As Apep was thought to live in the underworld, he was sometimes thought of as an Eater-up of Souls. Thus the dead also needed protection, so they were sometimes buried with spells that could destroy Apep. The Book of the Dead frequently described occasions when Ra defeated of Apep.

External links

fr:Apophis ja:アポピス

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