Egyptian Gods: Apep
Apep is the serpent god of evil and destruction. In ancient Egypt, he is the deification of several evil concepts including darkness, chaos and destruction. He may also be known as Aepep, Apophis or Apepi. He is definitive enemy of one of the most powerful gods, the sun go Ra. Apep is believed to threaten the god especially during his nightly travels across the sky. Because of his menace to the sun god, he is connected to the idea of the destruction of creation because the whole world would plunge into darkness if he successfully devours Ra. It is also because of his malevolence that several other deities were enjoined to protect the sun god. Originally, it was Set and Menhen that protected the god in his solar barge. They would usually cut the belly of the serpent to release Ra from his clutches. However, in later years, Set evolved to become and equal if not Apep himself so the duty was passed on to other deities including Isis, Bastet, Sekhmet, Neith, Serket, Geb, Aker and even the followers of Horus. They female protectors were collectively known as the Eyes of Ra. Sometimes, even the god Shu as a personification of all the dead would help in subduing Apep in order to maintain the principles of Ma’at.
Most frightening natural occurrences were almost solely associated with Apep. Solar eclipses, devastating earthquakes, and terrible storms were linked to his name. He was believed to dwell in the northern skies – a place that Egyptian thought to be dangerous, dark and cold. Like Set, he was always closely linked with the demon goddess Taweret. However, their only difference was that, Apep, unlike Set, will always be a force of the dark doing evil things without reason.
Apep became a full-blown deity during the Middle Kingdom although evidence of serpent gods existed even before the Predynastic Period especially in potteries and other art forms. During the New Kingdom, stories and legends about him largely developed particularly in funerary texts. During Roman Period, he acquired the epithet “He who was spat out” because he came to existence from the saliva of Neith.
The most famous depiction of Apep is that of a gigantic serpent whose body has been coiled so tightly showing his almost unfathomable size. In funerary texts, he is seen a a dismembered snake sometimes by Hathor or Ra in a cat form using a knife. In certain temples, he is seen as a huge circular ball representing his evil eye.
His reputation usually precedes him that instead of being worshipped, he mostly feared and disliked. He is perhaps the only god, who can never be defeated only temporarily subdued. His powers are so immense he did not require nourishment to continue living. Due to his menacing qualities, he acquired several epithets throughout the history of Egypt including:
The Serpent of Rebirth
The Encircler of the World
The Evil Lizard
His army was thought to feed on the living and the dead. To halt their rampage, a ritual known as the “Banishing of Apep” was performed annually by priests of Ra. Usually, a statue of Aten was taken to the temple and imbued with all the known evils of Egypt. The effigy is then beaten, smeared with mud and burned down to its ashes. Similarly, other rituals are also based on this principle to ward off the malevolent force of Apep. Some would burn a papyrus drawn with the image of a serpent or a wax Apep is dismembered ritually.
During the New Kingdom, a special compilation of spells was collected in order to defeat Apep and repel his hold on the world. It was known as the “Book of Apophis”. This book also known as Books of Overthrowing Apep included the following descriptive chapters:
Spitting Upon Apep
Defiling Apep with the Left Foot
Taking a Lance to Smite Apep
Taking a Knife to Smite Apep
Laying Fire Upon Apep