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In Egyptian mythology, Apep (called Apophis by the Greeks) was an evil demon that represented darkness and chaos and opposed light and order. He was the sun-god Ra's greatest enemy, and he opposed the concepts of order and balance embodied by Ma'at.
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Apep took the form of a giant snake, crocodile, serpent or dragon. He stretched 16 meters in length and had a head made of flint. His terrifying roar would cause the underworld to rumble.
Before the beginning of time, Apep was formed from Neith's saliva, which she spat into the primordial waters embodied by Nu, a god of chaos. Some myths place Apep as a former sun-god who was replaced by Ra, explaining Apep's animosity toward his successor.
Apep was introduced during the ancient Egyptian Middle Kingdom, and most of the demon's stories were created during the New Kingdom.
Every night Apep sought to destroy light and order by devouring Ra's Sun Boat, the "Boat of Millions of Years", as it passed through Duat, the underworld. In some stories Apep waited for Ra in a mountain in the west called Bakhu, and in others he lurked just before dawn in the "Tenth Region of the Night". If Apep were to defeat Ra, darkness and disorder would prevail. Occasionally Apep did succeed, the result being a thunderstorm, earthquake or even a solar eclipse. But inevitably Ra's defenders would free the Sun Boat from Apep's belly.
Apep would use his magical gaze to hypnotize Ra and his entourage, while choking the river with his coils and attempting to devour the Sun Boat. Ra was assisted in his battles with Apep by a number of deities. Ra's most powerful defender was Set, who sat at the helm of the Sun Boat and slew Apep. In later traditions, Set fell out of favor and became thought of as a god of evil, taking on many of Apep's features. Other defenders included Mehen, Serket, Maahes, Shu and Bastet. These deities used magical spells to ward off Apep, along with knives and spears to cut him to pieces. Despite this punishment, Apep would be back to threaten Ra the next day.
The Book of the Dead describes Ra's defeat of Apep. In another stories it is Aten, a later form of Ra, who kills the monster. Some myths tell of the demon being imprisoned in the underworld Duat. In others he is condemned by Atum in "Gate 2" of the underworld.
Apep's daily defeat was ensured by the prayers of the Egyptian priests and worshipers at the temples. The Egyptians practiced a number of rituals and superstitions that would ward off Apep and help Ra continue his journey across the sky.
In an annual rite called the "Banishing of Apep", priests would build an effigy of Apep that contained all of the evil and darkness in Egypt, and burn it to protect everyone from Apep's influence for another year (similar 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 the Book of Apophis. 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 burned while reciting spells that would aid Ra. These are the chapters from the first book:
- Chapter of Spitting Upon Apep
- Chapter of Defiling Apep with the Left Foot
- Chapter of Taking a Lance to Smite Apep
- Chapter of Fettering Apep
- Chapter of Taking a Knife to Smite Apep
- Chapter of Putting Fire Upon Apep
The dead also needed protection, so they were sometimes buried with spells that could destroy Apep.
Fearing that even the image of Apep could give power to the demon, any rendering would always include another deity to subdue the monster.
Sebau and Nak were two other monsters that fought against Ra's passage.
- Wikipedia. (2005). Apophis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophis). Retrieved on 02/28/2005.