Malignant Serpent God Apophis: Symbol of Chaos And Forces Of Darkness

Apophis (also known as Apep) symbolized chaos and powers of darkness. This evil, gigantic snake was feared by the ancient Egyptians who believed that Apocalypse could be brought about by him.

In Egyptian myths, snakes played an important complex role but usually they appeared as negative symbols of evil and chaos that caused the real danger posed by their deadly bite. Fear of snakes was particularly widespread in the Delta, where they were abundant.

Apophis was frequently depicted on tomb walls in the New Kingdom and in funerary papyri in the form of a dangerous, giant serpent. Apophis, probably as ‘Eater of Souls’ and the great enemy of light and the sun god Re, was believed to dwell in the underworld.

Some early myths say that Apophis was primarily a sun god himself but had been castoff. Apophis’ conflict with Ra is found in several mythic accounts; in one, it is said that each day, Apophis waited for Ra in Bakhu, the mythological mountain of the horizon when the sun set and according to another, the monster usually was lying hidden in wait to ambush the solar path of Re, before dawn. Sometimes his attempts to disturb Re resulted in storms and bad weather.

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This god was not mentioned before the Middle Kingdom and for the time, the New Kingdom funerary papyri and depictions on tomb walls provide most of the evidence of Apophis existence.

The story of Apophis birth dates to the second century BC and was discovered on the walls of Esna Temple, dedicated to ramheaded creator god, Khnum and located 55 km to the south of Luxor.

The goddess Neith (an archer goddess of the Delta) spat into the primeval waters, and Apophis sprang up from her saliva. Alternatively, Neith was the first being on the primordial mound, and she gave birth to the sun. Ra, blinded by his own brilliance, could not see his own mother when she called out to him, so he shed the tears that formed humanity and exerted the principle of duality: light could not exist without dark. Therefore, immediately after the creation of the sun, the darkness, Apophis, was born as the antithesis of Ra, from his tears.

Some early myths say that Apophis was primarily a sun god himself but had been castoff.

This god was not mentioned before the Middle Kingdom and for the time, the New Kingdom funerary papyri and depictions on tomb walls provide most of the evidence of Apophis existence.

During the time of the New Kingdom, Apophis’ battles against Ra were widespread. The defeat of this malignant serpent was an important goal of most pharaohs, according to numerous tomb inscriptions.

Apophis was indestructible but he was often depicted being chopped to pieces usually by Re in the form of a cat, one of sacred animals in ancient Egypt.

The Coffin Texts suggest that the snake could hypnotize attackers and only the strongest of the gods, Seth, was unaffected by the magical stare of the creature.

There are many temple scenes at Dendera, Deir el-Bahari, Philae and Luxor, which depict a king striking a circular ball-like object, which is believed to represent the evil ‘eye of Apophis’.

Like Seth, Apophis was associated with dangerous, terrifying natural events such as storms, unexplained darkness and earthquakes. He was never worshipped but was included in numerous magical texts and rituals to fight his effects.

The «Book of Apophis», for example, was a collection of these spells dating to the late New Kingdom; also the so-called Bremner-Rhind Papyrus with similar spells (now in the British Museum), was produced in the 4th century BC.

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References:

Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt,

Vernus, Lessing, The Gods of Ancient Egypt

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