Friday, October 07, 2011


Associated with: Early Egyptian mythology
Also known as: Apepi, Aapep, Apophis
Earliest recorded mention: c. 4000 BCE
Major texts: Book of the Dead

I've been neglecting the "demons" aspect of this blog (actually, neglecting the blog altogether, but I resolve once again to do better). Apep is a big, early one, embodying many of the most basic human fears: darkness, chaos and snakes.

Apep was the brother of Ra, the sun god, and Sobek, the creator god. Ra is often depicted with the head of a falcon; Sobek always has the head of a crocodile. Apep has no human form at all, but is always shown as a giant serpent, who kills not by strangling but by poison.

Apep constantly battled Ra, fighting the sun every day and losing again at the end of every night. Solar eclipses were seen as Apep's temporary triumph, thwarted by the prayers and sacrifices of priests. Apep was also responsible for earthquakes and thunderstorms. Because humans could not see an actual snake in the sky, they believed that Apep lived in the underworld, keeping himself deliberately hidden.

Those who believed in Aten, the single god who temporarily replaced the Egyptian pantheon, believed that Aten defeated Apep permanently. But even once the old gods were restored (after the death of Akhnaten), Apep just kind of . . . faded away, superceded by Set, the better-known god of darkness and chaos.

Ancient religions did not worship these evil gods as much as they tried to appease them — they prayed against them, but they also offered sacrifices to fend them off. It's human nature; as above, so below. Earlier this week I made the conscious decision, not once but twice, to appease a bully rather than confront them, because it was easier and saved time. But all that does, in real life as well as in the otherworld, is encourage them. Who wouldn't stick around in hopes of another sacrifice? Apep's fate proves the truth of what my mother used to tell us about the boy next door: ignore them, and they'll go away.

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