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January 19, 2019 2 min read

Apep (known to the Greeks as Apophis) is the Egypt god of chaos (Isfet). As the embodiment of Isfet, Apep was thus the opponent of light and Ma'at (the goddess and qualities of order and truth. Apep was born from Ra’s umbilical cord and was not a primordial creative force. Thus, evil did not exist at creation, but was considered a product of free will.

Egyptian art depicted Apep as a giant serpent, with titles such as Serpent from the Nile and Evil Dragon. He stretched 16 yards in length with had a head made of flint. Occasionally Apep is depicted as a crocodile.

Apep travels the Duat (the underworld), but usually lies below the horizon before dawn, in the tenth region of the night, waiting to attack Ra’s barge to stop the morning sun from rising. Sometimes Apep waited for Ra in a western mountain called Bakhu, where the sun set. The wide range of Apep's locations gained him the title World Encircler. His terrifying roar would cause the underworld to rumble. Apep was imprisoned in the Duat because of his evil.

Apep used a magical, hypnotic stare to overwhelm Ra on his barge; who had assistance from various defenders, including Set. Earthquakes were attributed to Apep's movements in the Duat and his Apep’s battles with Set caused thunderstorms. In one account, Ra transformed into a cat to defeat Apep. Ra also had assistance in the physical realm. The Egyptians practiced a number of rituals to counter Apep, thus allowing Ra to continue his journey.

Over time, the Egyptians developed the belief that Isfet and Ma'at built a complementary dualism. They thought that neither could not exist without the other. Isfet and Ma'at balanced each other. Ma'at overcome Isfet, the chaos that caused difficulties, disharmony and at its extreme, pure evil. Ma’at replaced disunity with unity and disorder with order. The pharaoh’s role was to achieve Ma'at, ensuring justice and harmony by destroying Isfet. When Ma'at was absent, and Isfet unleashed then the annual Nile flood failed and Egypt fell into famine. Therefore, the Egyptians believed through their rituals it would benefit the gods and goddesses and themselves.

During an annual rite, called the Banishing of Chaos, priests would build an effigy of Apep to protect everyone from Apep's evil for the coming year. In fact Egyptian priests had a detailed guide, referred to as The Books of Overthrowing Apep. The guide contained stories of Ra defeating Apep, along with instructions for making wax models and small drawings of the serpent. These models and drawings would be spat on, mutilated and burnt, whilst reciting spells to defeat Apep. Even the image of Apep could give him power, so another deity was always added to the picture. 

Isfet also had to be cleansed from the dead before they were reborn in the Duat. As Apep lived in the Duat, the dead needed protection from them, so they were buried with spells to defeat Apep.

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