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Of all Egypt’s reptilian gods, the biggest and baddest was definitely Apep, a. k. a. Apophis. This primordial serpent god was a force of chaos without redeeming feature. The other two I’ve mentioned, Wadjet and Sobek, may have been dangerous but they were still firmly established with the “light” pantheon headed by the sun god, Ra. Apep ruled the “dark” pantheon, forces of chaos and destruction that sought to overthrown Egyptian society and traditions. As such, he was Ra’s natural enemy.

A chaos serpent had existed in Egyptian mythology from the earliest times, although actual reference to Apep by name starts around the time of the pyramids. He was depicted as a gigantic golden snake, 16 yards long (14.6 meters). Unlike Egypt’s other gods, he never had a human form. Apep was believed to live in Duat, the underworld. His restless movements caused earthquakes. When he ventured into the upper world, he would surely be confronted by Ra’s allies. Their battles were thought to create violent storms.

Egyption lore told that Ra traveled through the heavens each day in a golden barge. However, each night, he had to pass through Duat before he could reach the eastern horizon. Once Ra ventured into Apep’s domain, he was prey for the mighty serpent. In various tales, Apep tried to stun Ra and his companions with his terrible gaze. Or he might try to swallow the entire barge! Fortunately, Ra knew of the danger. He had an entourage of deities along for the trek through Duat, including another chaos god, Set, who was said to defeat Apep and ensure Ra’s escape from the underworld.

Clearly, Apep was not a god to be worshipped, but one to be warded off by any means necessary. Surviving papyrus and carvings include spells or curses to defeat the evil god. Small drawings or models might be made so that they could be stepped on, crushed, spat on, chained,  or stabbed with spears and knives. Apep’s power was so dreaded that it was believed dangerous to keep these for any length of time.

The only public celebration known to be associated with Apep had a similar purpose. Each year, giant snake replicas would be constructed. Through spells, all the evil in the world was imbued into these images — and then they were set on fire. Symbolically, this was to purify Egypt of Apep’s wicked influence for another year.

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Just a few of my books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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