As the personification of all that was evil, Apep was seen as a giant snake, crocodile, serpent, or in later years, in a few cases, as a dragon, leading to titles such as Serpent from the Nile, and Evil lizard. Some elaborations even said that he stretched 16 yards in length and had a head made of flint.
Neither Shu, Maahes nor Serqet were strong enough to kill Apep. Only a few could kill him - Set boasts that "Every day I slay the enemy of Ra when I stand at the helm of the Barque of Millions of Years, which no other god dare do." He was the only deity who was strong enough to withstand the power of Apep, and to kill the water serpent. The Great Cat of Iunu, Apep and the Sons of Horus
(Set resumes): "Back, Fiend, from the onslaught of his light! If you speak, your face will be overturned by the gods. Your heart will be seized by the lynx (Mafdet), your reins will be bound by the scorpion (Hededet), you will be punished by Ma'at, she will bring you to grief."
(Apep cries out that he will conform to the divine will): "I will perform your will, O Ra, I will act properly, I will act peacefully, O Ra!"
(Set speaks again): "Bring your ropes, O Ra, that Apep may fall to your snaring or be trapped by the gods of north, south, east and west in their traps ... All is now well, O Ra! Proceed in peace! And you, Apep, Down! Away, Apep, O Enemy of Ra!"
(During the fight with Horus, Set loses his testicles ... Apep now taunts Set with this): "But what you felt is worse than the sting of the scorpion. What ma'at did to you was so dire that you will suffer from its effect forever! You will never go courting, you will never make love!" Set, Defending the Solar Barque Against Apep
(Stung by this retort, Set determines to destroy Apep rather than just keep him in bondage ...) "Apep, O Enemy of Ra! Turn your face away! Ra hates the very sight of you." The head is then cut off, hacked in pieces and thrown away on either side of the roads ... "Your head is crushed, O Groundling! Your bones are broken up and your flesh cut in pieces. Ra has consigned you to the earth, O Apep! Enemy of Ra!"
-- Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt, R. T. Rundle Clark
Ra was the solar deity, bringer of light, and thus the upholder of Maat. Apep was viewed as the greatest enemy of Ra, and thus was given the title Enemy of Ra.
As the personification of all that was evil, Apep was seen as a giant snake/serpent, or occasionally as a dragon in later years, leading to such titles as Serpent from the Nile and Evil Lizard. Some elaborations even said that he stretched 16 yards in length and had a head made of flint. It is to be noted that already on a Naqada I (ca. 4000 BC) C-ware bowl (now in Cairo) a snake was painted on the inside rim combined with other desert and aquatic animals as a possible enemy of a deity, possibly a solar deity, who is invisibly hunting in a big rowing vessel.
Also, comparable hostile snakes as enemies of the sun god existed under other names (in the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts) already before the name Apep occurred. The etymology of his name ('3pp) is perhaps to be sought in some west-semitic language where a word root 'pp meaning 'to slither' existed. A verb root '3pp does at any rate not exist elsewhere in Ancient Egyptian. (It is not to be confused with the verb 'pi/'pp: 'to fly across the sky, to travel') Apep's name much later came to be falsely connected etymologically in Egyptian with a different root meaning (he who was) spat out; the Romans referred to Apep by this translation of his name. Apophis was a large golden snake known to be miles long. He was also so large, everyday, he attempted to swallow the sun.
Set eventually became thought of as the god of evil, and gradually took on all the characteristics of Apep. Consequently, Apep's identity was eventually entirely subsumed by that of Set.
Battles with RaEditTales of Apep's battles against Ra were elaborated during the New Kingdom. Since nearly everyone can see that the sun is not attacked by a giant snake during the day, every day, storytellers said that Apep must lie just below the horizon. This appropriately made him a part of the underworld. In some stories Apep waited for Ra in a western mountain called Bakhu, where the sun set, and in others Apep lurked just before dawn, in the Tenth region of the Night. The wide range of Apep's possible location gained him the title World Encircler. It was thought that his terrifying roar would cause the underworld to rumble. Myths sometimes say that Apep was trapped there, because he had been the previous chief god and suffered a coup d'etat by Ra, or because he was evil and had been imprisoned.
In his battles, Apep was thought to use a magical gaze to hypnotize Ra and his entourage, attempting to devour them whilst choking the river on which they traveled through the underworld with his coils. Sometimes Apep had assistance from other demons, named Sek and Mot. Ra was assisted by a number of defenders who travelled with him, the most powerful being Set, who sat at the helm.
In a bid to explain certain natural phenomena it was said that occasionally Apep got the upper hand. The damage to order caused thunderstorms and earthquakes. Indeed: it was even thought that sometimes Apep actually managed to swallow Ra during the day, causing a solar eclipse, but since Ra's defenders quickly cut him free of Apep, the eclipse always ended within a few minutes. On the occasions when Apep was said to have been killed, he was able to return each night (since he lived in the world of the dead already). In Atenism it is Aten who kills the monster since Aten is the only god in the belief system.
However, in other myths, it was the cat goddess Bast, daughter of Ra, who slew Apep in her cat form one night, hunting him down with her all seeing eye.
Apep was not so much worshipped, as worshipped against. His defeat each night, in favour of Ra, was thought to be ensured by the prayers of the Egyptian priests and worshipers at temples. The Egyptians practiced a number of rituals and superstitions that were thought to ward off Apep, and aid Ra to continue his journey across the sky.
In an annual rite, called the Banishing of Apep, priests would build an effigy of Apep that was thought to contain all of the evil and darkness in Egypt, and burn it to protect everyone from Apep's influence for another year, in a similar manner 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 Greek). The chapters described a gradual process of dismemberment and disposal, and include:
- Spitting Upon Apep
- Defiling Apep with the Left Foot
- Taking a Lance to Smite Apep
- Fettering Apep
- Taking a Knife to Smite Apep
- Laying Fire Upon Apep
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 burnt, whilst reciting spells that would aid Ra. Fearing that even the image of Apep could give power to the demon, any rendering would always include another deity to subdue the monster, and/or knives already stabbed into him.
As Apep was thought to live in the underworld, he was sometimes thought of as an Eater-up of Souls. Thus the dead also needed protection, so they were sometimes buried with spells that could destroy Apep. The Book of the Dead does not frequently describe occasions when Ra defeated the chaos snake explicitly called Apep. Only BD Spells 7 and 39 can be explained as such.