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Dragon Myths: Apep (Egypt)

In the earliest days of mankind’s history, the concepts of good and evil were tied to concrete ideals:  order versus chaos.  Obviously, you can re-define these to a certain degree as well, but they aren’t as abstract as “good” and “evil” eventually became.

A peaceful, ordered kingdom where people obeyed the law was something to be desired.

A chaotic kingdom full of turmoil and dissension?  Not so much.  Chaos brings destruction and, sooner or later, death.  War is a great example of this.  However, nothing symbolizes chaos quite like the turmoil of the sea.  Death exists on land as well, but, as many movies from Hollywood prove, water holds an especially morbid fascination for us humans.

In Egypt, the ideal behind a well-lived life was ma’at, sometimes personified as a goddess, but always encapsulating the concepts of order, justice, truth, morality, balance, and law.  Ra, ruler of the created world and the one who supported and protected ma’at, traveled through the ocean of the underworld each night on a boat.  In his journey he would encounter the Egyptian personification of chaos itself, Apep, the great serpent, Enemy of Ra.

As Ra’s boat drew near the mountain Bakhu at the edge of dawn, the enormous dragon Apep would appear and fix the gods with a magical stare, keeping them frozen in time.  In other stories, he would swallow the boat and all on it.

Sometimes it’s Set, god of storms and the desert, who slays Apep, enabling Ra to sail onward into dawn.  Sometimes it’s Bastet, protector of homes with the All-Seeing Eye, who tracks down Apep and kills him.  No matter who does it or how many times he’s slain, the dragon is never truly dead.  When the night comes again, he’s waiting.

There were rituals to assist Ra and rituals to protect the dead, who, like Ra, had to avoid being stopped in their progress by the darkness.  As near as I can tell from what I’ve read, no one worshiped Apep.  At least, not officially.  He was the terror that waited for every soul who journeyed to the underworld and every spell that mentions him is a protection against him.

Eventually, Set, for some reason that probably made very good sense at the time, became identified with the chaos Apep had once represented.  But, although he became cruel and chaotic, he never lived in the depths of the sea as Apep did, waiting.

*******

This is the first in a series on various dragon stories.  In my upcoming novel, Shining Armor, shape-shifting dragons study the universe, recording what they find.  One of those dragons, Nicholas, is trying to put his shambles of a life back together after suffering more than one humiliation, when Annie, a human with dragon’s blood in her veins, enters his world.  Before long, he’s questioning everything he was raised to believe.  But will he be able to sort through those beliefs before the past comes back, this time, ready to kill?

Coming soon.

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