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Serpentssssssssssss

 
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 25, 2005 3:15 am    Post subject: Serpentssssssssssss Reply with quote

Just about everyone at our forum should be well familiar with the fable of the Garden of Eden and the temptation of Eve by that nasty serpent. This is one of the earliest versions of the creature that would become the Devil of the New Testament, though in formative Judaic times before such fables were written down to become the Pentateuch (Old Testament), "Satan" was little more than a mischievous, nebulous, naughty trickster--rather similar to the Coyote of Native American lore. Not a good guy, but not necessarily flat-out evil, either. It was mostly the New Testament that cemented our modern notion of "Satan," and therefore by extension forever damned the Garden of Eden serpent, too.

Numerous other societies have viewed the serpent as intrinsically evil, as well. When we think of it in Egyptian terms, most people automatically think of the serpent Apophis, forever trying to keep Re from successfully being reborn as the dawn-sun Khepri. Ancient Egypt did not really have a "Satan" in its religion, and I don't think the chaos god Set is at all a good comparison. Apophis would be closer, considering that if he had ever been successful in stopping Re's resurrection, all of creation would have more or less imploded into the void. Now that's evil! Certainly more so than a little snake trying to talk a naked girl into eating some forbidden fruit. Shocked

But just because Apophis (Apepi to the ancient Egyptians) is so commonly known to people of today, does not mean the Egyptians viewed serpents or snakes as somehow intrinsically evil. They most certainly did not! The most ready counter-argument is the cobra goddess Wadjyt, patron deity of all of Lower Egypt. And let's not forget the ubiquitous uraeus (rearing cobra head) on pharaoh's crown.

Our understanding of Apophis largely comes from the Books of the Netherworld, which were royal religious canons painted on the tomb walls of kings starting for the most part in the New Kingdom. Queens sometimes had minor excerpts painted on the walls of their tombs (Nefertari's is a good example), but for the most part the Books of the Netherworld are absent there; such writings as the Book of the Dead are more common for royal women.

The Books of the Netherworld we call the Amduat and the Book of Gates offer good examples of the duality in the natures of serpents in ancient Egypt. These are two of the books that tell us how Re died at dusk, entered the netherworld in his solar barque, and proceeded on a nightly epic journey to become one with Osiris so that both could be reborn to new life and so that the sun could be regenerated each morning. Through much of the journey Apophis is there, always trying to thwart the progress of the sun god--and always and forever failing. It must have truly sucked to be Apophis. But there are other serpents present in this murky land of the dead, and many of them are most definitely good guys.

For instance, in the 7th Hour of the Amduat, while Isis and Set use sorcery to control Apophis and while Selket binds him for dismemberment, the Mehen-serpent protectively enfolds the corpses of Re and Osiris within its coils. In ancient Egyptian the word mhn means simply "coil," and this massive snake used its own body to guard the vulnerable corpses of the two great gods before their resurrection can be achieved.

In many instances there are fire-spitting serpents or deities who wear such serpents on their heads to keep Apophis and his minions at bay. In the punishment scene in the 9th Hour of the Book of Gates, for example, there is a giant serpent called the Fiery One who breathes fire to torment the bound enemies of Osiris. He is directed by Horus, and within the coils of the Fiery One are the four Sons of Horus.

The serpent motif pops up again and again in the Books of the Netherworld. In the 10th Hour of the Amduat the god Sokar appears as a serpent with a falcon head, and in the 11th Hour Isis and Nephthys take the form of serpents; in the 12th Hour the rebirth of the sun occurs within the protective circle formed by the body of the giant serpent called the "World-encircler."

These are just a few simple examples. Clearly the Egyptians saw nothing evil about snakes. On the contrary, snakes were part of the environment, were there before the very first Egyptians were, and were incorporated into some of the most elaborate religious writings of their evolving civilization.

Apophis was just one serpent, and actually one of the very few evil serpents, and unfortunately he's the one with whom most people today are familiar.

Oh yeah, he was also the coolest bad-guy Goa'uld on Stargate. Wink
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anneke
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 25, 2005 5:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's quite interesting.

Apep was a water snake-demon of the underworld, who tried to stop Ra on his nightly journey through the land of the west as you mentioned.

There are many more protective snake gods and goddesses though.
And many give the impression of being quite ancient:

Neheb-kau a benevolent snake god who the Egyptians believed was one of the original primeval gods.

The four primeval goddesses of the Ogdoad - Naunet (water), Amaunet (invisibility), Hauhet (infinity) and Kauket (darkness) - were also snake goddesses.

Wadjet was the predynastic cobra goddess of Lower Egypt, a goddess originally of a city who grew to become the goddess of Lower Egypt (associated with Buto or Pe)

Renenutet, snake goddess was protector of the king and the harvest

Kebechet the snake goddess (daughter of Anubis) symbolized the purification by water in the funeral cult.

Iaret (Weret?) is the rearing cobra

Mehen The divine snake whose coils protected Ra as he journeyed on his boat through the waterways of the kingdom of night. Mehen is usually seen draped in protective coils about the deck-house in which Ra stands.
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2005 5:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's alot of very interesting stuff, I absolutely LOVE snakes!! Especially the bigger ones, they are so gorgeous. My mom thinks they are evil though.

I had no idea there were so many snake gods and goddesses. Cool, cool, cool. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2005 7:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I only like the non-poisonous snakes-I once had a little boa put round my neck, that was awesome! I'd be terrified if I came face to face with a cobra though!

That serpent called the 'world encircler'-is that the snake that bites it's tail? I always thought that was a Greek symbol, but some sources claim it was Egyptian in origin-it has another name, can't remember what it was though?
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2005 11:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
That serpent called the 'world encircler'-is that the snake that bites it's tail? I always thought that was a Greek symbol, but some sources claim it was Egyptian in origin-it has another name, can't remember what it was though?


The World-encircler is not really one of those. The term you're looking for is the "ouroboros," and those exist in the Books of the Netherworld, too. They're especially common in the Book of Caverns, which I didn't cover in my post, but you're right, they're a good example of serpents in Egyptian symbology. I think "ouroboros" is the Greek name for them but this symbol far predates Greece. Interesting fact, though. I'm glad you mentioned it.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 04, 2008 8:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is an interesting topic from 2005 which I think is worth bumping, given the recent interest in AE serpents by a few of us around here.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 05, 2008 1:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You know, the truly funny thing is, when I saw this in the list of topics, I thought, Now what in the hell kind of name is "Serpentssssssssssss" for a post?

Laughing

Good grief, I completely forgot I even started this discussion. I was clearly reading (or rereading?) Erik Hornung at the time.
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