The mythology of ancient Egypt is complex and filled with numerous gods and goddesses, each with their distinct realms of influence. One of the most significant recurring themes is the struggle between order (Ma’at) and chaos (Isfet), often symbolized through the daily journey of the sun god Ra and his eternal battle against the serpent Apophis (also known as Apep).
The ancient Egyptians viewed each day as a microcosm of the balance between order and chaos. Every sunrise represented the victory of Ma’at, and every sunset brought the threat of Isfet, when the sun god descended into the underworld. This daily journey of Ra through the sky and the Duat (underworld) is depicted in several ancient Egyptian texts, including the “Book of the Dead”, “Book of Gates”, and the “Amduat”. The god Ra was among the most important deities in the Egyptian pantheon, often associated with creation, the sun, and the ruler of all gods. Every day, Ra would sail across the sky in his solar barque (a divine ship), illuminating the world. As dusk approached, Ra would descend into the underworld, marking the start of his perilous journey through the night.
The most formidable adversary Ra faced in his nightly journey was the chaos serpent, Apophis. Representing absolute chaos and evil, Apophis was a gargantuan serpent who lay in wait in the underworld, intent on devouring Ra and thereby plunging the world into eternal darkness. Apophis was a constant threat to Ma’at, symbolizing the disorder and chaos that lurked just beyond the boundaries of the ordered world. Each night, Ra, accompanied by a retinue of other gods, would battle Apophis. This struggle was fraught with danger, and the outcome was never certain, for if Apophis succeeded, the sun would never rise again, and life would cease to exist.
To assist Ra in this battle, the “Book of the Dead” provided spells that the deceased could use to aid Ra and ward off Apophis. Despite the serpent’s attempts to halt the solar barque, Ra was victorious each dawn, emerging from the underworld and rising into the sky, bringing the morning light and maintaining the order of the world. This cycle represented the resilience of Ma’at, and the perpetual struggle against chaos and disorder.
This eternal battle between Ra and Apophis was not merely a thrilling mythological tale, but a deeply symbolic narrative for the ancient Egyptians. It represented the natural cycles of day and night, life and death, creation and destruction. It also mirrored the moral and societal order, underlining the constant vigilance required to keep chaos at bay. Just like the sun would rise after a victorious battle, the ancient Egyptians believed that the soul, after successfully navigating through the trials of the underworld and assisting in the battle against chaos, would achieve eternal life in the afterlife, illustrating the profound interconnectedness of human existence, divine will, and the natural world in ancient Egyptian belief.