Sunday 21 April 2019


Today I would like to talk about snakes. And the sun. 

Apep or Apophis was the ancient Egyptian deity who embodied chaos. He was viewed as the greatest enemy of the solar deity Ra who as the bringer of light was seen as the upholder of order. This is why he was given the title Enemy of Ra.

Apep was seen as a giant snake or serpent leading to such titles as the Evil Dragon. Some elaborations said that he had a head made of flint.

The few descriptions of Apep's origin in myth usually demonstrate that it was born after Ra, usually from his umbilical cord. Combined with its absence from Egyptian creation myths, this has been interpreted as suggesting that Apep was not a primordial force in Egyptian theology, but a consequence of Ra's birth.

In his battles, Apep was thought to use a magical gaze to hypnotise Ra and his entourage, attempting to devour them whilst choking the river on which they travelled through the underworld with his coils.

But god Set, who always accompanied Ra on Atet (Solar barge) defended Ra and killed Apep with his spear.

The god Set was usually depicted as a man with a head resembling that of the sha, Set animal.

In ancient Egyptian art, the Set animal is usually depicted as a slender canid, resembling a greyhound or a jackal, usually with a long, slightly curved nose, and erect ears, squared at the tops, and a forked tail.

Set was often depicted carrying the so called "was" (Egyptian wꜣs "power, dominion") sceptre. It appears as a stylized animal head at the top of a long, straight staff with a forked end. Basically it was a stylised Set animal.

In one account, Ra himself defeats Apep in the form of a cat.

Egyptian believed that thunderstorms and earthquakes were caused by Apep managing to temporarily overwhelm Ra. They also believed that solar eclipses were caused by Apep managing to swallow Ra during the day. However Ra's defenders would quickly cut Apep's belly open and free Ra out, ending the eclipse within a few minutes.

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 ('pp) is perhaps to be sought in some west-semitic language where a word root "pp meaning 'to slither' existed. A verb root 'pp does at any rate not exist elsewhere in Ancient Egyptian.

Soooo. That's the story of Apep. How are we to understand all this?

Maybe this will help:

In Slavic languages the word for dragon "zmaj" is the masculine form of the word for snake "zmija". In Slavic mythology dragon is believed to be an "old male snake"... 

Snake is in Slavic mythology described as "the enemy"of the sun. As the protector of the sun, who saves the sun from the snake, we often find swallow. In Serbia people believe that swallow saved the sun when snake tried to swallow it. In Bosnia people believe that the swallow hid one quarter of the sun under it's wing, to protect it from the snake. In Dalmatia people believe that once there were three or four suns in the sky and that the snake ate all but one, which swallow hid under its wing. Two "blind suns" which can sometimes be seen in the sky together with our normal sun are the ones which the snake ate. The one that heats us is the one that the swallow hid under its wing. There is also a story that once there were 9 rays on the sun, but that snake ate (sucked, drank) all but one. In Montenegro people believe that a huge dragon once sucked in two out of three suns which once existed. In Bulgaria people say that once snake bit the sun in the eyes when it bent down to drink water. Another version of this story says that the sun used to have two or more eyes, but that the snake "sucked" them all out.

Bulgarians believe that the sun celebrates the killing of snakes. because the snake sucked in one of sun's eyes. In Montenegro people say that every time a snake is killed, the sun happily exclaims "A dragon was killed".

Bulgarians believe that snakes eyes have magic affect on the sun. They say that the sun can't set unless the snake looks at it. In Poland people say that the sun would stop shining if the snake looked at it. This is because the snake's eyes can suck all sun's strength out. In Bosnia people believe that snake gets more poisonous if it often looks at the sun. The most poisonous are the snakes that look at the sun for nine days. God forbade snakes to look at the sun longer than nine days a year. A lot less poisonous are the snakes which look at the sun only six days a year. And even less poisonous are the ones which only look at the sun for three days a year.

In Belarus people believe that snakes, while lying outside and sunbathing, actually sucking the sun's strength out, and that this is why the sun gets smaller and smaller as the summer progresses. The sun replenishes it's strength during the winter when snakes are under the ground. This is why one should always kill a snake, or they will multiply so much that they will completely destroy the sun. The dead snake should be buried or hid in the deep shade so that sun doesn't see it. If the snake is not buried the sun will start to shine weakly and will start hiding behind the clouds, because it can't look at it's dead earthly enemy. The sun won't shine on a man who doesn't kill a snake for three days. People in Ukraine also believe that a dead snake should be hidden in a shade or buried so that it doesn't harm the sun in some way. Polish people believe that a dead snake should always be buried so that the sun can't see it. If the sun sees a dead snake it might get extinguished. Also if the sun sees a dead snake it will get sick and turn red. The sun will get sick and start crying, because the snake is poisonous. The setting sun is red if it had seen a dead snake which wasn't buried. If a live snake comes out of its hole to sunbath, the sun will get sick and get pale. In Pomerania people believe that snakes actually don't like looking at the sun. If a snake is lying still, staring at the sun, has gone mad.

There is also a belief, which is found in all Slavic countries from Baltic to Balkans, that if you kill a snake, it will twitch and jump around, even if you chop it in bits, until the sun sets.

In Bulgaria people believe that the snake bite wound should be exposed to the sun. In Poland people believe that the person who was bitten by a snake should be outside, in the sun, or he will get sick.

People in Ukraine and Poland believe that snakes once had wings and flew in the sky. But the sun burned their wings and they fell on the ground. There is a Polish legend that says that the solar eclipse happens because a dragon covers the sun with its body. There is also a Polish fairytale which says that it is a twelve headed snake which causes solar eclipse. Ukrainians have a legend about a dragon which feeds on the sun, which is why the sun gets smaller and weaker as the year progresses. The motif of a dragon swallowing the sun can be found in all Slavic countries.

How should we understand all this? 

And why there are so many similarities between the Slavic and Egyptian stories about the sun and the snake?

The snake and the sun are intrinsically connected. 

Snakes come out of the underground when the air and soil get warm enough. They stay outside during the late spring, summer and early autumn and during that that time they are visible to people. 

This is why snake is the symbol of the sun's heat.  

In Egyptian mythology we find snakes wrapped around the sun disk on the head of the young Sun god Horus.

They are all around Amun-Ra

They have wings to symbolised their link with the supreme deity Ra 

And are called "the Uraei of goodness". You can read a lot more about the snakes in Egyptian mythology in the great book "The Serpent Myths of Ancient Egypt". 

But let me continue with the analysis of the snake-sun symbolic relationship based on Slavic mythology and see how it fits with the Egyptian one. 

The sun's heat is "young" week and beneficial at the end of spring, just before the summer starts. This is the good snake. The sun's heat is "old" strong and destructive at the end of summer, just before the autumn starts. This is the bad snake. Dragon, a heavenly being that breaths fire, the great old male snake, represents the burning heat of the Late Summer, Early Autumn, the "old sun", the sun which is threatening to turn everything into cinder. 

In Slavic Pre-Christian religion this dragon was Veles, the great horned snake, who "Stole heavenly cows from Perun". Basically he is the late summer heat which dries the land and the sky and causes draughts. You can read more about this in my post "Lion killing Snake" and my post "Two crosses".

Just enough sun is beneficial but too much sun is destructive. 
Just enough sun makes grain grow and creates order, but too much sun makes grain wither and burn and creates chaos. 

This is why Apep, the great snake, the dragon, the destructive sun, the creator of chaos is the enemy of Ra, the beneficial sun, the creator of Order. 

The great snake, the dragon, Apep, is the sun, is Ra in its destructive manifestation. This is why Apep is "a consequence of Ra".

The sun's heat increases all the way through the summer until we reach the hottest point of the summer, the 2nd of August. This point marks the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn, the end of the heating and the beginning of the cooling of the northern hemisphere. I talked about this in my post "Two crosses".

At that precise moment, The Great Snake, The Dragon, Veles (the summer heat) gets killed by Perun (autumn thunderstorms) whose weapon is lightning (spear). This day is celebrated in Serbia as Perun day. 

But the thing is, Perun and Veles are one and the same. This can be seen from the fact that on the 2nd of August (the end of summer beginning of autumn), the day when Serbs celebrate Perun's victory over Veles, Serbs celebrate the day of St Elijah the thunderer. St Elijah is the burning sun of the late summer, Helios. 

This is Helios

This is Elijah

Every year on his day he is about to burn the world to cinder. But he never does. Because  St Elijah is also the thunderer, the one who makes lightning and the one who rides on storm clouds. Which arrive right on time, to cool the earth down. You can read more about this in my post "Thundering sun god".

This what is represented by Set killing Apep. The sun Ra, its protector Set and sun's enemy Apep are one and the same...

Set scores a small victory over Apep every day when the evening kills the heat of the day. 
Set scores the big victory over Apep on the 2nd of August (the end of summer beginning of autumn) when he kills the heat of the summer and when the northern hemisphere starts cooling.

The 2nd of August,  (the end of summer beginning of autumn) falls in the middle of the zodiac sign Leo. This is why Ra kills Apep as great cat (Lion). 

This is also why we find the depiction of a lion headed deity (probably Pakhet or Pasht) killing great snake, dragon, on the above Set killing Apep scene.

Here is another depiction of Pakhet holding in one hand was staff (Set animal used to defeat Apep) and in the other hand two snakes. 

Interestingly, in Serbian mythology, St Elijah doesn't burn the world down, because every year, in the middle of Leo, during the Dog days, he gets "calmed down" by his wife "Ognjena Marija" (Fiery Mary). 

I wrote about this in my post Ognjena Marija

I talked about the symbolism of the "Lion killing snake" image in my post Lion killing snake

The 2nd of August, (the end of summer beginning of autumn), the hottest part of the year, the time when the great snake, the dragon is killed is known as Dog days. This is when Dog Star Sirius, rises before sun in the sky. Which is very interesting considering that Set, the Egyptian dragon slayer, the god of storms, is a dog faced deity...Knowing this, I wonder if the Set animal (dog really) has a forked tail because it is itself the "animal that ends the great snake, the dragon"???

Medieval standing stone from Ubusko, Hercegovina depicting dog fighting snake.

Just after the dog days and the slaughter of the great snake which choked the "river on which Ra's barge sailed", the Nile flooding reaches its highest level. This is still celebrated by Egyptians as an annual holiday for two weeks starting August 15, known as Wafaa El-Nil. 

The Nile always followed the same water rise and fall pattern. First indications of the rise of the river could be seen at the first of the cataracts of the Nile (at Aswan) as early as the beginning of June, and a steady increase went on until the middle of July, when the increase of water became very great. 

This is the beginning of Leo. 

The Nile continued to rise until the beginning of September, when the level remained stationary for a period of about three weeks, sometimes a little less. 

This is the end of Leo.

In October it often rose again, and reached its highest level. From this period it began to subside, and usually sank steadily until the month of June when it reached its lowest level, again.

Here is the The god Nilus or Hapimou encircled by the serpent...

From the dead dragon water, vegetation and life burst out...

What do you think about all this?


  1. And, of course, we have Lugh's fiery spear!

    Interesting post, Goran. Thank you!

  2. Suns and serpents:
    Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.
    And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
    Revelation 12

    1. And the woman who delivers after dragon is killed is Mother Earth who arrives on a lion (Leo) as a pregnant (bountiful) virgin (Virgo). And the harvest (autumn) begins...

  3. This looks like once there was a stronger connection between Slavic cultures and Egypt. Who would benefit most for this connection to go into obscurity as we experience it now? Anyway, very interesting article. All very logical on many levels. Thank you Goran.

  4. But how can Veles be a symbol of the late summer sun if he is so heavily associated with chthonic forces? And why does Jarilo (the young sun) kill Veles, if he is, in that form, a symbol of the old sun? And how can Perun, who is, amongst other things, the sun of the late summer, kill Veles, who is also somehow him?
    I am not saying that your interpretation is wrong, in fact, my confusion about it stems from the fact that you have provided proof for it. If you have the time, please answer my questions.

    1. Same thing, female version...Seasons...The son becomes the lover of his own mother...The summer (old sun) transforms into autumn (sun dies)...then into winter
      (sun gets reborn)...then into spring (young sun)...

      But also, check this out. I now know a lot more about climate and animals involved in these mythologies...

    2. But doesn't the sun die on Badynak?
      And how does this explain Veles being associated with wealth and knowledge?

    3. Who guards the treasure in our fairytales? Dragons and snake kings...Who possesses the secret knowledge?

      The sun is the ruler of our world, where he spends daytime, and of the underworld, where he spends nighttime. He is followed by snakes...Our ancestors believed that all the good and the bad is given to us by our ancestors, depending on how we remember them and venerate them. And this includes the Sun and Earth, the father and mother of all... Hence the sun and snakes and dragons as keepers and givers of wealth and secrets...

      As for the sun dying on badnji dan, that is true...Perun doesn't really kill Veles...Better explanation of what happens is preserved in our legends about Elijah the thunderer, who gets "calmed down" by his wife, and so doesn't burn the earth to cinder...Life goes on, sun continues to shine, but from the Perun's day, it is milder and cooler, it looses it's heat, until his fire becomes so weak that it has to be rekindled by people on badnje vece...

    4. Thank you for your answer.
      On the internet there is barely any true or useful information about Old European, and especially Old Slavic mythology, and I greatly appreciate that you have done actual research, and created an interpretation based on actual evidence. And, at that, posted it online for free. Cheers and good luck!

  5. Solarnu barku Atet na slici, vuku ( vuk-vući-vuča ili dog+oniti-dovući ili lup+us-vuk, pull-vući) vukovi-šakali i zmije-zmajevi.
    Osim što vukovi-šakali vuku barku, oni stoje na plugu-ralu pobodenim u centar Polarne zvezde, u to vreme zvezda Thuban u sazvežđu Draco-Zmaj.
    U jezicima severnih naroda "vući " izgovara se "drag".

    U mitu o Nikiti Kožemnjaku, kaže se kako je Nikita napravio plug u njega upregao veliku zmiju-zmaja te preorao brazde novih zemalja.
    Zmaj ili vuk koji vuku plug?
    Long ili Lang?