Out of the deeps rises the mysterious lotus. Stop in for refreshment, heka, and reflections from the sacred waters of ancient Egypt.
Memory and Action
“Action is remembering; inaction forgetting.” (1) Perhaps the most remarkable legacy of ancient Egypt is thousands of years of written memories. These take the form of rituals, magical spells, poetry, stories, wisdom literature, business records, personal correspondence, funerary tablets and even pornographic cartoons. Because the written word was considered not just useful, but sacred, the Egyptians never forgot who they were.
Egyptologist Jan Assman points out that because the temple schools trained scribes by using the great sacred and wisdom literature of Egypt, those scribes went out into their career prepared to pass on that wisdom. Highborn or lowborn, a scribe left his training an educated, disciplined person with a strong sense of integrity. (Yes, scribes were almost invariably male, although education was not gender-exclusive.) The hard-won lessons of previous ages were disseminated throughout the country to kings, merchants, landowners and ambassadors.
Scribes also served as local magistrates, holding courts to settle disputes even in small villages. They were a key element in maintaining widespread commitment to the idea of ma’at. Assman calls ma’at “connective justice,” emphasizing the importance of community bonds. Egyptian writings preserved the memory of past breakdowns in ma’at, and scribes were well-placed to remind all Egyptians of their role in keeping a just society.
Recently, I’ve been asked about my interfaith activities, the latest involving a reception by our South Carolina governor in her office. The truth is, interfaith work is just one of many issues I have championed over the years. I have always instinctively known that memory and action were mutual concepts. Without memory, there is no motive for action. Without action, we soon lose what we have, then forget who we are.
Ma’at means action, for me. It means engaging, not isolating myself from the society in which I live. On this blog I will seldom advocate for those specific causes that I support because here I will give precedence to the standard that we are a diverse tribe and deserve to hold differing opinions. Locally, regionally, and personally, however, my positions on equal rights for all and domestic violence, for example, are no secret. Most of all, I hope to inspire action - be that for a social cause, or be it internal transformation. As a sort of modern scribe, I hope always to convey the importance of remembering, of acting, of ma’at.
1. Assman, Jan. The Mind of Egypt. Henry Holt & Company: New York, 1996 (trans. 2002).
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