Pagan Paths

A blog about Kemetic practices, myths, deities, and concepts, as well as the realities of worshiping the gods in the modern world.

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Meditations on Ma'at and the Cosmos

As I see it, there are three pillars of the Kemetic religion(s), in all its (or their) many forms. These pillars are:  The gods, the practices, and the concept of ma'at. It is this third, ma'at, that I will be discussing in this particular post.

Ma'at is often translated as Truth, Justice, Good, Order, or Cosmic Order. It is all of those things at once, in a way that can't be adequately conveyed with any one of the above English words or phrases.  For the Egyptians, the stability of the cosmos was not a fundamentally different thing from a king ruling justly. They were both manifestations of ma'at, and the lack thereof (an unstable cosmos, an unjust king, with the resulting disorder in the land) would be considered a lack of ma'at, and signs of  its opposite, isfet (often translated as "evil" or "disorder".)

The gods are said to live on ma'at as we live on food. I would stretch this bit of theology farther, based on a couple of points:

  • First, humans (remet) are born from the tears (remyt) of the god Ra. So we all have the substance of the gods within us, and after death, with the leading of a proper life (and perhaps the help of the right rituals and texts), we can join them.
  • Second, we depend on the continued functioning of the ordered cosmos as much as the gods do. Without the ordering of the cosmos, we could not live.

Based on these two points, I would say that we humans live on ma'at as well, even though we might not necessarily see ourselves feeding on it like bread, as the gods are said to.

I also feel that ma'at may have to do with the way heka/magic seems to work, from my experience and that of others. A common misconception  is that magic consists in violating the laws of reality. Fiction and movies portray it as doing things like turn people into animals or conjure fireballs.

In practice, magic seems to work on a much more subtle level, more typically manifesting itself as visions or strange synchronicities. And it is often said of, say, magic done for wealth, that the magician must still do mundane things (like work hard, send out job applications,etc.) to open a path for the magical results to manifest themselves in.

How might ma'at figure into this? Consider, as I said earlier, that the gods and humans depend on ma'at for their continued existence. A cosmos where absolutely anything can happen at any time would be a cosmos where absolutely nothing can happen. A ball of clay being continually and randomly shaped and re-shaped can never become a sculpture. This is why ordered creation has to be ordered.

The universe is a highly complex, highly interconnected system made up of many smaller highly complex, highly interconnected systems. When we try to affect one thing, we wind up affecting at least a dozen other things that we had no idea even existed. If you're a god or a magician, and you somehow blatantly violated the laws of reality to work some magic, that violation could ripple out, cause a lot of unintended side-effects and perhaps even lead to the dissolution of the cosmos. Either this cannot happen, because the other laws of reality hold each other together, like the logs in a log cabin, or the gods actively ensure it does not happen, or both. Either way, the result is the same.

 However, the structure is not utterly rigid, as many would believe. It has flexibility within the allowable possibilities. This is where magic comes in. This may also be why the gods tend to manifest the way they do, that is, in similar ways to magical workings.

To sum it up, ma'at in the cosmic context is what holds the cosmos together and keeps it from flying apart, or scrambling itself into a soupy, unrecognizable mess. It gives structure and, well, order, to everything in the universe, and it helps determine how the results of heka/magic manifest themselves in the physical.

Senebty, dear readers!

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  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette Wednesday, 22 May 2013

    I like your thoughts on Ma'at. I'd like to expand, however, on your statement: "we humans live on ma'at as well, even though we might not necessarily see ourselves feeding on it like bread..."
    Actually we do. Think what it takes to make bread, for wheat and yeast to exist and grow, for there to be water and salt, for humans to have the knowledge and skill to combine and transform the ingredients...everything we do - especially eating food! - depends upon Ma'at. For me, cooking, gardening, and eating are the most powerful and obvious "meditations" on the order and beauty of the Universe.

  • Sihathor
    Sihathor Wednesday, 22 May 2013

    So we do!
    I guess it would be more accurate to say then, that we humans also live on ma'at, like on bread (and through bread, as you point out) even if it isn't always obvious to most of us at first. :)

    Food for the body, and the soul!

  • Sihathor
    Sihathor Monday, 01 July 2013

    I recently saw a video on YouTube called "What Would Happen If The World Lost Oxygen For Five Seconds", which illustrates really well the point I was making about the interconnectedness of reality, and how blatantly messing with it (as opposed to subtly bending it) could be dangerous for ordered creation.

    I posted a little about it at my Wordpress blog, and embedded the video there,too:

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