Wednesday, July 27, 2011


The concept of Ma'at brings together several completely disassociated dimensions in Egyptian imaginary.

Ma'ät is at the heart of understanding Egyptian Civilization in its entirety, and is the foundation of its longevity. It is bound to and confused with Ethics (including Justice and Truth), with Universal Order (Cosmic Order, Social Order and Political Order) and with Social Integration based on Communication and Confidence.

The foundation of Egyptian Cultural identity, Ma'at is the great Creation of the thinkers of the Old Kingdom. It is SHE who ultimately offers an ideological setting to the Pharaonic State, both at the level of justification of its existence and in that of the Rules which define GOOD Government.

But we would not know what this principle covers if a break had not occurred. This break, which is the decomposition, at the end of the Old Kingdom, of the centralized Unity of the country embodied by the king. Then the emergence of multiple local powers which shared the territory during a couple of centuries (the First Intermediate Period).

The DISORDER and Social Anarchy which resulted from it profoundly marked the Egyptian imagination. Through necessity it was clear to formulate and to explain what was obvious in the previous period.

These thoughts are found in literary genre, whose first steps date back to the 3rd Dynasty, and which concern the CONDUCT of individuals: the sapient literature, with its teachings.

It also expresses itself through a new literature type, appropriate for the difficult crossing period: the laments or pessimistic literature. This last more concerns Society than that of actual individuals. It is the same for a third kind which are king's writings to his son's and which express, for the first time, concrete suggestions on the Government of men.

The Middle Kingdom will be seen to reconstitute the Political and Social UNITY of the Double Country, RE-UNIFIED around the central concept of MA'AT. It is the "Tale of the Oasien" or (Eloquent Peasant) which best summarizes the concept of Ma'at at this time.

In the nine supplications, which he addresses to his judge, a peasant who has been flown, provides the three fundamental attitudes of a behavior compliant to the MA'AT:

"There is no yesterday for the lazy person, no friend for the one who is deaf to Ma'at, no festival day for the greedy."

(1) Laziness - Makes Not MA'AT.
Laziness, is the ABSENCE OF ACTION, INERTIA. For the Egyptian, ALL ACTION must INDUCE a RE-ACTION in an intermeshed JOINING of past actions (yesterday) to present actions. It is necessary "TO ACT." For the one who acts and that, for a very clear reason, is in order to advise him to remain active.

In a Society where the subsistence of the individual is made day to day, in a complex relational maze, the slightest DIS-ORDER can compromise the survival of the people or the functionality of the administrative machine.

Not to forget the good which has been made, it is the basis of confidence. It is a SOLIDARITY OF SURVIVAL, based on INTERDEPENDENCE, embodied by MA'AT.

(2) Deafness in Ma'at - According to Ma'at.
The greatest wisdom according to Ancient Egypt, is to KNOW how to listen in the SILENCE, to meditate on the received word and to consequently act. It is not surprising when one knows the importance of language, of the uttered words which are a living substance, a true food. Social life is only possible by the exchange of HARMONIOUS speech, which only permits the integration of one and the other in dynamics based on the confidence of actions which will be achieved.

The deaf who do not listen to the other, are the insensible, the indifferent. Therefore, has no friend and is NOT INTEGRATED into society. When one doesn't communicate anymore, at the level of the individual or Society, it is VIOLENCE and the Law of the strongest which is installed. It is well illustrated in the "Dialogue of The Desperate Man and His Soul", another classic text of the Middle Kingdom.

(3) Greed
It is a property of the HEART for the Egyptian on which there is no Ascendancy; it is, say the sages, an incurable illness.

It is doubly negative:
- For the Individual: Indeed, during ones life, accumulates a subtle "ENERGY" notably at the time of the festivals, which seem to be in relation to the joy of living. One nourishes their Ka, their intangible double. The one who cannot be happy carries harm to their own Ka.

- For Society: Selfishness, the desire of possessions and jealousy, entail the DESTRUCTION of social relations. The one who despoils those who worked for him, removes from them their means of subsistence, puts them in peril and this fact, is an inducer of VIOLENCE.

In addition, while trying to remove ones dependence on the another, to individualize oneself, one breaks the dynamic system of INTERACTION of SOCIETY and there again will generate VIOLENCE.


The goal of the Egyptian of High Society is to become a Tomb Owner, an Imakhu (what is, in itself, the tangible expression of ones Social Stature of "well provided"). It requires that several conditions are met:

- A Remunerative Function ("a well paid job") and Royal Authorization.

- An Expensive Post-Mortem Cult supposing either Affiliation with, or of Specialized Priests, in any case of important income.

- A GOOD RECORD in the Society.

Three Security checks are thus put in place to MORALLY constrain one to behave well :
- The functions of experience have been correctly filled in order to have enjoyed Royal Favor.

- A Will must have been written and goods of the deceased passed to their heir; it is not automatic. It is necessary that the Will is approved (sealed) by the Vizier himself who can disinherit if goods were ill-gotten.

- The GOOD RECORD left with the group, so that the chapel is maintained and is not damaged, and the Formulas of Life uttered.

It is necessary to have been WELL-BELOVED by ones living (it is not about liking each other!). This arduous task supposes that one followed the way of solidarity recommended by MA'AT.

- The Biographies in The Tombs WELL specify that one gave to the one who had need (bread, clothes, boats ...)

- That one didn't commit the sin of language (scandal-mongering, slander ...)


It is about an impersonal portrait which translates the CONFORMITY to the general rule, MA'AT, and which is distinct from the "professional" career.

These concepts evolved during the various Periods of Our-Story.

(1) In The Old Kingdom.
MA'AT is merged with the Will of the king who assumes the "SERVICE OF HUMANKIND". It is NOT the career, since the career is spontaneous and bound to ambition. Career in the service of the Sovereign and MA'AT are therefore distinctly separated, but form an indispensable COMPLEMENT.

(2) In the First Intermediate Period:
After the fall of the monarchy of the Old Kingdom, there is no longer a career in the king's service. A VIRTUOUS Life compliant to MA'AT can alone lead to IMMORTALITY.

However, the very word of MA'AT, which remains identified by the Egyptians with the King, with the State, disappears from the inscriptions.

One's VIRTUE is now the real monument: A GOOD CHARACTER is a monument; It is a monument to being good; One's monument is ones virtue.

Greater need for a Tomb or Royal career. Could it be that the economic difficulties also played a part in this new vision, because VERY FEW people could have access to an Authentic Monument during this period.

(3) In the Middle Kingdom:
Thanks to literature known as "propaganda" (an unsuitable term, but close enough), The Monarchy reintroduces the traditional notion of MA'AT - Service to The King, as a necessity of survival.

It is ADDED TO the necessities of VIRTUE and The Tomb. The Tomb and MA'AT become INSEPARABLE.

(4) Thereafter, and especially during the New Kingdom:
After the fall of the Middle Kingdom and the invasion of the Hyksos, the Second Intermediate Period showed that it was NOT POSSIBLE to be assured of a stable Terrestrial World where MA'AT could reign without sharing.

This has a major consequence concerning the beyond: it can no longer be a simple continuation of Terrestrial life. The deceased cannot be CONTENT anymore with surviving. He must pass into another state, the one of an IMMORTAL Living God into the Kingdom of Osiris.

For this, the dead acquires their new state, RITUALS of PASSAGE are necessary: these will be the "Judgement of the Dead" (among others, for the Funeral, the Opening of the Mouth…, are also Rituals of Passage).

The Judgment of the Dead constitutes an important Initial RITUAL because it is a DIVINE Court which allows the passage to the IMMORTAL part of the individual, represented by one's Ba (unsuitable, but for lack of better, translated as Soul). Moving between the worlds, the Ba is represented as a bird with a human head.

The teachings of Merikare give us several basic pieces of information on the court:
"The court is not indulgent, yet it is for eternity, that which is there and the one who arrives there without offence to ones credit, will be there as a god".

This new image translates as one in which the man becomes responsible for his own actions through what is dictated for him by his heart.

In the traditional funerary text, going back as far as the Old Kingdom, magic plays a dominant role, one proceeded to the SHAPING OF ACTIONS having to do with MA'AT. One thus systematically codified them, giving the famous Chapter 125 of the "Book of the Dead", the one which contains the less famous "Declaration of Innocence".

This "Declaration of Innocence" summarizes in the form of a list of negatives, all actions considered as non-compliant with MA'AT, being a matter for Isfet ("Chaos"), the opposite of MA'AT.

It is about, among other things, not to have killed, stolen, mistreated, blasphemed, transgressed the taboos, etc. So the deceased can "be separated from ones sins", to purify oneself.

If ones heart is in EQUILIBRIUM on THE BALANCE with the Feather of MA'AT, one then becomes capable to be introduced into the World of the Gods; one becomes a "Maa-Kheru", which means "Just of Voice", but also "One Provided", someone for whom on Earth someone still ACTS.

Notice also that the heart must not be LIGHTER than the Feather, otherwise it would signify that there was an (ABSENCE OF ACTION) during the Terrestrial life, a "TRANSGRESSION" as serious as the ACCUMULATION OF BAD ACTIONS.

Notice also that Asar/Ausar/Osiris and the DIVINE Court are only ratifying the Judgment which Society related to the deceased by letting them provide oneself with a Tomb, a Book of the Dead and the whole additional material things.

As MA'AT integrated the one into HUMAN Society, it integrated one into DIVINE Society also; One becomes a member of the Community of the Gods and has access to bread - beer of the table of Osiris.

MA'AT thus becomes an ESSENTIAL CONDITION, not only to be a success in Terrestrial Life, or to leave a trace in the Collective Memory, but equally to pass the examination of the BALANCE of the Last Judgment.

The great idea which arises, and is really new, is that it will be NECESSARY to JUSTIFY ones actions in the beyond.

It is this MORAL Foundation which will be resumed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, even though it won't hear it in precisely the same way.

Present since the texts of the pyramids, MA'AT becomes to the 18th Dynasty the daughter of Atum-Re, merged with Tefnut, the FORMIDABLE Solar Lioness.

MA'AT thus represents, in one of Her aspects, a DANGEROUS Goddess. Ma'at-Tefnut and Her Brother Shu are principles who precede at one time and then appear at the same time as the Creator God Atum-Re.

In a passage from the Sarcophagus Texts, the God says :

"The one who lives, Tefnut is My Daughter, who will exist with Her Brother Shu. He is called LIFE. She is called MA'AT". MA'AT organizes the world while justifying Her emergence."

MA'AT represents the PERMANENT SUCCESS of the Cosmos who expresses its renewed presence every day at the prow of the Solar Barque. This perpetuity supposes a CONTINUOUS effort, requiring a collaboration of the Gods and Humankind through the intermediary of the King. The UNION of RA and MA'AT, of which the Uraeus notable testifies, explain the continual embrace of the Sun, while presenting MA'AT as food, drink and ointment of the Supreme God. In short everything which is beneficial to us and permits us to live, is MA'AT.

So MA'AT, Daughter of Atum-Re returns to Her Father that which He gave Her. It forms the foundation of the Egyptian offering: one returns to the God that which He gave.

One "brings into being" MA'AT by the DIVINE recitation of prayers in an unceasing effort where one LISTENS to one another, where one ACTS one for the other. Thus SOCIAL LIFE and COSMIC LIFE INTER-TWINE: they are the REFLECTION one of the other.

If Civil Society no longer functions according to the norm, it is the WHOLE UNIVERSE which is threatened. So Apophis, who is always the personification of menacing DISORDER and CHAOS, is not annihilated in the beyond, it is Civil Society which will be DIS-ORGANZIED (WAR, REBELLION, etc...).

The structure of the DIVINE WORLD as the one of the Human World is pyramidal. As the Creator Sun Organizer of the Sky must answer to Pharaoh, Organizer of the land. The Queen/King was installed to ACHIEVE (se-kheper), to ESTABLISH (se-mn) MA'AT and to annihilate Isfet ("CHAOS"). Thus assuring these conditions, so that the simple mortal can, at human level, speak of and accomplish MA'AT, which is indispensable for the Terrestrial life.

To establish MA'AT is our NATURAL, spontaneous tendency towards ORDER, BALANCE, LAW and JUSTICE.

IMBALANCE and DISORDER, VIOLENCE, The LAW of the STRONGEST, and the ABSENCE of indispensable ORGANIZATION to render a viable and prosperous Nation is evident today.

It was the role of the Pharaoh and the State to fight by ALL MEANS against DISORDER, IMBALANCE and CHAOS. The Ancient Egyptians had the aim of making the Life of Humankind and Gods possible. This is why the main offering which the King/Queen made to the Gods and which is represented so often, concerns the offering for MA'AT.

In a very traditional concept of RECIPROCITY, nourishment is RETURNED to the Divinity who in turn justifies their function by it.

However, during the time of Amarna, the significance which Akhenaton gave to MA'AT changed. The Pharaoh Akhenaten makes an offering of MA'AT to Aten.

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