by Lesley Jackson
From many wonderful paintings, the Egyptian Goddess Ma’at, the Goddess of truth, justice and cosmic order, calls to us from the deep past. Represented in numerous paintings as a tall, young woman, Ma’at is instantly recognisable by the tall ostrich feather that she wears in her headband. This is her feather of truth, against which all of our hearts will be weighed in the Hall of Judgement
A number of scholars have refuted her existence as a Goddess, claiming that she is a merely a concept; a personification of truth, justice and order. Such a claim is, I believe, erroneous. Christians say that ‘God is love’, but this does not turn him into a concept. Ma’at is a Goddess, and one which we all need to get to know better.
Her husband is Thoth; God of Wisdom, Lord of Divine Words and God of the Scribes. Ma’at is described as ‘adorning the breast’ of her husband. He is often depicted painting her feather emblem, signifying his devotion both to her, and to the principles that she embodies. The path of Thoth, being that of wisdom, was said to lead you to the House of Ma’at. The enlightened are kind and compassionate, and knowledge and understanding are needed for truth and justice to thrive. Ma’at is also known as the daughter of the Sun God, Re. Standing behind him, in the Solar Barge, she is the source of his vital power. She protects and sustains him.
Very few temples have been found which are dedicated to Ma’at, though she was revered throughout Egypt. There is a small one at Karnak, in the precinct of the Montu temple. Normally, her shrines and worship were integrated into the other deities’ temples, emphasising her crucial role in creation. The deities were said to ‘live on Ma’at’. They were sustained by her, as we are sustained by food, and are often shown as praising her. As such, offerings of Ma’at were made as part of the rituals. Pharaohs are depicted offering a small statue of Ma’at to the Gods and Goddesses. So, who then is this Goddess, that all the other deities love and depend upon?
Ma’at was present in the beginning, when Atum emerged from the watery chaos of the Nun, and creation began. She is the spiritual order of the universe, both the divine (often referred to as First Time) and our temporal, material one. She continually gives Herself so that all may exist. Without Ma’at, there would be nothing but a return to the waters of the Nun. Ma’at keeps the divine world in order, and she keeps the stars and atoms spinning. The Egyptians applied the concept ‘as above, so below’, and also knew that the world of the divine was closely interwoven with this material world. Ma’at is needed on earth to keep it in order, and in existence. While Ma’at was applied perfectly in the spiritual world, the material world, and humans in particular, were forever at risk. With its innate tendency to revert back to disorder, Ma’at has to be constantly attended to on earth, to keep the chaos and disharmony at bay. It was the pharaoh’s duty to ensure that Ma’at was conscientiously applied, and that contact with the deities was maintained, so that the continued existence of Egypt was assured. Every Egyptian was constantly exhorted to ‘do Ma’at, speak Ma’at’.
Ma’at is never described, except by the high level concepts of truth, justice and cosmic order. Ma’at is not explicit, nor dictated in terms of divine commandments or edicts. It is a way of speaking, of acting, of thinking, which aligns you with the Goddess Ma’at, and with her moral integrity. Instead of God the remote lawgiver, we have the Goddess Ma’at, the divine natural order, who lives amongst us. Her order is a natural, organic order not the controlling, restricting bonds that favour the few.
At first glance, this lack of detailed information about Ma’at is a problem; but, in reality, it enables the Goddess to transcend time and place, and to keep her integrity. The most detailed, careful laws can be talked around by clever lawyers, and divine commandments are notoriously easy to twist, and misuse out of context. Modern technology, and society, have introduced many moral dilemmas and issues, which were totally inconceivable to the wisest of lawgivers, living five thousand years ago. This absence of binding, prescribed dictates, ensures that Ma’at is timeless. She is a Goddess who is as relevant to quantum physics, as she was to the astronomers of Alexandria; as relevant to the ethics of fertility treatment, as to the maintenance of irrigation canals. She is our Goddess, just as she was Goddess for the Egyptians.
Ma’at is present, and essential, throughout our lives. The Egyptians believed that if their heart was found to be heavier than her feather, their soul would be eaten by Ammit, Devourer of Hearts. There was no second chance in the Judgement Hall; no ‘get out’ clause, because of a deathbed repentance or conversion. Ma’at had to be applied daily, throughout life. In reality, the weighing of the heart is constantly being performed. Ma’at is the delicate balance between body and spirit, self and society, humans and nature. The forces of moral disorder constantly pull the heart out of true. Everyone’s balance needs constant attention, and recalibration. Ma’at is both a universal force and a source of power for individuals.
Speak Ma’at, do Ma’at
for she is mighty.
She is great and endures.
Her value rests in the hands of those who use Her.
Ma’at leads one to sacredness.*
My own interpretations of the principles of Ma’at are: Firstly, truth - speak the truth, act your truth. Secondly, justice - be just, fight injustice. Thirdly, order - do things properly, attentively, effectively. Work with the natural order not against it. Care for others, the earth and all it’s creatures. We all know what is right in our hearts, and in our souls. Ask if this action, these words, will harm anyone. Do as you would be done by. Be wise enough, and aware enough, to know what is wrong. Be brave enough to do something about injustice. Be knowledgeable enough to be effective, and to fully understand the consequences of your words and actions. Walk with Ma’at, on the path of Thoth.
How then, do I try and bring the Goddess Ma’at into my everyday life? In his 2007 Christmas sermon, the Archbishop of York said that every human was a stand-in for God, and that the mistreatment of people was a violation, and a blasphemy, of God. For me, every girl and woman is a stand-in for the Goddess, and every injustice and pain inflicted upon them, is a violation of the Goddess. Female genital mutilation (FGM), rape, female infanticide, human trafficking, the sex industry; the horrific list of violations is long and depressing.
My promise to the Goddess is to try and ‘do Ma’at’ and ‘speak Ma’at’ everyday, and to focus my actions towards the violated and vulnerable girls and women. Ma’at needs no special invocations or meditations, she will be with you every time you speak, or act, in accordance with her principles. Her energy is available to anyone, without initiation ceremonies. She lives in the speaking and doing of Ma’at. As I support my sisters, I invoke my Goddess. Not a maternal Goddess, to run to when things go wrong, but one who can guide you through moral dilemmas and over obstacles. Doing Ma’at is not always easy, or comfortable. It is easier to weep over the fate of young girls sold into the sex industry, rather than do something effective about it. It is less traumatic not to know the unpalatable facts of some women’s lives. When you hit the brick wall of ‘I’m desperate to help, but how?’, meditate on Lady Ma’at as you research the subject and look for answers. There are no easy solutions, no magic wands. Ma’at expects us to work and think, she treats us as the adults we are, or should be.
The Goddess Ma’at is truth, justice and order, and these are what she desires. Not the statistics of suffering, monitored without resolution, or the hard facts shrugged off as part of life. She hungers for integrity, and the truth of joy, of growth, of love, and of the freeing others so they too may grow and love. Hers is not the subjugating order of the patriarchy, or other oppressive regimes, but the order of living in harmony with all people, and with nature. Ma’at is the conductor of the celestial orchestra, she keeps the singers in tune and the dancers in time. She brings us home; helping us to fulfil our true potential, and find our true selves, as daughters of the divine. Like an Egyptian ruler, I exhort you to ‘do Ma’at ’ and ‘speak Ma’at’. Walk with the Goddess, as you walk with your sisters. Worship the Goddess Ma’at as you protect and help vulnerable and disadvantaged girls and women. Walk the path of Thoth.
My heart is the heart of Ma’at, living in truth
and keeping my life in balance.*
* Ellis, Normandi. Feast of Light . Quest Books. 1999
Almond, Jocelyn & Seddon, Keith, Egyptian Paganism for Beginners, Llewellyn Worldwide, 2004
Ellis, Normandi, Feast of Light, Quest Books. 1999
Naydler, Jeremy, Temple of the Cosmos, Inner Traditions. 1996
A Few Web Sites to Consider
AFESIP works to combat trafficking in women and children for sex slavery.
ECPAT UK is a coalition of charities campaigning to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation.
Camfed helps educate girls in rural Africa.
Plan International has launched ‘Because I am a girl’ campaign, to reduce the massive problems of discrimination and violence faced by girls in poor countries and communities.
WOMANKIND Worldwide, helps women in developing countries.