For many Kemetics (if not most) these two concepts have a particular importance on many levels. Living and sustaining Ma’at is a basic religious and moral precept.
Ma’at encompasses (but is not necessarily restricted to) the ethical concepts of ‘cosmic balance’, ‘universal harmony’, ‘truth’, ‘order’ and even ‘justice’.
Ma’at the goddess is the personification of these concepts.
‘The goddess represented the divine harmony and balance of the universe, including the unending cycles of the rising and the setting sun, the inundation of the Nile River, the resulting fertility of the land, and the enduring office of kingship; she was considered to be the force that kept chaos (isft), the antithesis of order, from overwhelming the world.’ (1)
Isfet on the other hand is not just chaos or disorder. It is complete destruction, un-creation, nothingness. Isfet is a complex concept just like Ma’at and one could say they are the perfect opposites.
Ma’at keeps things together and Isfet tears them apart then sends them into nothingness. With Isfet and its agents (such as the dreaded Ap/p who threatens the Sun God Ra himself) there is no beneficial chaos, no destruction to make room for creation, no reason. It just is and it wants more. It wants everything. It constantly tries to creep up on creation and all it entails.
The inevitable (and tricky) question arises: how do I keep Ma’at and battle Isfet?
It all comes down to the individual. This post couldn’t be a better example of that. And this one hits the nail on the head with the statement ‘It’s all shades of grey’. And although it’s easy to find references to how Ma’at was kept in ancient times, it’s not always easy discovering what it means for ourselves. Some of us may be lucky and have a clear view from the start. Others will keep searching for a while. Some will change their minds as they go along and that’s fine as well. You see, there’s no simple answer. We are all different individuals, with different circumstances and experiences.
Personally I see living in Ma’at as trying to keep everything in balance in all aspects of life. It’s not easy at all. I sometimes falter and I sometimes need help. It’s bloody hard work!
I see it as being true to myself. I see it as being the ability to make a compromise in a particular situation just so everyone is content.
I see it in the ability to forgive. I see it in realizing when I made a mistake and trying to remedy it.
To me, keeping Ma’at can often boil down to doing simple things for a greater good. It may sound silly, but I even see it in planting some bee friendly plants in a pot so the bees have a bit of extra food. I can donate some things to charity so others don’t go without. I can recycle to keep things from going to the landfill. I can take care of someone who is ill and offer them comfort. I can’t go and fight Ap/p. But I can do small things to ensure good things are being maintained and flourish.
To me, things like injustice and oppression are agents of Isfet. I can’t always fight these things. They happen all over the world and I may not even know where or when it’s happening. But hardships can happen to people I know and care for. Or they can happen to me. That’s when I can and most likely will do something about it. That’s where my personal battle is. That’s where I can say ‘That’s it. Isfet, I’m going to execrate the daylights out of you!’
(1) Ma’at by Emily Teter in The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology, pg. 189
This is a post for the Kemetic Round Table.
See all of the responses here.