Goddess of Cosmic Order, Justice, Balance, Truth
Maat, Ma’at, or Mayet
The Goddess Ma’at, in mythological terms, was the daughter of the Sun God Ra and the sister of the Air God Shu. Her husband, the Moon God, is known as Thoth. Together they were thought to have charted the sun’s path. Because of this feat, Ma’at was named the “Eye of Ra.”
Images, Statues, and Temples of Ma’at
Ma’at is a female goddess who represents justice and balance. This goddess is often seen with an Ankh (the symbol of life); however, she can also be seen sitting or standing with outstretched wings. She can almost always be identified by a large ostrich feather sitting on top of her head. This feather has come to symbolize her being as well as the representation of the concepts of balance and order.
Ma’at Concept of Balance and Order
The goddess was more than just a goddess. She came to represent the concept of balance and order because many Egyptians needed to explain the balance of the world around them. Everything about their culture was centered on order and everything had its place in the world. This included religion, governmental affairs, and seasonal changes.
The opposing force was chaos, also known in ancient terms as isfet. This opposing force, together with Ma’at’s order, brought about a balance in Egyptian life. To illustrate this concept, the Ancient Egyptians considered the desert around the Nile to be chaotic; whereas, the area around the Nile was considered orderly. Together, these two forces brought balance to the world in which they lived. This balance was important and part of everyday Egyptian life.
Pharaohs also practiced this god’s concept of order during their reign. Pharaohs were expected to practice Ma’at, which meant it was their job to keep their nation in a state of order. This meant building temples, making offerings to the gods, keeping enemies at bay, and making honest decisions. Anything else was considered chaos and disorder. The people of Egypt believed that through Ma’at, the pharaoh kept Egypt stable and orderly.
To some pharaohs, Ma’at was so intertwined into their kingdoms that some pharaohs changed their staffs’ names to accommodate this god. For example, the pharaoh Amenhotep III had his Principal’s name changed to Neb-Maat-Ra, meaning “lord of truth is Ra.” This name association with the Goddess Ma’at was mainly done during the Fourth Dynasty and shows the devotion to the deity. If the pharaohs strayed from the teachings of Ma’at, chaos would then occur.
Ma’at’s Concept of Justice and Truth
Ma’at is also known as the goddess of justice and truth. Her teachings can be compared to the conscience of a person. It’s reasonable to say that Ma’at’s teachings aided the people of Egypt into being good individuals. It was considered a crime against Ma’at if a person practiced jealousy, dishonesty, gluttony, laziness, injustice, and ungratefulness.
When a person died, their heart was weighed against the goddess’ feather on a huge scale. It was believed the heart was the sole substance of a person’s thoughts, emotions, and actions; in a sense it was thought to hold a person’s soul. If the person’s heart was filled with wrongful deeds and it was deemed heavier then the feather of Ma’at, the person’s heart would be destroyed and eaten by the demon Ammut. If this happened the deceased would suffer a nonexistent fate and would cease to exist.
Ma’at in the Book of the Dead
In the Book of the Dead, found in the Papyrus of Ani, is a spell called the “Forty-Two Declarations of Purity.” This spell is comprised of confessions the tomb owner believed he committed throughout his life. It was believed that any crimes committed against Ma’at should be written down as they could easily be forgiven. This cleansing act of wrongful deeds was different for each person and was an important spell needed to proceed into the afterlife.
Because the fee of the Book of the Dead was costly, those who could not afford it were dismissed from the requirements and were allowed to pass into the afterlife.