Response to a post about Ma’at

A member of my religious community directed me to this blog post that was featured on the front page of the Kemetic Interfaith Network.

Now, while I’m normally able to read things, leave a comment (if I feel it necessary), and move on, my reaction to this post in particular is so strong that I’m writing a rebuttal of sorts.  You see, I truly believe a point was missed by the author that needs to be pointed out “at large”, as it were.  The point that was missed has to do with the nature of ma’at and how one lives in it.

For those for whom ma’at is a new concept, I’m going to quote Jan Assmann (his works, in their entirety are invaluable resources):

“…From the end of the Old Kingdom  to the end of antiquity, the theme of all these laments was the unholy condition of a world that humankind had rendered uninhabitable by offending against the harmony of a socially conceived reality, by contravening the principle of solidarity.  The principle of plenitude that made the world a flourishing paradise was Maat, the “Right”.  It’s opposite devastated the world, because the gods renounced their dwelling, not only in the temples in the local dimension but also in the life-giving powers of nature in the cosmic dimension…” – The Search for God in Ancient Egypt, section 3.3.

“…The Egyptian ideal of maat (truth, justice, order) was not only the principle of social but also of temporal connectivity, of permanence, endurance, and remembrance, of the continuity of past and future…” – Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, Chapter 2, section 3.

“…The Judgment of the Dead does not set the judgment of society on its head but rather confirms and seals it.  The same maat that guarantees success and continuance in life is also the standard of the Judgment of the Dead and leads to immortality.  Those who judge the dead see what is good and what is not good in the same way as our fellow men…” – Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, Afterword.

Ma’at, when not personified as a goddess, is that which gathers things together.  It is creation, connection, balance, and Divine Order.  Without it, everything falls apart…literally.  There is Nothing.  In fact, my favorite description of isfet (the opposite of ma’at, uncreation) is one where it is compared to The Nothing from “The Neverending Story”.  (If you’ve not seen this movie, by the way, you must go see it.  Go on, add it to your Netflix queue.  I’ll wait.)

The horribleness of The Nothing would make anyone want to do what they could to prevent it from happening…and that’s the point, really. We live in ma’at and uphold it to prevent the alternative.  And, here’s the rub – upholding ma’at does not mean performing HUGE COSMIC DEEDS like those mentioned in myth.  There’s a reason that Set is the one who slays Apep instead of Joe Hotep, Onion Farmer – Joe is HUMAN.  WE are HUMAN.  This means we do what we can to ensure continuity, to ensure order, to ensure that things keep going.

This is why shopping cart theology makes sense for us as modern Kemetics.  We do what we can do to keep the system running.  We feed the hungry.  We clothe the naked.  We emboaten the boatless.  We overthrow corrupt regimes.  And, we put away the fucking shopping carts.  Each of these human-sized acts is important and is more than the sum of its parts.  These acts are the upholding of ma’at as much as any GREAT COSMIC DEED performed by the netjeru.   They’re not mindless automatic actions.   They’re real, and true, and critical and essential to the continuation of Divine Order.

We, as Kemetics, need to stop whinging and whining about not knowing what to do and start doing.  We must uphold ma’at because the alternative is just not fucking acceptable.

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15 responses to “Response to a post about Ma’at

  1. The thing is that I don’t really discuss great cosmic deeds on the scale that you are insinuating with your all-caps descriptor. In fact, I never come right out and say that it is cosmic deeds that maintains the “living in ma’at” thing that I discuss. In fact, I say continuously that while it is doing, I never come right out and say what the doing is. The point in the post being that I’m not sure how to define the concept as, you know, being unable to actually live in the culture where it was as pervasive as the information we have maintains. Without being able to live in this dead culture and without having more than a basic grasp of the linguistics of a dead culture makes it difficult, if not impossible, to fully grasp what ma’at is.

    You can quote from as many books as you want, but these are all points of reference from 19th century or 20th century archaeologists, anthropologists, and theologists. All of these people can claim what they think the concept is on about but because we can’t travel back in time and live the culture, we just don’t know. And that was kind of the point that I apparently failed to make with you.

    Also, I don’t really think the Shopping Cart Theology “makes sense” for “modern Kemetics.” That seems awfully generalizing there and not every Kemetic will agree with her theological discussion on it. Case in point, myself. The essay may hold in your group, but it no longer holds as much weight as it used to for me. We can rely on Kiya’s theological essay skills all we want, but what it comes down to is figuring out what it means to us and how we can live it.

    • Aubs, I’m not sure if we’re talking past each other here or what is going on, but let me try to explain where I’m coming from.

      You wrote a lot about not knowing how to live in ma’at since the concept is difficult to nail down…and about how the attempts that others make to uphold it seem mindless and more related to being orderly. You also mentioned that ma’at is as mercurial as human nature. It isn’t. Human nature is human nature, and ma’at is ma’at. Our actions to uphold it may be mercurial, which makes sense because we’re human.

      I find it very difficult to read that something is wrong for someone when the explanation of why it is wrong appears to miss the point of the concept in the first place. That’s why I responded. That’s why I tried to explain my point of view, in light of your post. I don’t know what else I can say.

      • I think we are talking past one another here.

        All in all, the point in my post was that I don’t think what it means, to me, is what it means to anyone else. I also think that we forget about what it is, about living in ma’at, which was the start of this post. The thing is that as I’ve been reading others’ response and as I’ve been working with other people, I’ve come to realize that the SCT works as a kind of black-and-white ma’at… and I don’t think it is.

        This is born out in my statements that it is mercurial.

        Look at the mythologies as an explanation for what I mean. We have Sutekh slaying creatures… it’s for the greater good but it’s a pretty nasty and dirty business. We have Sekhmet doing likewise, but it is for the greater good because Re realized that humans weren’t all horrible, conniving assholes. We have various mythologies of the Eye of Re ready to screw up your day… for the greater good. These are all acts that the gods did in were, to me, performing ma’at in one way or another.

        These, to me, are shades of gray.

        And I am strongly beginning to think of ma’at and its concept as a shade of gray. Isfet, as you said, was more about the Nothing, about uncreating. Whereas ma’at and maintaining its status quo is more about doing the things that need to be done, not necessarily by putting carts away but by speaking up when we’re being talked down to or about knowing when to conserve our spoons.

      • I don’t disagree with the fact that there are many things to be done to uphold ma’at.

        I may, though, be doing a disservice with mentioning isfet as The Nothing (cosmic scale) without noting that it can be fostered in the tiny as well as the large. The fifteen seconds it takes for someone to navigate around a cart left in a parking space, for example, will never be gotten back. It seems like a small thing but, not only does each instance build up and affect another person, it means we’ve taken something that isn’t ours to take.

        It’s a balancing act for those of us with spoon issues, and there are many many reasons things can tip one way or another. All we can do when it happens is shove in the other direction.

    • I’m not Kemetic, but the Shopping Cart Theology makes perfect sense to me, and totally answers the question of “how do we live in ma’at?”.

      I’m having trouble understanding what it is about making others’ lives easier that is so difficult for you.

      • Ma’at isn’t about making lives easier? It’s about balance. How is my being walked all over or utilizing spoons I may not have by putting the cart away make it so that I am “living in ma’at”? It doesn’t.

  2. Perhaps I’ve got it wrong, but it seems like you guys are sorta… saying the same thing? Chipping at the same block of wood from different angles as it were. Sat is saying that the little things are important- but figuring out which little things work best for you is the hard part. And that many Kemetics forget that we need to be doing these little things. Esp on certain forums- the discussion revolves around what to give the gods, what soda is better, which statue is prettier. It’s not really getting down and dirty with “how do we make this planet better” or “how do we better the Kemetic community at large” or even “how do we better this temple/group at large”. People get so caught up in the baubles for their shrines, they forget that the point of Kemeticism is living it, doing it.

    Problem is, doing and living require introspection, work, time, devotion, and usually pain. It’s like Dark Flame work- its not pretty.

    The shopping cart theology works for some, doesn’t work for everyone. Nothing wrong with that. The more ideas we can get out there, the more complete the picture becomes, the more people can actually stop thinking and start doing. Problem is, if no one ever starts the conversation, how can anyone expect to get anywhere on a larger scale.

    At least, that’s how it appears to me.

    • I had the same idea as Devo when I first saw this.

      One problem is that Aubs blog is more of a confessional, something to show her process. You don’t call something “Mystical Bewilderment on the Spiritual Turnpike” if you’re setting yourself up as the Great and Powerful Oz. So sometimes she flails around with an idea she’s working on, but I think there can be a place for that.

      Given that, I think she should be allowed to say “The shopping cart thing doesn’t work for me.” It obviously doesn’t. My take on the cart is pretty similar to Veggie’s, I think. But we’ve got a bunch of different creation stories, so we can probably have more than one analogy about Ma’at.

      If it had been my blog Veggie was writing about, I would have taken the response to mean “You have absolutely nothing of value to say.” and “Smarter people than you have written all there is to know about Ma’at, so you need to shut up about it.” That’s how I would have read “We, as Kemetics, need to stop whinging and whining about not knowing what to do and start doing.” That’s probably not how it was meant. I’m guessing it meant “There are things you can do, today, even if you can’t bring about world peace or bring back the half-gallon ice cream carton.”

      The thing is, most Kemetics don’t whinge and whine about Ma’at. We get into bidding wars over resin statues, and warn each other never to give cool water to Set. The triggering event for Aubs post was a reply I made on tumblr, about Tootsie Rolls being a good offering for Anubis. Literally. Tootsie Rolls. I said what the gods really want is Ma’at, Ma’at, and more Ma’at.

      • Kemetics don’t whinge and whine about ma’at, no. We do, however, spend a lot of time playing “this resource is superior to this other one”. 😉

        Honestly, my response was more of a “this is how I see it” than a “No, you’re WRONG!” I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and, in fact, think tossing differing points of view around is a good thing.

        While my blog post is a personal response, it is not a personal attack. I very rarely bite unless asked, after all.

      • Does “this thing doesn’t work for me” mean “I don’t like this analogy” or “I disagree with the point”?

        I would never read it as the first.

      • As I was starting up the computer, letting what I’ve read of this discussion percolate in my head (or within my ib, to speak Kemetically), I thought the same thing as Devo and Helms. The same thing from different angles. Each perspective can be a useful corrective to someone lacking in it.

        We human beings, over the course of our lives and absent any major problems, learn how to do things that are usually good. We also have tendency to make routine activites automatic. This is often a useful ability to have, since without it we’d suffer from analysis paralysis, stuck in one spot, overthinking to the point of inaction. I know this because it happens to me almost all the time. It’s not fun at all. Another good thing about this ability is that it allows us to inculcate good habits. That is what I found useful about Kiya’s Shopping Cart Theology, besides the very concrete analogy she employed.
        However, the human tendency to put things on autopilot can also cause problems. With this tendency, we can take relatively good (even truly excellent) ideas, laws, etc. and unthinkingly obey them without respect to context or even the original intent of the idea. There are lots of instances of this in probably every religion ever. This seems to be what Aubs is concerned about. I’ve also found myself overly concerned with relatively superficial details while neglecting doing more to increase ma’at around me,neglecting doing more than just be a halfway-decent human being.
        Putting shopping carts back (the specific act) can be a mindless substitute for doing ma’at, a symbol drained of meaning, or it can be actually doing ma’at, depending on the individual, their approach, and the specific situation. If it’s a normal day, then putting the cart back isn’t a bad idea. If, however, I come upon a stranger who is injured, or get a call from a loved one who is injured, it’d be idiotic for me to waste time by putting the cart back instead of getting help for the other person ASAP.

        That said, let there be peace between Shoppingcartopolis and Liveinma’atopolis. The Two Lands are big enough. 🙂

    • For what it’s worth, the shopping cart piece was written explicitly because people were talking to me about not understanding how to apply ma’at to human-scale matters rather than the cosmic.

      So I wrote a short, simple illustration, of the act of contributing on a human scale to the functionality of the whole. Yeah, it’s not SLAYING A/PEP but you know that’s a bit much to ask on a cold morning.

      Trying to make a grand cosmic point about it is … ironic.

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