Ma'at: The Concept and Goddess
Much of the information below is from Ma'at | The Goddess Of Truth And Justice.
Ma'at (aka Maat) was the ancient Egyptian concept of cosmic order and balance. The philosophy of Ma’at provided guidelines for individuals and the entire culture. As long as the universe revolved around Ma’at, there would be a purity that ensured balance and justice.
Ma’at became the basis of Egyptian culture. Ancient Egyptians considered their society and religion to be "Ma'at", while the wilderness and other cultures were considered chaotic and unjust. The Ma'at concept was personified as the goddess of truth and justice. From the earliest eras in Egypt, people considered her as essential for the stability of life. She represented truth, justice, harmony and balance. The opposite of chaos, Ma’at gave order to nature and society. Reaching beyond being simply a goddess,
Ma’at became a focus for leadership, philosophy, and law.
Role as a Goddess
By representing order, Ma’at became the most important goddess of ancient Egypt. Egyptians saw Ma’at as an everlasting goddess. Ma’at ruled everything. Every day she helped Ra steer his boat across the sky, making a path for the sun. She was the partner of Thoth and the mother of the eight deities known as the Chief Gods and Goddesses of Hermopolis. Beyond being the force which kept Egypt functioning as an orderly society, Ma’at held an important role in the afterlife for which she served as each soul's judge. Ma'at's ability to view truth and justice was key in judging a soul.
The many different names of Ma’at give an idea of her importance to Egyptian society.
Egyptians referred to Ma’at as:
Eye of Ra
Mistress of the Underworld
Queen of the Earth
Lady of Heaven
Lady of the Gods and Goddesses
Ma’at ruled everything.
Goddess Over All Creation
Historians found the first written accounts of Ma’at in the Pyramid Texts, written between 2375 and 2345 BCE. However, the divine concept of the goddess is a much older idea. Ma’at is a central figure in the Egyptian creation story. She was with her father Ra on his celestial barque, or sailing boat, as he came from the waters with the Egyptian gods and goddesses.
Egyptians saw Ra as the most important god in Egyptian society. He made Ma'at even more important by standing on her pedestal to establish all creation. This placed Ma’at as the order that transformed chaos into creation. She ruled both gods and people. Over time, Ma’at developed beyond being simply the daughter of Ra and responsible for order to being the reason that the universe existed. Historical texts transform Ma'at from a goddess to actually being creation.
Some of her other responsibilities include:
The cycle of seasons
The movements of the sun, moon and stars
All parts of religion
How people behaved
The positive characteristics of men
Rulers, leaders and judges
Judge of Souls: Basis of Law
Egyptians believed that if a pharaoh did not follow Ma’at, the chaos would return and destroy the world. Many pharaohs wanted to show that Ma’at blessed them and that they were everything Ma’at represented. Wanting to be seen as good leaders, they would often call themselves the “Lords of Ma’at.” This showed that they had truth and justice in their hearts.
After death, Ma’at would judge the hearts of the dead in Osiris’s Judgment Halls of the Dead. Ma’at would weigh the heart of each person against the weight of her ostrich feather. If the heart weighed the same or less than the feather, they were considered just and worthy of continuing into the Duat, or everlasting afterlife. If the scales indicated that the heart was heavier than the feather, then the person was shown to not be a follower of Ma’at during his or her life. The consequence of this was that the deceased was refused an afterlife.
Because Egyptians saw Ma'at as the judge of souls in the afterlife, Egyptian judges based Egyptian law on the teachings of Ma'at. The spirit of Ma'at became the idea behind how Egyptian judges applied justice. Starting in the fifth dynasty, Egyptians referred to the head of justice as the "Priest of Ma'at." After 2370 BCE, judges continued to wear the image of Ma'at while on duty. Egyptian judges believed that justice and fairness equaled peace and harmony. In order to have a peaceful society, justice through Ma'at was very important.
- Ra placed Ma'at at the center of all creation
- Ma'at became the basis of Egyptian culture
- She represented leadership, philosophy, and law
- She was worshiped by pharaohs who often called themselves "Lords of Ma'at"