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January 19, 2019 2 min read

Ma'at, wife of Thoth and daughter of Ra was the goddess of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice. She is an important goddess to the Egyptians because the principles she stood for were used to judge the dead. Isfet is the equal and opposite of Ma'at.

Ma’at was represented as a young woman, sometimes with wings her arms or with a single ostrich feather on her head. The sun-god Ra ascended from the primeval waters of Nu onto the mound of creation after he replaced the chaos of Isfet and with his daughter Ma’at. The Pharaohs had a duty to ensure Ma’at was upheld in the land and some even incorporated Ma’at into their names. They wore the emblems of Maat in recognition of their responsibility to uphold her laws and righteousness.

Not just the rulers, but every Egyptian citizen was expected to follow the ethical and moral principles of Ma’at in all areas of life. All the diverse peoples who dwelt in Egypt were expected to act with honour and truth with family, their local community, the nation of Egypt, the land and in honouring their gods. Rules were developed to avert the chaos of Isfet, eventually becoming the basis of Egyptian law. Ma’at was balanced against Isfet to maintain the equilibrium of the universe, the seasons and heavenly movements, binding all things together in unity.

Ma’at was the spirit in which justice was applied rather than the legal detail rulings of the law, representing basic values of truth and fairness. The vizier, who was responsible for justice, was called the Priest of Ma’at. The Sebayt, ancient spiritual texts, dealt with both social and professional situations and advised how best to resolve problems in the spirit of Ma’at. It was case-based practical advice, from which principles rather than specific laws could be derived. During the Greek occupation of Egyptian history, Greek law existed alongside Egyptian law. Whilst Egyptian law protected the rights of women, who could be independent of men and own personal property, the Greek and later Roman law imposed a lot more restrictions that were not in the spirit of Ma’at.   

Scribes in ancient Egypt were held in great esteem because of their role in recording, copying and preserving religious, political and commercial information. As patron of the scribes, Thoth was the god who reveals and loves Ma’at. As well as recording Ma’at in his work, scribes were urged to follow Ma’at in their private life also.

The heart of the deceased was weighed against the single “Feather of Ma’at”, which represented the principles of Ma’at in the Hall of Two Truths in the Duat. All organs were removed from Egyptian mummies, except the heart (called “ib”). Ib was considered a vital part of the soul. If the heart was equal or lighter than the feather, the soul would journey on to the fields of Aaru, a heavenly paradise. An unworthy heavy heart was devoured by the goddess Ammit and its soul condemned to remain in the Duat, where it would awaken for just one hour per night, as Ra journeyed through the twelve regions of the Underworld. 

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