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Maat and the cosmic order

Maat and the cosmic order

Maat is undoubtedly a concept or a deity that deserves to be treated specifically under one heading because of its social, political, and philosophical implications... As with many ancient terms, in this case, it is also difficult to think of a current one that is equivalent to the concept that was held in ancient times; it could be translated as truth, the just, the right, the perfect, the balanced, the ordered that overcomes chaos, the natural coherence of things... it could also be translated as that for which everything is as we know it. It is also regularity and harmony.

Maat was personified under a female figure sitting with her legs up, on her head she carries an ostrich feather, sometimes she is presented with wings. 

Apparently, Maat was involved in the Osiris Trial, when the heart of the deceased was placed on the scales on one side and his feather on the other.

 The Egyptian Maat and the Greek Logos


As we said before, Maat is the goddess of justice, she is the regulator of existence. The Egyptians, just as it happened with the Mayan people, worried that this series of regulated changes would be broken and, for example, the sun would stop appearing every morning.


The forces that incarnate Chaos, try to break this regularity, that is, the forces of evil try to destroy Maat so that Chaos reigns instead of regularity or order. The destruction can be both physical and spiritual.


A very clear example of this fight is the one that occurs during Ra's journey through the Duat (underworld). This would explain the night: Ra travels through the underworld and that is why the sun disappears. This journey is made in the solar boat and, at night, the serpent Apophis tries to destroy it to prevent it from returning to the physical world.


Because it represents harmony and balance, the necessary order of everything, it can be compared to the Greek Logos.


Maat and the cosmic order: another facet of the Logos


Maat, in addition to regulating cyclical changes, gives meaning to the opposition between opposites. The cosmos maintains its order because of justice, the middle point between these two opposites is given thanks to Maat. As we said in the section of the cosmogony Memphite, Ptah created things through the word, because for the Egyptians the name is the essence and existence of all things. But he also used the thought or will (the heart), and integrated them into Maat, thus giving existing things the balance they have.


Here we see another similarity with the Greek Logos, besides being harmony and balance, the logos was sometimes translated by "the word".


The Logos, as Heraclitus said, is the One, the unity of everything that exists, which regulates the continuous flow as well as that which orders the fight of opposites from which everything is composed. The Logos is also presented as the cause of all that occurs, that is, that He is also the agent of all changes. The analogy is clear.


Maat and the truth


As we saw in the previous section, Maat could be equated to the term Logos in terms of the Unity of the existing. Like Heraclitus, Unity, the existing is the truth (it is the true being of things). Following this line, knowledge should be based on permanent things, on the Logos, on Maat.


The Logos was many times translated by Reason, of which humans take part and we have to adapt ourselves to it in order to know, to be wise.  In this sense Maat would have a similar meaning. Besides, let us remember that the Egyptian society had to be structured with respect to Maat, according to his nature ("each person had in his conscience a tendency to truth, order and ethics").


Maat, justice


When we speak of order, we are not only speaking of order on the physical plane, but we are also speaking of vital harmony. Human actions are therefore regulated under this order: it also includes the ethical plane. As in the physical plane, Maat in the moral plane is related to the equilibrium (similar to the midpoint of Aristotle when he spoke of virtue). The ethical equilibrium would be Justice. Maat guarantees that the acts are judged in a fair way (she brings the pen in the balance during the Judgment of Osiris). In the divine realm Maat is the one who imparts justice, while in the realm of men it is the pharaoh.


The good is identified with justice, if something is good is because it is fair (as soon as it is harmonious). An action is good if it is adapted to Maat; if it is not adapted to him, it is bad; this is linked with what was said about Maat in the section referred to the cosmic order: if Maat keeps order and harmony, to stick to his word (that is, to have a good behavior) is to go in favor of order, while on the contrary, to go against him, would mean to support Chaos and to want to destroy Maat.


The Egyptian apocalypse - the end of Maat


To see that the importance of this divinity goes beyond the above mentioned, it is necessary to mention interpretations that the Egyptians had about the end of times. For them, the end of the times of humanity was linked only to the end of Maat's existence and to the prevalence of chaos over all things -except for specific cases such as when Ra wants to put an end to humanity. The end was not a destruction, but the rupture of order, both in the physical or material sense and in the moral sense.


In "The Lamentations of the Sage (or Prophet) Ipuer"[12], the instability of Egypt during the First Intermediate Period[13] (approx. 2175 - 2040 B.C.) is portrayed. This instability was explained as if Maat had been defeated, everything was ruled under chaos. This is a clear example of the repercussions of Maat's absence both on a material scale (drought on the Nile, supposed sterility of women...) and on an ethical scale (the bandit possesses the treasures, each of which has become a looter).


Under this situation, the response of the people was varied. There is a high rate of suicides, groups seeking hedonistic pleasure, and those seeking the restoration of Maat (something that only the pharaoh could achieve).


We can see here a similarity with Greek thought. There is a need for the Logos to exist in order to carry out the study of Physis, that is, to reach knowledge. But also this order and justice is necessary on the moral plane: man is a political being, and can be happy only within a just and ordered society (Epicureanism, Stoicism...).

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