Despite being a central tenet within the Kemetic religion, there seems to be very little written about ma’at. Most Egyptologists don’t seem to be terribly interested in getting into the nitty gritty aspects of the concept (except Karenga), and most seem to be perfectly fine with relegating ma’at to a simple 3 word definition of “truth, justice, order”. On top of that, most books don’t even mention the concept of isfet or what it entails. So it can be confusing trying to figure out what exactly all of these concepts mean or how they are applied in a religious practice.
While we’ve already had a KRT post that discusses how you might bring ma’at into your daily life, for this post, we wanted to actually discuss the concept of ma’at, and how it relates to everything else in our religion. In addition to this, I wanted to try and answer some of the questions I regularly get regarding ma’at. If anything, I’d like this post to serve as a type of “ma’at master post”.
Ma’at, isfet and how they relate to Creation
In order to understand how ma’at and isfet come together, I think you have to understand how Creation came into being. While we have 3 or 4 different creation myths, they almost all start out the same: a creator deity wakes up within the Nun and through a series of actions, brings Creation into existence (this moment of Creation is called zep tepi, or the ‘first time’). The Nun is more or less a huge watery vat of potential. Nun contains everything that will ever be or ever was, as well as what might ever be, and what could have been. It is all of potential, all of Creation and uncreation in its various stages of being. It’s everything and nothing all at once.
And Creation rises out from that.
However, Creation is surrounded by the Nun, and could very well fall back into the Nun at any given moment. Think of it like living inside of a balloon, and around our balloon of Creation, there are tons of cacti that jut up out of the Nun and threaten to pop our balloon and catapult us out into nothingness. In the eye of the ancients, Creation existed in a very precarious situation that needed constant tending in order to survive. That is why the gods need our assistance, because we help them to maintain Creation. It’s a mutual working together that helps to keep us from falling back into Nun’s abyss.
I think it’s important to emphasize that the Nun isn’t necessarily a malevolent entity or thing in this situation- it simply is. The same can be said of isfet, which is the force that uncreates the things contained within Creation. A/pep is the commonly used term that gives some sort of being or identity/personification to isfet. A/pep is usually described as an “agent” of the force, but a/pep isn’t necessarily sentient or freethinking in what it does (which is why many Kemetics refer to a/pep as “it” and not with a gender). It simply has a hunger to destroy and eradicate everything within Creation, and so it does the only thing it knows how to do – it seeks to uncreate. A lot of people like to wrongfully associate a/pep and isfet with chaos, but that doesn’t really go deep enough for my tastes. Isfet and a/pep are more than simple chaos, they are the utter destruction and uncreation of everything. They are decay and entropy, they are the extermination and eradication of anything and everything that you know in its entirety. It’s the level of destruction that removes so much of the Created that there is no memory anything left for us to even remember that those things or beings ever even existed in the first place.
To further the metaphor above, Creation would be the balloon itself- the plastic or rubber that creates the membrane that keeps us protected, as well as the air that exists inside of it. Isfet may be considered the force that pushes the cacti up out of the Nun, and a/pep is the cactus spines that threaten to pop our balloon and destroy everything we know. That would make ma’at the act of keeping our balloon filled with air or helium, and the maintenance and upkeep required to prevent our balloon from getting holes.
Of course the world we live in is not as simple as an air or helium filled balloon. We live in a very complex system of countries, governments and municipalities, and many times these man-made structures can conflict with our needs and the needs of the world around us. And even on a much smaller scale, our bodies have needs that we sometimes can’t provide or don’t want to provide, and there are times when maintaining ma’at within our life becomes very very difficult. I believe it is this factor that causes us to poke at the ma’at concept so much- because striking a balance is very difficult in a lot of ways, especially when you’re trapped in an unbalanced society.
Perpetuating Ma’at, Derailing isfet
Someone recently asked me if everything that isn’t ma’at in the world is instantly isfet, and my answer to that was no. I don’t think that everything in our world can necessarily be rendered down into ma’at or isfet. I feel like ma’at is the ultimate goal and ideal, and isfet is the complete and utter opposite of that- and we often live in the middle. A lot of our actions may be a sort of wishy-washy mix of things, and I think it’s possible for actions to be neither for ma’at or for isfet.
In that same vein, I think it’s possible to do something that pushes you out of balance and away from ma’at, and yet have that action help to perpetuate ma’at long term (which is how Set often works). To make this more confusing, I think it’s also possible to do something that is not necessarily in alignment with ma’at, but isn’t necessarily hurting anyone, either (and therefore not heading towards or fueling isfet).
As with all things, the ultimate goal is to try and perpetuate ma’at as much as we can. All of our actions may not be leading up to ma’at, but I do think that doing as much as you can is very important. Right before this post went live, there was a discussion on Tumblr about ma’at, and someone had equated ma’at to a never ending pie that can be extended indefinitely. Someone else came in and said that we just have to keep baking balance in order to keep the pie sustained. And I think this is very true.
Ma’at is like that never ending chocolate gif. She can recreate herself and duplicate herself so long as she has the resources to do so. When humans work together to perpetuate ma’at and increase ma’at, there is more balance and more ma’at to go around for everyone. And by continuing to perpetuate ma’at, it makes it much easier to derail and disable isfet in our world. This could be akin to having an illness. If your immune system is running optimally and isn’t being compromised- its much easier to fight off illness than if you are already sick. If we continue to make a stable, balanced world for us and the gods to live in, it makes it much easier to unify and crush any opposing force that shows up.
Ma’at is something that we have to constantly work at in order to keep it present in our existence. Creation is not static, and it’s future is not guaranteed. It’s something we have to constantly keep addressing – gods and humans alike. But if each of us worked to create more ma’at in our world, those little things add up, and those additions can lead to some really big changes.
To read other responses to this topic, check out the KRT Master List
Relevant Posts – Ma’at:
- Ma’at the deity versus the concept.
- What is ma’at
- Ma’at is like a balloon
- Discussion on ma’at between Kemetics
- Another interpretation of ma’at
- Kemeticism is Orthopraxic: Live in Ma’at (part II)
- Ma’at Shines Through my Body
- Shopping Cart Theory
- KRT Topic: Execrations and Curses
- KRT Topic: Bribing the Gods
- Mundane Ma’at
- An Alternate View to Ma’at
- A discussion about ma’at and chaos
- A is for Activism
- Ma’at- A Concept of Creation
- Ma’at While Grieving
- ma’at tag
Relevant Posts – a/pep and isfet:
- Why we don’t worship a/pep
- Is worship of a/pep a bad thing?
- Why do people cross out a/pep’s name?
- What’s a/pep, why is it bad?
- Is a/pep a demon?
- Isfet and Anxiety
- What are some examples of isfet in daily life?
- Musings on isfet being subjective
- A snippet of formal wording for execrations
- A comparison of isfetian chaos vs. Setian chaos