I recently started reading Violence in the Service of Order: the Religious Framework for Sanctioned Killings in Ancient Egypt by Kerry Muhlenstein, and while I’m only a chapter or so into the book, it’s given me quite a bit to think about in terms of ma’at and how it might be applied to the modern era. In the first chapter of the book, Muhlenstein talks about how most sanctioned acts of violence (such as corporeal punishment for criminals, ritual slayings/sacrifices) in AE were done to help preserve the order that existed in that era:
The concept of sacrifice acting to preserve rather than destroy is well articulated by Davies, who postulates that throughout human society “the act [sacrifice] was required, to save the people from calamity and the cosmos from collapse. Their object was, therefore, more to preserve than to destroy life.”69 Thus, sacrifice, in partnership with punishment and law, was aimed at bringing about social and cosmic order, at establishing the correct unity.70 This is especially true of ancient Egypt, a society which concentrated so heavily on the correct cosmic and social order embodied in Ma ‘at. As Willems writes, neither human sacrifice nor execution was so much a matter of revenge as it was an act of countering disorder. (Page 26)
In addition to killing to preserve Order, there is also a sense of othering that often comes with it. When the Egyptians found someone that was other, and this other worked against their perceptions of what was Orderly (read: in ma’at), then the person in question would be aligned with rebels, with people Who Are Not a Part of Our Cool Kids Club (aka society), and would then be disposed of in whatever means they saw fit. All in an attempt to preserve their ideas of Order:
That which qualified someone as a potential sacrificial victim was a sense of “otherness.” In some cases it could be a particularly valuable or holy-and thus “other”-victim. More often it was “exterior or marginal individuals, incapable of establishing or sharing the social bonds that link the rest of the inhabitants. Their status as foreigners or enemies, their servile condition, or simply their age prevents these future victims from fully integrating themselves into the community.”82 It was just such a lack of integration that made both the extraordinarily holy or great and the extraordinarily unholy or despicable individual a candidate for sacrifice. In Egypt, in particular, those who, through their actions, identified themselves with Isfet, could become candidates for sacrifice. Thus Willems writes that it is in keeping with Egyptian thought that their criminals should be sacrificed. (Pages 28-29)
Think of it like a playing-for-keeps execration. But instead of burning a sheet of paper, you’re burning people.
This got me thinking about Order and other-ness, and how it has applied to various cultures across the centuries. While ancient Egypt was relatively similar in how it did things throughout its history, there were still changes that occurred as the culture’s ideas about what was socially acceptable or what was considered to be within ma’at shifted over the years. And even if ancient Egypt had been static in its approach to what was considered the best sort of Order to build a society around, we don’t live in ancient Egypt anymore, and some of their ideas probably don’t fit into the modern practitioner’s world view.
So that then begs to ask, what sort of Order are we trying to build? What sort of Order should we be aiming for? Who or what should be considered as “other”? What kinds of behaviour fall outside of ma’at? Who or what do we want to exclude, if we want to exclude anything/one at all?
If I look to my home country for ideas, I can see that our country’s Order is supposed to be based off freedom and pursuit of your dreams. That sounds great on paper, but our society seems to only want that for a small group of people (originally only for Protestant, white, married men who owned land). The list of “others” in our society is incredibly long, and brings a lot of inequality into our ideas of what proper Order should look like. Of course, those who fall into the “other” category don’t particularly like being excluded from the protections of Order, and as such have been trying to change what Order looks like for our country. This is why we are currently in the middle of a struggle between several groups of people. Some of which want to change the Order of our society. Some of which want it to stay the same.
Possibly due to the fact that so many Kemetics are from the US, or possibly because people are relatively similar across time and location, this has been mirrored in our own community as well:
- Some Kemetics don’t want any sort of social issues involved in the religion, because that doesn’t fit into their idea of Order. When people start to push social issues into the community, they become “othered” for their attempts.
- Some Kemetics want to bring social issues in because it’s part of their idea of ma’at. These people might be inclined to “other” those who don’t support social issues or work to fix them.
- Some Kemetics are okay with certain social issues, but not all social issues. They might only “other” particularly bad cases of bigotry.
- Some Kemetics want a community that is broken up based off of practice type and model. The practice style would then create the Order, and anyone who doesn’t practice in a similar fashion might be “othered”.
- Some Kemetics want a community where social behaviour is more important than practice structure. In this case, the code of behaviour becomes the Order, the practice style is irrelevant, and those who don’t fit into the ideal for behaviour might be “othered” regardless of practice style.
- Some Kemetics want a no holds barred sort of community, where anyone can say anything regardless of how it’s said. In this case, no one will ever be “othered” due to their all-encompassing definition/perceptions of Order.
- Other Kemetics want everyone to behave a certain particular way, because that’s how they consider ma’at to apply to social behaviour. They will “other” anyone who doesn’t behave exactly as they want, regardless of the legitimacy (or lack thereof) for their actions.
You’ve got a lot of different ideas of how our community should be built, run, etc. You’ve got a lot of different ideas about what Order should look like and who should be allowed to participate or not (aka who should be considered “othered” and who shouldn’t). It should go without saying that this creates some level of conflict between all of us, especially when it comes to that “othering”.
This can be further compounded by the format that we use to interact with one another. It’s pretty well known that text is hard to understand in terms of tone, and it can often lead to people blowing up, misunderstandings and arguments. These kinds of interactions are particularly important, as our understanding of what should be considered a part of Order and who should be “othered” will influence how we handle difficult social interaction within the community.
Of course, there are a few tools in our arsenal for figuring out whether someone’s behaviour is within our perceived idea of Order. We have the yardstick of dickery to help dictate whether someone is being a dick or not, and some suggestions on how to handle those situations. In cases where forums or FB groups are the venue, there are rules that dictate the group’s idea of Order that you’re supposed to follow as a member, which also give details on how to handle rule breakers.
However, these things don’t always work as there are plenty of groups who don’t apply their rules consistently or effectively when people break them (aka groups with lackluster admin staff). And when the interaction happens outside of a location that has admin staff, it becomes a matter of one Kemetic’s idea of Order and “othering” clashing against another Kemetic’s idea of Order and “othering”. This is where most of the worst friction can occur, as some Kemetics believe that those that fall into their “other” category are fair game to treat however they see fit. There are Kemetics who simply don’t have good peopling skills, and make social faux pas regularly. Other co-religionists may then jump in and take sides, and it can spiral out of control if we’re not careful.
There are a lot of grey areas for figuring out how to handle such interactions within the community, and each individual will probably have different ideas on the best way to handle them. Figuring out what to do about these grey areas will probably be a less-than-smooth process, as is usually the case when you’re trying to establish a protocol or identify your idea of Order:
This is relevant in the modern era, given that our society is not entirely just or fair to it’s people. That may leave many readers wondering “how does ma’at fit into such a society? Is it better to go with what is already established, even if it possibly harms portions of the population? What is considered Good or Right in such a setting?” If literature from the First Intermediate Period has anything to say about it, ma’at rests in caring for the vulnerable and underserved, and working to reestablish true justice, fairness and order within the surrounding society. That means that sometimes you have to be the fly in the ointment, because reestablishing what is Good in a society often means upsetting others. But if one never steps forward to help reestablish, then ma’at can never prevail. Karenga, 61
If nothing else, this book has highlighted a potentially glaring issue in our community as it continues to grow and move forward: we haven’t fully established what we consider to be a part of our Order, nor have we established who we think should be “othered” (if anyone at all).
In the business world, it’s recommended that you create a Mission Statement when you create your business as a means to help direct your business where you want it to go. It also helps your employees to understand what your business is out to achieve, its ethics and its approach to business. Then the employee can tailor their actions to fit within that business model. Our community doesn’t really have such a thing outside of “living in ma’at”. Of course, ma’at is subjective and vague, and as mentioned above, this obscurity can create a lot of friction between members. Perhaps this is because we haven’t taken the time to truly discuss what we think a modern Kemetic community should look like beyond the basics of “maintain ma’at”.
Maybe it’s time that we started to look into changing that. Otherwise, I foresee a lot of the same friction that is occurring now continuing indefinitely into the future.
Do you think there is any benefit in discussing what modern Kemeticism’s idea Order should look like? If so, what do you think our community’s Order should look like?
Do you think that there are any particular groups of people that would fit into the “other” category? Why or why not? If you believe that there is a group worth “othering”, would they ever be able to move from that category, or are they permanently labeled as such?
How do you think the community should handle the idea of a mission statement beyond “live in ma’at”? How should we handle the friction that occurs between different members that may have drastically different ideas about what the “correct” way to practice Kemeticism is?
If anyone decides to take a stab at these prompts, let me know and I’ll create a responses section below!