Redefining Order

05 Feb

Truth. Order. Justice.

The three words that I’ve seen used the most to describe ma’at.

Out of these three words, “order” always sticks out to me as potentially being a bad choice to describe ma’at. Why? Well, in short, I believe its because we tend to use one variation of “order” at the exclusion of other possible definitions. As an experiment to start the conversation off, what do you think of when you think of the word order? Maybe some of you think of

or maybe

Or maybe it’s

Even if you didn’t think of these specific examples, I’m willing to bet that whatever came to your mind shared some of the same underlying associations as the gifs above. That’s because our culture has a specific inferred meaning when we use the word “order” — whether we acknowledge those associations or not.

Whenever the word “order” is used, it’s almost always in the context of a very clear difference of power. It’s often used in terms of schools, where teachers demand order. Or in the military, where soldiers are given orders. Or even in more harmless situations, where you place an order at a restaurant. All of these things imply a situation where the person receiving the “order” is not allowed to rebuff the order. The soldier is not allowed to tell their commander “no,” students can be heavily punished for telling their teachers no, and can you imagine what would happen if a waiter told you that your order was not going to be followed or not allowed? Even when a waiter has to tell someone that something in their order isn’t available due to circumstances beyond their control, people lose their minds.

In our cultural lexicon, order usually means that you’re doing something without question. It’s a directive that you must follow, lest you get into trouble. For most of us in the US, “order” is essentially authoritarian in nature — to the point that the word “authoritarian” is used in the Oxford definition for “order.”

While there is second definition for “order,” I don’t think that most of us are using that definition when we tie the word “order” to ma’at. I’ve watched people dictate that authoritarian order is inherently implied and mandatory with ma’at simply because the Egyptians engaged in a form of it, and it overlaps with our preconceived notion of order and what it entails. Which is to say that since they so readily line up with one another via authoritarianism, I feel like most people are lazily assuming that one begets the other (authoritarian order begets ma’atian order.) What I’d really like to do with this post is challenge that notion by redefining what order could mean for us when associated with ma’at. And to also buck the idea that authoritarianism is inherent in, and therefore mandatory to, our religious structure.

A New Frame of Reference

The less-often cited definition for order usually entails things such as “a specific pattern or sequence,” such as alphabetical order, numerical order, etc. I believe that this definition is closer to what we need, but I feel that it could use refinement for our specific needs.

I would like to posit that for our needs, order would mean something along the lines of “a predictable rhythm or pattern.”

Every single living thing/system on this planet has (ideally) a rhythm, a pattern to their existence. You wake up after sleeping, you do the general same routine after you get up, you might do similar things Monday through Friday, and then do a secondary set of “similar things” on Saturday and Sunday. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The night follows the day, and the moon is constantly shifting between being visible and completely non-existent to the naked eye.

These patterns form the basis of our existence, and the nature of our patterns often determines whether we’re healthy and having our needs met or not. In the last post about determining ma’at from isfet, I mentioned that the frequency of doing something can often turn innocuous acts into something more isfetian in nature, and this plays into the idea of regular habits and patterns. If you do something that is unhealthy once in a while, its usually not a big deal. Do it all the time, and it becomes a pattern that can slowly unravel your life.

When we’re talking about ma’atian order, we’re talking about having rhythms that help support living things. When you’re acting in ma’at, you’re acting to maintain these beneficial rhythms, while also acting to destroy, alter or remove patterns that hurt living things.

When viewed from this perspective, it explains why the Egyptians crafted tons of holidays, rituals, and actions that were consistently enacted upon to help ensure that the patterns of the Duat and earth alike were kept in regularity. Because anything that could be done to make sure that the patterns of the world stayed as consistent as possible should be done as a part of maintaining ma’at.

I also think it should go without saying that making these regular patterns as predictable as possible was also on the agenda. Humans tend to do best with a certain level of predictability in their life, and I feel like including this in the understood meaning of ma’atian order only serves to help us really understand and appreciate how important the consistency of it all really is.

The rhythm should be dynamic in the sense that it has diversity and harmony, but it still needs to have some level of regular occurrence in order to be stable. When examined on a whole, it becomes easier to see how the diversity and harmony feed into the stable complexity of it all. Everything feeds into everything else, and when the rhythm of it all is maintained, everything more or less gets its needs met.

When Authoritarian Order is Conflated with Ma’atian Order

From this perspective it becomes easier to see how authoritarian order really doesn’t synergize well with ma’at. Authoritarianism seeks to control (create “order”) everything it touches, and severely punishes anything trying to resist its control. To this end, it often seeks to divide people into two groups: and in-group (us) and an antagonistic out-group (them), and they basically use the in-group to keep the out-group in check as much as possible. You can see this in America right now in the form of loosely-made militia groups that act out a sort of vigilante justice wherever they’re allowed to.

Because the in-group always needs an out-group, authoritarianism will consistently find new demographics to attack, and in the process usually ends up eradicating the harmony and diversity necessary to keep ma’at in place. People are usually forced to live within strict confines and regulations at the risk of extreme punishment, with no real recourse to punish those who are putting the regulations in place. Ultimately, there is no means to change your fate or change the world you live in, you’re ultimately forced to deal with whatever you are given because there is little-to-no alternatives available to you. This, of course, is mentally taxing and degrading. The system as a whole may continue to exist, but its parts and pieces are not healthy, and thus are living in a form of chronic disorder (isfet.)

When you start to really examine how this system can destroy people’s health, it becomes painfully clear that by its very nature, authoritarianism does not foster ma’at. Only a tiny percent of the population really flourishes under authoritarianism, leaving the rest of the population to wither and rot.

And for those of you who are wondering if I feel that the ancient Egyptians were doing things outside of ma’at, I would say that based off of today’s standards, the answer is yes. Plenty of their population lived in unnecessary squalor due to inequality at play within the society, and I can’t say that I believe that to be within ma’at. Yes, upper class people were to look after their subjects and provide them with what they needed, but its been shown time and time again that people who are in positions of privilege and esteem typically aren’t willing to give what they have away unless they really really have to.

While I understand that a couple thousand years ago was different, and that we shouldn’t necessarily judge ancient cultures based off of today’s expectations, I also feel its our job to reflect critically on the past, not to assume that the movements of the past are inherently superior simply because they’re old. The Egyptians committed all sorts of brutal acts in the name of ma’at. If we’re able to deem these acts as being not-within-ma’at, I’m pretty sure we could find it in ourselves to do the same with their governmental system, instead of blindly trying to recreate it in the here and now.

Ma’atian Order

At its core, ma’atian order strives to bring balance and health to all of its individual components. It is a bottom-up mentality, ensuring that the smallest, yet most foundational parts are taken care of, with the understanding that healthy foundations allow everything else above it to thrive. This format allows for (relatively) predictable patterns to emerge that allows for all of the parts of the system to synchronize together. It is through the harmonization of all of the parts that allows the system to really thrive and creates the predictable “order” that everyone seeks.

It is my hope that moving forward, if the word “order” is used to define ma’at, that this is the definition that comes to mind, because this is the only definition of “order” that really makes any sense within the ma’atian paradigm.

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Posted by on February 5, 2020 in Kemeticism, Making Ma'at, Rambles


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9 responses to “Redefining Order

  1. Kaz

    February 5, 2020 at 1:38 pm

    I’m not an official Kemetic, but I have the gods in my mind, and it’s funny how I strive to incorporate the Ma’at in my life without thinking actively about it, as just yesterday, when mowing the law, I was trimming it to a good size, but also giving a change to the kinds of grasses that were there. I didn’t want to cut them completely, they’ve earned their resilience in growing there, but I wanted my lawn to look organized. To both please me, and my peers who dislike overgrown lawns.

    In this society, like you said, we don’t have it perfect, ideally, I’d want to leave it be and introduce balance in the form of a goat to eat the grass, or just make it a mini-forest with many kinds of native trees, but I can’t do that right now.

    Ma’at is balance, a rhythmic dance and song where, everyone and everything has a change to join and flourish.

    It is letting things develop without interference, and let them reach harmony on their own.

    We gotta do our best to honor Ma’at, given what we have. At least that’s what I try to do anyways.


    • DevoTTR

      February 7, 2020 at 6:38 pm

      What always makes me laugh about so much of our modern landscaping is just how much our idea of “order” ends up actually hurting the plants and nature. So many folks I know live with HOA rules that dictate what can and can’t be done, and it does suck because sometimes even if you want to do right by the plants/nature, you’re bound by rules that you have minimal control over (there’s that authoritarianism again, technically.) Luckily, in this case, cutting the grass isn’t too terribly bad for it. It allows it to grow longer and can allow the roots to establish deeper because it had more time to grow. I do agree, ideally, we’d be able to allow herbivores to eat our grass (can look into Savory method or Joel Salatin for ideas behind that), but at least cutting the grass itself isn’t super bad. Having more variety in grasses (a meadow, if you will) would also be helpful, but again, we can only do what we can. I think most of us wish we could do more, but alas, our current system makes that super hard. Agreed, we really can only do what we can given what we have.

  2. nick7268

    February 5, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    Devo first thanks for this post prior to my birthday, makes my think and reflect as usual.

    thinking about order as i understand it is to put things in its right place and right moment, but certainly can come with some king of control freak syndrome applied in a bigger way.

    that it is bad? perhaps but anything can have different values or meaning according to people or culture or the time period we live. what Ancient Egyptian think apropriate today will be perhaps very bad, but if we look all human history through the eyes of today, can result equally bad and humanity has nothing good in any historical event.

    in the end perhaps we need a little sense of control or authority in order to try to bring Ma’at to our daily lives, even if both always can be challenged in any moment.

    • DevoTTR

      February 7, 2020 at 6:42 pm

      I think the biggest thing people forget is that we really can only control ourselves. Most folks have a lukewarm idea about their sense of self — where they end and everything else begins. We try to control things that are not within our ability to control, and it ultimately makes us sick (think of chronic stress, burn out, etc.) Our system certainly forces this out of us to some extent. We’re constantly told that we should be able to control more than we can. I personally expect that the controlling system we live in ultimately begets the incessant need for more control. We kick downwards trying to maintain some grip on what we have, when in truth the answer lies in kicking upwards.

      I don’t know if I agree that we need a sense of control or authority to bring ma’at into our lives. I think we need control over ourself, sure. Perhaps authority over our own being, but even then, the use of the word “authority” seems pretty harsh and overbearing in this sense. I think it would be better to be harmonized with ourselves, to treat ourselves as something of value, and to understand that we can only control so much.

      To me, letting go of excessive control is more apt to bring about ma’at, not the other way around. The more you try to control, the more it slips through your fingers.

  3. cgw

    February 6, 2020 at 11:48 am

    Thank you for having and sharing the complex thoughts.

  4. atefwepwawet

    February 7, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    Good thoughts. I’ve tended to view “order” in this sense in the same sort of neutral way you described as the order of numbers.

    “Balance” definitely clicks with me more for ma’at. Patterns are frequently life-enabling (just look at the havoc that’s resulting from seasons, water temperatures, etc all changing due to human-caused climate change, which I consider isfet). Heck, even on the micro scale it’s noticeable; I have a heart condition, and keeping all my body’s subsystems in balance (including cardiovascular/ blood pressure, stress levels, hormones) is what keeps the entire system of my body functional.

    The one troublesome part of “balance” that I see from some kemetics is the “Star Wars” style where acts of isfet are justified as good and necessary because there “must” be an equal quantity of ma’at and isfet in the world.

    And I also agree that justifying authoritarianism and other unjust practices of pharaonic times simply because “that’s the way the ancestors did it, so it must be right” is a very dangerous mindset (and a logical fallacy, argumentum ad antiquitatem).

    • DevoTTR

      February 7, 2020 at 6:46 pm

      I honestly dislike the notion that we need a certain amount of isfet in order to get “balance.” I don’t even know that that is historically backed, really. I think just the whole “we must exist and we must all die” is enough consistent attrition and isfet for us to get by. But then again, I think a lot of people mistake chaos and lowgrade, helpful stress as being the same as isfet (chronic disorder) and its just… not.

      To me, its a byproduct of the culture we live in.. it can be hard to extract and get rid of old ideas that are constantly shoved at you by your culture, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s why we’re so prone to thinking that things need to be awful in order to be “balanced.” Same goes for the pharaonic stuff. To this day, I really don’t understand why people are jumping in line to have a recreation of pharaonic egypt. It really makes no sense to me beyond, perhaps, romanticism.

    • Senneferet

      February 10, 2020 at 7:53 am

      To me Ma’at is balance, therefore Is-fet in unbalance. I politely disagree with those that say we must have is-fet to achieve balance. It is unequally weighted. A simple act of is-fet can throw off the proverbial scales and throw everything to sh*t. I think the balance of ma’at is a complicated process of trying to see other points of view (no, not those views that cause oppression and suffering, I’m talking about simpler things like whether blue is prettier than red). You also need balance in your life; take care of others but remember to take care of yourself. Love the gods, love yourself. Work hard, play hard, rest hard etc. There’s no good running around after others if you are going to burn yourself out

      • atefwepwawet

        February 10, 2020 at 11:12 am

        Yes, well-said!


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