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A Proposed Model for Determining Ma’at vs. Isfet

Before you read this post, you need to read the first and second parts of this series, otherwise nothing will make sense.

So far, I’ve talked about how ma’at is like a regenerative system, which is a living series of processes that will renew and regenerate themselves provided their unique balance is maintained. Some examples of regenerative systems in daily life are ecosystems or your body. In opposition to this is isfet, which is what happens when disorder overtakes a regenerative system and makes it degenerative. Degenerative systems are not sustainable and tend to destroy the balance of other nearby systems. In this post, I’d like to discuss how we can use this model to determine if something we’re doing is more in alignment with isfet or ma’at.

Using this Model

So now we’re at the most important part of this whole discussion. We’ve laid the framework for understanding:

  • how systems work
  • how ma’at aligns with regenerative systems
  • how disorder tests the resiliency of a system
  • how too much disorder will put your regenerative balance is at risk
  • how isfet is an embodiment of degradation of natural systems.

Now comes the time for bringing it all together so that we can better reflect on our own actions and whether they relate to isfet, ma’at, or somewhere in between.

The reason that viewing ma’at as a system was so revolutionary for me was because it made it so much easier to understand if something was actually aligning with ma’at or not — because we’re using very concrete terms. Many times, I’ve found that people want to distort ma’at into being something that is relatively passive, or ultimately doesn’t require the person to really change or grow. To summarize this model for ma’at, it would be: if it bothers me, it’s isfet. If it doesn’t bother me, it’s ma’at.

However, by establishing that ma’at is like a particular thing that has a particular set of needs that must be met in order to be maintained, it really allows us to examine whether the things we do in our lives actually lives up to those needs, regardless of our own biases or feeling. By using a structure that can be clearly defined, it removes at least a portion of our bias, and allows us to be more objective in our assessment of ma’at. It also allows us to be very succinct when describing it.

Put succinctly: if something is pushing multiple systems towards degeneration, it’s likely aligned with isfet. If something pushes multiple systems towards regeneration, it’s likely aligned with ma’at.

For example, humans need several things to really survive and be healthy. Things such as:

  • Access to nutritious food, shelter, clean clothing (you’ll note, all of these are markers of having lived in ma’at in antiquity)
  • Access to healthy and supportive relationships. Humans are social creatures, and we need some amount of social interaction to be healthy.
  • Ability to self-express in a fashion that doesn’t hurt others (directly or otherwise)
  • Ability to be autonomous over our own choices and decisions, the feeling of having some control over your life and future.

So, if these things are all necessary for human systems to be healthy, then we know that anything that directly opposes these things is isfetian in nature.

Caveats: Frequency, Context, Scope, and Scale

Now, of course, there is some grey area in here. There are a few other considerations that must be applied when determining whether something is truly isfetian or ma’atian; things such as frequency, context, scope.

Frequency is about as straightforward as it sounds. That whole bit about disorder being the beginning of the sliding towards ultimately unraveling (isfet) means that a singular action isn’t necessarily going to lead you straight into isfet-town. For example, I know that fast food is really bad for my health. It is ultimately a degenerative force in my life. However, if I choose to eat it occasionally, it’s not likely going to qualify 100% as isfet in my specific system. Why? Because I’ve enacted moderation.

There are always places where we can have little exceptions to the moderation that marks our daily life. In antiquity, this is largely the role that festivals and holidays performed. They allowed people to let loose and let go for a short period of time before they fell back into the regularity of daily life. In our modern era, this isn’t always the case, and I’ve found that many of us are constantly living on the edge of making decisions that ultimately undo our efforts to thrive.

In short, frequency is the difference between engaging in a damaging behaviour in moderation vs. engaging in it all the time. Its the difference between eating something that’s bad for you once a month vs. every day. The frequency is vital to keep in mind when considering whether something is damaging or not. The less often you engage in damaging activities, the less likely they are to evoke an isfetian reaction in your specific system (aka your body and/or life.)

The context and scale of an action should also be considered, because it turns out that changing the scope or context of an action often will change whether its damaging or not — and that’s mostly because we live in a degenerative system. For example, let’s take the fast food thing mentioned above. On a small scale, when I’m really only thinking about how it effects me and me alone, it’s relatively harmless when in moderation. However, on a large scale, one might consider the act of giving your money to a fast food establishment isfetian. Why? Because many of these establishments treat their employees horribly. They engage in practices that degrade people’s lives by purposefully underpaying them and denying them access to necessary resources. Many of these companies engage in practices that wreck the environment, they lobby for legislation that allows them to get away with bad practices, and most of these companies aren’t putting much beneficial energy back into the world.

There is a phrase, “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism,” and that’s truly visible when using this model. When it comes to most larger systems, such as supply chains, economies, and governments — nothing is currently sustainable, and as such, is degenerative in nature (as I mentioned in previous posts.) The context of every action is important, because I think it’s vital that we remember that so much of our day to day lives are built on practices that are not sustainable (aka degenerative), and often hurt marginalized countries and peoples the hardest. While a singular act on a small scale is relatively harmless, when considering the full scope of the process of that act even being available to you — the true harm often comes into focus.

This, of course, muddies the water because it can be ethically confusing to determine how on earth to do anything without putting energy into an inherently isfetian system, but that’s also why engaging in activism, being politically active, and holding those in positions of power accountable is all the more important. I would argue that not doing so leans you towards isfet, because it means you’re choosing to ignore the degenerative systems that are eating away at the regenerative system that is you.

And please bear in mind: sometimes the ma’atian choice, the course of action that honors the regenerative nature in you and others, will be painful or difficult. Many people want to equate ma’at to the path of least resistance, and I am here to tell you that this is often not the case. That’s why its very important to really examine all of the aspects of a given course of action to ensure you’re not copping out due to fear of the new and unknown.

Useful Questions to Consider

Here are some examples of questions that can be asked when trying to determine whether a large-scale system is regenerative or not:

  • Will this legislation/action/structure degrade human lives?
  • Will it cause people to lose their autonomy?
  • Will it degrade the community and connections that people have?
  • Will it restrict access to healthy food, clean water, adequate housing and healthcare?
  • Will it oppress or hold back a particular group of people (please keep in mind that leveling the playing field between classes or races is not oppression)?
  • Does it rely on a biased system/structure to reinforce it?
  • Does it needlessly destroy nature?
  • Does it endanger natural resources and living things?
  • Does it destroy or threaten other regenerative systems?
  • Does it lead us closer to things like climate change or fascism?

And in case its not clear yet, if the answer to these is yes, it’s isfetian in nature.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when trying to determine whether a small-scale interaction is regenerative or not:

  • Does this harm my health?
  • Does this hurt my relationships or those around me needlessly?
  • Does this incite self-hatred or acts of violence or abuse against the self?
  • Will this cause you regret or shame later on?
  • Does this hinder my or others growth, however painful?
  • Would those who care about you condone this choice?

Of course, sometimes these things are not clear cut, and that’s why its important to always consider the wider context of a situation as discussed above.

If you’ve managed to make it through all three posts, I congratulate you. If you have any questions or would like to suggest any other means of refining this model, I welcome them!

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2020 in Kemeticism

 

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KRT: Execrations, Curses and Ethics

Execrations and Curses: Can you perform them? What are the ethics behind them, if any? How and when can you perform them?

For this round of the Kemetic Round Table, we are discussing the nuances of casting curses and utilizing execrations. Curses are a sticky subject amongst certain groups of the Pagan umbrella due to perceived ethical implications of performing magic with the intent of harming someone, and since execrations are very similar, we lumped them together for this post.

In short, the answer is yes, you can perform curses and execrations (as not to be redundant, I recommend looking at this post for execration basics). It was not uncommon for the ancient Egyptians to perform execrations daily (by priests in temples and by laity) and we’ve got records of curses and other hexes being performed as well.

The ethics doing such is less than clear, and I personally believe that the ethical implications of what you are and are not willing to perform or do in regards to magix is a completely personal thing. Much like morality in general, I don’t think that it is a topic that anyone but yourself can truly dictate for yourself. In antiquity, it seems that many people were okay with doing all sorts of curses and love spells and other “questionable” magical acts in order to get what they wanted. I touched on this briefly in my last KRT post about threatening and bribing gods. The ethics of what was okay magically then doesn’t necessarily reflect how many Kemetics feel about ethics now. You can look to the past as an indication of what is okay and what isn’t, but I think that you have to consider that times change and our ethical systems can change with it.

Basically: You have to sleep with yourself at night. If you’re uncomfortable performing any particular type of magix, you probably shouldn’t perform it until you feel secure in what you are doing. Being unsure about your magical acts will only serve to weaken your magix.

I personally try not to sling curses left and right, but I’m not above cursing in the least. I tend to execrate and bind things before I curse them. But again, my ethics are not your ethics. I can’t hold you to my ethical standards, nor should I.

The logistics of when and where you should perform such magix is also up to you. I perform execrations regularly because I feel that they help to keep me balanced and remove blockages before they get too large. Much like someone that cleanses regularly- I feel like execrations help to keep the metaphorical “ball” rolling in my life. I do perform larger, more elaborate execrations when I get the feeling that I should. And on occasion, one of the gods will tell me that I need to perform an execration- at which point I normally do.

Curses are less common for me. I usually only curse someone if I am completely and utterly fed up with a person, persons, or a situation. However, I do know of people who curse regularly, or at the drop of a hat. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. There is no right or wrong time to perform these acts. It is a matter of personal preference.

If you wish to get some ideas about what you can do with curses and execrations, here is a list of resources to get you started!

Magix and heka in antiquity:

Resources and examples for modern Execrations and Curses:

To read the other entries for this topic, visit the master list here.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Kemetic Round Table, Kemeticism

 

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Polytheists and Values: A Response

I feel like I’m stating the obvious with this, I really do. But I want to say it all the same because I think its important: being a polytheist doesn’t necessarily have any values tied to it (and I’m not the only one who seems to think so).

Being a polytheist basically means that you believe in multiple gods (for a more complete explanation, see here). That’s the textbook definition, more or less. So why certain writers feel the need to complicate the matter by shaming people into “doing more” and “fitting in with the crowd” with their faith is beyond me.

Oh wait, I know- its because if you don’t make others feel lesser in their practices, you won’t feel as good about yourself and your practice. You can’t have a pedestal without a pile of beaten down enemies beneath it, can you?

Enemiessss

image from Wilkinson’s Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art

For those of you who haven’t read it, I recommend reading Krasskova’s post on polytheists and values- because that’s what sparked this post that you’re about to read. I think the first thing that struck me in regards to her post is the notion that only polytheists- True and Real polytheists, I mean, have morals and values. Value systems are complex to say the least, and I think it would be completely illogical to think that anyone doesn’t have some sense of an ethical system running through their noggin. Their ethical system may not line up with yours, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

In addition to this, value systems aren’t necessarily polytheistic in nature- they are often cultural or circumstantial, rather than ‘you’re not a good person if you don’t accept that the existence of God(s) are like so.’ Accepting that there are multiple individual co-eternal Supreme Beings doesn’t have anything to do with what you do with your human dead or how you treat women. A perfect example of this would be ancient Egypt. Most would consider us Kemetics to be polytheistic in nature- but even Egyptian views on deities shifted as the years progressed. While Egypt started off being heavily polytheistic, the views on NTRW (gods) changed to a more henotheistic view by the New Kingdom. Despite these changes in religious views, the core values and ethics of the society remained relatively unchanged (Wim van den Dungen). Many ancient cultures had polytheistic religions within them, but polytheistic interpretations weren’t the only theological stances and interpretations in existence. Furthermore, the moral codes and values were the result of a functioning culture that needed to maintain some semblance of order.

Some of the “values” set up in antiquity should not even be brought forth into the modern era. I know that many polytheists like to look at the past with rose colored and romantic tinged glasses, but really, there are aspects of the cultures from antiquity that should probably remain buried. Many cultures were sexist and ethnocentric and many facets of any given religious culture often catered to both. Many cultures also featured institutionalized slavery, and some practices with a religious veneer arose from that institutionalized slavery, particularly within Mesopotamian cultures, as Sard discusses in her article on tattooing in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. First and foremost, we should be examining what it is we are praising before trying to rub it into other people’s faces. We shouldn’t just emulate ancient practices simply because “that’s how they did it back then.” Just because it is an established convention, does not mean it was also an inherently moral convention.

Regardless of whether you’re a polytheist or henotheist or monotheist (or something else entirely), the fact of the matter is we were all raised in a culture with its own set of values and morals that we have been inculcated with. Krasskova’s post, in my opinion, is rendered null and void at the notion that somehow “polytheist” values trump someone else’s.

Where did the notion even come from? You know, the one that states that you’re somehow less of a polytheist if you’re not following the prescribed polytheism that is set forth by Krasskova. I personally find it disrespectful and horribly asinine to lump all of us polytheists together as though we are one big happy family that believes all of the same stuff, but as I said, you can’t have a pedestal without people beneath you, it’s really that simple.

In her post, Krasskova lists the following values as being important to any polytheist:

  • ancestor veneration
  • respecting the diversity of the divine
  • piety
  • modesty
  • courage

Out of all of these values set forth by Krasskova, the only one that I see being relevant to a polytheist- you know, someone who believes in multiple gods, or practices a religion that has multiple gods in it- is “respecting the diversity of the divine”. And when it comes to that particular “value,” I don’t see it the way that she does. Generally speaking, how we view the precise nature of the Divine isn’t a moral value or some “VIP pass to Heaven” in religions other  than Monotheistic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The “Big Three” have a particular fondness for saying “you have to believe in God this exact way, or else!” It is quite odd in a number of ways to see Krasskova to speak against such dogmatic control out of one side of her mouth, and then say the exact same thing the “Big Three” do in the name of “true and healthy polytheism” out of the other side of her mouth.

Respecting the diversity of the divine is respecting that there is diversity. When you narrow down the diversity to a singular definition of “all gods are always separate all the time” you’re defeating the whole point of celebration of diversity; which is further reinforced by the anti-Christian sentiment that was thrown in there (“The search for ‘unity’ is a holdover from the infection of monotheism, and a comfortable way of concealing its poison under pleasantly new age language“).

I do agree, however, that it would do us well as a group to understand that the divine is diverse. The divine is as diverse as we are and our practices are- and that is why you can’t lump us all together as being one massive polytheistic tradition that does all of the same things. The divine can appear as one and as many. Gods can mesh together to play with your brain, or one deity might break apart into 9384 pieces just to get a point across.

Gods do what they want.

As far as I’m concerned, Krasskova’s other points have little to no place in a polytheistic value set (in the strictest sense). Nothing within my polytheistic religion states that you must worship your ancestors. Some ancestors aren’t worth venerating. Some of us don’t have ancestors to venerate. Some of us simply don’t have the ability to connect with the dead. And I personally find more benefit in veneration of land spirits and astral family over my physical family lineage. Nothing within the code of “ma’at” (you know, the core point of Kemeticism) tells me that I have to venerate my ancestors. Nor does it mention that I need to be pious (good luck defining piety. Even Krasskova has admitted that its not something she can really dictate, and yet she attempts to time and time again). Nor does my religion state what I should or shouldn’t wear and whether I should be allowed to “squander” my sexuality (and why aren’t men and non-binary folks mentioned in the squandering of sexuality?).

And don’t even get me started on courage- one of my main gods is known for being a passive deity who doesn’t even stand up for himself.

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is simply this: values and morals are a personal thing. You can’t dictate morals across such a wide spectrum, especially such a loose-knit spectrum as the “polytheist” community is. You can’t. You simply can’t (and you shouldn’t).

Even if there is some universal external moral/ethical standard, we simply cannot know it. We can only guess at it and hope we’re close to being correct. It’s not something you can force down other people’s throats.

One of the reasons that “ma’at” is such a hard term to define is because it’s different for each person. We can water it down into balance, justice and truth- but what each of those things entails will be different depending on the circumstances and the people/gods/entities involved in the situation. The same goes for values. As I once stated in my post about being Devout, there is no right or wrong way to do this and there is no good way to make rules that encompass everyone in every situation.

But since there is such a desire by Krasskova to put generalized statements over all polytheists at once, allow me to suggest one of the most important values that any boat paddling Kemetic can have for her to consider: Don’t be a dick.

I think that should probably be the number one value for anyone at this point.

Do not be haughty because of your knowledge,
But take counsel / with the unlearned man as well as with the learned,
For no one has ever attained perfection of competence,
And there is no craftsman who has acquired (full) mastery.
Good advice is rarer than emeralds,
But yet it may be found even among women at the grindstones

(Maxims of Ptahhotep, translation from Literature of AE by Simpson)

 

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Kemeticism, Rambles

 

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