Maat was perhaps the least mythological of the Egyptian gods because she was the visual form given to a philosophical concept. Her physical form was a woman carrying the ankh and scepter, and she was most readily identified by the feather she wore on her head. No one knows for sure the origin of her association with the feather, usually described as an ostrich feather, but somehow the ethereal qualities of the feather seem well suited to a goddess of her characteristics. It has been suggested that the feather became her symbol because it is equally balanced along each side of the quill, suggesting the fine judgment required of a goddess who sat to judge truth in the trial of the dead.
|Maat Egyptian Goddess|
In its simplest form, Maat was represented as an early hieroglyphic made up of intersecting straight lines, which stood for the king’s throne, suggesting that his decisions rested on Maat.
The name probably translated originally as “that which is straight.” The nineteenth-century American romantic Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay “Nature” that one of the uses of nature is to provide metaphors for moral behavior. This is just what seems to have happened with Maat. Straightness, which is a physical, geometric term, was perceived as symbolic of moral rectitude and then made visible in the hieroglyphic symbol used to indicate the concept. Straightness implies order, and the presence of Maat stamped order on chaos at the moment of creation.
As Morenz suggested, when looking at ancient religions, one is always justified in asking whether belief in the gods carried implications for human moral and ethical behavior. In Egyptian religion and politics the answer for the concept of Maat was clearly yes; Maat reflected an attitude that order in law was influenced by truth and justice, and that respect for order, truth, and justice was required of those in positions of authority. In later periods, Egyptian judges hearing a case were expected to carry the feather as a sign of their dedication to the eternal principles of the concept. An ancient text proclaims of Maat: “Its good and its worth was to be lasting. It has not been disturbed since the day of its creation, whereas he who transgresses its ordinances is punished. Maat, then, represented, as E. A. Wallis Budge wrote, “the highest conception of physical and moral law and order known to the Egyptians.”
It was to embody this concept that the goddess Maat was conceived. She was the personification of truth and justice, but she was given only minimal human characteristics. She was more o^ a metaphor for this important quality than a “flesh and blood figure, as most other gods were. Her mythology says that she was supposed to have been the daughter of Ra and to have risen with him from the primeval waters at the moment of creation.
In other words, the moral concepts Maat represented were as primordial as Ra and the waters from which he created himself; and throughout Egyptian mythology her father was associated with her in order to explain his fairness. In the Coffin Texts there was a brief, curious myth that brought the two together. Ra was old and tired and asked Nun for advice. Nun told the chief god that he should bring Maat close to him and kiss her in order to gain renewed life and vitality. It was the Book of the Dead that said that Maat and Thoth stood beside Horus in Ra’s solar boat and set the course each day and that Ra “lives by Maat, the beautiful.” Budge thought this meant that Ra “lives by unchanging and eternal law and order.”
In her mythology Maat also played an important role in the underworld. During the trial of the deceased soul, Maat was Ways Present. In some drawings her feather sat on top of the ales to guarantee fairness, and the heart of the deceased was ways weighed on the balance against the feather. If the heart were found to balance perfectly with truth and justice-being neither too heavy nor too light for it the dead person was judged to
have passed the first test and to be nearing immortality. Then the deceased progressed to the Hall of Maat, or the Hall of Judgment in which he or she had to give forty-two denials of sin and identify the magical names of the various parts of the door. Maat supervised these activities and, if the deceased completed these tasks correctly, she certified that the soul was ready for admittance into the presence of Osiris for final acceptance.
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