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Ma’at and Ethics

The Negative Confession that is in the Papyrus of Ani, is often referred to as the “42 Laws of Ma’at”. While this part of the Pert Em Hrw or Book of Coming Forth by Day (aka the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead) Spell or Chapter 125. Though it is a moral ideal in ancient Kemetic culture, it is erroneous to consider that these are “Laws” in the way that our written rules of law or even the Ten Commandments that YHWH gave to Moses. The 42 points of the Negative Confession serve as a way that your heart will not, in essence, “rat you out” to Anubis when it is weighed against the ostrich feather of Ma’at. If it is found heavier than the feather, then ultimately, your heart will be fed to the Ammit. This is the ever-dreaded “Second Death” that is spoken of in ancient Egyptian literature. If one suffers the Second Death, then it is as if you never were. To the ancient Kemetic people, that was a fate far worse than even the First Death.

What the 42 points of the Negative Confession are not is a sort of Ten Commandments Plus, or an “In Your Face, We Were Here First” bit of text to grant bragging rights to Kemetics in answer to more mainstream faiths. Unfortunately, however, this is precisely what some sites would have us believe about this important piece of extant funerary, if not liturgical text. The negative confession is a set of ideals that serve as a moral compass for Kemetics. Ideals are not laws, they are not rules. They serve as a guideline to help a person navigate and become complete and whole themselves, as well as viable members of a society or the world at large. Dr. Mulana Karenga said in his book on Ma’at:

“Maat insists on a holistic view of the moral ideal, one that gives rightful and adequate attention to self, society and the world as component parts of an interrelated order of rightness. The ongoing quest then is to maintain, renew, repair and enhance this order as self-conscious creators and bringers of the good in the world in a process and practice called srudj ta – restoring, repairing and renewing the world. Such a world encompassing concept of moral practice invites us to move beyond the narrow notions of self, national and even species interest and understand and assert ourselves as members of an interrelated order of existence in the world.”

This is, I firmly believe, the core of what Ma’at is, and who we as Kemetics are. Dr. Karanga’s definition cuts to the heart of what most of us look for in our spiritual and day to day practices.
This the fundamental mission statement for each of us, regardless of what sect of Kemetic belief we personally espouse. These ethics, these guidelines or ideals are something that don’t need to figuratively or literally be carved into stone, but rather something that is written upon our ka’s.. To do these things feeds those ka’s or spirits. Na’at being upheld and lived via these ideals goes beyond class, gender, sexual orientation, geography, nationality or even species. Karenga very astutely goes on to state:

“…At this juncture, Maatian discourse offers a contribution to modern moral deliberation about human fragmentation and the ongoing quest to return to an integrity and wholeness of human life that ends division of the social and natural world, mind and body, the past, present and future. And what is important here is not the assumed validity of the varying positions within these deliberations, but the value of the different modes of questioning and how they demonstrate the diversity, strength and weakness of ways to engage the issues.“

This leaves we in the Kemetic Community as well as those outside of it to examine on a nearly constant basis what it is we are doing, why we are doing it and how it effects the greater whole. I cannot believe that we as human beings are so self-involved, greedy or thoughtless as to not for the mostpart be concerned about these things. Careful consideration of Ma’at and what Ma’at represents or is enacted is something that is an obligation that we have to ourselves and to our world. The profundity of free will and conscious consideration toward a set of ideals that is represented in Ma’at and the symbolism behind both the Goddess and the ideal that accompanies her cannot be understated. This is what almost every piece of liturgical text and piece of wisdom literature focuses upon and it is the cornerstone of our respective Faiths. This is something that is very important, I believe, and in order for us to move forward if our vision of a viable, strong Kemetic community, we need to have dialogue about it. I know that we can do it. I fully expect that such a vision will come to pass and that each of us will strive in accordance as closely as possible with Ma’at.

I am therefore inviting the membership of the Kemetic Community and those outside of it to consider the negative confession, the ideals that it represents and how we can further that in re-establishing them for ourselves and as a community and fellow inhabitants of this world. Comments can be left here or you may email me directly at maatpublishing at gmail dot com.

Resources:

Dr. Maulana Karenga,“Maat: The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt, A study in Classical African Ethics”, p. 408
Image of Ma’at by Jeff Dahl, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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