Kemetism is Orthopraxic: Live in Ma’at.

I noticed, a while back, that each of us who work with gods tend to become a quasi-expert in that particular deity. Now, I’m thinking specifically in a Kemetic framework here, but I suppose it could be true across the polytheistic board. I know I tend to recommend various friends of mine for different deities: Bezen for jackals; Devo for Sutekh, Wesir, and occasionally Aset; Helms for specific items and lesser know deities; Sard for Sutekh, Khnum, Montu, and netjeri. I suppose I am considered the go-to girl for Sekhmet and occasionally Het-heru. I have networked a bit on Tumblr, so I can direct people to others who work with Djehuti, Seshat, and that ilk. We’re all experts… on the gods.

The thing is that while we are learning all we can, how many of us are forgetting what Kemetism is all about?

I know I am. I forget all the time.

I also know that I am not alone in this. Sometimes, it is difficult to keep in your mind that the religion you are carving out isn’t just about the gods, what to offer, and how to continue to earn their favor. It isn’t just about forging relationships on a level that is inherently personal to each of us. I have a hard time, especially lately, in remembering that my path has concepts that are integral to its very formation all of those millennia ago. I know that I’m not the only person around in the Kemetic hemisphere to have these issues, though. I know that I cannot possibly be the only person in the entire Kemetic arena of the polytheistic stage that has to stop and remind myself, on occasion, that the foremost of concepts in all of this are two-fold: live in ma’at and community.

Now, I will admit that this is my own view on the subject matter. Anyone else who reads this entry, of which I’m hoping there are a few, can speak up and tell me what you-all believe the inherent concepts of the religion are. And I will accept those concepts as much as I can. But to me, the two major and foremost things that we need to keep in mind is to live in ma’at first, followed by community. To me, you cannot have one without the other; you must live in ma’at to formulate a coherent and viable community. The thing is that this post really isn’t about community. I’m sure I’ll be jumping back into that topic at a later date in time. Right now, let’s talk about how we live in ma’at, how we offer ma’at, and what the we’re doing here.

As a Kemetic, when you start to think about living in ma’at, it can get kind of insane for a while. It’s a concept that really has absolutely no place in the English language. I really cannot convey how difficult this concept can be just in the premise of a language barrier. Whenever you read a book and that concept comes up, each definition or translation is different from each other. I have seen it translated as “truth,” “harmony,” “justice,” “cosmic harmony,” and a thousand other things. This is something I’ve discussed before – taking words from other languages and trying to fit them into a square hole, but the peg is a circle. You can’t cram it in there because it just won’t fit properly. But these are words that existed in these languages, both ancient and newer, for a reason. These concepts are things that we used to hold very dear to ourselves – ma’at in ancient Egypt, mir in Russian, ilunga in southwest Congo, schadenfreude in German, and kalpa in Sanskrit. We have close approximations to words like these, but more often than not there is no clear-cut translation that can make these words and concepts connect easily in our English minds.

I think this may be a major barrier to actually beginning to live a Kemetic lifestyle, to actually become a part of the whole experience and use your religion.

One of the arguments you see in some forums is the difference between orthopraxic and orthodoxic. The latter is the use of correct belief and rituals in a religious sense, while the former is correct action or activity, specifically in conduct. Kemetism is an orthopraxy just by its very foundation. This is made abundantly clear when you begin to start working on living in ma’at. It isn’t what you believe that makes the path here. It isn’t whether you have faith or whether you don’t. It is a matter of what you do in that faith that matters. And that is never more clear than when you begin to study and begin to try to live in ma’at in Kemetism.

Each person has a different take on what exactly living in ma’at can convey, which can also cause issues for those of us who want to live in ma’at. In some circles, this means taking the Papyrus of Ani and molding the 42 Negative Confessions there into a type of law system. While law happened in ancient Egypt, it didn’t matter what you wrote in your negative confessions. These were items that you were confessing to the gods that you very assuredly did not do, which would prove that your heart didn’t weigh more than the feather it was being weighed against. However, the 42 Confessions are horrifically out of date, if you ask me. How often do we have to admit that we never stole offerings from the temples or killed the cows of the gods’ temples? So, by turning these into laws of a sort, we’re missing the point.

The first point being is that, while some of these are universal, not all of them are.

And the second point being is that living in ma’at is as mercurial as human nature.

Some people think that living in ma’at means that we should put the shopping carts away. This isn’t so bad of a concept either. It means everything is orderly. It means that everyone does their part to make everything work out in that orderly concept. The problem is that not everyone puts their carts away, do they? They leave them in the middle of parking spaces, which then aggravates anyone trying to get a light grocery shopping done with no parking spaces left. People leave their carts up on the islands separating sections of the parking lot. Some people bring them back to the store front doors, crowding up space but making it easier to grab one when you go in.

I used to think about this particular theology and put it into practice. I do, in fact, put the grocery cart away when I am done using it. It is because of this theological essay that I started doing this with more intent, with more awareness, than I normally would. I’ve been bad – I’ve left the cart beside the parking space or I’ve failed to return it into its little slot. Sometimes, I’ve ever just left it in the middle of another parking place. But for the most part, I do still put the shopping carts away. The thing is that I tend to view this theology on its face as “orderly.” And I don’t necessarily equate ma’at with “orderly.” It reminds me, in a manner of speaking, of those movies where humans line up like the mindless little automatons we can be and do as we are bid.

I don’t feel that ma’at wants us to be little mindless automatons.

As I said above, living in ma’at is as mercurial as human nature.

So, what exactly is living in ma’at? How are people supposed to do this thing that we don’t even really fully comprehend because translations are incomplete or impossible? How are Kemetics supposed to put this orthopraxy into practice and you know, do instead of think and believe?

I get stuck at this part every time.

I think sometimes people tend to view me in this way that I’m not really. They tend to see my blog and see how vocal I am about it all. I think, sometimes, people equate this in a way with someone who has “got their stuff together.” I can be completely honest here since it is my blog and no one is probably going to read this: I do not have my stuff together. I don’t know what I’m doing more often than not. I have motions that I go through – I give the offerings, I do the execrations, I say the words. But there are days where I break down in front of my shrine because I am feeling so horrific about everything. There are days where the motions are as bare-boned as that word makes it sound. I putter around with my cool water and don’t bother with the bread or the incense or the candles. I am not together. More often than not, I don’t know what the hell I am doing.

I think a part of that is because I am constantly questioning this main, huge, big, important concept to my religion: What is living in ma’at and how can I do that?

I forget about this concept all the time. I said it above; I’ll say it again. I forget about living in ma’at all the effing time. There are days when I’m not nice. There are days when I’m too involved in my own things to stop what I’m doing and help others out. There are days where I’m so busy running from the second I’m up that I forget about this whole integral part of my religious practice.

I don’t know what this thing is, honestly. I don’t really know.

But I know that my gods need it.

They need it and I need it.

I just have to figure out what “it” is.

Note: The list of words I used to conceptualize the fact that some words do not translate into English are not all words relating to the concept of “ma’at.” The word from the Congo actually means something like, “I will forgive you on the first offense and the second offense, but on the third offense, it is on like Donkey Kong.” Something like.

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37 Responses to Kemetism is Orthopraxic: Live in Ma’at.

  1. veggiewolf says:

    I’ve a long response to this on my blog but, to summarize – I honestly think you’re missing the point about upholding ma’at. There’s too much time spent worrying about great cosmic acts and not enough looking at what we, as humans, can do. Human actions may be smaller than those of the netjeru, but they are no less critical and are not the actions of mindless automatons.

    I think you might want a refresher on shopping cart theology since it addresses this very thing.

    • Satsekhem says:

      I wasn’t actually commenting on great big huge cosmic acts. I was commenting on trying to define it in ways that are easily associated with my limited English-held mind. I did, however, repeatedly mention that the concept is about doing. I then went on to ask what it was we should be doing in order to be living in this way. I think you may have missed that?

      And I did also mention that I don’t really think that the shopping cart theology works for me anymore. So, while a refresher was done when I linked to the post in question, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me.

      • veggiewolf says:

        You indicated, though, that it doesn’t work for you because you equate it with being orderly and with being a “little mindless automaton”. I completely understand not wanting to be one, but that’s not what shopping cart theology is about…which is why I suggested a re-read.

        No one ever has to do something they don’t want to, but upholding ma’at in some fashion isn’t optional for Kemetics. If you’re not talking about doing big cosmic acts, and you’re not talking about doing human-sized acts, what are you doing?

        • Satsekhem says:

          I tend to view it as such because the inherent point in all of us doing that would be that all the carts are neatly lined up. And this evokes imagery of people standing in line, waiting for their next assignment. There’s the equation. I tend to view it as more a balance thing, I think, but again, I don’t know because I don’t exactly know what “it” is.

          I’m not talking about cosmic acts because, frankly, those would be things the gods would do. And as I am not dead and have not passed through the Duat, I cannot really do those things. However, I don’t know what the human acts would be because I don’t really know specifically how to define ma’at other than it means “doing correctly.”

          If I knew what those human acts were, I probably would have said.

  2. Pingback: Response to a post about Ma’at | Fluid Morality

  3. Stephy says:

    Choosing not to put your cart away, whether literally or metaphorically, means someone else has to pick up your slack. Shirking your own responsibility in small matters means it’s easier to let the big ones slide too. It also means that you’ve made someone else’s life more difficult (particularly if you’ve just left your cart–again, whether literal or metaphorical–in the middle of a parking space, because that’s just deliberately being an asshole) and shifted the balance just that little bit toward the side of chaos. It’s not just a failure to live in ma’at. It’s a failure to live by Wheaton’s Law.

    • Satsekhem says:

      Don’t be a dick is more in line with my version of ma’at. Putting the carts away doesn’t necessarily jive, however. One could even say that by putting those carts away, I was pulling away from the livelihood of the people whose jobs it is to oversee those carts. I could, in turn, be thought to be promoting isfet.

      • Stephy says:

        Um, no. You’re actually making their job more difficult rather than more secure. Just because someone gets paid to do something doesn’t mean you can slough off your responsibility for yourself by some silly excuse that you’re ensuring their job security. That’s just being a jerk. Yeah, one could say it, but then one would be full of shit.

    • Devo says:

      Thing is, sometimes you have to let some of the smaller stuff slide so that you *can* do the bigger things. It’s about give and take- learning when you have the spoons to do the smaller stuff, and learning when you need to save spoons to do the bigger things.
      And sometimes shopping carts get left in our way (by the gods no less) to teach us something. Sometimes, chaos has to be instigated in order for ma’at to be achieved long term.

      • Bastemhet says:

        I agree with you, Devo. I myself would put the cart away, following the metaphor, because part of how I define Ma’at is holding myself responsible even if nobody else will. I would say generally most people would know what the “right” thing is to do in matters such as these- clean up after yourself, try to make it so life flows more fluidly without causing annoyance to other people, being a kind person because that’s how you would want to be treated as well, etc.

        And when other people leave carts in annoying places, I take that annoyance as a lesson in patience (yes it’s annoying but suck it up and put it away for the other person anyway because this isn’t the end of the world), in empathy (maybe that person had an emergency and couldn’t be bothered to put it away because their child was bleeding from the head), and in compassion (everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes they have to make them a few times before they get it right). It is very easy to judge other people, especially if you don’t know them. I think the harder thing, and the thing that is in line with Ma’at, is always keeping the heart open enough to forgive- forgive others, AND yourself, if need be.

        • Devo says:

          I think that second paragraph is very, very important.

        • Satsekhem says:

          I put my shopping carts away 9 times out of 10. But, I don’t really see it equating with ma’at any longer. I see it as just another empty ritual to do. I do it mindlessly; there is no thought of ma’at or how I’m making the busboys’ lives easier or anything like that. When I stack the used dishes together in a restaurant to benefit the waitress, this is an automatic thing because I know waitresses who have told me, specifically, they really do appreciate it.

          I suppose both of those actions could be seen as ma’at, but I just don’t think so any longer. I think a part of this is because I see these as mindless, boring tasks. I suppose ma’at could also be mindless and boring. But, one of the things I’d like to feel is that I’m actually, you know, DOING ma’at when I’m doing the tasks since as first-gen Kemetics, we should know this stuff right? And I just don’t feel like I am.

          Another thing I’ve always wondered… what happens if all this cart putting away and plate stacking wears you down? What if going those extra steps to put the cart away sprained your knee because of so many things lining up properly to make it happen. Is it ma’at then? What if stacking the plates for the waitress ends up with you breaking every single dish accidentally? Does that also mean we’re still doing ma’at?

          I don’t know.

          • Sat-Ma'at says:

            I can’t stop smiling about the shopping cart theory…. 🙂

            Because over here in Germany we have this coin system for shopping carts. You put in the coin and get it back when you return the cart. Another thing is before this system came the shopping stores used to pay people to collect the shopping carts. These jobs are no longer available and some people might have even lost their jobs. What’s coming up new now is that they employ people to pack your shopping items. This is totally new to Germans, since we never had this before…

            So I wonder if Ma’at might be that simple sometimes … As I said: Ma’at is about functioning mainly not so much a dictate I think. It can require temporary dictates though which, in the end, would probably be every national constitution or the rules of a message board etc.

            To me Ma’at is much like the categorical imperative of Emanuel Kant.

            “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

            I think this includes the shopping cart theory and it goes further than this. Kant distuingishes between “Moral und Sitte” which would be “moral and convention”. Moral is more of an ideal and it is universal for every country, every mentality and every society. Since it is an ideal you can basically only approach it. But convention is a temporary extract from moral and convention needs to be compared to moral constantly. So this is an ongoing process – just like Ma’at would be. It’s dynamic!

          • Devo says:

            I personally think you just need something a little bit meatier for where you’re at now. It was a starting point, now you need/want something more.

  4. I *really* do not think schadenfreude means what you think it means…

    I’m not Kemetic, but in my Hellenistic practice, there are lots of concepts that are challenging to daily life. You wrote: “How are Kemetics supposed to put this orthopraxy into practice and you know, do instead of think and believe?”

    By doing.

    You think up basic things and train yourself to see them. Train yourself to put your shopping cart back. Deposit your trash in a waste basket. Speak up when you see others littering. It’s the small things. You’ll fail again and again, but every time you realize you neglected to do something is a small win for Ma’at.

    I’m not telling your how to practice your religion, and there are obviously things about Ma’at I don’t know, but I know about faith… and a huge part of it is to stop over-thinking it. Just go with it.

    Good luck!

    • Satsekhem says:

      I know “schadenfreude” doesn’t correlate with ma’at. I forgot to make a note that I was just looking for words that don’t translate well or at all into English when I started listing them off. That’s my fault and I apologize.

      Thank you.

  5. Sat-Ma'at says:

    Hi there,

    just a few thoughts of mine conc. Ma’at…

    The thing is Maat does not go with a “success oriented” thinking (Assmann). That is something that is very hard to understand from our modern point of view, because we have learned so much to end a working process with “success”.

    Maat, as part of a self-unfolding and forever ongoing creations process which is taking place in interlocking cycles (= “cosmogony” see Wiki), which needs to be kept up by a community of gods AND humans is much more about “functioning” and not so much about succeeding.

    So do to Maat is basically to realize that the effort has to be put into the PROCESS itself which is of course directed towards perfection, but knowing at the same time that it cannot be reached, and yet keeping up the process to maintain the creation process (=Neheh).

    Perfection (=Djet) lies beyond the veil of the secret(=death). So this perfection is, as Assmann calls it a “vanishing point of human acting” and by directing your deeds towards this point you become more and more aware of Ma’at and act accordingly.
    Ma’at is “order” (given from the gods to humans) and Ma’at is also “sacrifice” (given from humans to the gods). It’s an interaction between the human and the gods.

    The point is that regarding the “cyclical quality” of the creation process from a mortal point of view, the human connection to the gods had to be kept up by cycles, too, which appears in the shape of rituals (=repeated actions with a sacred meaning). So this is why it is considered Ma’at-conform to maintain a tradition (= repeat the rites constantly) in order to keep up life/creation/order itself. And simultaneously constant ethical acting without regard to succeeding. You basically try as best as you can. This is why your ib (=your honest intentions) is being weighed later. To stop repeating the cycles is synonymous with losing the connection to the gods which again is synonymous with death.

    AFTER death however, when a mortal has passed the court and becomes netjer, too, the connection to the gods is viewed as constant without needing repetition, he will “walk as a god among gods”.

    (Yet to make sure this really works out, the wombs have been covered with texts which were considered to kind of “repeat themselves” constantly, which would again be an allegory to the mortal men’s rituals and the cyclical understanding of life.)

    Thanks for this great entry! Y’know it’s kind of “my thing” haha… 😀


    • Satsekhem says:

      I really do enjoy your commentary. You really make it… graspable. XD

    • Devo says:

      I think you and I view things similarly. I consider rituals to be the equivalent of keeping the gods “Full and focused” so that they can continue to uphold the universe. We help them help us, basically.

      • Sat-Ma'at says:

        Yes I agree on what you say, Devo. I mean, when you get deeper into it also rituals are basically communication and communication is one of the important pillars of Ma’at (and again: Assmann).

        Rites and traditions are basically a “vocabulary” which contains ethical and divine values as meanings instead of just logical or semantic meanings (like those you are blowing your brain out every day by discussing with people in forums and picking apart every little word you say instead of really trying to understand what you mean… :D).

        If you do rituals you will – neurologically viewed – use not only your prefrontal cortex (that is basically where the logical thinking sits) but the constant repetition of actions will involve parts of your brains that are connected with emotion (limbic system) and memory. So what docters find out in an NMRI today was found out by experience by our ancestors basically.

        By using rituals as a part of “collective cultural memory” (see Aleida Assmann) instead of merely using script and spoken language you are able to maintain a much more encompassing quality of religious (ethical, social, spiritual…) values and you allow your human mind to take part in this experience with a lot more awareness (you envolve logical thinking AND limbic system AND memory AND even the motor cortex…). The emotional bit helps you to emebd it in you longterm memory and in the longterm memory of the community if rituals are part of a collective action. That is a a lot more than just reading texts and discussing them.

        Basically I’d say from a neurological poin of view it keeps YOU focused on the gods. And from a spiritual point of view it keeps the gods focused onto you or mankind or whtvr…

        Also rituals function as a “social marker”. That is the social communication part of it. That means what you express with baseball caps or ties today was formerly expressed by following certain rituals and traditions. It will help you to develop a certain “group consciousness” which you need to socialize yourself. It’s like a behavioral therapy really. And that again will help you to act ethically correct and not like a profile neurotic (-“I’m so much more kemetic than you”-) nuisance (=Ma’at).

        Btw. They did some interdisciplinary research here in Germany on rituals and rites and Assmann was actually part of that research group, too. Really interesting stuff that came out.

        Sorry this is SO long again… Can’t stop! XD

  6. helmsinepu says:

    “The reward of one who does something lies in something being done for him. This is considered by god as ma’at.”-Pharaoh Neferhotep, c.1300 BCE

    “Ma’at, then, is the principle that forms individuals into communities and that gives their actions meaning and direction by ensuring that good is rewarded and evil punished.
    The concept of doing something for one another appears over and over in the texts of the Middle Kingdom, and was clearly so well-defined that it had almost terminological status.
    By establishing a connection between doing-something-for-one-another and the human capacity for recollection, these texts further emphasize the temporal dimension of the connectivity brought about by ma’at. The wisdom texts contrast the mindful, just individual with the “covetous one,” who thinks only of himself and needs no memory…”-Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt

    Those are from my old “Community” post:

    I mention these because it seems like a little holy war has broken out over shopping carts, cascading around tumblr and other sites. What started out as a nice little “there’s some little thing even you can do for Ma’at” has become a holy symbol like the True Cross. I can’t imagine DarkHawk meant it to be.

    holy shopping cart

    The thing is, “making things tidy” doesn’t cover everything. “Go out of your way to do good things for a person, when you’ve seen them do something good” is perhaps an even better idea. It’s another thing that isn’t that hard to do, especially on line.

    • helmsinepu says:

      (thanks to Devo for the Holy Shopping Cart image!)

    • Satsekhem says:

      So, by the source of Neferhotep, the very essence of ma’at is cogs and gears? So, as an example I used with Sati on this post via my personal blog, I equated human doings as cogs and god doings as gears? So, with Neferhotep’s wisdom there, I can say it unequivocally?

      So, in relation to Assmann, ma’at doings tend to be more of a community thing? I mean, how did they work it on an individual basis anyway? Maybe that’s my problem? I’m having issues because my community is online. So, when I do ma’at for my fellow community – checking a source, agreeing, discussing, etc – then I’m holding true… but when I’m by myself, whatever I do for ma’at is clearly on a solo basis so it may not feel as “good”? Maybe?

      I think what is getting to me and where my misanthropy with this whole concept is coming from is I constantly feel like I’m the only one doing kind things for others and that I don’t get a lot of it back. I go over and help out Anthony’s aunt and cousin with things because they need it or just to cheer them up with company, and I get shat on verbally behind my back. I let a car cross oncoming traffic, blocking everyone behind me for them to do so, in the hopes that they will then do the same for someone else… but when it’s my turn to cross uncoming traffic, no one stops to let me in.

      I think I’m just.

      Wrung out.

  7. Sat-Ma'at says:

    Some more thoughts about Ma’at…

    I’ve been studying the books of the Assmann couple for quite some time and I read them over and over again and each time I found something new in them.

    Yet I really think Ma’at is not that difficult to understand. Personally I believe when you intellectualize it too much, you probably lose the whole thing. I believe that every healthy human being has something like an emotional and social intelligence that needs to be developed and educated. Ma’at is to me more like a state of mind that lies behind what you do and not so much a codex that dictates your actions. And it is probably the state of mind that lies bhind what has been written on ancient walls and papyrus.

    To me it was enlightening to understand how the kemetic religion developed. The drying up of the northern African desert, the necessity for the nomadic peoples to move closer to the oasis round the Nile and become farmers, the insight that – in order to cultivate the land – they needed to work together and create systems to direct the water of the yearly flood where it was needed… These things are IMO the factors that lead to the birth of Ma’at. What used to be a pretty simple everyday’s requirement became a complex and spiritual metaphor later, when the ancient care systems for the kemetic society where more or less safely established.

    I think that today we tend to over-mystify the ancient traditions because we consider ourselves so enormously sophisticated that we have just removed the myth out of everything. And then again we start to miss it and begin to reconstruct it somehow and project the mystery onto things we hope to find it in. I believe that in former times it was just normal to accept a certain amount of “mystery” as part of everyday’s life. Today we want to unveil everything. We are so keen on explaining and reasoning everything that we kind of overshoot and forget to the best we actually CAN at the point where we are. And that – to me – is Ma’at.

  8. This article and all of the discussion concerning it has inspired me. “Understanding of Ma’at as a Transformative Process”:

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  11. Jess says:

    “I think a part of that is because I am constantly questioning this main, huge, big, important concept to my religion: What is living in ma’at and how can I do that?”

    Ma’at is way bigger than any human ideas of morality. I doubt that anyone is going to throw the Universe out of its ever changing balance by being an asshole, not even a huge one. However, if you do want to read up on How Not To Be An Asshole, by Ancient Egypt, the Wisdom Literature is a source you can turn to.

    What can you do? When your stuff isn’t right, make it right. That’s what every organism is responsible for. Funking out and correcting… it’s all part of the scheme. The Universe is unfolding as it should. 😉

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