The word "ma'at" has two meanings in the ancient Egyptian language.
Ma'at is, first, the goddess responsible for justice and truth. Ma'at gave meaning to the world and bestowed order upon the chaos of creation in the First Times. She governs the movement of the stars, the rising and setting of the sun, the inundation and retreat of the Nile, and the laws underlying all of nature. In the Judgement Hall of the Tuat the heart of the deceased is weighed against Ma'at's feather. If the heart is found to be free from the weight of sin, the deceased joins the company of the gods; otherwise, the soul is devoured and destroyed.
Thus Ma'at is the standard by which souls are measured.
From this important role in the Judgement Hall, there evolved the concept of Ma'at as the personification of a systematic spiritual ideal. The order she represents was apparent everywhere in the world around her worshippers. It was observed in the orderly motion and interaction of the heavenly bodies, and reflected in the natural laws at work on the earth. It was deemed necessary to act in accordance with universal law and to understand one's place in the natural order to ensure the soul's position among the stars above.
The conception of ma'at revealed the universe as a network of invisible currents and connections that bind all things into a single whole, with every person or object being the balance of the lines of force that pass through it. It was considered essential to live according to the principles of balance and justice so as not to disturb the very fabric of creation. The ultimate will of the gods is that order is to prevail.
Each pharaoh on his or her coronation day would proclaim that ma'at was restored by this ascension to the throne. The priests of every temple in Egypt would offer a representation of ma'at to the presiding god in the temple's shrine each evening, to assert that the day's work of worship and guidance was in accord with the universal order. Ma'at is understood as the reason that things are, and the means by which they continue to exist. Ma'at is the voice of divine imperative that at once reigns over this world and promises just reward in the next.
The basic philosophical concepts that define ma'at can be found reflected in the Christian prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"; the Muslim concept of "shari'ah", or submission to the will of god; the familiar edict of Western occultism, "as above, so below"; and scores of other observations on the interaction of the divine and the mundane.
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