by Farangis Yegane.
The principle of
"Ma'at"versus the Erinyes
Greek mythology tells us vividly of the characters of their gods and goddesses. A good example of that is the myth of the Erinyes (who are also called the Furies or Eumenides) who have risen from Uranus' blood, which the goddess Gaia, the fruit-bearing and live giving, had received. Their siblings are the Titans and the Nymphs.
The Erinyes where the maintainers of the natural laws of life and they pursued and punished those who would break the sacred laws.
From the classical texts by Aeschylus and Euripides we learn about the actions of the punishing Erinyes, how they pursued Orestes after he had killed his mother, and how they finally pushed him into insanity since he had violated the rules of the cosmic order to which the mother right belonged.
In the Greek mythology the Erinyes are the highly alert and vengeful earth goddesses. The idea of a cosmic order that must not be broken has likely also been held by other cultures and civilizations, which partly either didn't leave us any written testimony of their orders and concepts of wrongdoing or which didn't leave us any texts that we are able to fully understand. However we often have images and pictorial contents, the artefacts left to us by many ancient cultures, that can tell us about their notions and world views and how they framed their understanding of their gods and deities.
The ancient Egyptian pantheon for example consists of a wealth of images and allows us to continuously gain new insights and perspectives about early "religious" thinking.
In the scientific literature of the Egyptologists a core term of the ancient Egyptian civilization is connected with the term Ma'at, which is seen as equal in meaning with the goddess Ma'at. When we juxtapose the meaning and the effect of the Greek Erinyes with that of the Egyptian goddess Ma'at we find some basic differences within an intersecting frame of reference given by the fact that both concepts of deities relate to a "cosmic order".
In our habitual thinking the term 'justice', which is embedded in laws and enforced by a government, is thought homocetrically. When we discuss how natural laws, and with that a cosmic order, is being damaged, the human wellbeing forms the primary centre of concern and the focus is set on the human measurement of all physical and psychological entities. Religions, especially the monotheistic ones, are being enacted as guidelines in settling laws as directives
There is no civilisation which sufficiently resembles the ancient Egyptian concepts with its term Ma'at and its connected body of meaning, scholars say. Question: why should the worldviews of ancient civilizations and cultures necessarily be compatible with our contemporary worldviews?
There are hardly any depictions of the Erinyes, whereas we know images that show the goddess Ma'at. She is amongst other forms depicted as a woman with two big wings. Winged beings are those at home on the earth and in the sky. So Ma'at is an earth goddess inasmuch as she is a celestial goddess.
Spread wings also stand for a position of balance. Maybe humans have been watching nonhuman animals closely since millennia, especially perhaps the flight of the birds and their ability to rise high into the sky with an outbalanced stroke of the wings.
When we see so obviously many depictions in the ancient Egyptian civilisation of gods and goddesses with animal heads, we have to understand that research hasn't addressed this question all too thoroughly.
Was there a worldview in which humans and nonhuman animals appeared visible as equals within the creation and the cosmic order? Maybe there have been times of cultural achievements in which the human species had not regarded itself as the "crown of the creation".
Africa is a huge continent and Sub-Saharan Africa has often falsifyingly been described as a less developed cultural landscape when compared to "North Africa", i.e. the Maghrib and Egypt. Where do the roots of the ancient Egyptian conceptions of their deities trace back to, and how far do these roots reach back?
The goddess Ma'at is often depicted as how the king holds her on the palm of his hand and how he presents her to the god. This religious act was supposed to show that the ruler had adhered to the principle of Ma'at and that he would thus be deserving of the grace of the god or the gods. The character of the goddess Ma'at does not appear with imperatives or on engraved tables of laws. The people declared to her what they had given to all live with their deeds and actions, to testify that the cosmic order would be maintained and everything could stay in a balance. Further downwards on this page you find a link that gets you to a prayer to Ma'at. With Ma'at the human being is given the importance of being self-ruled of having the ability to decide for him- or herself - and not just being an executor of laws - to not destroy the cosmic order.
Going along with the development of the human abstract ways of thinking, the desire for images and pictures has often been suppressed and "only" kids are usually accepted to make themselves "a picture of the world". Terms such as "justice" and "a world order" are abstractions which sounds good and important to many, but nevertheless are shallow terms. Maybe ancient high cultures did not establish such hollow terms but instead had huge vocabularies that were to be used in vivid images and in a close relation to life.
Here are new images of Ma'at, developed with the idea to jump the gap from the ancient Egyptian culture to our present times. With this, Ma'at is now depicted as a black goddess and she makes herself visible as a goddess of a holistic Africa.
Verily I have come to thee, I have brought to thee Maāt. I have driven away for thee wickedness. I have not done iniquity to mankind. Not have I done harm unto animals. Not have I done wickedness in the place of Maāt. Not have I known evil. Not have I acted wickedly. Not have I done each and every day works above what I should do. Not hath come forth my name to the boat of the Prince. Not have I despised God.
» continue to read, as PDF, 4,9 MB (from: The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Papyros of Ani, Egyptian Text, Transliteration and Translation. E.A. Wallis Budge, pp. 194.)