Some Musings on Ma’at

Now and then, it’s wonderful to hear from others about their interests  and read their interesting research. Please welcome my guest contributor, Dr. Christopher Dalrymple, a Templar Knight with a curiosity for all things Masonic!

The ancient Egyptian pantheon is a confusing and convoluted concept.  This EDUTAINMENT presentation will bring some clarity to the family tree of the Egyptian gods.  It’s overall intention is to be an entertaining and informative look at the ancient Egyptian concept of being just and upright.  Some 8000 years (or more) old, many of the early concepts of justice and right are quite similar to Masonic tenants today.

The concept of being just and upright is some 8000+ years old, if not older.  In doing some personal research I came across the ancient Egyptian concepts pertaining to Justice and found them to be fascinating.  I will introduce to you, hopefully in an entertaining way, some of the Egyptian pantheon (their list of gods) and their concept of justice.

I do NOT claim to be an expert on the Egyptian pantheon, but I found it helpful to review their concepts of how their gods and goddesses represent abstract concepts and thought I’d share an introduction from a website at Vertiable Hokum.  It is not authoritative, as you will find a wide variation of presentations, but as my PPT shows it is an “almost historical presentation.”

Egyptian gods

While the Greeks probably have the most famous pantheon, one of the earliest, and one from which the Greeks tended to borrow heavily, was that of the Egyptians. Egypt had one of the largest and most complex pantheons of gods of any civilization in the ancient world.  It is clear that it represents not only various elements and forces found in the ancient world, but also abstract aspects of their complex societies.

BRIEFLY the ancient Egyptian creation story goes like this:

• In the beginning there was chaos (Apep).

• Out of “waters of chaos” the first god (Nun) bore a bark (a ship or boat).

• The first “god on earth” was Atum (the all, perfection) who created the other gods.

• Aten (the Sun) was considered an aspect of Ra (the sun god), who “rode his boat across the sky, to be swallowed by the sky goddess (Nut) in the evening and to be reborn by her in the morning.

• Amun (hiddenness), the god of the air, is an ostrich-feather-hat wearing god that became merged with Ra (Amun-Ra).

• Mut, the wife of Amun was the mother of all the other gods and from whom the Egyptian pantheon evolved.

These gods all had names, individual personalities and characteristics. Each deity had their own area of expertise but were often associated with several spheres of human life.  The most famous major deities were a group of nine Egyptian Gods whose cult was based at Heliopolis, or in Hebrew – On; which was believed to be the point of creation and the was the birthplace of these famous deities who were called the Divine Family.

These major Egyptian deities were:

Atum, the Sun God, Ra

Shu, God of Wind

Tefnut, Goddess of Rain

Geb, God of the Earth

Nut, Goddess of Sky

Isis, Goddess of Love

Nephthys, Goddess of Divine Assistance

Osiris, God of Death

Set, God of Disharmony

There were over 2,000 deities in the Egyptian pantheon.  A number of these gods date as far back as 6000 BC and most to at least several thousand years BC.  The more famous gods became statewide deities, while others were associated with a specific region or, in some cases, a ritual, role, or an abstract concept.  Thus, this pantheon serves as humanity’s early attempt at science–observing and explaining (theorizing) what is observed.  Ancient Egyptian culture grew out of an understanding of these deities and the role they played in the immortal journey of every human being.

Some of these gods and goddesses explained immaterial values. The central value of the ancient Egyptian culture was ma’atharmony and balance – represented by the goddess of the same name and her white ostrich feather. We’ll get back to her in a moment.

Egyptian gods evolved from an animistic belief system (one in which everything is inhabited by spirit and has a soul),  to one which was highly anthropomorphic (having human characteristics) and imbued with magic – unknown forces, or heka.  Heka is the Egyptian word for magic, referring to mysterious power.

The name of this energy, heka, is among the oldest of Egypt, recognized as early as c. 6000 BC.  His name was the hieroglyph for power and “he was viewed as a god of inestimable power” who was feared by the other gods.  The word Heka referred to 1) the deity, 2) the concept of magic and 3) the practice of magic.  Heka, with a capital H is the personification of magic itself; heka with a lower case h is both the “mysterious force of, and the practice of magic.”  Stated another way, heka is the primordial energy at the creation of the cosmos and Heka is the personification of that primordial energy.

Since magic was a significant aspect of medical practice, a physician would invoke Heka.  As such, Heka also became the god of medicine who, according to myth, fought and conquered two serpents, and so two intertwined serpents became symbolic of his power, what we know today as the caduceus.

The Ancient Egyptians believed the soul had three parts,  the ka, the ba, and the akh.  The ka and ba were spiritual entities that everyone possessed. The ka was essentially the life force that at death was separated from the body. The word Heka is a compound of two words, heka.

  • “He” was the symbol of entwined loops, the snakes if you will, to symbolize time, infinity, and eternity.
  • Ka was used to symbolize power, energy, spirit, life and is represented by two upraised arms.

Ka is our Moral Essence, the essence-nature of life potential that we can exemplify or embody from the power of our hands & arms, as actions and deeds. Ka is a part of our “Ka-racter”,  our “ka-risma”,  it is who we are, our character, behavior, actions and deeds. Our ka has a moral potential to continually evolve consciousness into more authentic versions of ourselves.  The ka was dependent upon the body because it was means by which our spiritual selves manifested action in the physical world – the power by which the thoughts and commands of the creator became reality. The reason the ancient Egyptians made such extensive and elaborate preparation of the dead body for the afterlife was to ensure the ka had a home.  Without a body the spirit is impotent, they believed.

The ba, the ancient Egyptians held, was a spiritual aspect.  It was seen in the hieroglyphics as a human-headed bird hovering over the deceased or exiting the tomb, and was the part of the soul that could travel between the worlds of the living and the dead.

The akh, was another spiritual aspect and “was the transfigured spirit that survived death and mingled with the gods.”

The akh was an entity reserved for only the select few whose souls were worthy of being declared ma’at kheru. “An akh is the blessed or ‘transfigured’ soul of a person who died and whose soul had been judged and found ma’at kheru – just and upright.

Heka (both upper and lower case) was therefore originally the power who 1) watched over one’s soul, 2) gave one’s soul power or energy, and 3) allowed it to be elevated in death to the afterlife if declared Ma’at Keru.

But what was Ma’at kheru, the declaration that permitted certain people into the afterlife as akh (essentially–saints)?

Ma’at – Just “do right”

Ma’at was the goddess of truth, justice and balance.  The term Ma’at Kheru is a term used to declare the prevailing party in a civil trial in ancient Egypt.  That party would be declared ‘true of voice’ or ‘justified’ – ma’at kheru.

Ma’at is literally the Egyptian word for truth, one of the earliest abstract terms in human speech.  On a cosmic level ma’at governed the proper functioning of the universe and kept the world’s elements fixed in their proper places.

The ancient Egyptians believed that the creator established a balanced and harmoniously functioning universe governed by ma’at.  Imbalance in the world came, not through the existence of some evil force personification, but from human choices and human behavior. 

The ancient Egyptians held to the concepts of “justice” and a code of rules, “law”.  There is archaeological evidence that they were much more interested in justice than in rules. Justice was a factor of daily life, discussed in connection with not only earthly life, but also the afterlife. Laws were the written rules intended to point to ma’at.

Ma‛at summed up for them all that was highest in human life.  It was behavior that promoted balanced, harmonious relationships between people.  It was behavior that was “right, correct, just, orderly, true.”

The opposite of ma‛at was – wrong, incorrect, or antisocial behavior, disorder, falsehood, and injustice.  Today humans attempt to control these unjust actions by religious commandments and codes of civil law. The ancient Egyptian law was essentially based on a concept of justice. Ma‛at governed human affairs and served as a yardstick against which the Egyptians measured most of their important experiences. Man “did ma‛at” because it was good and because the deities desired it.

Ma‛at was realized when justice was effected.  To be just meant to protect the weak from the strong and to accomplish equality.  It came to mean “right, true, truth, real, genuine, upright, righteous, just, steadfast”. and all these conceptions were represented in Egyptian speech by a single word, ma‛at.

Wrong actions appeared to them to be behavioral aberrations that impeded human beings from being happy. Not conforming to ma‛at brought disharmony and unhappiness. So, as in Biblical tales, the woes of humankind, are largely due to their own choices.

The ancient Egyptians did not need to believe in ma‛at; they just had to experience it. The wisdom texts advised them to do so through observing the results of their behavior when opposing ma‛at or when in conformity with it.  Ma‛at became the personification of justice, who awarded to every man his due.

Ma’at related to activities of human life and the cosmos in general. Ma‛at ordered the universe. She represents the equilibrium, which the universe has reached through the process of creation, enabling it to conform to its true nature. As such, she is moderator of all things, from justice to the integration of a dead man’s soul into the universal order at the time of the final judgement.

Like the forces of nature, Ma‛at was established at the creation, created by the creator god and was placed in the cosmos to bring order. Ma‛at essentially meant “the way things ought to be.” The goal was to keep the chaotic forces at bay, both in the world and within oneself. The legal system was based on this foundation. The ordered existence of the cosmos was reflected by the ordered existence of humankind, so humankind sought harmony with the cosmic order.

An effective definition of what doing ma‛at is and what its rewards are: loving the good, hating wrongdoing and obtaining a state of honor with the king and the god. The most significant element of ma‛at appears to be “not doing evil (that which is harmful).” So, like the Hippocratic oath, the first rule of Ma’at seems to be “do no harm.”

The Judgement of the Dead, or the “weighing of the heart”, that we see on the powerpoint shows ma‛at in action.  Many Egyptian texts explain that the heart is the organ that receives ma‛at and emits ma‛at.  The heart, symbolically representing the ba (the soul) is weighed on the scale against the ostrich feather of Ma‛at.

If the heart was heavier than the feather, it was heavy with evil deeds.  In other words, it was not full of truth and justice – and the devourer would consume the departed. If, however, the heart was in balance with the feather, it meant the soul was full of righteousness, goodness, truth, and justice and allowed the deceased to be declared, “true of voice” or ma’at kheru and be transferred by Horus to the care of Osiris to become an akh (saint) to commune with the gods.

The scales are the instrument of Truth and involve the natural and automatic functioning of a natural law. The heart is the organ of circulation and the feather, by its lightness, symbolizes immaterial energy.  The weighing of the heart is a symbolic representation that the cosmic energy of Ma’at that is free to circulate through the heart is the way by which men participate in maintaining the balance of the cosmic as well as the human world and the free flow of life. The primary aim of the scales is to portray the cosmic exchange of ma‛at.  In other words it shows the balance obtained through the right circulation of ma‛at through the heart.  

Says one ancient writing:  “Execute justice (ma‛at), that you may endure on earth. Calm the weeper, and do not oppress the widow; Do not expel a man from his father’s property; Do not wrongfully expel an official from his office. Beware lest you punish wrongfully. Do not kill, for it is no benefit to you, punish instead with beatings and with imprisonment, for this land shall be well founded under such actions.

Titles such as “defender of the orphan”, “rescuer of the fearful”, and “husband to the widow” point to the special role that followers of Ma’at were to assume in protecting those who had been improperly deprived of legal recourse.

Since very little documentary evidence of codified law in Egypt has survived, many scholars have assumed its absence.  But according to the ancient Greeks, the ancient Egyptians had a working legal system and laws.  The Greeks went to Egypt to “gain knowledge of its noteworthy laws and customs” and noted that the Egyptians promulgated “the best laws”.

In ancient Egypt, the “law” was the divine law based on a common-sense view of right and wrong, and following the concept of ma‛at – good, truth, order, just and upright.

KA-recter      MA’AT-ers

Dr. Christopher Dalrymple, Ma'at,
Dr. Christopher Dalrymple

Dr. Dalrymple’s Bio:  Beginning his Masonic journey 30 years ago, Dr. Dalrymple has served in most offices in the blue lodge and is a past secretary of Graham Lodge No. 20, as well a past master of both Graham and Olive Branch Lodge No. 26.

For 25 years he has been a member of the Brenham York Rite Bodies–Brenham Chapter No. 5, Council No. 22 and Commandery No. 15.  He is a past high priest, thrice illustrious master, and eminent commander of those bodies, and continues to serve as their treasurer today.  He has served as the district deputy for the Texas Grand Chapter and Grand Council. He has helped charter several masonic bodies in Texas, being a charter member of Tranquility Lodge No. 2000 A.F.& A.M and of General Henry Bates Stoddard Knight Mason Council No. 87.  He is a past Excellent Chief of that body.  He is also a charter member of the Dr. George M. Patrick Chapel of the Commemerative Order of St. Thomas of Acon. He is a past Worthy Master of that chapel.

He is a charter member of the Grand Province of the United States of the Commemorative Order of St. Thomas of Acon, serving as a Provincial Grand Treasurer.  When that province became independent of its mother order in England, he became a charter member of The Commemerative Order of St. Thomas of Acon, USA, where he currently serves as Grand Treasurer and Grand Warden of Regalia.  He is also a charter member of the Grand Province of Texas of the USA’s Order of Acon, currently serving as its Provincial Grand Treasurer.

He has been awarded as a Knight Commander of the Red Branch of Eri by G. C. Sanders Council  No. 402, of the Allied Masonic Degrees.  He previously served as the presiding officer of that body. 18 years ago he became a member of the Gulf Coast York Right College No. 106.  He served as the Governor for Texas York Rite College No. 14 in 2016 and currently serves as their treasurer.  He also currently serves as the treasurer of Texas State Capitol Assemblage of the Masonic body The Operatives. In 2001 he was inducted into the Knights of the York Cross of Honor.  In 2012 he was invited into the Ascension Conclave of the Red Cross of Constantine.  In 2017 he was awarded the Order of the Purple Cross from the Grand Sovereign York Rite College of North America.

Additionally, he did his undergraduate studies at Baylor University and graduated with my doctorate degree from Texas Chiropractic College in 1982.  In 2002 he was admitted a Fellow of the International College of Chiropractors; he has been awarded as Texas’ Young Chiropractor of the year, The the Keeler Award as the chiropractor of the year, and numerous other awards.