The understanding of Ma’at and kingship in Ancient Egypt
“Man can not live without a state. The reason is: He needs a parent institution, who realizes and guarantees Ma’at. The individual can only act in a limited and dependent framework […] But to extend Ma’at into a bigger sphere where communicative, trust- and understanding-based action becomes possible at all, it requires a higher-leveled institution. This institution is the kingship.” (translated from Jan Assmann, Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit im Alten Ägypten)
The Ancient Egyptian culture assumes the creation not as a sudden appearance of the world out of nothing but as a disorderly state forming an order by the act of a creator god. Since the creator gods are immanent in the creation they may be regarded even BE this order. For the goddess Ma’at this appears to be very obvious. Order – from an Ancient Egyptian point of view – is something that needs to be recreated constantly to prevent chaos, to “fight Isfet” and thus the failing of the ongoing process of creation. This assumption of how creation is performed provides the image after which the role of the king is created. The king IS the personification of the order in a social and also cosmic sphere. He is the bringer of Ma’at and he is the melting point between divinity and the sphere of man because Ma’at is also the offering, the sacrifice which is presented to the gods. It might also be considered as the act of keeping up the order of creation in the human sphere by cult and ritual in order to continue what has once been begun by the gods, the first cycle of creation also named zep-tepi.
In a social sphere Ma’at appears to be what is called “connective justice” and the king is the maintainer of this condition. This means the individual is acting unselfish, social and possibly even altruistic in a sense of “advanced payment” while trusting that this acting will not be abused or exploited since the institution of the king is going to care of a fair sharing. In Ancient Egypt this was of course mostly about agricultural goods and work performance. Herein lies a probably a major difference to the more altruistic act of “loving thy neighbor” in Christianity. If there is no real (physical) higher institution to protect the justice in a community any beforehand act of giving is threatened to be exploited and abused. Only the hope that social acting will finally be rewarded by a god after death far away from the sphere of man remains as a motivation to act socially.
The manifestation of Ma’at today
So far the ideal of Ancient Egyptian kingship, state and cosmic order. It is comprehensible that this ideal has seldomly been fulfilled in ancient times and most likely even less today. This ideal has grown out of the social and natural enviroment in Egypt so the society was probably still closer to this ideal than the Kemetic community can be today. The problem is we do not have an actual physical “land” we put our feet on, we do not have field crops from this land we are supposed to share with each other and we do not have a flood we need to make use of collectively to be able to make our fields fertile.
Additionally each of us lives simultaneously in many societies trying to contribute to them as an individual as best as we can. We act as employees, as family members, as friends, as club members, religious communities etc. serving different social structures and social leading figures. We are overworked and burned out both in our working times and our spare time. In Ancient Egypt social duties were all focused into ONE order — the ancient Egyptian state. And Ma’at had a political, a social, and a cosmic dimension. The only thing it hardly showed was an individual sphere because the individual was supposed to step back behind the community. Community was the provider of livelihood and everyone was aware of that and had an interest to maintain the community for his or her very own good. We may call this actually and anti-narcissistic principle. And sadly, this is the major difficulty we are facing today if we want to live according to Ma’at. Today the individual is in the center of our social awareness. If we naturally put ourselves in the first place – which is basically narcissism – we follow the dictate of modern society. Narcisissm is being rewarded while altruism is being exploited. If we pursue ideals of social behavior and generosity we are threatened to be the ones who will be abused by the rest of a society which has long-since been determined by the means of survival of the most relentless.
Divine kingship in modern Kemeticism?
The only chance we might have today to form societies according to our Kemetic faith is to establish small “island communities” and try to manifest Ma’at. In this situation a small leadership or even kingship does undoubtedly have its right to exist. I personally tend to view it as a form of experimental archeology and follow it with some interest if I hear about it. A lot of BNP have – probably more out of coincidence – ended up in social top positions but hardly any of them shows actual leader skills. Skills of narcissistic showmanship however are widespread.
The problem is that especially in paganism a notion of “order- and hierarchy animosity” is predominant. In Kemeticism this animosity is a lot weaker because the Kemetic faith still contains hierarchical elements and Kemetics usually struggle less with these than other pagan traditions. The disorientation new pagans may sometimes face in the broad pagan sphere is a way smaller problem in organized Kemetic communities. Organized communities may limit the individual spiritual development but this limitation is being rewarded by receiving the “social warmth” and safety of a pretty stable social structure protected by a leading figure. It is a “deal” everyone needs to make up his or her mind about individually and a decision that deserves respect because after all this IS part of the Kemetic faith and not – as often assumed – a mere lack of autonomy. Modern kingship or leadership is probably more about being a parent rather than “a ruler”.