In Kemeticism, we have a concept called Ma’at (also a Goddess). Ma’at is an easy thing to get us Kemetics to start chatting about, as it’s sort of something we’re a little bit obsessed with, for good reason. This is because upholding Ma’at is the greatest offering you can give to the Gods of Kemet, and to yourself, really. The conceptual form of Ma’at is represented by the ostrich feather – notable (as a feather) for its lightness. The theory is that when a person’s heart/soul is “in line with Ma’at”, it is “lighter than a feather.” When we die (assuming we believe literally in the Ancient Egyptian afterlife, which many of us do not necessarily take word-for-word, myself included), the judgement of our hearts against Ma’at is a real trial, the result of which determines whether or not we will end up in the beautiful eternal paradise of an afterlife or if we’ll be eaten by the monster Ammit, dooming us forever to darkness and a lack of existence. Regardless of one’s belief in such a process after death, it is still of pinnacle importance for any Kemetic (and any decent peson, really, I’d argue) to live a life of Ma’at in the waking world.
What exactly “living a life of Ma’at” entails varies depending on the Kemetic you speak with, but it can be boiled down to the following: Ma’at is the opposite of isfet, therefore, living a life of Ma’at involves not living a life of isfet.
So what is isfet then? Isfet means roughly (in the Kemetic language) “chaos.” Isfet is, essentially, all of the bad things in the world – all of the sins of humanity (disrespect, intolerance, racism, rape, cheating, stealing, dishonesty, assault, pollution, murder, etc.). It’s also, in a less harsh, if somewhat more complex, sense: anything that throws a situation or person “out of balance.” Because, see, that’s what Ma’at is: balance. Ma’at is the order to isfet’s chaos; Ma’at is the justice to isfet‘s injustice.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? If not, you will in a second, because I’m about to spell it out.
The truth is, Ma’at and isfet are eternally tied together. Without one, the other would not exist. In much the same way that many of our own secular fairytales teach us that we cannot judge goodness without knowing what evil is, and vice versa (remember Pandora and her box?), Ma’at and isfet work in a similar way. The Greek myth teaches us that the “escape of evil” into the world wasn’t so devastating in the end, because it gave humanity the ability to not only appreciate that which is good (and recognize the meaning of “goodness” in the first place), but it birthed the concept of hope. And how powerful and beautiful hope is, in times of great distress? It can be incredibly powerful.
It gets complicated, though, when we take into consideration situational context. Sometimes understanding the difference between “right” and “wrong” can be incredibly difficult…sometimes we are faced with “catch 22″ decisions, or decisions where we are forced to pick the lesser of two evils. There’s an infamous shopping cart theory out there in regards to how we should approach the concept of Ma’at and making the best “Ma’at decisions.” Not everyone subscribes to the shopping cart theory in full, and that’s perfectly ok (some people can relate to parts of it, others to none of it, and still others completely to it)…the point is, Ma’at doesn’t always mean the same thing to every Kemetic. Ma’at can mean “orderly” more often to some Kemetics; it can mean “balance” more often to others. And still others interpret it differently…perhaps in a more justice-oriented manner: “an eye for an eye.”
But I digress. This post was supposed to be about isfet, not Ma’at.
Let’s face it: there’s a lot of bad in this world. I personally like to believe that for every bad person you might find, there will be 10 good people to help make up for that person’s terribleness. But maybe I’m just an optimist. Either way, there’s a lot of shitty people and a lot of shitty situations in the world right now…perhaps less than in the past, perhaps not. I don’t know enough about history, personally, to make a claim in either direction. Whatever the case, events like the Boston bombing a week or so ago, as well as the horrific bombings and attacks and genocide that still happen in other places around the world (much more frequently than they do in America), sometimes do make it hard to recognize what good there is around us. It’s easy to get taken in by isfet in our personal lives too, when we or loved ones are treated terribly by another person or persons…and it doesn’t help that our world is fraught with sensationalist-style media, that hypes up even the most minor of bad situations. It also doesn’t help that many of the political/institutional systems set in place to help those in need are flawed themselves.
It’s undeniable that the world, despite all of the good, is still full of racism, intolerance, and hate, and the people who are proponents of such things…the people who desire power, or control, or are simply too messed up in the head to know the difference. In many ways it’s sad. Many of these people are worthy of our pity, despite their evil natures. Perhaps they have stories too…hate and violence perpetuate more hate and violence, so they say. It’s a vicious, complicated cycle.
Will it ever end?
I recently read a book (and by recently, I mean I finished it yesterday) called Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives of North Koreans by journalist Barbara Demick. It’s an incredible account of several stories told by real-life North Korean women and men about their former lives, who have since defected from their country into China and South Korea. Unless you’re living under a rock, most people throughout the world (especially in the U.S.) are acutely aware of the situation in North Korea, at least politically, as they stand in relation to countries like us (the U.S.), Japan, and South Korea right now. Recent events have heightened a sense of watchfulness and danger on our parts; North Korea could essentially “act” at any time (negatively, of course). While their totalitarian, screwed up government is well known around the world, what many people don’t realize is how the regular citizens of North Korea live…or rather, die. Because most of them are starving. Over 10% of the population died of starvation in the late 1990s. In the late 1990s. Do you know what I was doing in the late 1990s, in the free country of the United States of America? Not starving, that’s for sure. I was watching Nickelodeon on TV and playing Pokemon on my Nintendo Gameboy.
I highly recommend the above book. It’s painful because it’s the truth. North Korea is an ugly world…and sadly, not the only ugly world out there. The Middle East, parts of Africa…there are some scary, sad places out there right now…even in this modern day and age. It’s sometimes incredibly overwhelming: how can we, the “good”, help those in need? How can we possibly put an end to all of this isfet?
The first step, believe it or not, is education.
Know thy enemy.
As hard as it might be, opening ourselves to the evils of the world in an educational sense is the first step to stopping them. Understanding the unknown, the different, the strange, and the often-times unbelievable and horrific can open the doorway to taking action. Information is power. It might be hard to read a book such as the one above, about North Korea, but I truly believe that more people need to. How else do we know where to start? How else do we take the truth and make it our own? And sure, it’s going to be hard, even after we’re educated. I don’t know the next step in helping the citizens of North Korea, even now. And in many ways, as one, normal, every-day American girl, I can’t help first-hand even if I did know how to try. The larger situation is very much out of my control.
But at least I know. And because I know, I can talk about it with others. I can help them to become aware. I can recommend that book. I can compare the experiences described there to my own experiences living in Japan, an Asian country so opposite North Korea nowadays it is like black and white. I can tell people about the South Koreans I met in my Japanese school and how kind, and funny, and amazing they were. I can advocate international travel to Americans (which in turn is advocating learning about other cultures and understanding them at their roots, their origins), I can donate money when I can to international aid, I can pay attention to my own government and show support where it’s needed, and take a stand where it’s not. I can do more for the domestic woes around me, as well (for gay rights, for civil rights, etc.), knowing that we have to start somewhere…and sometimes it’s more practical and effective to start a little closer to home.
And then there’s the second step: I can hope. Because when the world was opened to evil, it was also opened to hope.
I believe that no matter what: hope is the destroyer of isfet. Hope is what drives the workings of Ma’at. Hope is what keeps us from giving up, letting the evils around us win. Ma’at is definitely about balance, and it’s definitely about justice, and it’s definitely about order…but it’s also about hope.
“I wish the ring had never come to me,” Frodo Baggins desperately wishes in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is Gandalf’s famous response that we should all try to remember, when isfet appears around us:
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Never give up hope. Let is feed you. Let is sustain you. Even in the smallest sense, try to open yourself, and let it help you decide what to do with the time and the means that are given to you.
And it will be a start.