“Maat”: The Egyptian Goddess of Truth, Justice and Cosmic Order

Ancient Egypt Had a Spiritual Philosophy to Balance the Society

The goddess Maat, the lady of justice and truth, embraces the cartouche of Queen Nefertari between her wings. Tomb of Queen Nefertari (QV 66) in the Valley of the Queens.
The goddess Maat, the lady of justice and truth, embraces the cartouche of Queen Nefertari between her wings. Tomb of Queen Nefertari (QV 66) in the Valley of the Queens.

“Maat”: The Egyptian Goddess of Truth, Justice and Cosmic Order

The rule of Al-Maat says: "The state exists to achieve Al-Maat. Al-Maat must be applied so that the world becomes habitable."

The ancient Egyptian civilization was moral. The pharaohs adopted the values and ethics upon which their society was based, and they eagerly preferred them and made them a priority.

Ancient Egyptian deities in the Pharaonic era represented many natural and social phenomena, abstract concepts and values. There are more than 1,500 gods and goddesses in the ancient Egyptian civilization who almost represent every aspect of life. 

While some texts refer to the gods' specific attributes without mentioning their names, others cite them without referring to their roles, so it isn't easy to record a complete list of them. For example, some gods symbolize growth, the sun, fertility, arts, life and death, and others.

Among the ancient Egyptian goddesses, there was the goddess of truth, justice and divine order, Maat, who is represented in the form of a young lady who is either sitting or standing with an ostrich feather on her head as a symbol of justice and, in some cases, she is depicted with wings. Also, she is often shown carrying an ankh which is the key to life and sometimes she holds a scepter.

Maat is said to have originated when Ra rose from the waters of Nun. For this reason, she was mentioned as the daughter of the sun god Ra and married to Thoth, the god of wisdom.

Besides, Maat was attributed with controlling the seasons of the year and the movement of the stars, which is why Egypt was called “the land of the Nile and Maat.” Moreover, she represented the crucial concept of how the universe was maintained. The ancient Egyptians believed the universe had an order, and Maat kept everything in balance. This idea helped the ancient Egyptians develop a strong sense of morality and justice.

It is still not clear what was the real reason behind the association of Maat with the feather as a symbol. Maybe the reason is that feathers are connected with flight, and therefore with the cosmic world of heaven as a goddess, or perhaps the basis lies in the feather's lightness, which expresses purity and the weight of sins, or for some other reason unknown to us.

After death, everyone had to pass through the Hall of Judgment, where a person's heart was weighed on a scale against Maat's feather of truth. Maat's feather in the afterlife court occupies the omniscient position of knowing what the decedent did in this world to determine if he was a righteous and straight person or was a tyrant, disobedient, and liar. 

There are 42 laws of Maat which are laws recited by the dead while defending himself for Maat during his trial in the underworld, and he has to be honest to escape the torment. They refer to the deep moral disciplines in ancient Egyptian religion and the general social life. Egyptian citizens were expected to act with honor and truth in all matters that involved family, the community, the nation, the environment, and the gods. 

For instance, Maat's laws include principles such as I have not committed a sin, I did not commit robbery with violence, I did not steal, I did not kill men or women, I did not lie, and many others.

According to ancient Egyptians, when the deceased is held accountable in the afterlife, his heart is placed on one side of the scale, and the feather of the goddess Maat is placed on the other. If the feather descends, the decedeint enters Paradise in their beliefs, but if the heart descends, he goes straight to hell, which the ancient Egyptian beliefs represented in the form of an imaginary predatory beast named "Amamout," whose head is the head of a crocodile, its body is a body of a lion and the back of it is a body of hippopotamus. The court in the afterlife consisted of 42 judges, as many as were the provinces of Egypt, and was headed by Osiris.

In ancient times, the king had to prove to the gods that he ruled Egypt with Maat (truth, justice and order) by presenting a symbol of Maat (a woman with a feather on her head) as an offering to all the gods. This offering means approval of Maat's principles in all aspects of life. As the Egyptian texts mentioned, it is the force by which gods and humans live together.

Maat was closer to the spirit in which justice was applied rather than the detailed legal presentation of the rules. She represented the common and fundamental values that formed the backdrop for justice to be implemented in the spirit of truth and fairness. From the Fifth Dynasty, the minister in charge of justice was called the Priest of Maat, and in later periods, judges wore images of Maat.

The oldest evidence of a temple dedicated to the worship of Maat dates back to the New Kingdom (about 1569-1081 BC). Because of the great importance attached to Maat, Amenhotep III ordered the establishment of a temple for her in the Karnak complex, and textual evidence indicates the existence of other temples of Maat in Memphis.

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