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Maat or Ma’at is one of the most important yet less known Egyptian deities. A goddess of truth, order, harmony, balance, morality, justice, and law, Maat was honored and beloved throughout most ancient Egyptian kingdoms and periods.
In fact, the goddess with her signature “Feather of Truth” was so central to the Egyptian way of life that her name had become an appellative in Egypt – Maat was the core principle of ethics and morality in most Egyptian societies.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring Maat’s statue.
Who was Maat?
Maat is one of the oldest known Egyptian deities – the earliest records mentioning her go back to over 4,000 years ago, around 2,376 BCE. She is the daughter of the sun-god Ra and is an integral part of one of Egypt’s creation myths.
According to this myth, the god Ra came out of the primaeval mound of creation and placed his daughter Maat (representing harmony and order) in the place of his son Isfet (representing chaos). The meaning of the myth is clear – Chaos and Order are both Ra’s children and he established the world by replacing Chaos with Order.
Once order was established, it was the role of Egypt’s rulers to maintain order, i.e. to make sure that Maat lived on in the kingdom. The devotion of the people and pharaoh to Maat went so far that many of Egypt’s rulers incorporated Maat in their names and titles – Lord of Maat, Beloved of Maat, and so on.
In the later periods of Egypt, the goddess Maat was also viewed as the female counterpart or wife of the god Thoth, himself a god of wisdom, writing, hieroglyphics, and science. Thoth was also sometimes said to be the husband of the goddess Seshat, a minor goddess of writing, but he was mostly connected with Maat.
Maat’s role extended to the afterlife too, not just in the realm of the living. There, in the Egyptian realm of the dead called Duat, Maat was also tasked with helping Osiris to judge the souls of the dead. This further emphasized her role as an “arbiter of truth.”
The goddess herself, however, was portrayed as a physical being too, not just as a concept. In most of her portrayals, she was shown as a slender woman, sometimes carrying an ankh and/or a staff and sometimes with a bird’s wings underneath her arms. Almost always, however, she had a single feather attached to her hair via a headband. This was the famed Feather of Truth.
The Feather of Truth and the Egyptian Afterlife
As the legend goes, after the deceased has been “prepped” by Anubis, Osiris would place their heart on a scale against Maat’s Feather of Truth. The heart was said to be the organ carrying the human soul – that’s why the priests and servants of Anubis would remove all other organs from the deceased’s body during the mummification process but leave in the heart.
If the deceased had lived a righteous life, their heart would be lighter than Maat’s Feather of Truth and their soul would be allowed to pass through the Lily Lake and into the Field of Reeds, a.k.a. paradise.
If, however, their heart was heavier than Maat’s feather, their soul was to be thrown on the floor of the Hall of Truth where the crocodile-faced god Amenti (or Amut) would devour the person’s heart and their soul would cease to exist. There was no Hell in Egyptian mythology but the Egyptians feared that fate nevertheless.
Maat as an Ethical Principle
Maat’s most important role, however, was as a general ethical principle and rule of life. Just like Bushido was the samurai’s moral code and the chivalric code was a European knight’s code of conduct, Maat was the ethical system that all Egyptians followed, not just the military or the royalty.
According to Maat, Egyptians were expected to always be truthful and to act with honor in all matters that involved their families, social circles, their environment, their nation and rulers, and their worship of the gods.
In the later periods of Egypt, the Maat principle also emphasized diversity and its embracing. As the Egyptian empire had grown to incorporate many different kingdoms and ethnicities, Maat taught that every citizen of Egypt was to be treated well. Unlike the neighboring Hebrews, the Egyptians didn’t view themselves as “the gods’ chosen people. Instead, Maat taught them that there was a Cosmic harmony that connects everyone and that the principle of Maat keeps the entire world from slipping back into her brother Isfet’s chaotic embrace.
That didn’t stop the Egyptian pharaohs from viewing themselves as demi-gods, of course, nor did it stop the practice of slavery. However, Maat as a universal principle still applied to the lives of Egypt’s citizens.
Maat remains an important metaphor of the divine order established when the world was created. This makes her one of Egypt’s most important deities.