Ma’at ruled everything, which made her a very busy goddess. Every day she helped Ra to steer his boat across the sky, making a path for the sun. She was the partner of Thoth and the mother of the eight deities known as the Chief Gods and Goddesses of Hermopolis.
Beyond being the force which kept the Egypt functioning as an orderly society, Ma’at held an important role in the afterlife. She not only kept order among the living, but served as the judge of the afterlife.
Ma’at’s ability to view truth and justice was key in judging a soul.
Osiris room at Dendera — Ma’at flanks Osiris mummy
When an Egyptian died, the process of mummification included leaving the heart within the body. Egyptians considered the heart to be the soul of the person, by which he or she would be judged in the afterlife. After death, Ma’at would judge the hearts of the dead in Osiris’s Judgment Halls of the Dead. Once the dead reached the halls, Ma’at would weigh the heart of each person against the weight of her ostrich feather. If the heart weighed the same or less than the feather, they were considered just and worthy of continuing into the Duat, or everlasting afterlife.
If the scales indicated that the heart was heavier than the feather, then the person was shown to not be a follower of Ma’at during his or her life. The consequence of this was that the deceased was refused an afterlife and the heart was eaten by a demon. In some versions of the judgment, the crocodile-headed Ammut would devour the entire person.
More Than Just a Goddess
Ra & Ma’at
The many different names of Ma’at give an idea of her importance to Egyptian society. Egyptians referred to Ma’at as:
- Eye of Ra
- Mistress of the Underworld
- Queen of the Earth
- Lady of Heaven
- Lady of the Gods and Goddesses
Egyptians saw Ma’at as an everlasting goddess. By representing order, she became the most important goddess of ancient Egypt.
Pharaohs Worshiped Ma’at
Pharaohs in ancient Egypt weren’t simply rulers, but were also seen as gods. The idea that all gods worshiped and respected Ma’at meant that the pharaohs of Egypt must also seek Ma’at in order to prosper. Egyptians believed that if a pharaoh did not follow Ma’at, the chaos would return and destroy the world.
Many pharaohs wanted to show that Ma’at blessed them and that they were everything Ma’at represented. Wanting to be seen as good leaders, they would often call themselves the “Lords of Ma’at.” This showed that they had truth and justice in their hearts. Egypt’s pharaohs often took great efforts to discredit previous rulers. This practice strengthened their position of power. By saying that the previous pharaoh did not have Ma’at in his heart, the current pharaoh would position himself as the savior of Egypt by restoring truth, justice and order.
Hunefer’s Book of the Dead, detail with Horus and pavilion
Because Egyptians saw Ma’at as the judge of souls in the afterlife, Egyptian judges based Egyptian law on the teachings of Ma’at. The spirit of Ma’at became the idea behind how Egyptian judges applied justice. Starting in the fifth dynasty, Egyptians referred to the head of justice as the “Priest of Ma’at.” After 2370 BCE, judges continued to wear the image of Ma’at while on duty.
Egyptian judges believed that justice and fairness equaled peace and harmony. In order to have a peaceful society, justice through Ma’at was very important.
Facts About Ma’at
- Ma’at became the basis of Egyptian culture
- She represented leadership, philosophy and law
- Ra placed Ma’at at the center of all creation
- She was worshiped by pharaohs, who often called themselves “Lords of Ma’at”