Ma’at and Matters of the Heart: A Look At Spiritual Law and Order in Ancient Egypt

What do the law and the afterlife have in common? Perhaps not much in today’s world, but in ancient Egypt, they were very closely linked through the concept of ma’at.

“Ma’at” refers to an ancient principle that encompassed the foundations of Egyptian civilization: truth, justice, and harmony. These ideals were personified in the form of a female deity of the same name. The goddess Ma’at served as the Egyptian spirit of justice, and her main role was to judge souls that wished to reach the afterlife. She was most often depicted as a woman with outstretched wings and held an ostrich feather in her hair.

The ancient Egyptians viewed Ma’at as the spiritual core of their civilization. Since their culture and way of life revolved around the balance between order and chaos, they relied on her to provide the order. Ma’at was the one who made sure the seasons kept changing, the stars kept turning, and the relationship between Heaven and Earth stayed strong. She gave their world purpose and rationality.

As the spirit of all creation, Ma’at was also responsible for judging souls with her Feather of Truth. When deceased souls wished to move on to the afterlife, she would weigh their hearts against her feather to make sure they were unburdened by sin or evil. If a person’s heart was found to be in balance with the feather, that person’s soul would be allowed to continue down the path to paradise.

As a judge of souls, Ma’at also represented law in ancient Egypt. Her name and her symbols were often used in law courts and the justice system starting in the 5th dynasty. If an Egyptian was found guilty of a crime—such as dishonesty, laziness, or injustice—he or she might face punishments like fines or corporal punishment, in addition to the later judgment he or she would eventually face in the Underworld.

While Egyptian culture was beholden to order, Egyptians believed that every individual should be responsible for living his or her life. If they lived in harmony with ma’at and followed the will of the gods, they had the best chance of passing Ma’at’s test and crossing over to paradise. With paradise as the ultimate desire—perhaps even greater than the wish to avoid punishment under the law—people had a tremendous incentive to live orderly, law-abiding lives.

Can a person’s adherence to morality, justice, and truth reflect their place in the order of the universe? Is the law somehow connected to the human spirit on an intrinsic level? Based on their gods and their cultural values, the ancient Egyptians seemed to think so. While today we tend to think in less esoteric terms, we can still learn a great deal from the followers of Ma’at.

At Calevoso Law, we understand the importance of a balanced approach to the practice of law. We strive to offer you effective legal counsel for a compliant, successful, and harmonious business. Give us a call to discuss your needs with our experienced entertainment lawyers.