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 Egyptian Ma'at

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skywatchr
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PostSubject: Egyptian Ma'at   Thu Oct 22, 2009 2:15 pm

Cosmology

In Egyptian belief, the universe was governed by the force of ma'at. This Egyptian word encompasses several concepts in English, including "truth," "justice," and "order." It referred to the fixed, eternal order of the universe, both in nature and in human society. This was the most fundamental of all natural forces, believed to have existed from the creation of the universe, which ensured the continued existence of the world. Among humans, ma'at meant that all people and all classes of society lived in harmony. Any disruption of ma'at was inherently harmful, so all people were expected to behave in accordance with it.

In nature, ma'at meant that all the forces of nature existed in balance. It included the cyclical patterns of time—the cycle of day and night and of the seasons, and of human generations. While the Egyptians recognized that time is linear, they also saw it as cyclical, in that each of these patterns represented a renewal of ma'at and a defeat of disorder, and thus a repetition of the original creation of the universe. Therefore, the theme of cosmic renewal was present in many Egyptian rituals.

Ma'at also included the structure of the world, which kept each element in its place. The Egyptians had a specific vision of this structure. In this view, the world was surrounded by infinite expanse of water from which it had originally arisen. This water was personified as the god Nun. The earth was envisioned as a flat plate of land, represented by the god Geb. Above him arched the body of the sky goddess Nut, who represented the surface of the primordial water. Shu, the air, stood between Geb and Nut and separated them. During the day, the sun god Ra traveled over the earth, across the inner surface of Nut. At night, Ra was thought to be swallowed by Nut, and pass through her body, or on the outside of the sky, through a region called the Duat. With each new sunrise, Nut gave birth to him again. By the New Kingdom, however, the Duat was also sometimes identified with a region beneath the earth, and Ra was said to sail beneath the horizon to rise into the sky the next morning.


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PostSubject: Egyptian Afterlife   Thu Oct 22, 2009 2:17 pm

The Egyptians had elaborate beliefs about death and the afterlife. They believed that humans possessed a ka, or life-force, which left the body at the point of death. In life, the ka received its sustenance from food and drink, so it was believed that, to endure after death, the ka must continue to receive offerings of food, whose spiritual essence it could still consume. Each person also had a ba, the set of characteristics distinguishing one individual from another, similar to the concept of a personality. Unlike the ka, the ba remained attached to the body after death. Egyptian funeral rituals were intended to release the ba from the body so that it could move freely, and to rejoin it with the ka so that it could live on as an akh. However, it was also important that the body of the deceased be preserved, as the Egyptians believed that the ba returned to its body each night to receive new life, before emerging in the morning as an akh.

Originally, however, the Egyptians believed that only the pharaoh had a ba, and only he could become one with the gods; dead commoners remained dead. The nobles received tombs and the resources for their upkeep as gifts from the king, and their ability to enter the afterlife was believed to be dependent on these royal favors. In early times the deceased pharaoh was believed to dwell among the circumpolar stars, which never set in the Egyptian sky and were therefore regarded as eternal. Over the course of the Old Kingdom, he came to be more closely associated with the daily rebirth of the sun god Ra and with the cyclical death and resurrection of the fertility god Osiris as those deities grew more important.

During the late Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period, the possession of a ba and the possibility of a paradisiacal afterlife gradually extended to all Egyptians. To reach this pleasant afterlife, the soul had to avoid a variety of supernatural dangers, before undergoing a final judgment known as the "Weighing of the Heart". In this judgment, the gods compared the actions of the deceased while alive (symbolized by the heart, the center of reason and emotion in Egyptian belief) to ma'at (symbolized by a feather), to determine whether he or she had behaved in accordance with ma'at. If the deceased had not done so in life, then he or she could not be expected to do so in the afterlife, and was thus destroyed by the demon Ammut. If the deceased was judged worthy, his or her ka and ba were united into an akh. Specific beliefs about the destination of the akh varied. The vindicated dead were often said to dwell in Osiris' kingdom, a lush and pleasant land believed to exist somewhere beyond the western horizon, but kings, and sometimes commoners as well, were often said to travel with Ra across the sky. Over the course of the Middle and New Kingdoms, the notion that the akh could also travel in the world of the living, and to some degree magically affect events there, became increasingly prevalent
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