Part of the reason this is so difficult for me is two-fold. On the one hand, I’m trying to begin crafting a practice from start to finish. This is easier said than done, unfortunately. I can borrow, I can ask for assistance, and I can look to other examples. But, the path that I walk is not the path that you walk. So, in trying to write these basics of basics for what I’m doing is difficult just to explain it to myself but also to others who may have an interest or are curious to see where I’m heading with this or merely want to biff and borrow at some future point in time. (G’head! Just cite sources, please.) The other problem is that in discussing isfet, you pretty much have to discuss ma’at at some point or another. And to be honest, I want to start with things as [my interpretation of] the beginning suggested, with isfet to come first and ma’at to come later. In this standard, I will then write a “living in ma’at” entry for the Ms of the PBP. And I don’t want to foreshadow too much or encroach on a subject matter that I’m planning on covering later. How else would I draw more people in? Heh.
Now, in the last week, I’ve been dreaming heavily. This actually isn’t as surprising or abnormal as my mentioning it would make it sound. The thing is that what is a little off is that I’m remembering core parts of these dreams upon waking. Last week, I dreamed that I was arguing about the role of the nisut in the House of Netjer and whether I agreed with the role. (This dream argument was with someone I don’t recall clearly and took place above an open dishwasher that we were loading and unloading. Then a zombie came in and I can’t remember anything after that.) Last night, I started dreaming about living in ma’at at two separate points in the night. There’s no clear definition of exactly what the “living in ma’at” aspect to the dream was about. But after some inner reflection, it made me realize that with crafting my own spiritual practice, in putting off this entry, I’ve been stagnating the creative energies that started this whole isfet discussion in the first place. So, there’s that.
In my previous post about isfet, I identified this concept in four separate conditions. 1. The primordial isfet; 2. the agents of isfet; 3. the unknown/undesired being aspects of isfet; and 4. the isfet that can reside in our own hearts. In regards to ancient Egyptian belief in keeping this at bay, it was the primary concern of the high priests and above all, the Pharaoh, to maintain the levels of ma’at the general populace believed necessary to keep life flowing. This was done in ritual and in prayer and in other ways that I’m not adept at discussing at present. In regards to a modern Kemetic practice, this obviously isn’t something that we can do since, you know, we don’t have a Pharaoh to maintain ma’at as seen in ancient sources and those of us who aren’t interested in a practice of high priest status aren’t willing or able to make the type of commitment necessary. But, there were ways for the regular people to battle this concept, as well. It was the little things, the parts about keeping isfet from our hearts, that the regular people utilized to help the ongoing battle with chaos.
(This is where things are going to get a little dicey as I try to decide how much of my crafted “living in ma’at” I’m willing to share at present.)
To me, keeping isfet at bay isn’t quite the same as it was thousands of years. Times have changed, after all, and even though I may be trying to reconstruct an ancient religion, I have to contend with it in modern times. While trying to craft the religion itself in an ancient context is an admirable trait, it’s something that doesn’t work well thousands of years later, in my opinion. In fact, I can say the same thing about most of the current religions out there, specifically those who follow the Christian path. While it’s admirable that there are people out there who still firmly entrench themselves in the belief system that was later turned into the modern-day Bible, we have to sit back and ask ourselves if any of it still applies to what we’ve seen or has happened in the 21st century. And along similar lines, the same is to be said for anyone following an older religion, such as myself. I have to sit here and ask myself, “Are these concepts still applicable now? Can we honestly say that the more intensive, questionable practices are still useful nowadays? How can I apply things like I have ‘not stopped water when it should flow,’ I have ‘not driven away the cattle on the estates of the gods,’ and I have ‘not vilified a slave to his master’ to a more modern context?” (Source: The Confessions.) The problem thus unfolds.
Another aspect that comes to mind stems from a few pointed comments that Kiya had made when I first began researching isfet in earnest. I had mentioned a particular disagreement I felt in regards to statements made about Apep. From this disagreement, I began to think about isfet as more than just a simple concept to battle and destroy. It seemed to me that without the concept of isfet, there would be no ma’at. (And not just in context of my belief that one created the other.) Duality is a very strong and important principle in Kemetic belief systems, and therefore in the ancient variants of those belief systems. This is a concept that I’ve been working with for a while now and it’s come to seem to me that without one there wouldn’t be much of another. Without disorder, how can there be order? Without death, how can there be birth? Without lies, how is there truth? Without injustice, how can there be justice? Without chaos, how can there by cosmic order? The two work hand-in-hand to create a dualistic coexistence that, quite possibly, without that dualistic coexistence, things would be a good deal more topsy-turvy than they already are.
As Kiya mentioned, “the only way to lock the potential for isfet out of the system is to lock the system in place as a static frozen entity, which is itself isfet!” I had a quasi-aHA moment after having read that statement. It goes along with my ideas that to have one concept without the other doesn’t seem likely or possible. While I can understand the desire to keep the “negative forces” at bay from the people who live good, honest lives, unfortunately, no matter what we do it’s always going to be. There isn’t a single way to slay the concept of isfet without forcing the system into a static, sedentary, and possible-Utopia. This in itself means that growth, energetic changing, and vivacious debate do not exist in this state except in THIS ONE WAY ONLY. And as Kiya said, that seems to be, in itself, isfet. Again we come back to the duality of ancient Egypt (and therefore, of Kemetic practice) that is so very important.
Without that dualism in the state of beliefs, there would be no one without the other.
And so, in conclusion to this essay (wait, is this an essay?), I have to say that while the idea of keeping isfet at bay is preferable in various means, we have to take it with a grain of salt. My belief is that without the one there is no other, and so therefore, while we may wish to keep evil out of our lives, we have to also believe that without the bad there is no good. Without the action of evil, we do not learn the lesson of good, so to speak. And while I strive very much (and often, with much difficulty) to keep isfet from my heart, sometimes, we have to sit back and do the wrong thing so that, maybe just maybe, we can learn the lesson inherent therein.