Violence, Sekhmet, and Ma’at (PBP).

I realized something the other day when I was thinking about ma’at and Sekhmet and Sutekh’s relation to the belief. I realized that, myself included, a lot of people seem to think that ma’at is intrinsically associated with rainbows, happiness, and unicorn farts. There are roses and oases everywhere filled with lotus blossoms. The scents of beauty enchant and entrap you with their perfection. In the distance, a gentle breeze blows the heat from your brow or a warming stone keeps the chill from your fingers. Everything works out okay: the money comes in when it’s supposed to, you’re eternally employed at the best job ever, you have a good family, there is healthy communication, and just happiness abounds out of your pores like the sweet scents of incense. So, in essence, I realized that there are probably a lot of people who think that ma’at is equated with perfection and happiness. It is a concept, I believe, that is horrifically wrong.

What brought this up was the other night when I found an image someone did of Sekhmet in human form, as can be found here. I like the image without looking further into it; the face of it is lovely. I think the artist is incredibly talented. However, the actual symbolism behind the image, I’m not a large fan of. The dark, almost evil, thoughtful look on Sekhmet’s face, the mountain of skulls the throne is upon… these don’t sit right with me. I have never once, in all my years, had a feeling of Sekhmet as this inherently, well, evil kind of lady. She’s a lot of things and she’s lot of facets but this image kind of makes me feel like she is EVIL INCARNATE – DESTROY, KILL, DESTROY and nothing else. I went on to comment on this and had a little side conversation with a Canaanite polytheist over at Tumblr about it. Later, the person who initially posted this image commented back and one of the things ze said was, “Though Sekhmet can stand for order… she’s unapologetically violent as hell.” And I started thinking.

What is it about ma’at that makes us believe that it’s some lovely, peace-filled harmony that we should all strive for?

I think the basic issue stems from the inability to properly equate it in American-English, UK-English, and various other languages. I’ve mentioned this in other places before but sometimes, there are just some foreign words that have no comparison in other foreign languages. I’ll break this down using an example that I think relates to the concept of ma’at and is dear to my heart. So, let’s discuss the Russian word, Правда, or “pravda.” In English, we associate this term as meaning “truth,” but it’s actually a good deal more than that. As found on page 17 of Russia and the Russians by Geoffrey Hosking, “in fact everything the community regarded as ‘right’: justice, morality, God’s law, behaving according to conscience. The criterion for any decision taken by the village assembly that it must accord with pravda.” In effect, the concept of Правда is similar (UPG here) to what I equate ma’at as being. What I’m saying is that it isn’t just about what we ascribe as perfection or as truth, but as a moral compass as well as harmony. It’s a word that needs numerous other words to be properly ascribed in English, which is something we often find when trying to explain ma’at to outsiders. (I know I tend to go, “it’s uh…” a lot when talking with non-Kemetics.)

And while morality figures highly into the concept behind ma’at, we can’t just assume that violence doesn’t figure into this.

As found on Wiki, we watch as a god slays Apep. Similar imagery can be found in later times of Sutekh and Sekhmet slaying the serpent of chaos.

As shown in the image above, we see a goddess (claimed to be Bastet by Wiki) slaying the serpent of chaos, Apep. There is nothing light and fluffy about this act. Warboar drew an image of Set slaying Apep (original entry linked below). In later myths, I have found the chore of slaying Apep given to Sekhmet, my main lady. As evidenced by the picture above, it is also a chore ascribed to Bastet. In all of these instances, in the mythologies, we find that the gods are slaying a creature to uphold all things that are ma’at. This is a necessary evil, in effect. In order to keep isfet from overtaking the world and creation, these gods must stand up against it and battle it. In the battles, blood will be shed; violence will be used. But these are considered good, charitable, and life-saving acts. Sometimes, light and fluffy is fine and dandy, but offering Apep tea and crumpets isn’t going to necessary stop it from overtaking all things ma’at.

But let’s go back to Правда for a minute. In Russian linguistics, they actually have words that we can equate with the antithesis of Правда. Depending on the words used, they could equate to “crookedness,” “untidiness,” and various other things. But, as I mentioned in what I quote above, “The criterion for any decision taken by the village assembly that it must accord with pravda.” In effect, whenever we discuss Правда, it was the social conscience for what was correct and morally upheld by the entire assembly, the entire community or Мир (or “mir” in English.) So, in while we would view Правда as discussing unicorn farts and rainbows with pots of gold at the end of them, in times where life was anything but certain, Правда could also equate with burning the fields and starting all over again, fighting against the Khans that were subjecting their authority over Russian land, and fighting against other Мир that were trying to overtake their land and resources. While Правда was about good things and conscientious thought, amongst other things, that could also mean utilizing violence to make it happen.

Now, let’s talk about Sekhmet for a minute here.

Sekhmet had seven arrows that tended to bring bad luck and misfortune, usually in the form if disease. As taken from page 37 of Magic in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Pinch: “the Seven Arrows of Sekhmet, always brought evil fortune, often in the form of infectious disease.” However, there doesn’t seem to be any concrete evidence as to who may or may not be hit with these seven arrows. Considering her actions in regarding and upholding ma’at and her heavy influence over maintaining justice, wouldn’t it be possible that the people who were afflicted with the Seven Arrows could in fact be those who were living lives filled with isfet? Obviously, we have no evidence in support or to the contrary of these thoughts, but I feel that it makes more sense in what I’ve learned and what I’ve done in working with her that while, she was fearful since she did try to annihilate humanity once, it is just as likely that those struck by her arrows were not living in accordance with ma’at. This, I feel, is another example where, maybe not specifically violence per se, but a more negative aspect can be utilized in an effort to correct slights against ma’at.

What it comes down to, in regards to all of this is, how does violence suddenly no longer equate with ma’at? When did that happen? And how does the act of using violence to maintain ma’at suddenly equate Sekhmet as being “unapologetically violent as hell”?

Let’s discuss the elephant in the room here: the basis for most people’s thoughts on Sekhmet being “unapologetically violent as hell” isn’t just the Arrows that are considered “evil” and the diseases that could arise from them. Almost entirely, we have the basis for belief in her violent savvy ways is the Destruction of Mankind myth. A quick summary is that Re got really old and kind of enfeebled. Some of his human creations didn’t understand this and began talking smack about it behind his back. When he learned of this treachery, he got really angry and decided to teach his treasonous creations a lesson by destroying all of them. Enter Sekhmet: the Eye of Re. While initially, Sekhmet was only supposed to kill the people who were plotting against Re, she was intent on her blood lust and wanted her fill, so she began killing the humans that hadn’t plotted against her father. In the end, he tricked her with some red-colored beer, she got so very drunk, and passed out. However, the whole point behind the myth is that treachery and espionage are probably not a good idea because only bad things happen. Due to this, illness came to the world and Re relinquished his ruler ship over humanity.

However, in all of this, we are forgetting that while Sekhmet did get out of control, she was initially upholding ma’at by destroying those who had plotted against her father, Re. In order to teach a lesson, sometimes we have to smack our children’s hands out of the fire or punish them by sending them to their room without dinner. While times were more violent back then, it was with violence that the lesson was taught. Do not go against the gods. But more simplistically, do not fuck with ma’at because it will not end well.

Now, in regards to violence, it was common and often necessary in the ancient world. Since quite often, outside cultures would be considered part and parcel with isfet, subjugation via war would be considered upholding ma’at in ancient Egypt belief systems. They would see the act of war as necessary to tame the chaos all around them. These beliefs never brought about their destruction or seemed to annoy the gods since the ancient Egyptian culture lasted for thousands of years. And it wasn’t always just “unapologetic violence” being utilized here. It was an act of entering a country, subjugating its people in totality, and with the end result of having upheld ma’at from the agents of isfet. Just as Sekhmet and Sutekh and Bastet were busy slaying Apep to allow the sun god to rise yet another day, so too were the pharaoh and his armies doing likewise by conquering their neighbors.

While I will admit that we no longer live in a time frame where violence is to be utilized so readily and quickly as it was in ancient times, I do think it’s a mistake to forget that, in upholding ma’at, the ancients and the gods utilized it easily, readily, and to quick effect. So, really, the lesson here isn’t just that ma’at is a good deal more than a lot of people make of it, but that it’s as “dirty” and “violent” as it is “harmony” and “light.”

Relevant Posts

  1. Why Do You Worship Sutekh? by Warboar.

My Morality Sojourn.

I’m sitting here, staring at my computer screen while I try to regulate what I want my personal code of ethics to be. This code, of course, will be reflected in the 42 Negative Confessions I end up with at the end of this morality sojourn. The thing is that I’m not really sure what I want to say, although I have some fairly definitive ideas of what I do not want in my confessions. For example, I really don’t think that going on about how I didn’t defile the temple of the gods is something I should put in there. I will probably never, ever work or be in a temple of the gods, either from ancient Egypt or from any of the Kemetic-based temples that are around today. So, I can be 95% positive that I’m not going to sit around and defile anything in a temple. I can socket that as something I definitely don’t want. But the thing is, I should have a pretty good set of examples about things that I do want. And I’m honestly drawing a blank. I don’t think it’s because I’m immoral or anything, but because I have to be very clear, I have to be very sincere, and honestly, it’s motherfucking hard to sit down and say, “I WILL DEFINE MY MORAL CODE NOW,” and have it magically happen. Unfortunately, this is one of those sojourns where I’m thinking time is something I’ll need in abundance.

To aid me in this, I thought it would be a pretty good idea to pull up the copies of the confessions that I like the best. I chose these copies here. I prefer these two copies as opposed to others because I think they’re done very well. I also enjoy the fact that the protestations from the Papyrus of Ani are shown with the names of the gods that Ani is speaking to. After looking those over, I decided to go by a very old-school and probably odd example, namely the Ten Commandments. I know that may seem weird. However, aside from the fact that it’s a basis in Abrahamic religions, it still holds some merit here. It is, after all, a very clearly defined morality from ancient times. And since I’m thinking about this from an updated viewpoint from ancient times, I think working with the Ten Commandments in trying to create my ethical code is a good idea. Some of the statements on those stone tablets are still in play today, so why not? The other aspect that I decided to focus on in trying to figure this shit out was the Code of Hammurabi. That probably is a little strange, too, but again, it’s an ancient set of laws as well. It helped me to get a good look at what was considered immoral in ancient times, just like the Commandments and the Protestations, so that I could at least see what was universal.

As far as universals go, the big things seem to be stealing, profaning, murdering, lying, and adultery were all pretty much the big wrongs. So, as far as I can see, these things are aspects that I will use in my own ethical code. Of course, while the murdering, lying, and stealing are pretty much a “no duh” the others are interesting. Lying is almost commonplace nowadays – we have the Internet to help thank for that. And one could say, too, that in the case of adultery, it’s so all over the place – also in due thanks to the Internet. These two aspects are things that, if I had to fly off the handle and just write down 42 things that I think I should say in front of my gods when I come upon the Judgment Hall, I wouldn’t have added them. I wouldn’t have thought that either of these two things were morally reprehensible. I’ve done both. And nowadays, while we can still go to jail or pay fines for perjury, lying isn’t as big as it was a hundred years ago. And the same can be said with adultery. We’re… inured to these stigmatic crimes that they should probably be taken off the law books. As a society, or even an entire planet, both of these two things are no longer as important as they once were.

And that, to me, says that they should be. I’m not saying that society now is anything like what it once was. That’s for damn sure. But if these two things – lying and adultery – were so heinous back then, why aren’t they now? Is it just because of the Internet?

How many people were really upset or even cared when it was discovered Bill Clinton diddled his aides and secretaries and whatnot? After JFK, we’ve all been pretty much under the impression that what someone does inside their bedroom is their own business, whether they be famous or otherwise. And while I can attest that I didn’t care one iota that Bill did anything with anybody other than his wife, I’ve come to realize that maybe I should have. Not from a religious standpoint as others would have me base this one, but because we all have to make a line in the sand when it comes to what we will or will not do in regards to committing against others. If murder, rape, pedophilia, stealing, and bestiality are all pretty big no-nos, then why isn’t sex with someone you’re not committed to? And why is lying so commonplace nowadays? I remember when I was a kid, to keep my little brother from lying, we had to tell him that breaking a promise about swearing to tell the truth would mean that he went to hell. He was just that bad about lying. And maybe we went about it the wrong way, but he’s pretty good about being honest with the big stuff. When it comes to the little things, white lies are commonplace. And they shouldn’t be. We should be as honest with ourselves as we are with others. We should be able to stand up and clearly say, either in front of others or in front of the gods, “I have not lied.” And it’s not just because we should be able to have a clear conscious if/when we die, but because we shouldn’t get caught up in the bullshit of lies. What do they do but fester? And then they get so big that you have to keep them separated and write big huge tall tales to maintain said lies and… where does that get anyone? All it does is make your life miserable. So, why shouldn’t lying be added to the ethical code here?

It’ll be added to mine.

The rest of the codes and the laws and the protests seem to be really focused on things that you didn’t commit against your religion. Now, the thing here is that I am American. So, this is kind of a wonky street for me to walk. If any non-Americans have been paying attention, religion seems to be the big flavor that is making the laws nowadays and I don’t fly with that. (It’s my fucking right to get a fucking abortion, damn it.) And while I really do think that religion is important to me, I don’t think it necessarily should have any say whatsoever in what my political agenda is. So, how do I combine my religious life with my mundane life and make it into my moral code but without using it to base my politics on?

But, if I’m just looking at it from the basis of the Ten Commandments and the 42 Protestations, then I can just say something flowery like, “I have not profaned against the name of my gods.” Well, that’s a lie. I say shit like “gods damn it all” all the time, so I probably shouldn’t add that. I’m guilty of it and this is fluid morality, after all. I can just, you know, ignore that particular negative aspect to myself and leave it out. So, maybe I could say something generalized like, “I have not stolen from the gods.” Okay, but does that really convey what I want my morality to be? Not really. Why would I steal from the gods, anyway? I don’t have a huge temple filled with grain and cows and food in abundance. I definitely know I want to say something like, “I have not been intolerant of others’ faiths.” But, you know, is that really all I want about that?

I have 42 of these things to write, so… maybe a little more fleshing out here.

And here’s where I get to the point where I feel a little out of my depth. A lot of the rest of the laws and protestations are related to things that were important back then. And as I’ve decided, some of the things that they had that were important to them back then aren’t so important now, but should be in my eyes. The rest of it are things that have no bearing on what our lives are like now. In the confessions, there’s commentary about not stopping up water flow. Water was a big important thing in a land that was dependent on the overflowing of the Nile each year, but water is abundant here. I can go to my tap and it will magically come to me. So adding that to this morality isn’t relevant. But, what is relevant? “I have not made my carbon foot print so much that I have depleted the Ozone layer.” That seems like a tall order and I know that my CFP is probably a lot higher than it could be. And do I really think that’s something I should add? I know that things like that are important to people, but it’s never had much bearing on me, as a person, or me, as a Kemetic, or me in any way. So, maybe I say something like, “I have not sinned against nature.” This is something I am guilty of – I’ve littered. I haven’t picked up my dog’s poo every time. Stuff like that, but maybe I add it with the knowledge that one day, I’ll be better at this kind of thing?

And where does my family come into this. Family was a pretty big and important thing back then. What do I say about them in relation to this? I can’t say that I have never sinned against them. My current, mini family unit of R and TH notwithstanding. I have always tried to behave honorably and with their best interest at heart. But, this hasn’t always been the case with my mother or my brother. So, can I add that in there? Or should I rephrase it? It’s quite probable I will “commit a sin” against my brother in some way – defaming or something.

And where do I come into this? I mean, obviously, I’m all over this. These are my personal confessions that I will utter in the Duat. But, working on myself and bettering myself should have some bearing here. Perhaps something like, “I did not give all my spoons away.” I actually like the sound of that. Spoons are pretty damned important to getting through every day and every relationship. Without those spoons, I would be a spineless bump on the couch that didn’t go anywhere, didn’t do anything, and didn’t give a shit about anything. So, I think that has some bearing here. While I’m obviously all over the protests I’m writing since I’m saying, specifically, that I didn’t do these things in life, I think taking care of who I am and bettering myself and keeping myself in working order are important aspects that need to be added.

I still have a lot of work to go, but I think, thus far, I have a pretty good basis to get this shit in gear. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Dark, Evil, Negative: My Feelings on “Those” Gods.

So, in my post about darker gods, I went on about how Sutekh, Sekhmet, and Loki are “pretty evil.” I also was pretty damn sure that I only ended up writing about how “dark” they are using quotations. (I know I didn’t 100% of the time, but I tried to.) I was trying to convey a point with those quotations, but I apparently didn’t get that point across as fluidly as I had desired. The quotes didn’t stop someone from asking me something that I realized I never actually touched upon. The comment in question is from an FB group that I frequent, a Lokean stronghold so to speak. The person in question asked me, Why would you consider Loki to be a “Darker God”? It seems kinda emo to worship Loki as the Dark God of Heathenry, and gives merit to the fundies view of Lokeans. I gave a small response, but realized that I should probably start talking about this stuff in more detail. I can inform on a smaller basis, but what’s the point? I like informing on a bigger basis. So, here goes it.

When I talk about “dark” and “evil” gods, I don’t actually think that they are either “dark” or “evil.” I use those particular words because they’re the best bet to get the point across to those who see these gods as such. There are loads of people, both pagan and otherwise, who view trickster gods in a darker light, who view destroyer gods in a darker light, and who view gods of death in a darker light. I am not one of those people. I don’t think I ever have been. If nothing else, my long-long journey with Sekhmet would have turned me off to that. As far as I am concerned, these gods are more like shades of gray (as I mentioned in that post) than anything else. They have good facets and they have bad facets, but too often people focus on the negative associations, so when I talk about them, I have to try to appeal to those particular people. I want to get the word out there and the only way to do so, honestly, is to use words that they would understand. Words that reflect how they feel.

I have never really considered the gods as shoved into a particular corner like that. For a while, when I first started exploring this whole thing and I found myself drawn to both Kali and Sekhmet, I did some research. I had people who were hyper-focusing on the destruction aspects. Neither one of those goddesses are all about just destroying the world. They have other hemispheres of influence, but they’re not as largely discussed for whatever reason. In the case of Sekhmet, I honestly couldn’t say why people seem to think of her as either the Big Bad Destroyer goddess or feel the need to fluffify her with how motherly she is. (This is a rant for another day.) In the case of Kali, she is a demon slayer. People focus too much on the fact that she became drunk on the blood lust of battle, but she slayed the demon first. She is also seen as a mother (more so than Sekhmet, by the way) when she picks up the squalling infant, Shiva, and suckles him at her breast. They are in a realm of gray that makes them able to heal and aid, as well as kill if the need arises.

When it comes to deities of death, I don’t think of them as dark at all, either. Death is one of those parts of life that is pretty major, but it’s something that happens to all of us. And yes, there is a certain fear of death that most people have within them. I’ll be honest here: I’m pretty scared to die, but not because I worry about what’s on the other side and how I’ll be remembered after my death, but because I don’t know how my family would go on without me if I were to die. (Yeah. See how vain I am?) Who would take care of my son for me? How would the Sister be able to move on without me? Would I have to haunt TH for the rest of eternity just to make sure he never moves on? These are the reasons why death scares me and I don’t harbor this fear in relation to the gods who hold dominion over it. Just as we have gods of fertility, so too do we have gods of death. And neither god can be easily contained in the hemisphere of “dark” or “evil.” They are as natural as death. Again, this is a realm that I refer to as shades of gray. It is as natural as breathing and the fears we have should relate more to the people we leave behind as opposed to the gods that hold sway over it.

And of course, we have all of those trickster deities out there that are considered “evil” and “dark” for whatever reasons. To me, it seems that more often than not this particular heading is derived from an inability to see that their moral code is, again, shades of grey. Sutekh is seen as an “evil” god because he’s chaotic and we all know that chaos is so “bad.” But the thing is that when we draw the Tower card when we do a Tarot reading, we don’t always sit there and say about how “evil” this particular card is. It means sweeping, fundamental changes that, in the end, can be a pain in the ass while going through but are for the basic good of the person asking the questions. From what I’ve gathered from Sutekh kids, this is Sutekh’s main big goal when it comes to entering others’ lives. Devo is constantly telling me that he’s more likely to throw you over the cliff, for your own good, than listen to your reasons why you can’t make the jump yourself. Yes, it sucks when you’re in the middle of all that shit, but that doesn’t make him any more evil than warfare or disease. Yep. Both of those examples also suck and the reasons behind them – such as biological warfare or causing a war based on eugenics – may be evil but those two examples are not inherently evil.

Neither are the gods that cause those things. Neither are the gods that have moral codes that we can’t possibly rap our minds around because we’re so focused on the two-dimensional world we create for ourselves instead of seeing things as three-dimensional. Shades. Of. Gray. People. They are, as I have said before, MULTI-FACETED and in seeing them in a single context is really doing a severe injustice to us, as their followers, and to them, as our gods.

Relevant Post
“Darker” Gods Are Misunderstood, But Necessary.

NOTE I don’t actually discuss Loki’s role in this particular post because I don’t feel that I am able to make big huge commentaries on him, as a god. I don’t know enough, I feel, to make anymore sweeping generalizations than I already have.