Monday, February 28, 2011

The Questions of Maat

"In Ancient Egypt, it was said that in the Underworld Maat waits before the door all souls must enter. She holds a scale and a feather. Maat weighs hearts, and none may pass until they have answered her questions, and their hearts are as light as the feather of truth. Can each answer "yes" ? How heavy is each heart? Because to dream a new life, you must know the life you have lived, forgive and be forgiven." **

I've been reading several books about "underworld" Goddesses, a very common theme in early cultures, because the underworld was understood as  the womb/tomb of the Great Mother, the place of return and rebirth.  To the Greeks, she was Persephone, Queen of the Dead and  Hecate, Guide of Souls.  To the Norse, Hella, Lady of the realm where  souls were healed of life, and awaited rebirth. In Egypt, Maat, who was also the Goddess of truth and law.   I don't know why I've been thinking about Ma'at, but following those threads, I found an excerpt from a 2002 performance, and some writings in my journal from several years ago. 

It's interesting that Truth and Justice should be linked in Egyptian mythology with the underworld - the womb of rebirth.  To enter that realm, one's heart must be as light as the feather of Ma'at.  If a soul is too "earthbound", too heavy with materiality, the crocodile that is shown below her scale awaits to seize it. If a soul is too untouched by life, too light because there is not enough of life's experience that have been digested, the hawk  will seize it.

Maat's name, literally, meant "truth".  Her questions do not "damn" those who wait before the door....but without answering them, without finding the examined truth of one's life, no passage to other the realms was seen as possible. Maat's questions are the questions each person must answer sooner or later: "Who or what have I not forgiven?" "What have I done or not done that I cannot forgive myself for?" "What part of my life story have I not been able to forgive?"  "What am I unable to let go of?"  (And having been through therapy, which is a kind of "incarnate life review", I might add that another question would be:  "How have I distorted the memory of this experience so that I no longer know what the truth is, but continue to react to it anyway?")

Language can reveal ideas that are we unconsciously take for granted every time we open our mouths. (and each language has its unique cultural flavors of  meaning). In English, to "fore-give" is to do just that - to give the energy forward. To the future, to new possibilities.  When we don't "fore-give" we're left dragging around psychic baggage, grey thought forms, stories told so many times they have lost any semblance to the truth.  We're psychic hoarders.

I am not saying that fore-giveness is not a complex process. Sometimes it involves working through unconscious layers of experience, telling a story over and over until it can be seen, and that's why one often needs help from an impartial listeners.  I think that is what Ma'at also is - the One who Listens.   But ultimately I believe fore-giveness comes from being able to gain a wider perspective, a perspective beyond the narrow confines of the personality, to the Soul's perspective. Being able to see the broad weave of our lives, the ways we were challenged and deepened by our experiences, our betrayals, our failures, our losses, our ignorance, as well as our gifts, abundance, and the love we were fortunate to be given.

I think of so many times in my life that things I thought were unfair, or misfortunes, in fact were blessings. Maat's Truth is often a paradox. A Buddhist I met once told me that we should cherish all sentient beings, because, from the perspective of  Buddhist ideas of reincarnation, any sentient being you meet has at one time or another been your mother, brother, lover, enemy, has been your food, or has devoured you. 

One thing is certain. When we don't "fore-give" we are unable to move fore-ward because we are stuck in the strange bardos of the past. 

** This was from the play (excerpt below). The actual questions of Maat vary depending upon the translations - some of them were recited in the background, in English and in Hebrew (since we lacked a native speaker of ancient Egyptian) while a Sharon Kihara danced as the "Muse" for the Writer, performed by Dorit Bat Shalom.  


Natalie said...

Great post, Lauren.
I often draw Maat in my Egyptian runes and resonate with her energy. :)

Trish MacGregor said...

Love this post,Lauren. You have pegged the underworld archetypes to a perfection.

John Webb said...

I noticed this post earlier and didn't know what to say about it. I had a bizarre thought about Matt and spiders!

Maat is an aspect of Thoth (see Wiki entry for Matt) and the temple of Thoth is called The Temple of the Net. In some Greek myth traditions, net=web=spider. Very little is known about this, but here's one reference: