FROM THE BOOK
EGYPTIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD – by Muata Ashby
Humanism in African Religion and African Religious Practice in the Present Day
On a visit to Benin, Pope John Paul II apologized for centuries of denigrating African religion by the Western culture. African religion is universally accepted as a distinct and legitimate form of spirituality and continues to be practiced by a substantial number of people in and outside of Africa. It is practiced by many who on one had profess to be converts to western religions while at the same time they retain some aspects of the African religion in soma area of life. One reason for its persistence is the quality of Humanism that characterizes it. The African term Ubuntu means humanism. Humanism is a fundamental concern for the human condition, a caring for fellow human beings with respect to their well being but also it means a kind of openness, hospitality and compassion for those in need. The quality of ubuntu has had the effect of tempering the harshness of other religions as well as bringing to the forefront the sufferings and needs of others and sometimes the inequities which are endured by others. Ubuntu is a kind of empathy and sympathy with others and a heartfelt desire to share with others. One important example of the effect of African religion and its quality of ubuntu is the Aldura Church of Yoruba. In this church the Christian emphasis on salvation has given way to an approach that is more in line with the traditional needs of the people. So the priests function as diviners, healers and ritual leaders. The concept of humanism may be best expressed in the following quotations:
“African belief is basically the humanistic belief that doing good is good. while doing anything bad is bad. You are rewarded here on earth for your good deeds and punished for your iniquities. Indeed, many Africans believe that the ultimate punishment for bad or iniquitous behaviour is death.”
-N. Adu Kwabena-Essem is a freelance journalist,
based in Accra, Ghana
“You know when it is there, and it is obvious when it is absent. It has to do with what it means to be truly human, it refers to gentleness, to compassion, to hospitality, to openness to others, to vulnerability, to be available for others and to know that you are bound up with them in the bundle of life, for a person is only a person through other persons.”
-South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
winner of the Nobel Prize
It is also important to note that the practices of African religion, which constantly seek to bring a balance between the spirit and the material, seeing them as essentially the same, is still misunderstood by most westerners. Many Africans have accepted the western religions but this is not seen as a conflict since they have a belief in one God too. However, this belief, of the western traditions, denies the divinity that is to be discovered in the realm of time and space of human events due to the sharp demarcation between heaven and earth so there is too in this philosophy a separation between God and humanity. Even if we see Jesus as an intermediary, a lesser spirit as the gods and goddesses of African religion, he cannot fulfill the needs of all Africans in all situations. This is the reason for the variety of gods and goddesses in African religion. So while there is a commitment to God by many African converts to the western religions there remains a need to look for the assistance of minor deities to resolve concerns of a worldly nature. So there are many followers of religions like Islam, Christianity and Judaism who also continue consulting diviners, traditional healing, attending traditional rituals and participating in other aspects of African religion.
A Gloss On The Philosophy of The Rau nu Prt m Hru (Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead)
The Goddess Maat and Maat Philosophy
Order, Righteousness, Justice, Balance, Harmony, Truth
“Those who live today will die tomorrow, those who die tomorrow will be born again;
Those who live Maat will not die.”
Who is Maat?
Even though the figure of goddess Maat is not usually seen in the Rau Prt m Hru, her presence is the most strongly felt of all. Her name is mentioned more than any other goddess and indeed, she is said to be an aspect of the all-goddess, Aset. Therefore, in order to understand the Prt m Hru, we must have a working knowledge of the goddess and her philosophy. When Ra emerged in his Boat for the first time and creation came into being, he was standing on the pedestal of Maat. Thus the Creator, Ra, lives by Maat and has established Creation on Maat. Who is Maat? She is the divinity who manages the order of Creation. She is the fulcrum upon which the entire Creation and the Law of Cause and Effect or Karma, functions. Maat represents the very order which constitutes creation. Therefore, it is said that Ra created the universe by putting Maat in the place of chaos. So creation itself is Maat. Creation without order is chaos. Maat is a profound teaching in reference to the nature of creation and the manner in which human conduct should be cultivated. It refers to a deep understanding of Divinity and the manner in which virtuous qualities can be developed in the human heart so as to come closer to the Divine.
Maat is a philosophy, a spiritual symbol as well as a cosmic energy or force which pervades the entire universe. She is the symbolic embodiment of world order, justice, righteousness, correctness, harmony and peace. She is also known by her headdress composed of a feather which symbolizes the qualities just mentioned. She is a form of the Goddess Aset, who represents wisdom and spiritual awakening through balance and equanimity.
In Ancient Egypt, the judges and all those connected with the judicial system were initiated into the teachings of Maat. Thus, those who would discharge the laws and regulations of society were well trained in the ethical and spiritual-mystical values of life, fairness, justice and the responsibility to serve and promote harmony in society as well as the possibility for spiritual development in an atmosphere of freedom and peace, for only when there is justice and fairness in society can there be an abiding harmony and peace. Harmony and peace are necessary for the pursuit of true happiness and inner fulfillment in life.
Maat signifies that which is straight. Two of the symbols of Maat are the ostrich feather and the pedestal upon which God stands. The Supreme Being, in the form of the god Atum, Asar, and Ptah, are often depicted standing on the pedestal.
Maat is the daughter of Ra, the high God, thus in a hymn to Ra we find:
The land of Manu (the West) receives thee with satisfaction, and the goddess Maat embraces thee both at morn and at eve… the god Djehuti and the goddess Maat have written down thy daily course for thee every day…
Another Hymn in the Papyrus of Qenna (Kenna) provides deeper insight into Maat. Qenna says:
I have come to thee, O Lord of the Gods, Temu-Heru-khuti, whom Maat directeth… Amen-Ra rests upon Maat… Ra lives by Maat… Asar carries along the earth in His train by Maat…
Maat is the daughter of Ra, and she was with him on his celestial boat when he first emerged from the primeval waters along with his company of gods and goddesses. She is also known as the Eye of Ra, Lady of heaven, Queen of the earth, Mistress of the Netherworld and the lady of the gods and goddesses. Maat also has a dual form or Maati. In her capacity of God, Maat is Shes Maat which means ceaseless-ness and regularity of the course of the sun (i.e. the universe). In the form of Maati, she represents the South and the North which symbolize Upper and Lower Egypt as well as the Higher Self and lower self. Maat is the personification of justice and righteousness upon which God has created the universe, and Maat is also the essence of God and creation. Therefore, it is Maat who judges the soul when it arrives in the judgment hall of Maat. Sometimes Maat herself becomes the scales upon which the heart of the initiate is judged. Maat judges the heart (unconscious mind) of the initiate in an attempt to determine to what extent the heart has lived in accordance with Maat or truth, correctness, reality, genuineness, uprightness, righteousness, justice, steadfastness and the unalterable nature of creation.