The Mysteries Of Ma’at

And this time it’s a short query about a particular character – the Balancer of Scales, a “Paladin” for the Dragonstar setting.

Sense Ma’at… what a weird ability. What does a forced marriage have to do with balance? It’s not good and definitely not chaotic… so it’s either add odds with the ability because it’s evil or because it’s lawful… huh…


Ma’at is a bit of a tricky one by current standards. She was a goddess – but one so abstract that she was basically a set of ideas which don’t fit modern conceptions very well. Rather than law, chaos, good, or evil, the best modern comparison might be etiquette.

And even those concepts evolved considerably over the millennia, so there will be plenty of other opinions about the details out there. Still, according to Ma’at there was a proper way for things to be. Violations of that were out of balance. On the other hand, Ma’at didn’t really involve modern notions of good, evil, law, or chaos, and it’s balance had nothing to do with them; it just WAS.

It was in accord with the proper balance of Ma’at for the Nile to rise each year, for day to follow night, for the seasons to progress, for water to flow downhill, and so on. If those things failed to happen it upset the balance of Ma’at. Causing them to happen again, or compensating in some way, would help restore the balance of Ma’at.

It was proper for the powers of darkness and evil, of chaos and epidemics, and of many other dark and terrible forces to exercise their offices as well – as long as the resulting despair, evil, and chaos remained within it’s place in the cycle and didn’t go too far. Not having regular epidemics was just as disruptive to Ma’at as them flaring out of control and decimating the country.

In more modern thought, the notion of the Balance of Ma’at is close to the notion of a Strange Attractor – allowing for the world to progress in a chaotic fashion while never slipping too far beyond it’s bounds.

Mortals could both disturb Ma’at and correct it; if the Nile failed to rise, constructing an irrigation system to get things closer to the way they “should be” would help restore Ma’at – but irrigating the deserts where the Nile never reached would disturb Ma’at once more.

Children usually followed after their parents. To deny them their inheritance was to interfere with that – a violation of Ma’at. It didn’t matter if that inheritance was the skills, tools, and ideals of a physician who sought to heal the sick, or the weapons, armor, and ruthless greed that was the inheritance of a bandit kings son, Depriving a child of its inheritance was against Ma’at in either case. (although giving the bandit-heritage kid his inheritance and then executing him might be quite acceptable).

It was proper for Men and Women to come together willingly, in joy and pleasure. A pairing that did not… offended Ma’at to at least some degree. Forcing a woman into an undesired or loveless marriage offended Ma’at. Enslaving your enemies, or debtors, was perfectly in order – but raping a slavegirl would still offend Ma’at. Taking advantage of your position of power as her owner to seduce her, however, was perfectly proper – no matter how “unfair” using that advantage might be. That was as it had always been.

Yes, Ma’at might weigh your heart against the feather of truth – but if you had all your paperwork in order – whether you were using the charms and the negative confessions from The Book of Coming Forth By Day, or were a proper follower of some lord and thus could defer to him, or whatever other ritual you were using – the actual state of your heart didn’t matter. You’d followed the proper procedure, and all was well.

And that’s why “Detect Ma’at” is a LOT more complicated (and, I think, interesting) than “Detect Evil”. Detect Evil basically tells you “Here is either someone or something you can feel free to hit or someone or something to be very cautious about dealing with”. “Detect Ma’at” on the other hand will lead you to an endless array of situations, many of them noncombat, that may be ethically awkward, and which you are called on to try and do something to fix.

5 Responses

  1. So Ma’at is a deity… I totally missed that in the original build.
    I thought it was some sort of concept of the universe than a deity’s personal opinion on a subject.
    That makes more sense now, thanks :D

    • Well both really. After all, this is a religion wherein the Sun is the Boat of Ra, Ra himself, the Eye of Horus, Horus, a ball of flaming dung being pushed across the sky by Kephri (a giant scarab beetle), passes through the underworld at night giving illumination, passes through the underworld at night shedding darkness, is swallowed by Sekhmet at night, is taken into Hathor each night and reborn each morning as her son (the Sun Bull), the Pharoah is Ra, and Set, and Horus, and will become both Osiris and Horus after he dies, the Sun is the presence of Amun, is the god Aten, is the Eye of Ra AND the goddess Sekhmet. The Sun is defended in the underworld by Set and opposed by Set. Ra dies at night and is reborn every day, Ra is eternal and perfect, Ra died of old age and was supplanted by Horus, Ra was poisoned and supplanted by Isis, Ra created the world and Ra was the child of the gods who had created the world.

      And that (and a lot more) was all simultaneously true. Admittedly, in large part that was due to it being a very old religion assembled out of thousands of local myths without ever throwing anything away – but it still required a rather loose view of reality by modern standards to accept the result.

      Given that… Ma’at being simultaneously a goddess (with several differing roles, including both creating Ra and the universe and being Ra’s daughter), the unbreachable law of the cosmos, something you could get around by reciting the proper charm, being arbitrary, and being the natural order of things, all at the same time, is not much of a headache.

      And I’m glad it helped!

      • I think that that IS a headache… how can she create somethig she’s the daughter of? How did Ra die two times? Is he eternal or did he die?

        This is confusing .-.

      • That’s pretty much the difference in viewpoints right there. The modern viewpoint (at least outside of quantum mechanics) calls for a single, consistent, reality – an idea possibly related to the rise of monotheism, and something of a prerequisite for scientific development.

        Many of the ancient viewpoints, however, allowed things to be more than one thing at a time. A Shaman could be man, beast, spirit, and god all at the same time, standing in multiple aspects of reality – and actual divine powers were even less bound by causality. They could have multiple true histories, be both alive and dead at the same time, and more.

        How? They were gods. They simply did not have to follow the rules – and that included the rules of causality and logic.

        That did make them hard to fight. They might send a limited aspect to do battle with a mortal, and the mortal might even win – but the god didn’t actually have to pay attention to the result. Thus the second edition policy of not even giving the actual gods game statistics, even if there were statistics for their avatars.

  2. […] Sense/Detect Ma’at: This ability detects disturbances in “the balance” – a criminal going unpunished […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: