What I am finding in my readings is that the concept of ma'at is something that most books like to jump on, be they populist or heavily academic. I have no problem with this. However, I am increasingly alarmed by the number of books that find it necessary to express what they know about ma'at but say NOTHING on the subject of asfet. While ma'at, as the concept of fundamental balance and justice and so forth, is obviously something that people like to write about and one that is heartily embraced by true kemetics and those who snaffle different elements of other religions to create their own hybrid path, the opposite force of asfet is overlooked and as a result hardly anyone seems to say anything at all about this vital aspect of Ancient Egyptian theology.
Asfet is essentially the opposite of ma'at. In a fairly basic sense, asfet can be categorised as chaos, but the definition is in actuality a great deal more complex. Similarly, it is necessary to really understand what chaos meant to the Ancient Egyptian mindset, and not impose upon it the fundamental theories of modern chaos. That would confuse the issue. To understand the principles of Kemetic reconstructivism it is vital that the meanings of Kemetic theology in their original sense are comprehended. Ma'at and asfet are not just 'justice' and 'chaos' as we perceive them. There is a far more complex meaning behind them.
If one takes the really hardcore elements of Ancient Egyptian religion and society (although the two are not in any way exclusive - they are more or less the same principle) and strips away all the extraneous matter, what one is left with is a desire to achieve stasis and stability. The whole concept behind the burial rites was to achieve a state of stasis in the afterlife, or perpetual longevity without any change whatsoever. Indeed, so much of the Ancient Egyptian society was geared towards keeping their culture totally stable and static. As a result, a Ptolemaic scholar could read the works written in the Old Kingdom without any trouble whatsoever, and would comprehend the concepts inherent in such works as they remained valid in his own day and age. This is a true sign of how successful the stasis element of Ancient Egyptian life could be - although it is also the same thing that resulted in the breakdown of law and order during the First Intermediate period, but that is something to be discussed elsewhere. This desire for stasis and non-change within the accepted order resulted in the obliteration as far as possible of the records of Ahkenaten, Hatchepsut and so forth: they were outside the conventional order and therefore needed to be wiped from the culture. This is also the force that caused invading forces to adopt the Egyptian style of rulership rather than imposing their own methodologies on their nation.
This underlying desire for total stasis and non-change within the Ancient Egyptian life was reflected very strongly in their theology. For any state of balance to be achieved, the opposing sides are BOTH required in a perfectly opposed state. So, while ma'at is a good force that is essential, asfet is ALSO required. If one or other of these forces were to become so strong that the other was utterly dominated, then the balance would be upset. This would not result in chaos - although that could be a symptom of excessive asfet at work. What is vital to realise in this situation is that asfet is a necessary force; it is the notion of controlled chaos. That may sound like an oxymoron, but controlled chaos is exactly what is represented in the form of Seth. His dominance and force is often seen as being against the peaceful and righteous nature of fragile ma'at, personified in the wise and just leadership of Horus. However, you could not have one without the other. They are light and dark - for one to exist in potential automatically creates the existence of the other. Were the balance of ma'at and asfet to be utterly broken and irretrievably so, so that it could not be restored, true chaos would rule in the form of UNCONTROLLED mayhem. Asfet is controlled mayhem, the necessary brutality and violence and mayhem that, while it is disruptive, allows for the existence of ma'at. Uncontrolled chaos is another thing entirely and was the ultimate enemy in the Ancient Egyptian theological viewpoint.
Examples of this at work do exist. Perhaps the most obvious example is the celestial serpent, Apophis. If the personification of the celestial ruler within his barque is the ultimate symbol of ma'at ruling wisely and safely, and that to which everyone should aspire, would Apophis not be ma'at's enemy, asfet? Initially this might seem to be the case, but actually, it is not so. In this particular situation, Seth takes the role of asfet. It must be remembered that Seth was placed in the barque as the deity who would wrestle Apophis into submission to protect the boat on its journey through the sky. He was given this position after his dual kingship of the Two Kingdoms was revoked, and his lands were handed to Horus. Seth was then made king of all lands outside Egypt, as he alone was strong enough to keep the wild outsiders subjugated, and at the same time he was elevated celestially to protect the barque of the sun. Far from being exiled as an evil creature, this is a position of supreme importance, as his violence and strength are the only thing that keep the destruction of the barque at bay. As the barque is the vessel in which ma'at is carried, so do the distinctly non-ma'at qualities of brute force and violence travel with it to protect it. This is the celestial representation of ma'at and asfet working together to keep the ultimate destruction of the core of Ancient Egyptian beliefs at bay: in unity and balance, they work to keep order.
It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that this unity and the supreme importance of celestial balance are the driving forces behind a huge number of Kemetic practices. The fact that the rituals are so stylised and remained unchanged for millennia is a clear indication that continuation and stasis were vitally important to the Ancient Egyptian mindset, which in turn was driven by the theology of the society as a whole.
It needs more work, but the more I absorb the work of Assmann, the more this makes sense to me.
Cross posted to a few places...sorry if you end up spammed as a result!