Goddess personifying all the elements of cosmic harmony as established by the creator-god at the beginning of time – including Truth, Justice and Moral Integrity.
Ma'at is shown as a lady wearing on her head an ostrich feather which can stand on its own instead of a full depiction of the goddess
The hieroglyphs of her name contain the symbol of a plinth representing the primeval mound upon which the creator-god emerged (see ATUM and KHEPRI). The goddess’s origins can be traced back at least as far as the Old Kingdom where she is already an integral part of the existence of RA and OSIRIS.
Ma'at stands behind the sun-god or, in the Middle Kingdom, is described as being at the nostrils of Ra. It is not, however, until Dynasty XVIII that Ma'at is given the epithet ‘daughter of Ra’. In the Pyramid Texts Osiris is called ‘lord of Ma'at’ and later frequently appears with her plinth symbol as the base of the Underworld throne on which he sits as judge of the dead. Similarly, the deities of the ENNEAD in their role of tribunal judges are described as the ‘council of Maat’.
Pharaohs see Ma'at as their authority to govern and stress how their reigns uphold the laws of the universe which she embodies. Amenhotep II (Dynasty XVIII) on his stela near the Sphinx at Giza claims that Maat was placed on his breast by AMUN himself. Numerous examples exist of the kings being called ‘beloved of Ma'at’, and they are depicted in temples proffering the effigy of the goddess in the palm of their hands before major deities. The ruler who forcibly emphasises his adherence to Maat on his monuments is Akhenaten (Dynasty XVIII) – the very pharaoh whom succeeding kings considered to have deviated immensely from her laws (see ATEN). Akhenaten ‘lives by Ma'at’ who can be seen next to him in a scene carved early in his reign in the tomb of his vizier Ramose at western Thebes.
The funerary papyri of the New Kingdom and later give many representations of Ma'at as the goddess crucial to the deceased reaching Paradise. In the Hall of the Two Truths (Maaty) the dead person’s heart is placed in a pair of scales to balance against the image of the goddess Maat symbolising the truthful assertions of a blameless life given before the ASSESSOR GODS. A hymn to Osiris praises that god for setting Ma'at throughout the ‘Two Banks’, i.e. Egypt. In this aspect Ma'at is justice administered by magistrates in the law courts. Possibly the title ‘priest of Maat’ relates to this part of an official’s career as in the case of the ‘royal secretary’ Neseramun living under Osorkon II (Dynasty XXII). According to a classical source Egyptian law-officials wore an effigy of Ma'at when giving judgements – the British Museum possesses a small golden Maat on a gold chain that could be just such an ensign of authority. A small ruined temple to Maat is in the southern sector of the precinct of MONTU at Karnak.