• “Eye of Horus” is the cultic expression for every offering item, not just water. Every offering item was thus represented as a substance that restored something that had been lost, that returned something that had been stolen, that renewed something that had been used up, that replenished something that had been reduced, that put together something that had fallen apart – in short, it was the symbol of a reversibility that could heal everything, even death. Jan Assmann
    Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt

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Start in the Landscape

Imagine, if you would, the landscape of Egypt-of-old.

Think of the sharp divides that the dry air leave between day and night. Think of the sudden line between the desert and the fertile land, and the way the flood presses back the sand, and the sand presses back the flood. Think of the river flowing steadily northward, even as the wind blows more or less steadily southward.

Imagine living in a world where an awareness of the poise between powerful and opposing forces was inescapable. The oppressive heat of the beating sun gives way to the spirit-infested deep night illuminated by the ancestral stars. The desert seeks to swallow up the world in dryness, but the flood will wash away houses and everything and its rise brings plague. The current and the wind are the engines of ships plying the river, going with the flow or raising their sails as the moment demands.

Some people raised in a world defined by so many oppositional forces would be fearful, but these people were not: these people saw a world with abundant food (and at times they fed far more than their own population) brought about by the ever-refreshed Nile silt, with a wealth of scent-bearing botanicals in the marshlands and gemstones in the desert, with the regular patterns of the seasons, and they imagined it a paradise.

But paradise was never passive. Those massive forces might be held in balance much of the time, but not always, and there would be years where the flood failed, or the plague came, or the water rose so high it stole away precious things, lives and homes and livestock and possessions, there would be times when things were not in alignment. Clearly, therefore, the mechanisms of the cosmos required maintenance, needed to be brought into their proper position, subordinated to the order of things. Only when the juggernauts of desert and river, wind and flow, day and night, life and death, were brought to heel and kept within their places would there be paradise. Only in balance was the unspeakable wealth of Egypt accessible.

Start in the landscape.

Take a step back.

Take a step over.

Leapfrog those thousands of years.

And start in the landscape.

Look at the world. See that there is enough food produced to feed all the people and more, but there is still starvation. See that there is shelter enough, and there are homeless. See that there are cures and treatments for illnesses, and still there are people who are sick with those things.

Find the juggernaut powers. The Nile no longer floods – and the theology of that may be complex – but find the things that bring renewal, that bring destruction, that bring fertile soil, that bring plague. What keeps them in check? Where is the desert, that leans in on these forces, that conceals our wealth, that swallows anything it touches, that teaches us how to preserve our dead, that holds our wildness?

What warms us until it burns us? What holds our nightmares and our restoration? What are the inevitable flow forces that draw us one way, and the reliable but somewhat more fickle winds that blow us the other?

We do not live in paradise. This modern world is so clearly out of balance, with those great forces not aligned to prevent each other from overreaching, with privation distributed unevenly as the sure proof, with suffering and death stalking some people more than others as sure proof.

But paradise is possible. We have all of the pieces, if we can only figure out how.

One of the essential traits of ma’at is that it is effective. Effective is a word that comes up over and over again, in magic, in theology, as if those are separate realms. It is not enough to have a principle under which things would work, in theory, if only everyone else agreed to obey: that will not be effective. It will not work. It cannot bring about paradise, because that depends on effective action.

Policy demands finding the thing that will produce the desired results. That is effective.

When you see someone encouraging policy that has been demonstrated to be ineffective to produce the stated desired results, ask why.

Keep looking for paradise. Take effective action.

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