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MA'AT AS A SYMBOL OF HARMONY
The Egyptians were well known for their worship of the Sun god, Ra, but it was Ma'at – as we shall see in a later chapter (Chapter 22), she also inspired the integral Egyptian enterprise Sekem – who was supremely important in their imagination. Not only was she goddess of truth, but the Egyptians believed that the whole world was maintained by Ma'at's active presence. Without her, the entire universe would fragment and collapse into the primordial chaos from which it had come. Ma'at was the very essence of harmony and it was therefore the primary duty of every pharaoh to safeguard her presence. He maintained the laws and administered its justice to make sure that harmony prevailed between Heaven and Earth. To do this the pharaoh had to be both priest and king – a priest on the inside and a king on the outside – someone who had attained complete spiritual integration and had reached his full potential so that he could lead others toward the same.
The work of artists in Ancient Egypt was sacred. It was a form of prayer, a vision of the universe conveyed in a pictorial language that did not depict the "outside world". It mapped their experience of the inner realm, which was supremely important to ancient civilizations, to the extent that they considered the inner world the very ground of reality. In other words, they were bringing alive the realm of spiritual reality in order to empower the lower, mundane world of space and time with spiritual significance. This has always been the purpose of sacred art and architecture. It is the process of "earthing" heaven and this tradition is just as alive in many places today as it was 3,500 years ago.
MA'AT TO PYTHAGORAS
For Prince Charles, "tradition", while all too often referred to as "old-fashioned" or "backward-looking", is a living presence, as has been illustrated in Gyekye's Tradition and Modernity (Chapter 4) in West Africa's Ghana, looking in all cases to the future as much as to the past. That is key to what we consider to be local-global "emergence", subsequent to local "grounding". What we can learn from the way ancient civilizations like the Egyptians looked at life is how they saw the same shape to things: the essential, cyclical process of growth that is limited by the need for decay, which in turn renews again into another cycle of creation. This is the pattern of nature which gives a deeper meaning to the word "re-creation", as well as to "renewal" and indeed what we term "emergent", now in nature as well as culture.
Eventually the Egyptian civilization sank into the sand, but not its wisdom which in time, found itself forming the basis of a world-view promoted by one of the founding fathers of Western civilization. Pythagoras was born in the tiny Greek island of Samos, before he supposedly travelled to Egypt in the 6th century bc, and stayed there for 22 years, studying and being initiated by the Egyptian priestly scholars. For Pythagoras, number had a living, qualitative value and was symbolic of the higher realms of reality, those that lie beyond the "actual" world. For Egyptian architect and philosopher Ibrahim Karim, from whom we quoted at the outset, this constitutes Ancient Harmonics.
For Prince Charles, as for Karim, life unfolds, as it does for surviving primary cultures today, from an indivisible unity, or Oneness, into a multiplicity of many, all of which can be connected by a third element, of relatedness. In other words, for one thing to be known by another, there must be a "joining together". The Greek word for such is harmonia.
Plato was born around 428bc, some 70 years after the death of Pythagoras. For him the highest study was the study of the harmonies of music and the rations of geometry because they represent the patterns within humanity. Without the whole in balance, neither a work of art nor life itself can sustain itself in a durable and healthy fashion. This takes us onto the role that Islam played, in medieval times, taking the story on, if you like, from where the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks left off. After all, it was the Muslims who acted as the bridge, in those middle ages, between the Ancient Greeks and modern Europe.
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