The Feather Of Maat

feather1

The final beach walk of 2013 yielded this curious piece of driftwood, which immediately struck me as haunted, crackling with life. I photographed it in situ on the beach, but only after I had picked it up and turned it around did I see what it was.

feather2

A feather – and given the recent return of Ancient Egyptian themes to the Shoreline, in the person of the crocodile-headed god Sobek, I was able to recognise it as (or, if you prefer, I decided on a whim to call it) the Feather of Maat.

Maat was an Egyptian goddess associated with truth, virtue, and justice.

Maat

The Feather of Maat was involved in the Weighing of the Heart, which, according to the prevailing religious myths of Ancient Egypt, was an essential stage of the journey into the afterlife. The heart of the deceased was placed on the scales and weighed against the Feather as a test of purity.

maat-scales

maat-scales_cropped

Here we see the heart on the left scale, the feather on the right, the weighing being conducted by our old friend Anubis, Guardian of the Shoreline (and we have previously considered the Weighing itself too, when meditating on the scarab stone).

If the heart weighs the same as the feather, the deceased may progress, journeying through the gates of the afterlife towards Aaru, paradise.

But if the heart fails the test, it will be devoured by Ammut, and the deceased will be condemned to remain in Duat, the underworld.

I decided to weigh the wooden ‘feather’. Remarkably, it weighs 21 grams – the precise figure
claimed by the eccentric turn-of-the-century Massachusetts physican Duncan MacDougall to be the mass of a human soul. MacDougall’s experiments (which involved weighing dying patients before and after death) were bizarre and unscientific, but the notion of 21 grams as “the weight of the soul” has persisted as a trope in popular culture, most recently in the 2003 film called simply “21 Grams”. Remember, to pass the Weighing, the soul must weigh exactly the same as the feather. So make what you will of the fact that this driftwood totem weighs 21 grams.

That aside, the Weighing of the Heart is an apposite image for this particular time – because, as I type, we are, here in the UK at least, in the first minutes of 2014, standing uncertainly at the threshold of past and future. Around the world, in private or public, people are hoping for better, replenishing their optimism, wishing each other well, and swearing oaths and promises, resolutions for the perilous journey ahead. Will we make it to Aaru, or find ourselves lost in Duat (again)?

Good luck, as you face your own personal reckoning at the turning of the year. You may need it.

21g

10 responses to “The Feather Of Maat

  1. That is such a good post. I did several Feather of Maat paintings back in 1999 pretty much as a reaction to a residency I had at a US university, the weighing of the soul seemed the perfect analogy when faced with rampant US consumerism and wilful ignorance. It still strikes me as the image for our times as you say.

  2. Thanks Ian. Would be very interested to see those images, if that’s possible. It struck me as appropriate for New Year partly because of the obvious threshold/transition symbolism – but also because it is a symbol of taking stock, honest reflection and self-scrutiny, stripped of the blandishments of self-congratulatory, ego-massaging, cod-psychology…. so, yes, deeply unfashionable. Having said which – all the best for 2014.

    • Happy new year to you too. Yes every sort of “religious” symbolism implies a different world view and the weighing of the soul that must be lighter than a feather is a particularly potent image, even for an atheist like me. I can’t say I’d pass that test, I doubt many would. Definitely an image for new year self reflection. I’ve sent images as FB message attachment.

    • Thanks fifepsy… I am curious to see if the Shoreline’s style of communication will change, cf previous posts about Pan and Sobek, and the apparent switch in the animating mythic current (which is making me a little apprehensive).

  3. The Weighing Of The Heart: most suitable! Surely the ocean placed this mythic object at your feet so that you can continue your journey and bring us more magic from your distant shoreline.

  4. Wow! A shard from the Phantom on the Threshold. Me thinks the Babe in the Abyss is calling out to you in the tones and dirges of the Nameless Ones. Turn Back! Turn Back! Lest you bury your heart in the skin of the Flagellant. Great Post.

  5. Fascinating ideas and discussion about this totem feather of Maat. With the heart of the deceased being weighed to balance with the feather. Synchrony again brings me information referenced to me, by my son, Connor MacDougall Lyons on the experiments of weighing the newly deceased to determine the weight(mass) lost indicating the mass of the departed soul. Also, synchrony that this quote from description above “Remarkably, it weighs 21 grams – the precise figure
    claimed by the eccentric turn-of-the-century Massachusetts physican Duncan MacDougall to be the mass of a human soul. MacDougall’s experiments (which involved weighing dying patients before and after death) were bizarre and unscientific, but the notion of 21 grams as “the weight of the soul” has persisted as a trope in popular culture, most recently in the 2003 film called simply “21 Grams”. Remember, to pass the Weighing, the soul must weigh exactly the same as the feather. So make what you will of the fact that this driftwood totem weighs 21 grams.”, indicated the very person to who my son had referenced. I was reading a Dark Star astrological forecast on the upcoming full moon lunar eclipse on March 23, 2016. MacDougall being my maiden name was given to Connor as his middle name at birth, wanting to pass on the matriarchal ancestral name.

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