Isfet is a concept found in ancient Egypt (and in modern Kemetic practices), and it has no direct perfect translation to English. It is the opposite of ma’at, which is rightness and truth, harmony and balance; so isfet can be called wrongness and falseness, disharmony and imbalance. Isfet could be called evil, or chaos, but neither is quite right. It is subtler than “evil,” I think, and is perhaps the closest thing that Kemetics have to “sin.” If one makes a mistake that hurts another person, it is not isfet; to deliberately choose to go against ma’at and bring about harm is isfet.
One of ancient Egypt’s creation myths – the one featuring Nit (Neith) as the Creatrix – states that isfet, in the form of Ap-p the Uncreated (Apophis), came into being while Nit was creating the world. While She spoke life into existence, a drop of spittle fell from Her mouth; it was part of the power of creation, yet without purpose or form. It has attempted to undo creation ever since, a sign that sometimes things happen which even the gods don’t intend.
Isfet itself is a term that refers to the doings of the Uncreated and how they are expressed in the world. Isfet is the concept; gereg is lying (speaking isfet), and binet is akin to oppressing or harming (performing or acting on isfet).
As a Kemetic, I strive to bring ma’at to the world through my words, actions, and heart; likewise, I strive to minimize and extinguish isfet from my person and my life. Much like any standard of purity, it is a constant effort to promote ma’at; however, since isfet is never accidental and always deliberate, I find it much more cleanly-cut to measure against my own standards. For example, I may be having a terrible day and be struggling to be as strong in ma’at as I would like, but I can at least work to curb my tongue and not strike out at others in frustration and pain, and therefore I can avoid creating isfet in that moment.
In Egyptian mythology, fighting the Uncreated is the work of many gods, the strongest of which is Set; but other gods have given humans heka (magic) in order to battle and defeat isfet in our mortal lives. We are not unarmed; we can always strive to lessen the power of the wrongness that crops up in the world. Each day is a new opportunity to rise above isfet and protect each other from harm.
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