BYRON E. SHAFER
Ancient Egyptian society comprised the gods, the king, the blessed dead, and humanity, a community that encompassed earth, sky, and netherworld. 1 These three realms converged in temples and cohered in rituals. There the power of creation was tapped, chaos was bridled, and cosmic order was renewed. There a hierarchy of relationships and values was negotiated and maintained. There beings were transformed and even transposed between realms.
Temples and rituals were loci for the struggle between order and chaos. At creation, the existent came into being amid the dark, inert, unbounded waters of the nonexistent (called Nun) and took a multiplicity of forms in space and time. 2 At creation, the cosmos existed in perfect harmony with the Creator's intention, the pristine state Egyptians called maʿat, order. 3 But the nonexistent surrounded the existent and, true to its unbounded nature, penetrated the boundaries of the existent. The cosmos came to be shot through with "uncreated" elements representing the nonexistent. Some, like ground water and sleep, manifested the beneficent, regenerative aspect of the nonexistent; but others, like desert and darkness, manifested its hostile, threatening aspect--ı + ̓sfet, disorder, chaos. 4 According to Jonathan Z. Smith, chaos is a sacred power, a creative challenge to order that is never completely overcome, a source of possibility and vitality that stands over