The Cats of Egypt
The domestic cat became highly regarded by Egyptian civilization as an animal of awe and wonder. Originating between five and six thousand years ago, domesticated cats came to be praised for their excellent mouse hunting abilities. The Egyptians found cats fascinating, even regarding them as godlike. Because cats were deeply respected, they were often mummified and even buried in great tombs with their owners. Finally, the Egyptian battle of Pelusium illustrates, better than any other example, the importance Egyptians placed on cats. Indeed, so highly regarded were cats in Egyptian society that it was considered a high crime to kill a cat, punishable by death. Bastet was the proctress of cats. The Ancient Egyptians had agreat respect for cats since they protected the grain from mice and rats. Rats can also cause disease. When a cat died, the family mourned it, shaving their eyebrows to mark their sadness. Cats were sometimes mummified, like people, and their mummies have been found. Families owning cats took care that they received attention and respect. Deep respect was given to cats even after they died. Whenever a household cat died, the entire family would go through a period of grief, shaving their eyebrows to mark their sadness. Deceased cats were very often mummified and entombed with fine jewelry and treasures; a custom usually reserved for only the most powerful and wealthy. Mummified rats and mice have even been found in cats’ tombs, signaling the Egyptian belief in a cat afterlife. Her Role – “The Tearer” is first and foremost a protectress; specifically of the royal house and the Two Lands. According to Herodotus, Bast was a happy and benign Deity who brought good fortune, music, dance and joy to all. Statues of cats are commonly passed off as facsimiles of Bast, but this is incorrect. The cat was indeed her sacred animal and the people of the time tended to see the Goddess in every cat that walked past, but her original depiction was as a royal lady or priestess with a cat’s head. In addition to the symbols already discussed, her other accoutrements were the Aegis, a kind of small protective apron, and a basket often containing kittens. Bast expressed the qualities of the lion or cat family, beauty of movement, agility, strength, caution, fidelity to the pride, etc., all of which could equally be interpreted at the spiritual level. During the New Kingdom (1539-1075 BC), she became equated with Sekhmet, the lioness deity of war. Into the Greek period, She would be equated with the virgin huntress Artemis and considered the protectress of children and pregnant mothers, musicians and a goddess of all sorts of excess. Offerings – Thousands of small cat sculptures, probably left with offerings to the Temple by devotees, have also been recovered at Bubastis. sweet liquids and foodstuffs mint, catnip, honey, raw meat, perfumes and ointments (especially in the “bas” jars which are a pun on Her name). Never offered: cats (The penality for killing a cat was getting killed !) Short Information on Bastet – Bast (Bastet, Bastis, Bubastis, Pacht, Ubast) is a name well-known in the West. She was responsible for Joy, Music, and Dancing, also Health and Healing. She also protected humans against contagious diseases and evil spirits. Her cult can be traced back to about 3200 BC, and she became a national deity when Bubastis became the capital of Egypt in about 950 BC. Her origin is said to be in this city Bubastis, although her association with the lion-goddess Sekhmet makes it likely that her cult was also celebrated at Memphis. Temple honoring Bast were found at Bubastis, Memphis-Sakkara and Dendera. Cats, as manifestations of Deity, were sacred; they protected the grain from mice and rats. Killing a cat was punished with death. Bast is the daughter and/or wife of Ra, the God of the Sun. The Framed Painted Papyrus above is a replica of the original Museum piece dating back to ancient Egypt. If you would like to obtain any of the Museum quality Replicas of Bastet on this page, please feel free to contact me.