Cats are my gods and goddesses

Bastet.svg

Cats (Felis silvestris catus), known in Ancient Egypt as “mau”, were important in ancient Egyptian society. Based on recent DNA comparisons of living species, it has been estimated that cats were first domesticated from the Middle Eastern subspecies of the Wildcat about 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent.[1][2] Thousands of years later, the peoples in what would later be Upper and Lower Egypt had a religion centering around the worship of animals, including cats.

Praised for controlling vermin and its ability to kill snakes such as cobras, the domesticated cat became a symbol of grace and poise. The goddess Mafdet, the deification of justice and execution, was a lion-headed goddess. The cat goddess Bast (also known as Bastet) eventually replaced the cult of Mafdet, and Bast’s image softened over time and she became the deity representing protection, fertility, and motherhood.

As a revered animal and one important to Egyptian society and religion, some cats received the same mummification after death as humans. Mummified cats were given in offering to Bast.[citation needed] In 1888, an Egyptian farmer uncovered a large tomb with mummified cats and kittens. This discovery outside the town of Beni Hasan had eighty thousand cat mummies, dating to 2000-1000 BC.

Bastet the goddess of cats
Goddess of cats, Lower Egypt, the sun and the moon
Name in hieroglyphs
W1 t B1
Major cult center Bubastis
Symbol the cat, woman with cat as an head, the sistrum
Consort Ptah
Parents Ra
Siblings Tefnut, Shu, Serqet, Sekhmet (in some occasions), Hathor (in some occasions)
Offspring Maahes

 

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1 thought on “Cats are my gods and goddesses”

  1. Cats! And Bast! Yay! 😀

    I think the ancient Egyptian word for cat is actually rendered as “miu”, perhaps an onomatopeic construction. Mi(i)t seems to mean “the female cat”. “Mau”, if I remember correctly, roughly translates to the word “aspect.” If you’re interested in further information, you might want to pick up Jaromir Malek’s “The Cat in Ancient Egypt”. A very readable, educational book. 🙂 A must-have for anyone who likes cats and ancient Egypt.

    I’ve never heard of Bast’s consort being Ptah. Pinch says it’s Atum, but because of associations with Sekhmet I wouldn’t be surprised if Bast’s consort was named as Ptah in later sources. Her other children include Nefertum and, in funerary contexts, Anpu (Gr: Anubis). I’m not sure where the siblings thing came from. Bast in the Coffin Texts is outright equated with Tefnut, so I can see Her sibling as Shu at least. Tefnut is. . . an odd choice. So is Serqet. With Sekhmet and Het-Heru (Gr: Hathor), there are definite associations, but not in a family context. In fact, Het-Heru’s iconography will occasionally include cats, and Bast’s sacred rattle, the sistrum, is actually one of Het-Heru’s icons. (In the Bast image you’ve posted, notice how that rattle has a human face on it? That’s Het-Heru, more likely than not.) The menat, another Bast icon, also comes from Het-Heru.

    I guess you could argue that the Eyes of Ra (which Bast, Het-Heru, and Sekhmet are known as), being daughters of the sun god, are all sisters. But as far as I know they are never named as sisters in even the non-pharaonic texts, just daughters and consorts. I haven’t read any Egyptologist who names the Eye goddesses as sisters, either.

    Cats were, in some sense, “the poor man’s lion” (see Malek) and could be associated with the vengeful, destructive, fiery, and creative title known as the Eye of Ra. As an Eye goddess, Bast would destroy the king’s enemies–She was said to tear out their hearts–and breathe fire. She would protect the sun god from his foes, too, and She was also considered to be the sun god’s consort. At the end of the year, She was invoked to provide protection against the inimical forces that were said to be active at that time. As the Distant Goddess, Her return heralded the heliacal rising of Sopdet (Sirius), which always preceded the Nile inundation.

    So whenever you see a cat prowling around for rogue mice or moths, know they’re restoring just a tiny bit of order to this chaotic world. 😉 All hail the mighty restorers of order!

    Sorry for the epic random comment. Bast happens to be my favorite goddess and ancient Egypt is my favorite ancient culture. Lol.

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