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In Ancient Egypt, cats held a special position and were revered creatures. The goddess Bastet, also called Bast, was worshipped in the form of a cat. She was, quite literally, the original cat woman. At the beginning of her story, Bastet was a fierce goddess who oversaw many affairs of daily life. Throughout history, parts of her myth changed. Here’s a closer look.
Who Was Bastet?
Bastet was the daughter of the sun god Ra. She had many roles, and was the goddess of the home, domesticity, secrets, childbirth, protection, children, music, perfume, warfare and household cats. Bastet was the protectress of women and children, and she guarded their health. Her first place of worship was the city of Bubastis in Lower Egypt. She was the consort of the god Ptah.
Depictions of Bastet initially showed her as a lioness, similar to the goddess Sekhmet. However, she was later depicted as a cat or a cat-headed woman. Bastet and Sekhmet were often conflated due to their similarities. Later, this was reconciled by viewing the two goddesses as two aspects of a single deity. Sekhmet was the harsh, vengeful and warrior-like goddess, who avenged Ra, while Bastet was a gentler, friendlier goddess.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the statue of Bastet.
Symbols of Bastet
Sekhmet’s portrayals show her as a cat-headed youthful woman, carrying a sistrum, and often with a litter of kittens by her feet. Her symbols include:
- Lioness – The lioness is known for its ferocity and protectiveness. As the goddess of protection and warfare, these traits were important to Bastet.
- Cat – With Bastet’s changing role as the goddess of domesticity, she was often depicted as a cat. Cat’s were venerated and believed to be magical beings, who could bring good luck to the household.
- Sistrum – This ancient percussion instrument symbolizes Bastet’s role as goddess of music and the arts
- Solar disk – This symbol refers to her association with the sun god Ra
- Ointment jar – Bastet was a goddess of perfumes and ointments
Bastet’s Role in Egyptian Mythology
In the beginning, Bastet was depicted as a ferocious lioness goddess, representing warfare, protection, and strength. In this role, she was the protectress of the kings of Lower Egypt.
However, her role changed after some time, and she became associated with household cats and domestic affairs. In this phase, Bastet had to do with the protection of pregnant women, keeping diseases away, and fertility. The Egyptians considered Bastet to be a good and nurturing mother, and for that, they also associated her with childbirth.
As the daughter of Ra, the Egyptians associated Bastet with the sun and with the eye of Ra, much like Sekhmet. Some of her myths also had her fighting the evil snake Apep. This snake was an enemy of Ra, and the role of Bastet as a protectress against chaotic forces was invaluable.
Although Bastet later became a milder version of herself, with Sekhmet taking on the ferocious aspects, people still feared the wrath of Bastet. She would not hold back when it came to people who broke the law or acted against the gods. She was a benevolent protective goddess, but she was still ferocious enough to punish those who deserved it.
Cats in Ancient Egypt
Cats were important creatures for the Egyptians. It was believed that they could repel plagues and pests such as insects and rats, while also fighting other dangers such as snakes. The cats of the royal families were dressed in jewelry and were a central part of the kingship. Cats, it was said, could also keep bad energies and diseases away. In this sense, Bastet’s role was paramount In ancient Egypt.
The City of Bubastis
The City of Bubastis was the main worship center of Bastet. The city became one of the most prosperous and most visited cities of Ancient Egypt due to it being the dwelling place of this goddess. People from all over the country peregrinated there to worship Bastet. They took the mummified bodies of their deceased cats to place them under her protection. There were several temples and yearly festivals held for the goddess in the city. The excavations of Bubastis have found mummified cats buried under the temples. According to some sources, over 300,000 mummified cats have been found so far.
Bastet Throughout History
Bastet was a goddess that men and women worshipped equally. Her myth had some changes over time, but her significance remained untouched. She oversaw central parts of daily life like childbirth, and she also protected women. Cats delivered a central role in keeping vermin away, defending the crops from other animals, and absorbing negative vibes. For this and more, Bastet enjoyed widespread veneration and worship that spanned centuries.
Bastet was a benevolent yet ferocious goddess. Her role in the stories might not be as central as that of other deities, but she had one of the foremost cults in Ancient Egypt. Her festivals and temples were proof of her importance in ancient times. The goddess of cats and the protectress of women was a force to reckon with and remains an emblem of a strong woman.