The Cat Goddess Bastet

The Cat Goddess Bastet
Courtesy The Brooklyn Museum

If you want to listen, scroll down. 

It took hundreds of years from the first evidence of the cat’s domestication to its being worshipped as a goddess during the Middle Kingdom reign of Mentuhotep III.  For the cat, being a pet and being worshipped were not mutually exclusive.  The ancient Egyptians had cats as household pets, and at the same time kept sacred temple cats for worship and sacrifice.  Once the cats became pets, and upon observing their behavior in their households, the Egyptians saw what they believed to be the divine characteristics of God innately apparent.  Thus, the cat rose from an ordinary pet to become the goddess Bast or Bastet.  Ancient Egyptians, however, did not view God as a cat as such.  They instead worshipped the characteristics of God that they believed manifested in the cat.  Humans, animals and even plants had equal status and were a part of the great all, spirit, or God Amun.   Animals were the earthly representations of the Gods because animals had powers that man lacked: flight, speed, and a keen sense of sight, smell and hearing. 


Bast Sakkara Late Period British Museum

Late Period
British Museum

The cult of the cat did not spread throughout ancient Egypt quickly or at an even pace.  Because of the diversity of tribes and their differing beliefs, and primarily due to geographical location and social status, new religious ideas traveled slowly through Pre-dynastic Egypt.  With the gradual unification of Upper and Lower Egypt around 3150BC, ideas and beliefs were exchanged more readily.  Due to this unification, the cult centers for the goddess Bast spread from Lower Egypt to Upper Egypt as well.  Even though ancient Egypt was animist and pantheistic, not all cities had temples erected to all gods.  Instead, citizens of some cities worshipped specific gods such as Neith, the goddess of war in Sais; Hathor, the goddess of childbirth and dance in Serabit; Mut, the goddess of all in Thebes; and eventually Bast, the cat goddess in Bubastis.  This did not mean that these goddesses were not worshipped elsewhere, but they were the primary goddesses in the cities mentioned above. 



Want to know more about the cat in history, art and literature? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for you.  Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 


Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats


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