Bastet, the Egyptian Goddess represented by cats. We all know the Goddess with Egypt with a body and a cat or lion head instead of a human head. While in the Book of the Dead she is mentioned as destroying the bodies of the deceased, with the royal flame, if they failed the judgment hall of Maat. But how did Bastet became connected with cats?
Lady Of The East
Bastet, the goddess who has the body of the woman, and the head of a domestic cat. She holds the sacred rattle, sistrum and she possesses Utchat: the divine, all-seeing eye of Ra.
Bastet (meaning Devouring Lady) is also known as Bast, Ba, Aset Ubasti and Pasch. She is the daughter of the sun-god Ra. Bastet her worship began around the year 3200 BC during the second dynasty in Northern Egypt in her city Bubastis. There, and in many other ancient cities, Egyptians celebrated Bast’s feast day on October the 31st. It was celebrated with joy, enthusiasm while honoring their goddess and protector, she is the protectress of woman, children and domestic cats. Bast symbolizes the moon and she is also the Goddess of pleasure, music, dancing and joy.
However, up until 1000 BC she was portrayed as a lioness. She may have gotten her feline characteristics through her father Ra. When he destroyed his enemy Apep, he was usually shown as a cat. That’s why Bastet is connected with the cat, and because of that she is also connected to the moon. But Bastet has two faces: When she is shown as a lioness, she is associated with sunlight instead. That’s why she is also the Goddess of fire, of the home and pregnant woman. Her aggressive and vicious nature was exposed during a battle where the pharaoh was said to have slaughtered the enemy, as Bastet slaughtered her victims.
Bastet is also called the “Lady of the East”.
Back in the ancient Egypt, cats were very sacred animals. Killing or harming a cat could mean death and they held a high, honoured position in many households. They were more important than humans. Cats were seen as demigods (and they haven’t forgotten), in ancient Egypt.
Temple Ruins of Bast
Bastet even has her own temple at Bubastis. The Sacred enclosure consisted of a grove of tall trees, holding the shrine of the goddess within. The temple was full of cats who were carried around in baskets and were fed ritually.
During the Bubastite period (22nd dynasty), cat cemeteries became popular and a huge profusion of cats amulets were being made. Cats were even mummified and ritually buried.
Once a year, a great festival was held in Bubastis to honour the goddess Bast. Attracting people from all over the country. 700,000 people attended, most traveling by barger to the sound of flutes. This was a religious festival, and it could easily be compared to Mardi Gras. At the end of the festival, on the last night. In a town of silence and darkness. A single light would be lit in the Temple of Bast. From there the light spreads through the town, carried by people who are attending the festival, and prayers and music.
Bubastis was destroyed by the Persians in 350 BCE. Only ruins still remains, and the temple is nothing but blocks. The only thing that still remains, and can still be seen these days, is the famous cat cemetery.