Cats and World Mythology
"I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is
Cats have been the protagonists of myths and legends from all over the world.
Some have worshipped them, some have condemned them, and today people are
idolising them again, though maybe not with that fervor of the Ancient Egyptians.
"It all started in Ancient Egypt...
...when the Egyptians started identifying the lions that
roamed around their land with the Sun. They believed
that at sunset, Ra, the Sun God, would die and descend
through the underworld in the West, to be born again in
the East, at sunrise. During the night, however Ra was
always in great danger, as his enemies, headed by the
great serpent Apophis would not hesitate to attack him, thus putting the whole
Universe in danger.
However, the lions would look unto the setting sun, and keep its rays in their eyes,
for they, like domestic felines, have eyes that reflect in the dark. With that fire
burning in their eyes, the lions would go forth and kill the serpents of the night, as we
were going to do afterwards, when the domestic cat was bred in the temples of the
Black Land (Kemet, the name applied by the Ancient
Egyptians to their country).
With the image of the lion in mind, the Egyptians built the
Sphinx, a huge effigy of the Sun God, with the body of a lion
and the head of a Pharaoh, and they also worshipped the
goddess Sekhmet, who with the head of a lion (see picture)
was the goddess of war, who descended to the earth to
destroy the enemies of Ra, and was known as the Eye of Ra.
Amongst the list of Egyptian feline goddess .... ; Tefnut, a lion
headed goddess whose name means Moisture and represents
one of the most primeval forces of creation; and Mafdet, a
goddess of protection. In an Ancient Egyptian spell which
repels snakes, the protection of Mafdet is invoked: 'O cobra, I
am the flame which shines on the brows of the Chaos-gods of
the Standard of Years. Begone from me, for I am Mafdet!'
However, the domestic cat was specifically
claimed to be under the protection of Bast. Bast,
like Sekhmet was often said to be the daughter of
Ra, and she was the protector of cats and those
who took care of cats; her gifts were joy and
pleasure. Her cult was centred in the city of
Bubastis (called Per-Bast, or House of Bast, by
the Egyptians), where, once her temple stood.
The Greek historian, Herodotus said "there is no
temple more beautiful than that of Bubastis".
Bubastis also housed a necropolis where
hundreds of mummified cats were buried. She
also had an annual festival, which seems to have
been one of the most popular in the whole of
Egypt, accompanied by loud music and chanting.
She is often represented either as a woman with a cat's head, or as a cat. The
significance of Bast can only be understood by comparing her to Sekhmet. Indeed,
there is evidence that the Egyptians viewed them as aspects of the same divine
force - Sekhmet being the violent aspect of the divine sun, and Bast being its gentler
However, while Bast is recently growing in popularity, it must be remembered that
Egyptian deities were not without their macabre side. In an Egyptian legend, which
talks about the search for the Book of Thoth, one of the characters is a mysterious
seductress who is a priestess of Bast. She seduces Prince Setna, telling him: 'Be
joyful, my sweet lord, for I am destined to be your bride .......... .
The quote above also sheds light on a popular concept amongst Egyptian women
seems to have been that the ideal beauty was that of a cat. The make-up they used
accentuated particular features, especially the eyes, which gave them a mysterious
Often children were consecrated to Bastet - a cut was made on their arm and drops
of cat blood poured into it. A marble coffin of a royal cat refers to the cat contained
inside it as "Lady Cat". A human who killed a cat, even accidentally, was put to
death, and when a cat died, the owners used to shave off their eyebrows as a sign of
mourning. In the tomb of Tutankhamun, the image of a serene Bast was found on a
gilded shrine, housing the royal coffin. One of the discoverers of Tutankhamun's
tomb, Lord Carnarvon, is said to have become interested in Egyptology after
discovering a cat coffin.
The increase in internation trade with Ancient Egypt, especially by Phoenicians and
Romans, spread cats to other lands, from Egypt to Europe and Asia. In these
countries, cats have their own stories too. In the meantime, the domestic cats in
Egypt are still highly respected, for in that land, the bond between cat and human is
now eternal, with cats walking among the streets in the market place, where till
today, the images of Bast are still being offered to tourists, as they must have been
offered once, a long time ago, to pilgrims, who would have been going to the annual
celebration of Bast!
Want to learn more about Bast?
The Cat Goddess Bast
Who is Bast really?
"Then with the Norse...
... cats were associated with Freyja. The
name Freyja (alternatively spelt Freija,
Freiya, or Freya) means 'the Lady', and she
is the mistress of magic (her particular form
of magic being called Seidh, a system
involving trance and very similar to
shamanism). The day Friday is named after
her. Her personal transport is a magnificent
chariot, drawn by two large grey cats.
Freyja picture by Kris Waldherr, creator of the Goddess
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