Cats in ancient Egypt
Cats in ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, cats are most closely associated as deities. There were several feline gods and goddesses. Lions were believed to guard the god Ra during his journeys through the underworld. The Egyptians had a fascination with lions. The head of Pharaoh and the body of a lion: this is how the sphinx was created.

In ancient Egypt, three lion goddesses existed. Sekhmet was a fierce and powerful goddess. A goddess of war who was sent by her father Ra to earth to destroy his enemies. She was a woman with the head of a lion. Tefnut was another lion-headed goddess with a name meaning moisture, and she represented the ancient force of nature. The third lion goddess was the goddess of protection, Mafdet.

The gentle goddess Bast may seem a bit out of place among her fierce sisters. Often shown as a graceful cat wearing a broad collar, bracelets, and earrings, Bast protected the indoor cats and those who cared for them. Her principal gifts to the world were joy and pleasure. She was a much-beloved household deity. Her main temple was at Bubastis and was one of Egypt's most beautiful and popular. She also had a secondary seat in Memphis. The ancient Egyptians believed that Sekhmet and Bast were actually two faces of the same goddess. Bast representing the gentler qualities, and Sekhmet representing the violent aspect of the divine.

Egyptian children were often consecrated to Bast and placed under her protection. Bast was considered a supernal mother and was often depicted with kittens. Ancient Egyptian women who wanted to have children would often wear a necklace or a bracelet picturing the Bast with kittens. And the number of kittens with the goddess was the number of children desired by the woman. Cats were the height of beauty in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians put makeup around their eyes, giving them a feline look.

Cats were so crucial in ancient Egypt that the penalty for killing one was death. The owners of a cat that died from an accident or old age would go into mourning. And they were shaving their eyebrows off, showing their grief. Cats were often mummified. One cat belonging to royals was buried in a coffin made of marble. "Lady Cat" was written with hieroglyphs on her coffin.

Bast is believed to be the wife of the god Ptah, the creator god of the universe. They had a son, the lion god Maahes who originated as a Nubian god. His worship increased during the New Kingdom. He was included in the Egyptian pantheon as Bast and Ptah's son. On becoming a divine mother, Bast started to be associated with Wadjet, Lower Egypt's protectress. They became known as Wadjet-Bast. The same association was created in the Upper Kingdom between Sekhmet and the protectress Nekhbet.

The constantly changing nature of the Egyptian religion can become confusing. They worshiped other gods as well and followed other religions. The ancient Egyptians quickly adapted and adopted these different religions and gods into their own cosmology. This makes it difficult for people now to understand ancient Egypt's religion. Most of us have been raised with a single religion. We reject or even actively repel outside influences. The story of Bast and Maahes demonstrates that the Egyptians had a very different way of looking at religion.

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