Myths and Legends: Journeys Through Time



Mysterious, intelligent, independent, needy, curious, adorable and whimsical. These are

a few of many adjectives used to describe an animal. Particularly an animal that thousands

millions even, own or are owned by worldwide. That animal is the closely watched and

regarded with great suspicion sometimes. None other than feline domesticus, the common

cat. Cats are most often accused as being a witch’s familiar or too darn smart for their own

good. Aside from that black cats especially are thought to bring about bad luck and ill news.

Some cultures believe that if a cat goes near a corpse or jumps over one, that person will

return to life as a vampire. Other cultures praised the cat because of their cleanliness and

their wisdom. There is one culture though that held cats in the highest regard. The Ancient

Egyptians held cats in such a high regard that they were considered demigods. Not beings of

of this plane entirely but beings of both this plane and the god’s plane. Cats were so very

important to the Ancient Egyptians that anyone caught killing, or harming one even if by acci-

dent, were killed themselves. The cats guarded the royal graneries and kept out mice and

vermin that would have otherwise depleted the food supply. It’s no wonder then that the

people of Ancient Egypt worshipped a goddess who’s duties included protecting cats.

That goddess would be Bast, also known as Bastet. There are many interpretations as to

exactly what Bast was the goddess of. Some interpretations have her as the goddess of fire,

dance, good fortune, music, and secretss. All accounts however agree that Bast was the

goddess of cats, a goddess of fertility and a protector. The Ancient Egyptians associate with

Ra making her a solar diety. However to the Greeks she is a lunar diety as they most likely

associated her with the Artemis. As with most Ancient Egyptian dieties, Bast has a temple

of worship as well as a town and cult that worshipped her. The town is called Bubastis,

or Per-Bast. Named after Bast and is located in Lower Egypt. There are many other temples

and many other cities that also worship Bast but the most holy and revered place is Bubastis.

Bubastis is so important because when the prefix “Per” is added to the beginning of a name

the meaning of the name translated loosely to as “home of” so Bubastis, was considered the

home of Bast. Originally Bast was seen as a protector of Lower Egypt and in fact her name

means “Fierce Devourer”. Before her name was changed to Bastet she was depicted as a lion

headed goddess and in charge of protecting the sun god, Ra. This association with Ra lead to

her gaining the titles ‘Lady of the Flame’ and ‘Lady of the East’. Some account say that Bast is a

daughter of Ra’s and that’s why she fights so hard to protect him. Other accounts say she is

simply a protective and avenging diety, a war type diety if you will. When Bast was renamed

Bastet which translates to “female of the ointment jar”, Bast also became known as a goddess

of perfume and eventually as the wife of Anubis, as he was known as the god of embalming.

As Lower Egypt lost more and more wars, Bast’s position in the diety order went lower and

lower, leading to her name change and her being seeing as less fierce and more motherly. It

was at this point at time that she began being depicted as a cat headed goddess instead of a

lion headed goddess. It was also around this time that she became associated with fertlity

and motherhood as domesticated cats are very gentle with their young. As cats were asso-

ciated with Bast and so very important, they were mummified. The cat owners would even

go so far as to shave off their eyebrows to show mourning when their cat died. At the temple

of Bast in Bubastis, more than 300,000 mummified cats were found. Also when an owner died

they were buried alongside their cat. As the years changed Bast’s identity merged with those

of other similar goddess which lead to the Greeks naming her “Ailuros“which is Greek for

cat and associating her with the moon goddess, Artemis.  All in all the story, history of this

cat goddess is very intricate and has many different facets. Presented here are some of the

basic and more well known facets of this goddess. Also presented are some slightly lesser

known facets. Suffice to say, this goddess is every bit as mysterious and unpredictable as

the charges to whom she gives protection are.