Bastet, the protector cat-headed Egyptian deity, was considered among one of the most powerful gods in the land. Her powers were said to rule over the realm of love, joy, motherhood, and celebration; however, she was also believed to be the goddess of warfare and the protector of the pharaohs.
Did You Know?
While there are many lion gods and cat goddesses in ancient Egyptian religion, Bastet is the only god or goddess represented as a domestic cat.
Considered as the goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt, ‘Bast’ was known as ‘Sekhmet’ in Upper Egypt, who was also a lioness deity of warfare. However, during the Third Intermediate Period and by the 22nd Dynasty or Bubastite Dynasty (945-715 BCE), this goddess began to be depicted with the head of a cat instead of a lioness. Additionally, she came to be known as ‘Bastet’ a powerful protector deity.
This SpiritualRay article discusses some common myths about the ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet.
❖ This feline goddess is also spelled as Bast, Baast, and Ubasti/e.
❖ The ancient Egyptians would often name towns in honor of their gods. The town of ‘Boubastis’ was named in honor of Bastet and even had a cult of her own.
❖ She is believed to be the daughter of the Sun-God ‘Ra/Re’.
❖ Being the daughter of the Sun, she was given the title of ‘Lady of Flame’, and worshiped as a solar deity.
❖ Bastet is shown holding a sistrum in one hand and an ‘ankh’, the key of life in another. She has a face of a cat and a cobra-head of goddess Wadjet on her crown.
❖ She was worshiped as a protector goddess in Lower Egypt and was the patron goddess of the pharaoh and their defender.
❖ Believed to be the patron goddess of fire, cats, hearth, and expectant mothers, Bastet began to be worshiped as a protective deity after 1000 BCE. She was believed to ward off evil and contagious diseases as well.
❖ During the Middle kingdom of Egypt or the period of reunification, between 2055 BCE and 1650 BCE, the deity Bast was depicted with a head of cat and holding a basket or rattle.
❖ After the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BCE) came to be, the lioness war goddess Sekhmet became the more dominant deity, while Bastet began to be associated with cats.
❖ Temples and commoners would treat cats as sacred animals who were representatives of the deity. To harm a cat was to commit a unforgivable sin against the goddess herself, and was considered a bad omen.
❖ One major reason why cats may have been considered sacred by this civilization is because cats helped keep crops and granaries free of vermin, and thus, helped prevent diseases from spreading.
❖ The city of Bubastis (Tell Basta) or House of Bast was named in honor of this goddess.
❖ The ancient Egyptians built a grand temple exclusively in honor of Bastet. The Greek historian, Herodotus described this temple in his work in the 5th century BCE, as being built on an island surrounded by a lake Isheru from three sides. This lake was formed by the meeting of two channels from the Nile river.
❖ In this temple, cats were worshiped as reincarnations of the deity. As and when a sacred cat died, it was mummified and presented to Bastet.
❖ Both Bastet and Sekhmet are considered to be the consorts of Ptah, the god of creation, craftsmen, architects, and fertility. However, Anubis, the jackal-headed god and protector of the dead and mummification, was also a consort of Bastet.
❖ Maahes―a lion-headed god of war―and Khonsu―the god of moon and youth―are thought to be the sons of Bastet.
❖ A festival held in honor of Bastet was celebrated every year and witnessed over 700,000 pilgrims, which excluded children. Men and women would journey in ships from all over Egypt in order to reach the city of Bubastis.
❖ Huge amounts of wine was consumed during the period, and perhaps more so than any other time of the year. The euphoria of the drunken state was said to please the goddess, because she was also believed to be the goddess of joy, music, dance, and love.
❖ The occupation of Egypt during the Ptolemaic dynasty from 305 BCE to 30 BCE, witnessed the transformation of Bastet into a lunar deity from a solar goddess, who was also the daughter of Re, the Sun god.
❖ She soon merged into the Greek culture and began to be worshiped as a parallel vision of Artemis, the Greek moon goddess, hunter, and warrior. However, unlike Artemis, Bastet was not celibate, had consorts as well as children.
❖ Therefore, since Apollo was the brother of Artemis, the Greeks came to consider Horus, the god of war and sky as Bastet’s brother.
❖ The Greeks would also call Bastet ‘Ailuros’, meaning feline or cat.
The goddess Bastet was often shown with the face of a lioness many centuries later, symbolizing the ferocity and warrior-like demeanor that lay hidden beneath the protective traits of this goddess. So, it was thought wise to keep her appeased and not anger her in any manner.