Cats are clever, beautiful and endlessly fascinating creatures. No wonder they inspire something close to worship in feline lovers. But in ancient Egypt, they inspired actual worship. There was, in fact, a cult of people who revered cats as tiny gods. And the head of all of them was the goddess Bast.
The first incarnation of Bast.
Bast (or Bastet, as she is also known) emerged in all her glory around 3000 B.C. as a lioness or a woman with the head of a lioness. One fierce creature, she was the warrior goddess of the sun. Two thousand years later, her cult was still going strong, but Bast had mellowed into a domestic cat, or again, a woman with the head of a domestic cat.
As in many ancient civilizations (and as we see on ships), cats were prized for their ability to control rodent populations — and thus protect food stores. And they were pretty darned cute, too. So ancient Egyptians, knowing that cats were emissaries of the goddess — any friend of Bast is a friend of mine, went the ancient saying — started allowing cats into their homes. Like now, Egyptians really, really loved cats, and so Bast herself took on a whole host of other duties.
Bast was the goddess of…a lot.
Now seen as a domestic goddess, Bast had a laundry list of duties. She was the goddess of:
- Sunrise: After all, she is the daughter of Ra, the god of the sun, and she possesses the all-seeing eye of Ra.
- Fire: She helps protect Ra against his enemy, Apep the serpent. Now we know where all those memes with kittens shooting lasers from their eyes came from.
- Fertility: People saw that domestic cats had up to 12 kittens (and Bast’s son turned out to be a king), so having a cat around was said to help grow one’s family.
- Pregnant women: Bast was often depicted with a litter of kittens.
- Children: And general domesticity.
- Physical pleasure: Yup, Bast was the goddess of sex and love, and all sorts of physical pleasures beyond that.
- Perfume: The hieroglyphics for Bast’s name sometimes translate to “she of the ointment jar,” which could mean salve or perfume.
- Protection from disease: Rats carry disease, and cats control the rat population. So this one, too, makes a lot of sense.
- Protection of the Pharaoh: The fierce lioness shielded the pharaoh in heavy battle. It was also why she was known as “the Lady of Destruction,” something that might come to mind the next time your cat knocks a keepsake to the floor.
Cats were so revered in ancient Egypt that killing one was seen as much more than just unlucky — it was punishable by death. And when a treasured cat died, it was mummified and sent to a special cat cemetery as an offering to Bast, and later reburied in the cat guardian’s own tomb. In fact, in the ancient city of Bubastis, over 300,000 cats were buried.
Eventually the cult of Bast faded, but she still survives in pop culture. She’s a pretty main (and gruesome) character in Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” and her power is called upon in the film version of Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie.
Worship your own tiny goddess.
Make your cat feel like the goddess she is. Enshrine her image within a precious frame, like this one from the Paw Points® Rewards catalog. To get your paws on that frame and other rewards, just join the Paw Points® Rewards program, and start racking up the points.
Generally, cats are not the biggest fans of water — unless it’s drinking from the faucet or the toilet. And yet there’s strong evidence that felines have sailed the Seven Seas dating all the way back to the Vikings and even earlier to ancient Egypt.
Why were H2O-averse kitties used as ship’s cats? All aboard:
Vermin control: One of a ship cat’s primary jobs was to hunt and kill rats and mice aboard ship. Rats could not only destroy grains and other necessary food, but they could chew through rigging. The little critters also carried deadly diseases. So a kitty or two was quite prized — and treated very well — on board.
Predictors of weather: Cats were believed to be tiny forecasters of storms and other sea-borne disasters. This isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Felines have very sensitive inner ears, which make them react to changes in barometric pressure.
Controllers of weather: This one’s a little more far-fetched. It was thought that cats could summon storms through, well, magic stored in their tails. (This is a fantastic superpower and we’d like to harness it.) And if a feline was cruelly thrown overboard, whoa betide the ship: the drowned kitty would create a storm that would sink the ship. If the ship made it through the storm intact, they’d be cursed with nine years of bad luck. Hiss!
Good luck: Those sailors were a superstitious lot. Black cats were believed to be good luck charms for ships, portending fair skies and friendly winds.
Companionship: On a journey spanning many months or even years, cats became much-loved ship’s mascots. Aside from the practical usage of controlling rodents — and, um, controlling the weather with their tails — cats were a great distraction for a bored crew.