Bastet, Hathor and Sekhmet

THE EGYPTIAN CAT GODDESS

Would you like to discover the place of Bastet in Egyptian mythology? To understand how Bastet slightly influenced our view of cats in our modern culture?

Then you've come to the right place: as specialists in ancient Egypt, we're here to help you!

The cat goddess Bastet is one of the best-known Egyptian deities in the Egyptian pantheon. Represented either as a cat-headed goddess or as a black cat, she is the goddess of all cats in Egypt, of music, women, childbirth and pleasure.

In this article you will discover:

  • The role of Bastet in Egyptian mythology
  • An explanation of the rites of the ancient Egyptians performed in honour of the goddess Bastet
  • Modern theories attached to the goddess Bastet

Let's go and discover all this together without further delay.

1) Who is Bastet?

A) Bastet in Egyptian mythology

We find Bastet in the myth of Osiris. In this myth at the centre of the polytheistic Egyptian religion, Bastet protects the young falcon god Horus and his mother Isis from the god Set. Indeed, after having killed Horus' father Osiris to rob him of his throne, Set also wants to finish off the legitimate heir of the kingdom of Egypt.

Thus, as protective goddess of women, Bastet protects Isis and, by extension, her innocent child Horus. Later, thanks to this saving protection, Horus, now an adult, will be able to take back the throne of Egypt from Set by challenging him in a series of trials.

The son of the goddess was Maahes, the Egyptian lion god conceived from the union of Bastet with the creation god Ptah. Maahes (or Miysis according to the centuries) was the god of war in ancient Egypt, often depicted as a lion-headed man. Maahes was known as the "Knife Manipulator", the "Scarlet Lord" and the "Lord of Slaughter".

At certain times in Egyptian civilization, Maahes was the substitute in the Egyptian pantheon for Sekhmet, the lion-headed woman, the warrior goddess who exterminated mankind. It is highly probable that Maahes was inspired by the names of the two war gods Mars and Ares, respectively in Roman and Greek mythology 😼.

Bastet in the Myth of the Solar Boat of Ra

According to the "texts of the pyramids", in Egyptian mythology, Bastet stood on the boat of the creator and sun-god Ra alongside Thoth and Hathor to thwart the attacks of the giant serpent of chaos Apep who wanted to devour Ra (note that according to the versions of this story, it is sometimes Ra who turns into a cat during the fight against Apep, without Bastet being present).

B) The feline deity in ancient Egypt

Bastet, the cat goddess, was the goddess of love, of the mystery of women, of pregnant women, of the joy of home, of passion, of pleasure and of "all things pleasant" 😻. Her emblem is the Egyptian ankh cross with two cats on it.

Initially, Bastet was represented as a cheetah goddess, daughter of the sun god Ra. She was the protector of the Egyptian pharaohs as well as their vengeful goddess. She was believed to have the power to torment all those who had bad intentions towards the rulers of Egypt.

Around 1500 BC, Bastet evolved in her representations towards a more sensual and domestic animal: the cat. Bastet received new attributes from this association with cats, becoming the goddess of fertility, sensuality, grace and family. These attributes were probably given to her because of the fertility of domestic cats (cats can have up to 8 kittens in a litter) as well as the graceful, shy and friendly nature of these small felines 😸.

2) Cats in Ancient Egypt

Specialists confirm that the Egyptian cat goddess gained great popularity around the 22nd dynasty of pharaohs as early as 954 BC. The cult of Bastet made their goddess one of the few Egyptian gods and goddesses to possess a city named directly after her: the city of Bubastis (Bu Bastis meaning "The House of Bastet").

Bastet was mostly depicted as a human woman with the head of a cat. However, for artistic reasons, Bastet was sometimes depicted with a whole cat's body. The latter representation generated the belief that Bastet could be any cat living in Egypt, which made Egyptian cats even more sacred animals.

Thus, for the Ancient Egyptians, hurting a cat was a great insult to Bastet. The accidental or intentional killing of a cat was always punishable by the death penalty. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus confirms that this immense respect for cats was not a rumour during the period of the new Egyptian empire. He tells the story of the lynching of a Roman citizen who killed a cat by mistake and was immediately lynched to death by a crowd of angry Egyptians 😾.  

Bastet, the Egyptian feline goddess

It is impossible to distinguish Bastet in the form of a black cat from a simple Egyptian black cat.

3) Mummification of cats

Cats were mummified on a very large scale in an attempt to obtain the favours of the benevolent goddess, protector of the homes of which the pet cats were the incarnation. Indeed, as mummification made it possible to help the cats' souls reach the heavens, Bastet could only thank those who cared for salvation and respected his sacred animals.

After the death of a pet cat, to go even further than embalming in Bastet's veneration, his family marked a profound period of mourning. This period of mourning was marked at its beginning by the shaving of the eyebrows of the deceased cat's family members, who did not stop mourning until their eyebrows had fully grown back.ussés.

Due to Bastet's increasing search for favours, cat breeding soon became a very lucrative business. The vast cemeteries discovered in the great cities of ancient Egypt containing thousands of cat mummies are there to bear witness to this.

Egyptian Bastet Candle Holder Statue

5) The festival of Bastet

Every year, the Bastet Festival took place where up to 700,000 people travelled by boat down the Nile to the port city of Bubastis to celebrate the eternal glory of Bastet. Bastet was honoured with rituals, sacrifices and songs during a great, highly alcoholic festival that started as soon as the boat was on the Nile 😺.

The historian and geographer Herodotus witnessed such a festival. He describes a sumptuous feast in which the women arrived very dressed and more numerous than the men. These women were temporarily freed from all social constraints and could celebrate the goddess' feast by drinking, dancing and singing.

According to tradition, Bastet, as the goddess of women, granted all those who came to her feast all kinds of gifts that lasted until the next feast.

By the way, if you also want to celebrate while honouring the great cat goddess: an "Egyptian cat glass" is a golden idea!

The Egyptian cat goddess

From now on, you have the chance to know the story of the goddess of "all things pleasant" at your fingertips. It's a nice thing because this story will please your friends and family.

From now on, you have the chance to know the story of the goddess of "all things pleasant" at your fingertips. It's a nice thing because this story will please your friends and family.

To go even further, you should know that we offer our readers Bastet statuettes that can be a really nice decoration for your kitchen or living room.

Egyptian Statue: Bastet