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Bast - The Cat Goddess of Egypt

Bast - The Cat Goddess of Egypt

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Published by: bodito on Jul 10, 2008
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11/16/2011

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Bast - The Cat Goddess of Egypt
Bast
 
The Cat Goddess of Ancient Egypt
 
There was perhaps no goddess of Ancient Egypt more beloved than Bast or Bastet, a deity of happiness and joy manifested as a woman with a cat's head, who carried a sistrum in her righthand and a basket in her left; she wore an aegis or a breastplate surmounted with the head of alioness. Like the other gods in the Egyptian pantheon, she was a local goddess, the patron of Bubastis, a city in Lower Egypt, but she rose to national prominence duringthe period of the 22nd Dynasty (945 - 715 BCE), because the pharaohs of thatdynasty hailed from Bubastis. She married Ptah, the god of Memphis, and,with Nefertum, formed the dominant triune (as in other human religions, thenumber three played an important role) of that dynasty.
 
The high regard in which Bast was held even before she hit the big time hadperhaps as much to do with the Egyptian people's eternal love affair with catsas with the attributes with which she was invested. In an often-harsh world,where cruelty was both casual and common, Bast was a bright spot, a sourceof joy and pleasure. She loved music and to dance, hence the sistrum in onehand; she was also generous, and the basket she carried in her other hand
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Bast - The Cat Goddess of Egypt
represented the bounty of the harvest.
 
Bast was not all "sugar and spice," however, and like all supernaturalbeings with nearly unlimited powers she was no one to mess with.Someone who found out the hard way was Apep, the so-called "SnakeKing." When this agent of Chaos tried to swallow Re, the Sun God, Bastcut him to pieces with a big knife, an act she was depicted doing in bothher humaniform and fully feline shapes. The ability of cats to kill snakesand other pests, thus protecting both the homes and the granaries of theEgyptians, was well known, but whether this ability gave rise to thelegend or was explained by the legend is not clear; it is also possible thatthe legend is acultural transliterationof an actual event,perhaps one tribedefeated by another(totem animal vstotem animal) in a pre-dynastic context, orthe interpretation of some cosmic orastronomical event witnessed by the Egyptianpriests at an early period.
 
Bast is one of the older goddesses of Egypt,the daughter of Re, and it is thought that thecult of the cat began toward the end of the 1stDynasty or at the beginning of the 2nd Dynasty. It's likely, however, that like many other godsand goddesses Bast was worshipped on a tribal level long before the formalization of her cult andthe creation of artifacts that would endure to leave archaeological traces.
 
Unlike many other supernatural beings, Bast was a friend of humanity, much as was Anubis;interestingly, both of these humanity-friendly gods are present in our lives to this very day by thecommonest of house pets, cats and dogs. Bast protected people not only from sadness (thewarmth of love and the gaiety of music) and hunger, but from illnesses of the body and mind andfrom the actions of ghosts, evil spirits and the demons that were always abroad in the emptyplaces of Egypt. Bast- and cat-shaped amulets were quite popular with people, and offerings weredevoutly carried out at the Temples of Bast, both in Bubastis and in the other cities where her culthad taken hold. One of the customs common among her devotees was to bury mummified cats,either purchased from the priests or beloved departed pets mummified by the priests, either in the
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Bast - The Cat Goddess of Egypt
shadows of her sanctuaries or in cat cemeteries; lucky was the cat buried with prayersto Bast upon the lips of those who loved it in life, but most fortunate was the cat buriedin Bubastis, city of the cat goddess.
 
Although the worship of Bast has gone the way of all the old gods, chased from Egyptby the Christians and Muslims, the affinity of people for cats has persisted. Indeed,many people act almost as if cats were still gods...the cats themselves still do. And catshave remained supernatural creatures---is there a connection between the cat goddess of Ancient Egypt and the cat-affiliated goddesses of other ancient cultures, between thecats of the Temple of Bast and the cat familiars of the practitioners of Wicca? And inthis age of electronic self discovery, the Web is scattered with temples and shrines dedicated toBast/Bastet with varying degrees of sincerity.
 Beloved Bast, mistress of happiness and bounty, twin of the Sun God, slay the evil that afflicts our minds as youslew the serpent Apep. With your graceful stealthanticipatethe moves of all who perpetrate cruelties and stay theirhands against the children of light. Grant us the joy of songand dance, and ever watch over us in the lonely places inwhich we must walk.---A Prayer
Holy Cats-An IntroductionBubastis-City of the CatFor the Love of CatsThe Roman Who Killed a CatRalph Vaughan's Ancient EgyptThe Allure of Egyptian MagicHanging Out With AnubisMaster of Space & TimeThe Book of the DeadThe Ancient Egypt Archives
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