Significance of Cats in Egyptian Mythology

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Imagine living with tiny little creatures that can give you so much pain and suffering that you have no option but to live in fear. Imagine an era where you could find venomous scorpions creeping under your blanket, asps hiding in clay jars, and rats spoiled most of the stored grains. Would that life be inviting? It was in that time in Ancient Egypt that one creature existed that could make all troubles go away, Cats!

In ancient Egypt, wild cats self-domesticated roughly ten thousand years ago as they wandered into agricultural societies to feed on rodents. They stuck around looking for free scraps and continued to live there for the backrubs from humans. They evolved from predators to symbols of divine protection and physical embodiments of the gods.

Cat Goddess in Ancient Egypt

Cats were held in the highest esteem in Ancient Egypt. They were worshipped as God and the penalties for injuring or killing a cat were severe. If a person injured a cat or caused its death even by mistake, he or she was punished severely, sometimes the punishment was death.

Goddess Mafdet was one of the earliest deities of ancient Egypt. She was highly respected by people seeking protection against venomous animals like snakes and scorpions. Goddess Mafdet was shown with a variety of fierce, feline forms, often as a woman with the head of a Cheetah, lion, or house-cat. She was sometimes shown as a cat with a woman’s head. Mafdet was worshipped as the protector of the home, for she protected against the tiny creatures that made Egyptian homes unsafe.

Egyptian history also talks about Goddess Baset, also called as Bast. It is believed that Goddess Based replaced Mafdet as the feline goddess and was regarded as a fierce protector of the home. Baset, often represented as half feline, half woman, was worshipped as a Cat Goddess largely because cats had the ability to kill scorpions, snakes, and other vermin. She was called the ‘Eye of Ra,’ the sun God and her followers believed she fiercely watched over the world and Egypt was guarded against invasion under her watchful eye.

Men and women wore amulets and charms, depicting cats to protect their home and bring good luck. There was also jewelry fashioned into cats and kittens to bring good luck, and these were presented as gifts during the new year. Cats were mummified, and several mummified cats were found by modern archaeologists from burial sites across Egypt, some buried in limestone coffins. Hundreds and thousands of mummified cats were found in catacombs of Saqqara and Tell-Basta which is the chief worship sites for the goddess Bastet. These mummies were found because destroying them was prohibited in Ancient Egypt as they carry the essence of Bastet.

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