Egyptian Gods: Bastet

Bastet is the Egyptian goddess of cats, the home, fire, sunrise, music, dance, pleasure as well as sexuality, fertility, family, pregnant women and children. She is believed to be the personification of the soul of Isis. She is represented either as a woman with the head of a domesticated cat, a lioness (as goddess of sunlight) or as a desert sand-cat. She holds with her a sacred rattle, a small bag over her left shoulder, the sistrum on her right hand and has figurines of kittens surrounding her feet. She possesses the Utchat or Uraeus – the revered, all seeing eye of Ra used as instrument for his vengeance. She is also known by other names such as Bast, Ubastis or Ubasti.

She was seen as The Sacred Cat and Egyptians placed a high regard for cats because of her. Any crimes made against cats are considered very severe and very unlucky. Her priests considered cats to be holy animals in her temples and when they die, they are mummified and presented to the goddess as offering. Cats are revered because of their protective nature by virtue of killing varmints that destroys crops. In fact, in the ancient city of Bubastis, some 300,000 cats were mummified and buried in their own cemetery. Later, when the cat’s owner dies, they are buried beside their cats.

Bastet was also referred to by the following titles: “The Lady of the East” due to her protective nature, “The Female Devourer” based on the meaning of her name and “the Tearer” due to her destructive second nature.

At various times she has been either understood to be the daughter of the sun god Ra, or the daughter of Amun, the air god. She assisted Ra in his nightly travels across the sky in his boat of a million years. Myth has it that she protects him against her fierce nemesis, Apep, the snake or serpent demon. This role resulted in her acquiring another title: “the Lady of the Flame”.

Bastet is believed to be the wife of Ptah, the chief God of Memphis and the mother of the lion god Mihos. She is also thought to be the mother of Nefertum, the god of perfumes.

Like most Egyptian goddesses, two sides personify her: docile and aggressive. On her gentle side, she appears as a protector of homes and pregnant women.  Her vicious nature shows during incredible battles when she is protecting the pharaoh, and here she takes the form of her twin sister (sometimes considered to be simply another aspect of herself), Sekhmet.

Her role in fertility eventually made her the goddess of the moon in the later years of Egyptian history.  This time, the Greeks equated her to Artemis and Diana.  She is related to Neith because of her role in fertility and enabling women to have children.

She is one of the most well-loved goddesses of Egypt; especially Lower Egypt.  Many temples and statues were built to her honor by her cult following in the cities of Memphis, Heliopolis, and Herakliopolis. However, of all the cities, none could surpass the reverence she received in the city of Busbastis near the Delta, which was named after her. Every year, in the months of April and May, the historian Herodotus noted that her yearly festivals drew some 700,000 people in huge ships singing songs and dancing as they head to the city. Prodigious amounts of wine were drunk in these festivals. Upon reaching Bubastis, great sacrifices were made. This annual festival went by different names including “Festival of Bast”, “Procession of Bast”, “Bast Goes Forth from Bubastis” and “Bast Guards the Two Lands”. The festivals continued until the destruction of the city in 350 BC by the Persians. What remains today are just ruins to remind us of its one-time glory and splendor.