Egyptian Gods: Mafdet

As early as the First Dynasty, Mafdet has been considered the goddess of judgment, justice, and execution. She is believed to be the first feline goddess, predating Bastet and Sekhmet. She is often depicted as a woman with the head of a cheetah. Sometimes she had the head of a cat, a leopard, a lynx or even a mongoose. She may also take the form of a panther in some depictions. She had braided hair that ended up into a scorpion’s tails or joint bodies of scorpions she may have killed. Sometimes, she wears a headdress made of snakes. Her name may also be spelled Maftet or Mefdet, and means “she who runs”, thus earning her the epithet “the runner” relating to her swift execution of justice.

Her symbols include the pole, the rope and the blade of execution, with Mafdet in feline form climbing up it.

As a feline goddess, she is a protector against venomous bites especially those of snakes and scorpions (probably due to the fact that cats are killers of snakes and scorpions). In fact, in the Old Kingdom, she is depicted as the protector of Ra whose weaknesses included snakebites and scorpion stings. She is usually invoked in rituals of those afflicted by the deadly venoms. Her sharp claws are likened to that of the harpoon of the pharaoh that protects him from his enemies in the Underworld. Because of this, Mafdet is the protector of the pharaoh, his chambers, his tomb and other sacred places.

As the goddess of execution, she is seen as a feline running up the side of the staff of the executioner. She is believed to rip out the hearts of wrongdoers and will personally deliver them to the pharaoh’s feet in the same manner that a cat delivers her catch to her owners. Because of this, she gained the title “Avenger of the King”. During the New Kingdom, she is seen to be ruling over the judgment hall of Duat. In this hall, Mafdet’s sharp claws are used in the execution of rebels and enemies by decapitation.

Her other known titles include “Lady of the House of Life”, “Slayer of Serpents”, and the “Great Cat”.

Information and text on the cult following of Mafdet have been scarce. In fact, the more recent goddess, Bastet, another feline deity in the form of a lioness who protects the king and the pharaoh, may have eclipsed Mafdet’s popularity and assimilated her functions. However, Mafdet’s reverence and existence is still evident especially to pharaohs. Her images can be found the pharaohs’ personal items and in the beds where they were mummified.