Exploring the Egyptian Goddess Bastet
Bastet or Bast is the Egyptian Cat Goddess of protection, cats, sunrise, the sun, the moon, magick, the home fire, fertility, family, women, children, prosperity, music, dance, joy, & play. She represents the benevolent aspects of the Sun. The addition of the 'et' ending with Bast vs. Bastet is used to indicate the 't' in Bast is pronounced.
Bastet was one of the most well-loved goddesses of Egypt, She was revered by both women and men equally; especially throughout Lower Egypt from the 2nd Dynasty onward. She was second only to Isis in popularity and once Her mythology and worship moved through Greece to Rome, She was equally popular among the Greeks and Romans.
Often depicted as a black or striped cat or a woman with a black cat head. She is most often shown holding a sistrum; occasionally She also holds an ankh (symbol of life) and/or the ointment or perfume jar.
Bast is most often viewed as the daughter of the Sun God Ra. She is considered the wife of the craftsman God Ptuh and the mother of the God of Perfumes Nefertum.
Her other names include: B'sst, Ubaste, Ubastis, Ubasti, The Lady of the East, The Lady of the Flame, She of the Ointment Jar, the Soul of Isis, Eye of Ra, Devouring Lady, The Lady of Dread, and The Lady of Slaughter.
Other Goddesses She is associated with include: Sekmet(Egyptian), Hathor(Egyptian), Tefnut(Egyptian), Neith (Egyptian), Nut(Egyptian), Wadjet(Egyptian), Mut(Egyptian), Pakhet(Egyptian), Artemis(Greek), and Diana (Roman).
Bast, Sekhmet, and Hathor
Bast & Sekhmet: Originally Bast had the head of a lion or a desert sand-cat and was seen as an avenging lioness. Like many early Egyptian deities, She had a duel nature being both benign and aggressive. Over time She developed a twin (or another aspect of Herself), Sekhmet the lion-headed Goddess. Of all the Goddesses associated with Bast, Her connection to Sekhmet is the strongest. Not only did both Goddesses take the form of a lioness, they were both considered the wife of Ptah and the mother of Nefertum.
Bast the Cat: It was not until the New Kingdom that Bast became exclusively associated with domesticated cats. As Bastet became more of a household cat, she lost all traces of her lioness form. It became more common to depict Her as a house cat or a woman with the head of a cat. During this transformation, Sekhmet also took on all of Bast’s destructive, vicious, and battle qualities.
Bast & Hathor: Bast is also closely connected to Hathor. This connection is likely ancient since Bast and Hathor appear together in the temple of Khafre at Giza. The most commonly sited connection between the two is that Bast holds a sistrum, which is the sacred rattle of Hathor. Another connection is the Egyptian City Denderah, which was the center of the cult of Hathor in Upper Egypt and was sometimes known as the Southern Bubastis. Often Hathor is seen to represent Upper Egypt while Bast represents Lower Egypt.
Sekhmet & Hathor: There is also a connection between Sekhmet and Hathor. Sometimes they are seen as different versions of one another. Originally Hathor was seen as the blood thirsty Goddess Sekhmet. Like Bastet, over time Hathor became more docile and Sekhmet took on Hathor’s original battle qualities. When Hathor is in Her Eye of Ra aspect, She is often depicted as Sekhmet. During the feast of Hathor (celebrating salvation from the wrath of the Eye of Ra) an image of Sekhmet represents Upper Egypt while Bast still represents Lower Egypt. As we can see both Hathor and Sekhmet can represent Upper Egypt, while Bast consistently represents Lower Egypt where Her worship was centered. It's also possible the three Goddesses were simply regional versions of the same Goddess force.
Bastet as Protector
- Protector of the Sun God Ra, and by extension the protector of pharaohs.
- She protects Ra as he travels the night sky in his boat of a million years against Apep the serpent who will swallow the sun at the end of days.
- By the time of the Pyramid Texts (c. 2400-2300 BCE) She was also associated with pharaohs. When the pharaoh was a child, Bast was seen as his nanny or nursemaid. As he grew, She became his protector. Many pharaohs even included Her in their throne names.
- She protects the home from diseases especially those that affect women and children.
- And She protects women and children during pregnancy, childbirth, infancy and childhood.
The Egyptian Love of Cats
Cats were deeply sacred to all Egyptians and seen as the physical embodiment of the Goddess Bastet.
- One reason they were seen as Divine is because they worshiped both the Sun and the Moon equally. Lazily lounging and soaking up the solar rays of the sun during the day; then frolicking all night under the moonlight.
- Another reason is because they killed the vermin that would destroy their crops and their grain storage. Egyptians stored their excess grains. Anywhere humans stored grains, vermin were sure to follow. Cats domesticated themselves through the act of killing rodents that fed on the grain and in return the humans would care for the cats to show their gratitude and encourage them to stay and continue to fend off rodents. It is believed that the storing of grains by humans is what resulted in the domestication of cats, not just in Egypt, but world wide.
- A third reason connects back to Bast as the protector of Ra. Egypt is home to some of the most poisonous snakes in the world - such as the asp or aspis, which translates loosely as 'viper'. Cats will on occasion kill these snakes as well as scorpions, another venomous creature from Egypt. It's not hard to see why this type of protection would be both welcome and appreciated - even seen as a Divine gift by the ancient Egyptians.
The City of Bubastis
The Egyptian city Bubastis, near the Delta was dedicated to and named after Bastet. Bubastis was the main center of Her cult starting from at least the 5th century BCE. Bubastis became one of the richest and most luxuriant cities in Egypt and people from all over the country traveled there. It was even the capital of ancient Egypt for a time during the Late Period. The people of Egypt would annually attend the great festival of Bastet at Bubastis which was one of the most extravagant and popular events of the year.
As a cat lover and priestess of Bast myself I often think about the city of Bubastis and wonder what it might have been like to live there. I figure it was a city of crazy cat people. You know how everyone knows at least one crazy cat person with 5-10 or more cats (that would be me btw)? Well imagine a whole city where the entire population is made up of those people all joined by their immense love of cats. The more I think about a city overrun with kitties, the more questions I have.
One question that frequently comes to mind when pondering the city of Bubastis is – Did the Egyptians spay and neuter their cats? It’s clear they had the surgical know how to perform such procedures especially since they mummified cats - but would they have found it to be an afront to the Goddess Bast? And if not, could you imagine what that would have made the city of Bubastis like? Without a doubt it would be composed of several large cat colonies.
Anyone who has ever lived with both intact cats and spayed or neutered cats knows there is a dramatic difference in personality and territorial issues between the two types. If they left their cats intact, I wonder how they dealt with the ensuing cat drama that would result from such a situation. How did the humans who cared for these cats keep up with the food demand of litter after litter of kitties? Did they just allow the cats to fend for themselves and only supplement with food here and there?
What do you think?
Did the Egyptians spay and neuter their cats.
The Mummification of Cats
Hundreds of thousands of cat mummies have been discovered in Egypt over the years. The ancient Egyptians believed that if they mummified their cats they would be able to accompany them in the afterlife. Death was definitely not the end of the road to the Egyptians, who believed in active afterlife. It was a common practice for a pet to be buried alongside its human in the hopes they would remain side by side in the afterlife. At least this is how the practice of cat mummification began.
Unfortunately it digressed into something much more sinister. As the popularity of the cat Goddess Bast grew so did the demand for cat sacrifices as an offering to the Goddess. Many Egyptian priests of Bast discovered that the sacrifice and mummification of cats was a lucrative business. X-rays of some of the cat mummies discovered in Bubastis show they did not all die of natural causes, many showing trauma to the head. Sadly a large number of these 'offerings' were a year or less old.
Cats weren't the only animal the Egyptians mummified, but they were the most common. The sacred bulls of the early dynasties were another commonly mummified animal, complete with their own cemetery at Sakkara. Due to their religious significance, baboons, birds, and crocodiles were also mummified on occasion, especially in the later dynasties when mummification became more commonplace and popular.
Witches and Black Cats
Witches and black cats have long been connected to one another. This is partially due to the Goddess Bast being associated with pagans by early Christians most likely because of Her worship in Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
As time went on and as the concept of witches continued to evolve or rather de-evolve in the minds of Christians, black cats became associated with witches and therefore, evil. They began to be seen as the witch’s familiar. Superstitions about black cats arose. And by the peak of the witch hunt craze cats, especially black cats were being killed with as much frequency as women. The witches’ persecutors believed that the screaming sounds cats made when burned alive alongside the ‘witches’ was the sound of demons being released from inside the cats. They saw this as proof of the cats’ guilt as well as proof that burning them alive was their only salvation as it was the only way to release the demons.
Cruel and disgusting to think about now, this practice of killing cats ultimately helped contribute to the rise of the Black Plague. By killing cats in mass, the persecutors created a situation which allowed the rodent and vermin population to swell. Rats being among one of the largest contributors to the spread of the plague.
However the superstitions surrounding black cats didn’t lessen much even after the plague. They were still seen as a source of bad luck. And the idea that a black cat crossing your path as bad luck persisted into modern times.
Even today black cats are known to be among the last adopted in shelters due to their association with bad luck, superstitions, and witches. The other side of this is that many modern-day witches and some pagans still consider cats, especially black cats to be a fitting familiar. And black cats continue to be among the most popular cat for witches and pagans to adopt and/or rescue. The name ‘Bast’ for a witch’s familiar continues to be popular as well. In the United States there is even a National Black Cat Appreciation Day on August 17th to help bring awareness to the stigma surrounding black cats in the hopes it will boost their adoption rates.
I myself have 7 black cats, 1 of which is named Bast.
What About You?
Are you kept by a cat?
Working With Bastet
Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate the magick of Bast into your daily life and rituals:
- Spoil your cats.
- Do magick with your cats.
- Spend time with friends who have cats if you are cat-less.
- Lounge in the sun.
- Dance and play in the moonlight.
- Declare every ‘raised’ surface to be an altar.
- Take naps. Lots and lots of naps!
- Stretch, start a Yoga routine.
- Chase your passions.
- Eat only your favorite foods.
- Cast protection spells on your pet(s), especially cats.
- Wear cat ears.
- Dance, go to music festivals and/or concerts.
- Spend time doing what makes you happy, follow your bliss.
- Cast spells for protection (especially for your family & children), fertility, and/or prosperity.
- Create an altar dedicated to Bastet.
- Lead or attend a ritual dedicated to the Goddess Bast.
Symbols, Magickal Attributes, and Offerings
Use these items with intention on your altar or in your daily rituals to welcome the energy of Bastet:
- All cats – especially black or striped cats
- Woman with a cat head
- The sun and moon
- Sistrum or any music maker
- Eye of Ra, ankh, ointment and perfume jars
- Parades & floats
- Amber, carnelian & tiger’s eye
- Catnip, valerian, cat tails & pussy willows
Though an ancient Goddess, Bastet hasn't lost any popularity in modern times. Her energy is both protective and nurturing - not to mention She knows how to have fun! I hope you are inspired by the ideas here to further enrich your practice by connecting to the Goddess Bast in a deeper way.
References and Resources
Animal Speak by Ted Andrews
Animal Magick by D.J. Conway
The Mysterious, Magical Cat by D.J. Conway
The Enchanted Cat: Feline Fascinations, Spells and Magick by Ellen Dugan
Your Magical Cat by Gerina Dunwich
The Witches’ Goddess by Janet and Stewart Farrar
Isis Magic by M. Isidora Forrest
The Witch's Familiar: Spiritual Partnerships for Successful Magic by Raven Grimassi
Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A Practical Guide by Janice Kamrin
The Great Goddesses of Egypt by Barbara S. Lesko
The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt by Richard H. Wilkinson
The Egyptian Book of the Dead
© 2019 Jennifer Jorgenson