Bastet (also referred to as “Bast”) is the offspring of Ra, an Egyptian sun god. She is associated with femininity and cats. Although she initially began as a goddess of the sun based on her father’s powers, her appearance was predominantly feline, and it changed over time from a wild lioness to a domesticated cat. Specifically, she is often portrayed as a female cat in a seated position.
As is common among female gods in later texts, Bastet gained more power and assumed more responsibilities over time. Initially, she protected her father from harm. In this role, she primarily protected him from harm threatened by Apep, the snake-god and his arch nemesis. Although the goddess was born in Bubastis, her power and influence spread to other regions of Egypt. This eventually gained her a cult following in other parts of the country, particularly Memphis. In her honor, entire cemeteries of mummified house cats (often buried near their owners) appeared in Bubastis and Memphis during the Ptolemaic periods. Worshipers donated offerings of small bronze statues of the goddess. She was also honored through jewelry, especially amulets, made of gold molded into the shape of cats.
Although she is associated independently with cats, Bastet has connections with the sun and solar system in some stories, too, due to the controlling influence of her father. These depictions are more common in earlier stories and regional mythology. Based on this association, she is sometimes also called the “Eye of the Moon.” In addition to gender roles, her image is also influenced by politics. As the Greek empire grew in power, and eventually conquered surrounding lands, Egyptian mythology changed to reflect the influence of the Greeks. Therefore, during stories from the Ptolemaic Dynasty, Bastet is often linked to Greek goddesses and even shares overlapping powers.
Coinciding with the domestication of the cat, Bastet’s image changed to become less intimidating, even as her powers increased. For example, Bastet gained the power of presiding over childbirth and expectant mothers sometime after the domestication of the house cat. This role symbolized both her growing power and influence and high fertility levels associated with the domestic cat. Later, the goddess acquired a third major duty of protecting people against evil spirits and contagious diseases. Although it was not a main responsibility, she had unique powers to charm snakes and combat the effects of poisonous venom, which was a trait attributed to cats among ancient Egyptians. She is seen battling snakes in some mythological scenes, including engaging in combat with Apep.
Facts About Bastet
- Often depicted in illustrated scenes surrounded by kittens
- Women wanting children showed her amulets with their desired number of offspring. She granted their wishes
- Sometimes shown with multiple body piercings, including the ears and nose
- Her name changed during the New Kingdom to add an extra “t,” which is more feminine
- Honored by worshipers with golden jewelry, as cats were associated with riches and royalty
- Considered a good mother and had two children of her own
- Most honored deity in ancient Egypt
- Had a yearly festival in her honor that attracted over 700,000 people from across Egypt
- Festival activities included drinking copious amounts of wine, which is a divine drink associated with the goddess
- Wore a necklace with a Wedjat eye, which symbolizes wholeness and provides protection
- Holds a sistrum in her right hand, which is a percussion instrument popular in ancient Egypt
- Holds an aegis with a lion’s head in her left hand, which is a protective shield made of armor
- Sometimes called the goddess of dancing and singing
- Has a temple in her honor. During her yearly festival, a single torch begins the celebration, followed by a torch-lighting ceremony throughout her hometown
- Associated with a number of other Egyptian and Greek deities
- Family includes a sister named Hathor and two sons named Nefertem and Maahes
- Wife of Ptah, a god of creation, rebirth, and craftsmen
- Goes by two alternate names, which are “Protector of the East” and “Protector of the West”
- Worshiped for her initial role as a fierce protector in Lower Egypt
- Worshiped as a feline mother-like figure in Upper Egypt
- Worshiped mostly as a sun deity in Lower Egypt in association with her father
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