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In Egyptian mythology, Bast (also spelled Ubasti, Baset], and later Bastet) is an ancient solar and war goddess, worshipped at least since the Second Dynasty. In the late dynasties, the priests of Amun began to call her Bastet, a repetitive and diminutive form after her role in the pantheon became diminished as Sekhmet, a similar lioness war deity, became more dominant in the unified culture of Lower and Upper Egypt. In the Middle Kingdom, the cat appeared as Bastet’s sacred animal and after the New Kingdom she was depicted as a woman with a cat’s head carrying a sacred rattle and a box or basket.
Bast or Bastet was the cat goddess and local deity of the town of Bubastis (Per-Bast in Egyptian), where her cult was centered Bubastis was named after her. Originally she was viewed as the protector goddess of Lower Egypt, and consequently depicted as a fierce lioness. Indeed, her name means (female) devourer. As protector, she was seen as defender of the pharaoh, and consequently of the later chief male deity, Ra, who was also a solar deity, gaining her the titles Lady of Flame and Eye of Ra.
The goddess Bast was sometimes depicted holding a ceremonial sistrum in one hand and an aegis in the other – the aegis usually resembling a collar or gorget embellished with a lioness head.
Bast was a goddess of the sun throughout most of Ancient Egyptian history, but later when she was changed into a cat goddess rather than a lion, she was changed to a goddess of the moon by Greeks occupying Ancient Egypt toward the end of its civilization. In Greek mythology, Bast is also known as Aelurus.
Due to the threat to the food supply that could be caused by simple vermin such as mice and rats, and their ability to fight and kill snakes, especially cobras, cats in Egypt were revered highly, sometimes being given golden jewellery to wear and were allowed to eat from the same plates as their owners. Consequently, later as the main cat (rather than lioness) deity, Bastet was strongly revered as the patron of cats, and thus it was in the temple at Per-Bast that cats were buried and mummified. When the owner died they would put the owner next to the mummified cat. More than 300,000 mummified cats were discovered when Bast’s temple at Per-Bast was excavated. Herodotus writes that when a cat in the family dies, Egyptians shaved their eyebrows and took the body to Bubastis to be embalmed.3 As a cat or lioness war goddess, and protector of the lands, when, during the New Kingdom, the fierce lion god Maahes of Nubia became part of Egyptian mythology, she was identified, in the Lower Kingdom, as his mother. This paralleled the identification of the fierce lioness war goddess Sekhmet, as his mother in the Upper Kingdom.