She is the protector of Lower Egypt, the guardian of Kings, and the esteemed eye of the moon. Her temperament is gentle, playful, sensuous, and ever curious about the wonders of the world around her. She enjoys the comforts of the home, as well as a thrilling chase of cat and mouse, and the adoration she receives for a job well hunted is reason enough for her to loyally side with humanity.
This is Bastet the divine goddess of cats and proud defender of Lower Egypt. Originally a fierce lioness Bastet later became a slender woman with the head of a regal housecat, it is thought that this change overall represented the transition of cats within society from untamed predators to loyal companions. However, do not mistake Bastet’s sudden domestication for blind servitude for she and her feline offspring maintain their particular aloofness millennia's later.
The Origins of Bastet
Worship of Bastet dates back as early as the 2nd Dynasty during 2890 BCE (her worship only being preceded by the cheetah goddess Mafdet from the 1st Dynasty) where she was venerated in the city of Pr-Bst (literally: House of Bast) located along the Nile River in the Delta region of Lower Egypt which is now the modern-day city Zagazig. Some of the structure of the once booming city still remains though dilapidated, and an enormous quantity of mummified cats (about 300,000) have been found scattered amongst the ruins.
Bastet’s name translates to “She of the ointment jar” as a reference to her gifts as a healer which is written as so in hieroglyphics:
Bastet bears many names and titles such as Eye of the Moon or the Eye of Ra. Because she is the protector of the sun God Ra, she is also the guardian of the kings and the royal family who consecrated their rule under the divinity of sun. Bastet is also commonly depicted slaying the agent of chaos Apep who is depicted as a fearsome serpent of evil.
Bastet is closely linked to medicine and healing and was said to protect Lower Egypt by dispelling sickness and evil spirits. For this reason, Bastet is not only a medicine woman but also a fearsome warrior. She was also seen as the guardian for women and children due to female cats doting after their ilk and she is thus also closely linked to fertility, and it wasn’t uncommon to find statues depicting her with a large litter of kittens.
Connections and parallels have been drawn between Bastet and lion headed goddess Sekhmet. Some interpretations describe Bastet and Sekhmet as two sides of the same coin similar to the alter egos many Hindu gods bear like the goddess Kali who is the chaotic form of Parvati. Sekhmet is a fierce and bloodthirsty warrior, and it was said that her breath created scorching desert winds and plagues. She is the polar opposite of Bastet’s gentle nature and where Sekhmet causes plagues Bastet can cure them. Some sources even depict the two as sisters though their parentage is different as Bastet is born from the sun god Ra and the goddess of magic Auset whereas Sekhmet only bears parentage from Ra.
The House of Bastet
Bastet could be found in many Egyptian homes during the peak of her worship in the form of the many house cats who made their abode near the comfort and attentiveness of humans. Humanity has always adored felines and the Egyptians were no different, however their relationship began as one of mutual benefit as cats had a fancy for hunting and killing vermin and poisonous insects that could bring potential sickness or death. As reward these house cats were kept as companions who were treated with the same respect as any other member of the household and many cats were mummified and buried with their owners upon death.
It is safe to say where there is a cat there is Bastet and because of this Bastet became synonymous with protecting the Homefront of every Egyptian across Lower Egypt regardless of status. Bastet and her felines were incredibly beloved by their human companions and there is documentation of Egyptian royalty adorning their cats in gold jewelry and allowing them to eat from their plates. One of my favorite Egyptian paintings is found in the astronomer Nakht’s tomb where there is a mural of his cat eating fish under a table Mural of Nakht's cat.
The House of Bastet underwent many changes during the Ptolemaic Dynasty when the Greeks began occupying the royal throne of Egypt during 305 BC where her name was changed to Ailuros or αἴλουρος (Literally feminine form of Cat in Greek) and even later after that she became associated with the goddess of the hunt Artemis who was also connected to the moon. Many of the Egyptian gods had their names altered during this time with figures like Ausar being called Osiris or Auset becoming Isis due to a heavy Greco-Roman influence.
The Festival of Bastet
The Egyptians celebrated an annual carnival for Bastet every year in which people in the thousands (except for children) flocked to Pr-Bast to observe the divine festivities. There was music, dancing, revelry, and food at her annual celebration, where lavish offerings were made at her temple, and the royal family would also attend this meritorious event. The festival is held on what the Gregorian calendar marks as October 31st which is Samhain and Halloween for those of us in the West.
Duties of Bastet
Bastet is a gentle cat at heart with penchant for healing and thus it is suitable to call upon her energy if you or a loved one is undergoing health issues or to ensure a surgery goes smoothly with little to no complications. She is highly protective of women especially expecting mothers and children and she oversees their safety in any situation. Bastet is also not surprisingly the guardian of all cats big or small and one can ask her to further bless their companion. Rites of cleansing and blessing the home can also be handed to Bastet so long as you have a generous reward for her time and effort.
How to Connect with Bastet
Like any deity building a connection is crucial and Bastet is no different. Offerings to Bastet include:
- Cat toys-especially ones that look rodents or snakes
- Bird feathers
- Dairy products such as milk or fine cheese
- Honey (even better if it still has its natural honeycomb)
- Expensive Perfumes (she is afterall named after the ointment jar which is sometimes associated with perfume)
- Her sacred symbols like the sistrum or the Eye of Ra as well as Lunar symbols
- Items that look like they’d be fun to push off of a table like a rubber bands or jingly keys
- Gold jewelry
- Stones and crystals like cat’s eye (also called chrysoberyl) and sunstone, as well as other solar powered objects
- A statue of Bastet is a must when creating an altar for her so make sure it takes center stage
- Decorations in her sacred colors of red, orange, yellow, and teal
- Oils and ointments like our Bastet Oil
Bastet will often make her presence known through disembodied meowing, she can also appear as stray cats or cats that seem to follow your path. Dreams of cats or lionesses are also a common way of reaching out. I’ve had her appear in dreams as a humanoid feline with black fur who stands bipedal at the height of a seven or eight-year-old child as well as that of beautiful sun bronzed woman with bright green feline eyes.
Bastet is a beloved and deeply exalted figure in Egypt and her offspring's have enchanted humanity with their loyalty and affections for millennia's. She is the esteemed Mistress of medicine who can soothe any ill with her healing ointment and it is her blessings that give fertility and abundance. To connect with Bastet is to connect with the home and the interpersonal relationships we share with our loved ones and four legged friends.