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Post by Lunar on Sun Sep 25, 2016 1:59 pm

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In ancient Egypt, cats were often worshiped as deities -- and anyone who lives with a cat knows they haven't forgotten that, either! In particular, Bast, also known as Bastet, was one of the most highly honored feline gods.

Origins and History

Bast was known as a goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt during the period in which Egypt was still divided. At the same time, cultures in Upper Egypt honored Sekhmet, a similar cat-headed goddess of battle. Today, Egyptologists typically refer to Bast as Bastet, because of variants in the spelling that came along later. The second letter T is a reflection of the pronunciation of the goddess’ name.

Scholars are divided on what the names Bast and Bastet actually meant to the ancient Egyptians, but there is a possibility that they are associated with protective ointments. The hieroglyph for “ointment jar” actually appears in the center of Bast’s name in Egyptian paintings.

In addition to being a war goddess, Bast was eventually honored as a goddess of sex and fertility.

According to the Encyclopedia of World Myth, she was originally portrayed as a lioness, but by the time of the Middle Kingdom, around 900 b.c.e., she had morphed into more of a domestic cat.

Appearance

Images of Bastet began appearing around 3,000 b.c.e., in which she was portrayed as a lioness, or as a woman’s body with a lioness’ head. When Upper and Lower Egypt unified, her importance as a war goddess dwindled a bit, with Sekhmet becoming the more prominent deity of battle and warfare.

By around 1,000 b.c.e., Bastet had changed somewhat, and had become associated with domestic cats, rather than the lioness. Eventually, her image was that of a cat, or as a cat-headed woman, and she took on the role of a protector of pregnant women or those who wished to conceive. Sometimes, she was depicted with kittens beside her, as homage to her role as a goddess of fertility. She is sometimes shown holding a sistrum, which was a sacred rattle used in Egyptian rituals. In other images, she holds a basket or box.

Mythology

Bast was also seen as a goddess who protected mothers and their newborn children. In Egyptian magical texts, a woman suffering from infertility might make an offering to Bast in hopes that this would help her conceive.

In later years, Bast became strongly connected with Mut, a mother goddess figure, and with the Greek Artemis. In early periods she was associated with the sun, and the solar god Ra, but later became representative of the moon.

Worship & Celebration

The cult of Bast originally sprouted up around the town of Bubastis, which takes its name from her. In her role as protector -- not only of households, but of all of Lower Egypt -- she guarded rural folk and nobility alike. She was often associated with the sun god, Ra, and in later times became a bit of a solar deity herself. When Greek culture moved into Egypt, Bast was portrayed as a moon goddess instead.

Her annual festival was a huge event, attended by as many as half a million worshipers. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, women attending the festival engaged in a lot of singing and dancing, sacrifices were made in Bast’s honor, and there was a lot of drinking going on. He wrote, “When the people are on their way to Bubastis, they go by river, a great number in every boat, men and women together. Some of the women make a noise with rattles, others play flutes all the way, while the rest of the women, and the men, sing and clap their hands.”

When Bast's temple at Per-Bast was excavated, the mummified remains of over a quarter of a million cats were discovered, according to the Encylopedia Mythica. During the heyday of ancient Egypt, cats were bedecked in gold jewelry and permitted to eat from their owners' plates. When a cat died, it was honored with an elaborate ceremony, mummification, and interment at Per-Bast.

Honoring Bast or Bastet Today

Today, many modern Pagans still pay tribute to Bast or Bastet. If you’d like to honor Bast in your rituals and celebrations, try some of these ideas:

Create an altar in Bast’s name, and decorate it with images of cats and lions, baskets, brightly colored crystals or gemstones, and sistrums or rattles.

Offer a prayer to Bast or Bastet, in the form of a song or chant. Since dancing was a way in which she was celebrated, add some dancing as you sing her praises.

If you’re trying to conceive a child, or if you’re pregnant and want her to watch over you, make offerings to Bast. Honey or other sweet foods such as chocolate are an appropriate choice, as is raw meat or milk, or even handcrafted cat statues or perfumed ointments.

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