Egyptian cats conjure up mystery, magic and adventure. Mentioning Egypt and Cats in the same sentence will do that, certainly.
Cats in general are captivating, but Egyptian felines hold a special mystique, no doubt about that. So let’s dig a bit deeper. Let’s explore the myths and the facts behind these gorgeous felines.
Topics covered here include the Ancient Egyptians’ devotion to cats, the cat goddesses, the Egyptian Mau, and a few gift ideas.
Cats were so revered in Ancient Egypt that eventually they became deities. Ancient Egyptian’s devotion to cats, however, started on a more earthly (and practical) level. Cats were brought into Ancient Egyptian’s homes and barns to combat vermin, mice and other pests. That relationship evolved into that of master and pet. Archaeologists have found evidence that wealthy Ancient Egyptians treated their pets very well. They even appear on tomb paintings and carvings along with their masters’.
Eventually, cats became so highly regarded that killing a cat was punished with death. When a family cat died, the entire household went into mourning. Cats were mummified and placed in tombs. In fact, archaeologists have found tombs filled with cat mummies near the Nile.
As time went by cats became sacred animals and were considered to be the incarnation of Bastet, the feline cat goddess.
Interestingly, Ancient Egyptians did not believe that animals were gods per se, but they did believe that gods had attributes associated with animals, such as strength, power, swiftness, and so on. In addition, they believed that certain animals were direct representatives of a particular god or goddess.
The three Egyptian feline goddesses were Mafdet, Bastet and Sekhmet, of which the last two as the best known.
Bastet is the best known of the Egyptian feline goddesses. She is the goddess of fertility, cats, child rearing, and protection. Originally, she was named Bast (or Ubasti). The name later evolved into Bastet - a diminutive form, which has a more feminine connotation.
Bastet is mostly depicted as a woman with a cat’s head. She has also been depicted as a fierce desert cat. You can also find Bastet depicted as a part-feline, part human deity.
Bastet was the patron goddess of the city of Bubastis (also known as Per-Bast and Tell-Bast), where she had a temple devoted to her and her sacred cats.
Sekhmet is another feline Egyptian goddess. She represents a different aspect of the divine than the one Bastet represented. Sekhmet, unlike Bastet, stands for savage strength and destructive power. Sekhmet is usually depicted as a woman with the head of a lioness.
Mafdet was the earliest feline deity. Like Bastet, Mafdet was associated with the protection of the Pharaoh. Mafdet was also associated with justice and judgment. She was depicted as a woman with a cheetah’s head. Indeed, her name means she who runs swiftly. Aptly, she was believed to exact swift justice. Madfet was sometimes depicted as a lynx.
The Egyptian Mau
The Egyptian Mau is a spotted, short-hair, midsize domestic cat breed native to Egypt. The Mau happens naturally as opposed to other spotted cats, including the Ocicat. The Ocicat as well as the Bengal are the result of cross-breeding. The Bengal, for instance, is a cross between domestic and wild cats. Compared to the Ocicat and the Bengal, Maus are much smaller.
This article has more information about the Egyptian Mau.
Books and gift ideas
If you love Egyptian history and cats, you’ll love these books:
The Cat in Ancient Egypt by Jaromir Malek
Cairo Cats: Egypt's Enduring Legacy by Lorraine Chittock and Annemarie Schimmel
Cat by Katharine M. Rogers
Curious History of Cats by Madeline Swan, Celia Haddon
Ancient Egyptian Art: Cards in Full Color (24 Cards) by The British Museum
And here are a few gift ideas:
--Give a statue of figurines depicting Bastet.
--You can find lots of posters and prints depicting Egyptian cats.
--Calendars and magnets of Egyptian Maus make great and economical gifts.