BY Mohammad Namjoo
When they were GODs
When they were GODs
Ever have the privilege of living with a cat? If you have, you know that they have a certain degree of unique magical energy. It’s not just our modern domesticated felines, though - people have seen cats as magical creatures for a long time. But they were more than magical creatures in Egypt (715 BC), they were Gods.
Cats in ancient Egypt were revered highly, partly due to their ability to combat vermin such as mice, rats (which threatened key food supplies), and snakes—especially cobras. Cats of royalty were, in some instances, known to be dressed in golden jewelry and were allowed to eat from their owners' plates. Turner and Bateson estimate that during the 22nd Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC), Bastet worship changed from being a lioness deity into being predominantly a major cat deity. Because domestic cats tend to be tender and protective of their offspring, Bastet was also regarded as a good mother, and she was sometimes depicted with numerous kittens. Consequently, a woman who wanted children sometimes wore an amulet showing the goddess with kittens, the number of which indicated her own desired number of children.
As a revered animal and one important to Egyptian society and religion, some cats received the same mummification after death as humans. Mummified cats were given in offering to Bast. In 1888, an Egyptian farmer uncovered a large tomb with mummified cats and kittens. This discovery outside the town of Beni Hasan had eighty thousand cat mummies, dated after 1000 BC. The punishments for harming cats were severe.
Cats were one of the most recognizable species in Egyptian culture and were domesticated much later than dogs. Two types of smaller cats appeared in ancient Egypt: the jungle cat (Felis chaus) and the African wild cat (Felis silvestris libyca). The African wild cat was domesticated from the Predynastic Period onward. Wild cats naturally preyed upon the rats and other vermin that ate from the royal granaries. They earned their place in towns and cities by killing mice, venomous snakes, and other pests. They were worshiped by the Egyptians and given jewelry in hieroglyphics.
The earliest evidence of felines as deities comes from a c. 3100 BC crystal cup decorated with an image of the lion-headed goddess Mafdet. The goddess Bastet was originally depicted as a fiercely protective and warlike lioness, like Sekhmet, but as Bastet's image "softened" over time, she became more strongly associated with domestic cats.
As cats were sacred to Bast, the practice of mummification was extended to them, and the respect that cats received after death mirrored the respect with which they were treated in everyday life. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that in the event of a fire, men would guard the fire to make certain that no cats ran into the flame. Herodotus also wrote that when a cat died, the household would go into mourning as if for a human relative, and would often shave their eyebrows to signify their loss.
Diodorus Siculus, describes an interesting example of swift justice imposed upon the killer of a cat: about 60 BC, he witnessed a Roman accidentally kill an Egyptian cat. An outraged mob gathered and, despite pleas from pharaoh Ptolemy XII, killed the Roman.