Skip to main content
Updated date:

Bastet: Exploring the Egyptian Goddess

Jennifer has been a practicing Witch and Priestess of the Goddess for over 20 years.

Bastet, Gayer-Anderson Cat. Late Period, ca. 664-332 BCE.

Bastet, Gayer-Anderson Cat. Late Period, ca. 664-332 BCE.

Who Is Bastet?

Bastet—or Bast—is the Egyptian Cat Goddess of protection, cats, sunrise, the Sun, the Moon, magick, the home fire, fertility, family, women, children, prosperity, music, dance, joy, and play. She represents the benevolent aspects of the Sun. The addition of the -et ending when using 'Bastet' indicates that the 't' in 'Bast' is pronounced.

Brief History

Bastet was one of the most well-loved goddesses of Egypt. She was revered by both women and men equally, especially throughout Lower Egypt from the Second Dynasty onward. She was second only to Isis in popularity, and once Her mythology and worship moved through Greece to Rome, She was equally popular among the Greeks and Romans.

Bastet is often depicted as a black or striped cat, or a woman with a black cat head. She is most often shown holding a sistrum, though occasionally She also holds an ankh (symbol of life) and/or an ointment or perfume jar.

Bast is most often viewed as the daughter of the Sun God, Ra. She is considered the wife of the craftsman God, Ptuh and the mother of the God of Perfumes, Nefertum.

Other Names for Bastet

B'sst

Ubaste

Ubastis

Ubasti

The Lady of the East

The Lady of the Flame

She of the Ointment Jar

Soul of Isis

Eye of Ra

Devouring Lady

The Lady of Dread

The Lady of Slaughter

Goddess Sekhmet, from the wall of Kom Ombo, Egypt.

Goddess Sekhmet, from the wall of Kom Ombo, Egypt.

Bast, Sekhmet, and Hathor

Bast and Sekhmet

Originally, Bast had the head of a lion or a desert sand-cat and was seen as an avenging lioness. Like many early Egyptian deities, She had a dual nature—both benign and aggressive. Over time, She developed a twin (or another aspect of Herself) named Sekhmet, the lion-headed Goddess. Of all the Goddesses associated with Bast, Her connection to Sekhmet is the strongest. Not only did both Goddesses take the form of a lioness, they were both considered the wife of Ptah and the mother of Nefertum.

Bast the Cat: It was not until the New Kingdom that Bast became exclusively associated with domesticated cats. As Bastet became more of a household cat, she lost all traces of her lioness form. It became more common to depict Her as a house cat or a woman with the head of a cat. During this transformation, Sekhmet also took on all of Bast’s destructive, vicious, and battle qualities.

Bast and Hathor

Bast is also closely connected to Hathor. This connection is likely ancient since Bast and Hathor appear together in the temple of Khafre at Giza. The most commonly cited connection between the two is that Bast holds a sistrum, which is the sacred rattle of Hathor. Another connection is the Egyptian City of Denderah. This was the center of the cult of Hathor in Upper Egypt and was sometimes known as the Southern Bubastis. Often Hathor is seen to represent Upper Egypt while Bast represents Lower Egypt.

Sekhmet and Hathor

There is also a connection between Sekhmet and Hathor, and sometimes they are seen as different versions of one another. Originally, Hathor was seen as the bloodthirsty Goddess, Sekhmet. Like Bastet, Hathor eventually became more docile over time, and Sekhmet took on Hathor’s original battle qualities. When Hathor is in Her Eye of Ra aspect, She is often depicted as Sekhmet. During the feast of Hathor (celebrating salvation from the wrath of the Eye of Ra), an image of Sekhmet represents Upper Egypt, while Bast still represents Lower Egypt. Both Hathor and Sekhmet seem to have been used to represent Upper Egypt, while Bast consistently represents Lower Egypt where Her worship was centered. It's also possible the three Goddesses were simply regional versions of the same Goddess force.

Goddesses Associated With Bastet

Related GoddessRegion of Origin

Sekmet

Egyptian

Hathor

Egyptian

Tefnut

Egyptian

Neith

Egyptian

Nut

Egyptian

Wadjet

Egyptian

Mut

Egyptian

Pakhet

Egyptian

Artemis

Greek

Diana

Roman

The Great Cat Bastet subdues the serpent Apep by cutting off his head with Her sacred blade.

The Great Cat Bastet subdues the serpent Apep by cutting off his head with Her sacred blade.

Bastet as Protector

There are a number of ways in which Bastet has acted as a protector throughout the years and into today.

  • She is protector of the Sun God, Ra. She protects Ra as he travels the night sky in his boat of a million years against Apep, the serpent who will swallow the Sun at the end of days.
  • By the time of the Pyramid Texts (c. 2400-2300 BCE), She was also associated with pharaohs. When the pharaoh was a child, Bast was seen as his nanny or nursemaid. As he grew, She became his protector. Many pharaohs included Her in the names of their thrones.
  • She protects the home from diseases, especially those that affect women and children.
  • She protects women and children during pregnancy, childbirth, infancy and childhood.

The Egyptian Love of Cats

Cats were deeply sacred to all Egyptians and seen as the physical embodiment of Bastet. One reason they were seen as Divine is because they worshiped both the Sun and the Moon equally. Lazily lounging and soaking up the solar rays of the Sun during the day, they would then frolic all night under the moonlight.

Another reason cats were revered was because they killed the vermin that would destroy the crops and grain stores of the Egyptians. Anywhere humans stored grains, vermin were sure to follow. It is believed that the storing of grains is what resulted in the domestication of cats in both Egypt and worldwide. Essentially, the cats learned to hunt and kill the rodents feeding on the grain, which resulted in humans caring for the cats to show their gratitude. This early relationship could have been a precursor to the relationship many humans and cats share today.

One final reason why cats were held in such high regard in Egypt connects back to Bast as the protector of Ra. Egypt is home to some of the most poisonous snakes in the world, including the asp (or aspis), which translates loosely to 'viper'. Cats will on occasion kill these snakes. They have also been known to kill scorpions, another venomous creature from Egypt. It's not hard to see why this type of protection would be both welcome and appreciated, maybe even seen as a Divine gift by the ancient Egyptians.

The City of Bubastis

The Egyptian city of Bubastis was dedicated to and named after Bastet. Unsurprisingly, it was the main center of Her cult starting from at least the 5th century BCE, and it became one of the richest and most luxurious cities in Egypt. The people of Egypt would annually attend the great festival of Bastet at Bubastis, which was one of the most extravagant and popular events of the year.

Read More From Exemplore

Map of Lower Egypt, including the City of Bubastis.

Map of Lower Egypt, including the City of Bubastis.

What Was Bubastis Really Like?

As a cat lover and priestess of Bast myself, I often think about the city of Bubastis and wonder what it might have been like to live there. I figure it was a city of crazy cat people. You know how everyone knows at least one crazy cat person (like me) with five or more cats? Well, imagine a whole city where the entire population is made up of those people all joined by their immense love of cats. The more I think about a city overrun with kitties, the more questions I have.

One question that frequently comes to mind when pondering the city of Bubastis is: Did the Egyptians spay and neuter their cats? It’s clear they had the surgical know-how to perform such procedures, especially since they mummified cats. But, would they have found it to be an affront to the Goddess, Bast? And if not, could you imagine what that would have made the city of Bubastis like? Without a doubt, it would be composed of several large cat colonies.

Anyone who has ever lived with both intact cats and spayed or neutered cats knows there is a dramatic difference in personality and territorial issues between the two types. If they left their cats intact, I wonder how they dealt with the ensuing cat drama that would result from such a situation. How did the humans who cared for these cats keep up with the food demand of litter after litter of kitties? Did they just allow the cats to fend for themselves and only supplement with food here and there?

The Mummification of Cats

Hundreds of thousands of cat mummies have been discovered in Egypt over the years. The ancient Egyptians believed that if they mummified their cats, they would be able to accompany them in the afterlife. Death was definitely not the end of the road to the Egyptians, who believed in active afterlife. It was a common practice for a pet to be buried alongside its human in the hopes they would remain side by side in the afterlife. This is how the practice of cat mummification began.

Unfortunately, this tradition digressed into something more sinister. As Bast's popularity grew, so did the demand for cat sacrifices as an offering to the Goddess. Many Egyptian priests of Bast discovered that the sacrifice and mummification of cats was a lucrative business. X-rays of some of the cat mummies discovered in Bubastis show they did not all die of natural causes, many showing trauma to the head. Sadly, a large number of these 'offerings' were less than a year old.

Cats weren't the only animal the Egyptians mummified, but they were the most common. The sacred bulls of the early dynasties were another commonly mummified animal, complete with their own cemetery at Sakkara. Due to their religious significance, baboons, birds, and crocodiles were also mummified on occasion, especially in the later dynasties when mummification became more commonplace and popular.

Witches and Black Cats

Witches and black cats have long been connected to one another. This is partially due to the Goddess Bast being associated with pagans by early Christians—most likely because of Her worship in Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Cats Seen as Symbols of Evil

As time went on and as the concept of witches continued to evolve (or rather de-evolve in the minds of Christians), black cats became associated with witches, and therefore, evil. They began to be seen as the witch’s familiar, and superstitions about black cats arose. By the peak of the witch hunt craze, cats—especially black cats—were being killed with as much frequency as women. The witches’ persecutors believed that the screaming sounds cats made when burned alive alongside the ‘witches’ was the sound of demons being released from inside the cats. They saw this as proof of the cats’ guilt. It was seen as proof that burning them alive was their only salvation as it was the only way to release the demons.

Cats Guarding the Sick Witch - Leonard's Dream from The Lances of Lynwood by Charlotte Mary Yonge, 1855 illustration by Jane Blackburn

Cats Guarding the Sick Witch - Leonard's Dream from The Lances of Lynwood by Charlotte Mary Yonge, 1855 illustration by Jane Blackburn

Black Plague to Present

Cruel and disgusting to think about now, this practice of killing cats ultimately helped contribute to the rise of the Black Plague. By killing cats in mass, the persecutors created a situation that allowed the rodent and vermin population to swell. Rats were among one of the largest contributors to the spread of the plague.

However, the superstitions surrounding black cats didn’t lessen much even after the plague. They were still seen as a source of bad luck. For example, the idea that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck persisted into modern times.

Even today, black cats are known to be among the last adopted in shelters due to their association with bad luck, superstitions, and witches. The other side of this is that many modern-day witches and some pagans still consider cats (especially black cats) to be a fitting familiar. And black cats continue to be among the most popular cat for witches and pagans to adopt and/or rescue. The name ‘Bast’ for a witch’s familiar continues to be popular as well. In the United States, there is even a National Black Cat Appreciation Day on August 17th. The goal of this day is to help bring awareness to the stigma surrounding black cats in the hopes it will boost their adoption rates.

I myself have seven black cats—one of which is named Bast.

Two of my black cats. Lady Bastet (left) and Minerva (right).

Two of my black cats. Lady Bastet (left) and Minerva (right).

Working With Bastet

Are you wanting to work with Bast in your magickal practices? Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate the magick of Bast into your daily life and rituals:

  • Spoil your cats.
  • Do magick with your cats.
  • Spend time with friends who have cats if you are cat-less.
  • Lounge in the sun.
  • Dance and play in the moonlight.
  • Declare every ‘raised’ surface to be an altar.
  • Take naps. Lots and lots of naps!
  • Stretch or start a Yoga routine.
  • Chase your passions.
  • Eat only your favorite foods.
  • Cast protection spells on your pet(s), especially cats.
  • Wear cat ears.
  • Dance or go to music festivals and/or concerts.
  • Spend time doing what makes you happy, follow your bliss.
  • Cast spells for protection (especially for your family and children), fertility, and/or prosperity.
  • Create an altar dedicated to Bastet.
  • Lead or attend a ritual dedicated to the Goddess Bast.

Symbols Magickal Attributes, and Offerings for Bast

All cats (especially black or striped)

Woman with a cat head

Sun and Moon

Sistrum (or any music maker)

Eye of Ra, ankh, ointment/perfume jars

Parades and floats

Beer

Amber, carnelian, Tiger's Eye

Catnip, valerian, cat tails, pussy willows

The Goddess Bastet

The Goddess Bastet

Bastet Is as Powerful as Ever

Though an ancient Goddess, Bastet hasn't lost any popularity in modern times. Her energy is both protective and nurturing—not to mention She knows how to have fun! I hope you are inspired by the ideas here to further enrich your practice by connecting to the Goddess Bast in a deeper way.

Blessed Be.

References and Resources

Animal Speak by Ted Andrews

Animal Magick by D.J. Conway

The Mysterious, Magical Cat by D.J. Conway

The Enchanted Cat: Feline Fascinations, Spells and Magick by Ellen Dugan

Your Magical Cat by Gerina Dunwich

The Witches’ Goddess by Janet and Stewart Farrar

Isis Magic by M. Isidora Forrest

The Witch's Familiar: Spiritual Partnerships for Successful Magic by Raven Grimassi

Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A Practical Guide by Janice Kamrin

The Great Goddesses of Egypt by Barbara S. Lesko

The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt by Richard H. Wilkinson

The Egyptian Book of the Dead

© 2019 Jennifer Jorgenson

Comments

Jennifer Jorgenson (author) on June 23, 2019:

Thank you!

Esther on June 22, 2019:

Great article! )0(

Jennifer Jorgenson (author) on June 12, 2019:

Cats are awesome! Thanks for your kind words Noel!

Noel Penaflor from California on June 12, 2019:

Thank you for this informative article! I love cats myself.

Related Articles