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Bast: the Cat Goddess
By Autumn
(Written for Ecclasia)

"Bast" by Susan Seddon Boulet

Bast, the cat goddess, was probably the most famous Egyptian goddess after Isis. Cats were sacred to Bast, and to harm one was a great transgression. Bast's importance in the Egyptian pantheon is probably due to the fact that cats were greatly valued in ancient Egypt. Cats curtailed the spread of disease by killing rats, snakes, and other vermin, and even though the idea of bacteria & viruses were unknown to the Egyptians, they likely made the connection between rats and disease. Cats were often carefully mummified at death, and Bubastis, which was the capital of Egypt around 950 BC, had a huge cat cemetery.

In early times, Bast was often seen as a beautiful girl with the head of a lion, which was a sign of her war-like nature (she was sometimes listed as one of Ra's avenging deities who punish the sinful and the enemies of Egypt). It was only in the New Kingdom that she gained the head of a house cat and became a much more friendly goddess. Bast is also called Bastet when she is fully in cat form. Bastet is the name of a bas (jar) with the feminine ending of t. These were heavy perfume jars used in ancient Egypt, often filled with expensive perfumes. Bast was considered to be mother of Nefertem (as was another Egyptian goddess by the name of Sekhmet), who was a god of perfumes and alchemy.

Bast is often confused with Sekhmet. Bast and Sekhmet are an example of Egyptian duality: Bast was a goddess of Lower Egypt and sekhmet of Upper Egypt, Bast represented the beneficent power of the Sun and Sekhmet personified it's destructive power. Some information states that these are very distinct and separate goddesses in their own rights, and other information states that they overlap.

Although Bast originated in ancient Egypt, she was worshipped in a lot of other cultures, including the Greek, Roman, Germanic and others. She was associated by the Greeks with Artemis, a goddess who is considered a guardian and protector. Bast was also seen as a protector -- as the fierce flame of the sun who burned the deceased should they fail one of the many tests in the underworld. Bast has the rare distinction of being both a moon and a sun goddess. She also symbolized the moon in its function of making a woman fruitful, with swelling womb. Bast had many, sometimes contradictory, roles -- some of which include goddess of pleasure/music/dancing/joy, goddess of the household/protector of the home, goddess of creation/fertility/sex/birth, goddess of the moon, goddess of the rising sun, just to name a few.

There were many festivals related to Bast, including the "Procession of Bast," "Bast appears to Ra," the "Festival of Bast," "Bast Goes Forth from Bubastis," and "Bast guards the Two Lands." These festivals included light-hearted barge processions and orgiastic ceremonies. The "Festival of Bast" is described a a great big boat party, with thousands of men and women traveling to Bubastis by river. There was music, singing, clapping, and dancing. Whenever they passed by towns, the women would call out dirty jokes to those onshore, and flash the townsfolk by lifting their skirts over their heads. Upon reaching Bubastis, they ate and drank to excess, hence the popularity of the festival! One tradition stated that Bast accompanied the un god Ra's boat of a million years on its daily journey through the sky, and at night fought Ra's enemy, the serpent Apep. Ra was an Egyptian sun god, and Bast is known as Ra's daughter, and also known as his wife.

Personally, I am drawn to Bast because of her multi-faceted personality: fierce protectress of home and hearth, independence personified, joyous celebration of all of life's frivolities. I look forward to working with this particular goddess in the future.

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This page last updated June 5, 2005