Cats and Egyptian Mythology: A Fun History Lesson

From the charmingly mischievous Cheshire cat of "Alice in Wonderland" to the protective and powerful black panther Bagheera of "The Jungle Book," cats have captivated our imagination for centuries. Yet, the fascination with these enigmatic creatures dates back much farther, finding its roots in the ancient civilization of Egypt. The ancient Egyptians held cats in the highest esteem, imbuing them with divine attributes and incorporating them into their religious practices and mythology.

The Sacred Feline

In the mystical land of the Nile, cats were far more than simple pets or companions. They were sacred creatures, symbols of grace and guardians against evil. Seen as protectors, the popularity of the cat as a household pet grew from its ability to ward off venomous snakes and other pests. Their glowing eyes in the dark, silent, stalking walk, and expert hunting skills filled the ancient Egyptians with both awe and fear, lending these creatures an aura of mystery and supernatural power.

The Cat in Egyptian Law and Mythology

The profound respect Egyptians held for cats is evident in their law and mythology. Killing a cat, even accidentally, was considered a grave sin and could warrant a death penalty. The depth of this reverence is perhaps best illustrated by the goddess Bastet, one of the most famous feline deities in Egyptian mythology.

Bastet: The Cat Goddess

Bastet, also known as Bast, was initially represented as a lioness, symbolizing her ferocity and protective nature. However, over time, her image evolved to resemble a domestic cat, reflecting a more peaceful and nurturing aspect of the goddess. As the deity of home, fertility, and childbirth, Bastet was often depicted in a dual nature - as a fierce lioness in her warrior mode and as a domestic cat when embodying her more tranquil, nurturing aspects.

The Cat's Journey to the Afterlife

Interestingly, the high regard for cats wasn't limited to the realm of the living. In their journey to the afterlife, Egyptians believed in the companionship and guidance of cats. To this end, cats were often mummified and buried with their owners. Archeologists have discovered numerous cat cemeteries throughout Egypt, some containing mummies of more than 300,000 cats.

The Cat in Daily Life, Art, and Language

Yet, the Egyptians' relationship with cats was not purely spiritual or symbolic. It seeped into their everyday life, art, and language. In hieroglyphics, the word for cat, "miu" or "mieu," is thought to imitate the call of a cat. Meanwhile, the portrayal of cats in Egyptian art is a testament to the Egyptians' observational skills and their appreciation for the feline form.

The Cat's Legacy in Modern Times

Despite the millennia that separate us from ancient Egypt, the legacy of cats in Egyptian mythology continues to resonate today. Cats are beloved pets worldwide, their unique blend of independence and companionship endearing them to millions. Meanwhile, in the world of fantasy and fiction, the mysterious and powerful cat still reigns, echoing its ancient Egyptian roots.


The next time you see a cat stealthily moving in the shadows or pouncing playfully on an unsuspected toy, remember: you are observing a creature that once walked the halls of pharaohs, was worshipped as a goddess, and helped shape an ancient civilization's mythology.