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