1/19/11

Goddess of the Week: Bastet

Cat mummies at Louvre museumImage via WikipediaPasadena Adjacent recently posted a fascinating tale about Egyptian cat mummies. (Read it here.) Then, lo and behold, I'm watching a documentary about ancient Egypt with the kids, and there's this part on Egyptian cat mummies. How much more serendipity did I need? None! It was obvious that the goddess Bastet, to whom cats were, alas, sacrificed, was trying to commune with Pasadena Adjacent. So, PA, this goddess is for you.

As goddesses go, Bastet is a good one to have in your corner. She has the body of a woman and the head of a cat. These days, she is considered a goddess of play and recreation, but during her heyday she protected people from disease and illness. She was also good with fertility. Her priests would sacrifice cats to her and then mummify them. People would then buy these mummies and bury them with their dead loved ones.

But talk about Buyer Beware, a quarter of the mummified cats were all wrappings! Not a drop of cat inside! Some mummified cats were only, like, a quarter of a cat. If you didn't have much money you got fake or only partial mummy cats. Only if you had a ton of money would you get a real cat, but even then you couldn't be too sure. In some tombs, people placed a whole bunch of mummy cats and only some were really mummies. So the old adage, "if it sounds to good to be true, it probably it is," is timeless and even holds true for mummified cats.

Personally, I'm having a hard time understanding how a cat goddess would really want you to kill a bunch of cats for her, but that's probably just my twenty-first century cultural blinders talking. (Plus, also, you know, I'm more of a dog person.) Still, sacrificial cats besides, if you're into cats, I still think Bastet is your gal.

Channel Bastet: If you love your cats but would prefer them to be a bit more cuddly; If you love your cats but would prefer they not throw up on your rug; if you love your cats; Also, it couldn't hurt to sacrifice her a hairball if you've got a bad cold.

Need a Goddess: I got goddesses! Post a comment describing your need or want and I'll see what I can find. Post! It's fun!


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22 comments:

blukats said...

Actually it wasn't until late in Egyptian history that sacrifices happened and so far it appears it was some priests looking to make a quick buck. The laws back then stated it was punishable by death to kill a cat. So overall Bastet worshipers did not sacrifice cats to Bastet. Just some priests around 300 to 30 bc who got away with it because they were priests.

Margaret said...

Blukats: Thanks so much for the extra detai. Fascinating.

Joanne said...

My cat tried to trip me today. Seriously. She was sitting pretty, like an Egyptian statue, and when I walked past her, she put out her paw and hit my leg. I'm thinking I might have to tell her about Bastet and straighten out this misbehaving!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Thats the thing about cats and culture. We've heard all the European horror stories... burning cats at the stake, throwing cats off of Belgium towers, putting cats in potato sacks with accused adulterers (women) then throwing both off towers (you get the gist) But even when they love cats, they kill them.

Exception, the prophet Muhammed pbh.....the pbh part is me showing cultural sensitivity and fear of extremest. I'm capable of it. Anyhow, it's said that when he discovered that a cat had falled asleep on the sleeve of his robe, rather then disturb the cats slumber, he chose to cut off his sleeve. Despite the Arab world being the producer of magnificent hounds (grey hound pharo hound saluki) it is the cat that is favored over the dog. Dogs are considered unclean; harum

Cafe Observer said...

cats at the stake, et al? and all this time I thot it was someone else. well, now we canines don't feel so bad. cat goddess?? Oxymoronic!

Excuse me. I gotta go walk my cat.

Jean Spitzer said...

Perfect choice; healing and cats. This post is fascinating and so is the note about priests.

Daisy said...

My human wonders if she could do a "reverse Bastet" and have the body of a cat and the head of a woman ... preferable her own. Just think of the flexibility, the gracefulness... (She's having a bad-knee day).

It would be ok with me. I quite like cats. As long as it didn't interfere with meals.

Shell Sherree said...

I'm horrified about the sacrifices. But I guess I can't hold Bastet responsible for that. {If my kitty fell asleep on my sleeve, I'd sit as still as possible and use my free hand and my phone to reschedule any appointments as necessary.}

Olga said...

I once helped students make a paper mache cat for an Egypt history project they were doing. It came out looking very much like a mummy--no real cat inside. Wish I'd known about Bastet (and blukats follow-up) then.

... daisy... said...

I once made a test and it said that if I were to be a Goddess I'd be Bastet! ;-)

Margaret said...

Joanne: You have clearly done something offensive. You will be punished until you are forgiven. I hope it is soon.

PA: More fascinating information! I actually didn't know any of those stories. Thanks for sharing.

Pup: Yes, you better keep a safe distance.

Jean: Be sure to check out PA's piece, if you haven't already, because it's even more amazing.

Daisy: I wouldn't mind that sort of transformation either. Hope the knee is feeling better.

Shell: You have a very lucky kitty.

Olga: Maybe Bastet was trying to commune with you at that time,

And Daisy: Of course, you're a Bastet. That's obvious.

... daisy... said...

Glad you believe me! ;-)))

altadenahiker said...

PA, and to the Romani, both dogs and cats are considered "mahrine," and it's the horse that's favored. Because the horse is unable to lick the nethers.

Ms M said...

This is fascinating stuff about Bastet and the cat mummies (and scam mummies)! My cat gave me an "I told you so" look when she noticed I was reading this :)

Deb @ PaperTurtle said...

Coming from a cat girl, I'm shocked and saddened to hear that cats were actually sacrificed to be made into mummies. Personally, I would WANT the fake mummy cat...maybe THAT'S why they had the fake ones, eh? Could be...could be...

Anyway, you made me LOL with your "Channel Bastet: If..." My two fuzzies are guilty of all of the above.

Fun post today, Margaret. :o)

Petrea said...

What a great post. And Bastet is a good name for a cat. I'd be a cat person if my dog was more of a cat dog.

I also enjoyed blukats' addition; your commenters are a good community, Margaret.

Bellis said...

I think the Egyptians, having come up with a good idea, took it too far - doesn't that always happen? There were so many cat mummies lying around that the British ground them up for fertilizer. And the Egyptians, perhaps running short on cats, mummified every other animal as well - I've seen mummified fish, turtles, slugs (.... well, maybe not that last one.)

Margaret said...

Bellis: PA mentioned the fertilizer too. Amazing. It almost makes me want to cry at how easily people were willing to destroy these artifacts. I hadn't realized the Egyptians mummified so many different things. Maybe some species were used as starter mummies for apprentice priests. You know, mummify the fish and if you don't ruin it you can work your way up to mouse, etc.

Linda Dove said...

After we discussed this story at breakfast, I, too, had a moment of serendipity when I picked up the random National Geo stashed in the bathroom later and discovered its cover story was...you guessed it...mummified cats. Also, ibis were big. More mummified ibis than any other animal in Egypt! But, apparently, there were indeed kitten mills that produced cats for the sole purpose of mummy-slaughter. Kittens, being smaller, were cheaper to embalm. Depressing, I know.

I still want to write the poem about dying in ancient Egypt and ending up scattered across the shires of Victorian England.

Petrea said...

What an image, Linda. I guess there are worse places to end up, but better ways to get there.

Susan Campisi said...

I've got my 21st-century cultural blinders on too. Just can't fathom the cat sacrifice, especially with the warm kitty snuggled up against me. (The truth's out: I'm a cat person with a pit bull.)

Margaret said...

Linda: I can't wait to read that poem.

Susan: pit bulls are especially snuggly. Maybe that's why.