The Sacred Status of Cats in Ancient Egypt

Bronze Saite era art of an Egyptian cat in the Gulbenkian MuseumPhoto: shadowgate

Cats and Egyptians

The cat in ancient Egypt was a sacred and respected animal. It was in Egypt that cats were first domesticated more than 4000 years ago, and around 2000 BCE that the fully domesticated cat was brought into the houses of Egyptians.

The ancient Egyptians took their cats on hunting trips instead of dogs, and statues of cats were placed outside the house to protect the inhabitants and to ward off evil spirits. This showed that the cat had become an integral part of ancient Egyptian family life.

Cats were not only protected by almost every occupant of Egypt, but also by the law. So extreme in fact was the devoutness of the Egyptian culture to the cat, that if a human killed a feline, either intentionally or unintentionally, that human was sentenced to death.

Laws were set that also forbade the exportation of cats, though more often than not, many were smuggled to the neighboring Mediterranean countries.

The cat held a powerful spot in the history of Egypt. While she protected the land and its people, she also protected the mystique that was and is the cat in ancient Egypt.

Stray cat alexandria egyptPhoto: Crashsystems

Bastet the Goddess

She is the Sacred Cat and her name means devouring lady. She is depicted as having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. Baset (Bastet) is the daughter of the sun god Ra, wife of Ptah, and mother of Mihos.

Her worship began around the year 3200 BCE. The Egyptians celebrated Baset’s feast day with great joy and enthusiasm, honoring the goddess and protectress. She symbolized the moon in its function of making a woman fertile. She was also the Egyptian Goddess of pleasure, music, dancing and joy. The people of ancient Egypt turned to Baset for protection and for blessing. She was the protectress of women, children and domestic cats.

“Beloved Bast, mistress of happiness and bounty, twin of the Sun God, slay the evil that afflicts our minds as you slew the serpent Apep. With your graceful stealth anticipate the moves of all who perpetrate cruelties and stay their hands against the children of light. Grant us the joy of song and dance, and ever watch over us in the lonely places in which we must walk”. Ancient Egyptian prayer