Cats were very important to the ancient Egyptians and were even considered to be demi-deities. Not only did they protect the crops and slow the spread of disease by killing rodents, but they were also thought to be the physical form of the goddess Bastet. Bastet was the goddess of protection, pleasure, and the bringer of good health. She had the head of a cat and a slender female body.
Bastet was the daughter of Ra, sister of Sekhmet, the wife of Ptah, and the mother of Mihos. Since the Second Dynasty, Bastet was worshiped as a deity, most commonly in Lower Egypt. Her form and powers changed over the years.
It was believed that every day she would ride through the sky with her father, the sun god Ra. As his boat pulled the sun through the sky she would watch over and protect him. At night, she would turn into a cat to protect Ra from his greatest enemy, the serpent Apep.
Bast was known as a goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt during the period in which Egypt was still divided. At the same time, cultures in Upper Egypt honored Sekhmet, a similar cat-headed goddess of battle. Today, Egyptologists typically refer to Bast as Bastet, because of variants in the spelling that came along later. The second letter T reflects the pronunciation of the goddess’ name.
Scholars are divided on what the names Bast and Bastet meant to the ancient Egyptians, but there is a possibility that they are associated with protective ointments. The hieroglyph for “ointment jar” appears in the center of Bast’s name in Egyptian paintings.
In addition to being a war goddess, Bast was eventually honored as a goddess of sex and fertility. According to the Encyclopedia of World Mythology, she was originally portrayed as a lioness, but by the time of the Middle Kingdom, around 900 B.C.E., she had morphed into more of a domestic cat.
Images of Bastet began appearing around 3,000 B.C.E., in which she was portrayed as a lioness, or as a woman’s body with a lioness’ head. When Upper and Lower Egypt unified, her importance as a war goddess dwindled a bit, with Sekhmet becoming the more prominent deity of battle and warfare.
By around 1,000 B.C.E., Bastet had changed somewhat and had become associated with domestic cats, rather than the lioness. Eventually, her image was that of a cat or a cat-headed woman, and she took on the role of a protector of pregnant women or those who wished to conceive. Sometimes, she was depicted with kittens beside her, as an homage to her role as a goddess of fertility. She is sometimes shown holding a sistrum, which was a sacred rattle used in Egyptian rituals. In other images, she holds a basket or box.
Bast was also seen as a goddess who protected mothers and their newborn children. In Egyptian magical texts, a woman suffering from infertility might make an offering to Bast in hopes that this would help her conceive.
In later years, Bast became strongly connected with Mut, a mother goddess figure, and with the Greek Artemis. In early periods she was associated with the sun, and the solar god Ra, but later became representative of the moon. Due to her protective duties, she was nicknamed the Lady of the East, Goddess of the Rising Sun, and the Sacred and All-Seeing Eye. She is also known as the Goddess of the Moon and was thought to be the eye of the moon and the eye of Ra. Bastet is still worshipped today and her protection is believed by some to be cast over modern cats.
Originally, she was viewed as the protector goddess of Lower Egypt. As a protector, she was seen as a defender of the pharaoh, and consequently of the later chief male deity, Ra, who was also a solar deity, gaining her the titles** Lady of Flame and Eye of Ra **.
Her role in the pantheon became diminished as Sekhmet, a similar lioness war deity, became more dominant in the unified culture of Lower and Upper Egypt
In the first millennium BC, when domesticated cats were popularly kept as pets, Bastet began to be represented as a woman with the head of a cat and ultimately emerged as the Egyptian cat-goddess** par excellence **. In the Middle Kingdom, the domestic cat appeared as Bastet’s sacred animal and after the New Kingdom, she was depicted as a woman with the head of a cat or a lioness, carrying a sacred rattle and a box or basket.
Her annual festival was a huge event, attended by as many as half a million worshipers. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, women attending the festival engaged in a lot of singing and dancing, sacrifices were made in Bast’s honor, and a lot of drinking was going on. He wrote,
“When the people are on their way to Bubastis, they go by river, a great number in every boat, men, and women together. Some of the women make a noise with rattles, others play flutes all the way, while the rest of the women, and the men, sing and clap their hands.”
When Bast’s temple at Per-Bast was excavated, the mummified remains of over a quarter of a million cats were discovered, according to the Encyclopedia Mythica. During the heyday of ancient Egypt, cats were bedecked in gold jewelry and permitted to eat from their owners’ plates. When a cat died, it was honored with an elaborate ceremony, mummification, and interment at Per-Bast.
Honoring Bast or Bastet Today
Today, many modern Pagans still pay tribute to Bast or Bastet. If you’d like to honor Bast in your rituals and celebrations, try some of these ideas:
- Create an altar in Bast’s name, and decorate it with images of cats and lions, baskets, brightly colored crystals, gemstones, and sistrums or rattles.
- Offer a prayer to Bast or Bastet, in the form of a song or chant. Since dancing was a way in which she was celebrated, add some dancing as you sing her praises.
- Volunteer or make donations to local animal/cat shelters & programs
- Use feathers, catnip, perfume, cotton, frankincense EO as offerings or when working with her
If you’re trying to conceive a child or pregnant and want her to watch over you, make offerings to Bast. Honey or other sweet foods such as chocolate are an appropriate choice, as is raw meat or milk, or even handcrafted cat statues or perfumed ointments.
History and Connection to Other Gods
Cats in ancient Egypt were revered highly, partly due to their ability to combat vermin such as mice, rats – which threatened key food supplies – and snakes, especially cobras. Cats of royalty were, in some instances, known to be dressed in golden jewelry and were allowed to eat from their owners’ plates. Turner and Bateson estimate that during the Twenty-second dynasty c.945-715 BC, Bastet worship changed to being a major cat deity (as opposed to a lioness deity). With the unification of the two Egypt, many similar deities were merged into one or the other, the significance of Bast and Sekhmet, to the regional cultures that merged, resulted in a retention of both, necessitating a change to one or the other. During later dynasties, Bast was assigned a lesser role in the pantheon, but retained.
In the temple at Per-Bast, some cats were found to have been mummified and buried, many next to their owners. More than 300,000 mummified cats were discovered when Bast’s temple at Per-Bast was excavated. The main source of information about the Bast cult comes from Herodotus who visited Bubastis around 450 BC during the heyday of the cult. He equated Bastet with the Greek Goddess Artemis. He wrote extensively about the cult. Turner and Bateson suggest that the status of the cat was roughly equivalent to that of the cow in modern India. The death of a cat might leave a family in great mourning and those who could have them embalmed or buried in cat cemeteries – pointing to the great prevalence of the cult of Bastet. Extensive burials of cat remains were found not only at Bubastis but also at Beni Hasan and Saqqara. In 1888, a farmer uncovered a plot of many hundreds of thousands of cats in Beni Hasan.
The lioness represented the war goddess and protector of both lands. As the fierce lion god Maahes of Nubia later became part of Egyptian mythology, during the time of the New Kingdom, Bastet was held to be the daughter of Amun Ra, a newly ascending deity in the Egyptian pantheon during that late dynasty. Bastet became identified as his mother in Lower Egypt, near the delta. Similarly, the fierce lioness war goddess Sekhmet became identified as the mother of Maashes in Upper Egypt.
As a divine mother, and more especially as protector, for Lower Egypt, Bastet became strongly associated with Wadjet, the patron goddess of Lower Egypt. She eventually became Wadjet-Bast, paralleling the similar pair of patrons (Nekhbet) and lioness protector (Sekhmet) for Upper Egypt.
Later scribes sometimes renamed her Bastet, a variation on Bast consisting of an additional feminine suffix to the one already present, thought to have been added to emphasize pronunciation; perhaps it is a diminutive name applied as she receded in the ascendancy of Sekhmet in the Egyptian pantheon. Since Bastet meant, (female) of the ointment jar, her name was related to the lavish jars in which Egyptians stored their perfume. Bast thus gradually became regarded as the goddess of perfumes, earning the title, of perfumed protector. In connection with this, when Anubis became the god of embalming, Bast, as the goddess of ointment, came to be regarded as his wife. The association of Bastet as the mother of Anubis, was broken years later when Anubis became identified as the son of Nephthys.
Lower Egypt’s loss in the wars between Upper and Lower Egypt led to a decrease in the ferocity of Bast. Thus, by the Middle Kingdom, she came to be regarded as a domestic cat rather than a lioness. Occasionally, however, she was depicted holding a lioness mask, hinting at her potential ferocity.
Because domestic cats tend to be tender and protective of their offspring, Bast also was regarded as a good mother, and she was sometimes depicted with numerous kittens. Consequently, a woman who wanted children sometimes wore an amulet showing the goddess with kittens, the number of which indicated her own desired number of children.
Eventually, her position as patron and protector of Lower Egypt led to her being identified with the more substantial goddess Mut, whose cult had risen to power with that of Amun, and eventually being syncretized with her as Mut-Wadjet-Bast. Shortly after, in the constantly evolving pantheon, Mut also absorbed the identities of the Sekhmet-Nekhbet pairing as well.
This merging of identities of similar goddesses has led to considerable confusion, leading to some attributing to Bastet the title Mistress of the Sistrum (more properly belonging to Hathor, who had become thought of as an aspect of the later emerging Isis, as had Mut), and the Greek idea of her as a lunar goddess (more properly an attribute of Mut) rather than the solar deity she was. The native Egyptian rulers were replaced by the Greeks during an occupation of Egypt that lasted almost five hundred years. These new rulers adopted many Egyptian beliefs and customs, but always “interpreted” them as their Greek culture. These associations sought to link the antiquity of Egyptian culture to the newer Greek culture, thereby lending parallel roots and a sense of continuity. Indeed, much confusion occurred with subsequent generations; the identity of Bast slowly merged among the Greeks during their occupation of Egypt, who sometimes named her Ailuros (Greek for cat), thinking of Bast as a version of Artemis, their moon goddess. Thus, to fit their cosmology, to the Greeks Bast is thought of as the sister of Horus, whom they identified as Apollo (Artemis’ brother), and consequently, the daughter of the later emerging deities, Isis and Ra. Roman occupation of Egypt followed in 30 BC, and their pantheon of deities also was identified with the Greek interpretations of the Ancient Egyptians. The introduction of Christianity and Muslim beliefs followed as well, and by the sixth century AD, only a few vestiges of Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs remained, although the cult of Isis had spread to the ends of the Roman Empire.
Prayer to Bast
Dear Lady Bast
Shining, bright one
Goddess of Egypt
Deity of the moon
And Patroness of cats and women.
Light up my life with your divine intervention.
So mote it be.
The Ritual of Bast
Begin the ritual with a breathing exercise to relax the participants and enliven their energy. Now light the anointed candles which stand before the goddess. Next, construct a cone of power. The cone is a traveling one, and the participants must visualize it leaving this world, traveling through space back in time to ancient Egypt, and alighting in the desert.
The visualizer now takes over and says:
Step out of the cone and into the desert. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin and the burning heat of the sand beneath your feet. In the distance, you can see a vast temple rearing up to meet the sky. Begin to walk towards the temple, noting anything that you see on the way. As you draw closer you pass by an oasis pool surrounded by tall palm trees. Lionesses doze in the shade of the trees and as you pass by, they lift their heads as if to grant you passage into the temple.
Walk on, past the lionesses, towards the temple. As you get closer you begin to realize what a massive structure it is. It is constructed of vast columns, which are intricately carved with symbols and hieroglyphs. Ahead of you, there is a wide sandstone path leading up to the main entrance, which is flanked by two huge obelisks. These are constructed of rough golden sandstone and are so tall that they seem to reach up to the sky. Walk up the path and amongst the columns. Once you are in their shade the air feels cool and refreshing. It seems like a haven from the relentless heat of the desert. You can smell a strong fragrance of cut blooms in the air and the subtler scent of exotic musky incense.
You find that you are standing in the outer courtyard of the temple. There are trees cultivated here and, in the center, you can see a large circular pool. This pool reflects the burning gold of the sun in the daytime and the silver light of the moon by night for these are both aspects of the Goddess. There is temple staff around you, all going about their duties. Many of them smile at you in greeting but none approach you. It is as if you are expected here.
At the back of the courtyard, you can see a huge doorway that leads to the outer shrine. Walk towards it. On either side of this great doorway, you can see that the walls are carved with pictures of cat-headed people and seated cats. You can reach out and run your hand over the warm stone. Feel the contours of the carvings beneath your fingers.
Step inside the shrine now. The room is dimly lit, let your eyes adjust after the bright sunlight outside. After a moment you can see that before you stand a statue of a great cat carved from smooth, black stone. It wears thick gold earrings and an ornately crafted collar of faience. At its feet lie offerings left by visitors to the temple. You can see many flowers and perfume jars, as well as statues and figurines. Priests and priestesses are in the shrine, tending a multitude of cats. The air around you is full of the music of the cats; their purrs and cries. Pause to pay your respect to the sacred cat of Bast, and then walk on down a corridor to your right.
You are making your way towards the inner sanctum of Bast down a short corridor lit with flickering lamps and candles. At the far end, the corridor opens out into a vast room lined by pillars. At the other end of the room, so huge that it fills your vision, is a flight of golden steps that leads up to an immense golden statue of the goddess. She is depicted as a beautiful cat-headed woman. She wears heavy jewelry at her ears and throat and is swathed in a robe carved from gold. In her hand, she carries a golden sistrum, her sacred rattle, and at her feet are tiny golden kittens. The steps below her are covered in cats, sleeping, grooming, and playing. The room is full of soft but lively music, played by priestesses on flutes and drums and rattles. Other priests and priestesses dance sinuously to the music, like cats themselves. The floor is covered in petals and as you walk upon them, they release their heady fragrance. Approach the foot of the stairs and raise your arms.
The visualizer shakes a sistrum three times. The charge reader says:
Oh, Bast, lady of Asheru,
ruler of Sekhet-Neter,
Ruler of the divine field, lady of Ankhtawy, Life of the two lands,
We, your priestesses call to you.
Hear our prayers.
We come before you in love.
We come before you in peace.
We come before you in joy.
And ask that we might speak with you.
May your essence enter into the statue before us.
And become your living body in this world.
Dwell here in gentleness, Bast,
And let your blessings be upon us.
The whole group shakes their sistra, conjuring the Heka of Bast to enter the statue, both in the visualization and in the statue at home.
Concentrate on this happening. When you feel a change in the energy of the room let the shaking die away. (A group may need a few attempts before they sense energy in unison, but it will happen with practice.)
The visualizer resumes:
Now visualize the statue before you begin to come alive. The eyes become the living eyes of a cat, and gradually the gold turns to furry skin. The kittens at her feet begin to play and the folds of her dress flow softly. The goddess begins to descend the stairs towards you, her eyes full of benevolence and peace.
While this is happening, you must cast your inner eye back to the room where your statue of the goddess stands before the anointed candles. Imagine that the light of these candles shines into the statue, which is like an extension of the senses of Bast in the temple. Through the light of these candles, Bast can see your soul and recognizes you.
The visualizer shakes the rattles. The charge reader says:
Oh, Bast, queen of all cats, Daughter of Ra,
We bring offerings to you
As symbols of our love and respect.
We offer food to the great goddess in the temple of Bast.
We offer drink to the cat of the heavens.
We offer incense to the gentle cat.
We offer love to the daughter of Ra.
Now burn some incense and eat the feast but leave a small portion of each item you eat for Bast. These morsels should be placed in a separate dish. The feast can be shared with any cats that are present. Pass round a goblet of wine (which can be refilled as often as you like), each person present splashing a little of it over the other offerings in the dish. Try to imagine that you are still in the temple rather than at home; the visualization has not ended. After this has been done, place the dish of offerings on the altar before the statue. Now close your eyes and make yourself comfortable to return to the visualization.
The visualizer shakes the sistrum three times and says:
See the temple clearly once more around you.
Bast is standing before us, enjoying the offerings we have given her.
The visualizer shakes the sistrum three times again. The charge reader says:
Oh, Bast. daughter of Ra. Divine cat, lady of all magic,
Accept our offerings for they are given in love.
Grant to us our desires and come to our aid.
Reach out to us with gentle hands,
And let your blessing be upon your priestesses.
So it is spoken, so it is done.
Each member of the group now visualizes clearly in pictures exactly what he or she wants from Bast. Imagine yourself as happy, carefree, loved, and loving, but show it in pictures rather than words. After an appropriate time, the visualizer shakes the sistrum and the charge reader says:
Oh, Bast, queen of cats, Lady of laue and pleasure,
We offer you our humble thanks for all that you have granted to us.
Continue to share with us your strength and your fire.
Lend us your understanding, show us your wisdom.
Give us the courage to be all that we may be
And the ability to know ourselves as you know us.
May we take with us from this temple a feeling of peace that will be with us in the days and weeks to come.
May we feel enlivened and liberated from all care.
May you strengthen this sisterhood,
With love, unity and grace.
We ask this in your name, Bast, Lady of Ankhtawy, lady of Asheru,
Ruler of the divine field,
Ruler of Sekhet-Neter.
Continue the visualization for a few moments. It is time for all present to commune privately with the goddess. She may have. knowledge to bestow or gifts to impart. She may take you to other parts of the temple, or elsewhere in her realm. You may meet other people or gods. After an appropriate time, the visualizer shakes the rattles, and the charge reader says:
Oh, Bast, we thank you for this audience.
We go from your temple with your presence in our hearts.
We are your priestesses and will do all in our power
To protect your children on this earth.
When we make love, we will do so as an offering to you.
When we partake of delicious food and drink, we will do so as an offering to you.
When we dance, we will do so as an offering to you.
When we sing, we will do so as an offering to you.
We give you our love and our gratitude,
Be forever in our hearts, Bast, even when we here present are apart.
The visualizer resumes:
Now bow to the goddess and see her begin to retreat up the stairs. When she reaches the top, she assumes her normal position and turns back into a sleeping statue of gold. When you are ready, bid farewell to the priests and priestesses, and to all the cats. Walk back down the corridor again. In the outer shrine, it is time to have a few thoughts for your own cats. Perhaps you may like to ask for Bast’s protection for them. You can also ask for her blessing for any other loved ones. When you have finished bow your head to the statue to show your thanks and continue out of the temple. Make your way back through the outer courtyard and out of the huge entrance again. You can see the cone of power shining in the distance. Walk towards it, past the oasis pool and the lionesses. Once you reach it step inside and sit back down.
The person designated to construct the cone now brings it back to the present space and time and dismantles it. When this is done, he or she says, ‘When you are ready, open your eyes.’
After the ritual
Once everyone has opened their eyes, it is a good idea for them to talk about their experiences. Some people might feel that their visualizations are too personal to discuss at that time, and this must be respected. In our group, we always tape the results of work and type it up afterward as a permanent record. You may like to make a note of your experiences in your magical diary.
After the discussion, we always enter party mode. The first thing we do is a dance for Bast. We play our favorite songs and usually sing to them – badly, it must be said, but we are sure Bast does not mind that! On many ritual nights, we sat up drinking wine and talking until dawn. These are special nights, and everyone should enjoy them as they see fit.
The remains of the feast should be cast out over a garden or some other appropriate spot. During the following days, many of us also like to make donations to a charity associated with cats, whether in cash or simply a can of cat food in one of the many charity dump bins in pet stores.
This rite can be adapted for use as a simple ‘thanks’ ritual. Instead of asking Bast for her help, the time in the ritual apportioned for requesting boons can be spent simply thanking the goddess for past help and for her presence in our lives. We think it is as important to do this as any potent ritual to improve a situation or create opportunities. The aid of the gods should never be taken for granted.
Homage to Bast
Oh Bast, Lady of Aheru, ruler of Sekhet-neter
Lady of Ankhtawy, ruler of the Divine Field
Life of the Two lands
We call you.
Hear us and awaken to our presence.
Bast, you are beauty, health, and gentleness.
You comfort those who are made mad by the moon,
When you walk at their side in the shadowlands.
You, oh lady, are of the gods who protect this world.
Thunder and lightning strike the skies,
But you return in glory with your father, the sun.
You can blast and you can forgive
You can punish and you can reward
You can grant sunshine to children
You can grant moonshine to lovers
You have died and yet you live.
It is whispered that if one man or woman should believe in your power
You can hearken to the prayers of all the world. Hear us, oh Bast,
You can twist the skein and weave the thread of destiny.
You are sacred and beautiful, a lady of music.
You are lustrous and all-powerful,
And the world rides upon the arch of your back.
You are venerated and called the Lady of the East.
Bast the divine, ruler of the night, goddess of love, Infinite, all-wise, and all-knowing.
Grant blessings unto us who follow in your ways.
Great cat, who is the cat of the heavens,
Grant to us our desires.
Be favorable unto us.
From Sekhem Heka written by Storm Constantine
How Do You Know Bast is Calling on You
As Bastet is the cat goddess, the most obvious sign that she’s connecting with you is the presence of cats, literally or figuratively. For instance, you might find that you are followed by cats, that you find a stray that feels like ‘yours’, or that you see cats wherever you go.
There might be cats around in less obvious forms, too. The page of a book opens at a picture or section on cats, for example, or maybe somebody gives you a piece of jewelry with a feline image.
There could be less obvious signs, too. You might just ‘feel’ her presence around you, or hear a meowling that doesn’t belong. Dreams are also a common way for deities to reach you, so pay attention to what you dream about, and keep a dream diary.
Things to Note
Bast means Soul of Auset. Auset is an older name for Isis. Bast is considered to be her daughter.
The cat is her totem animal
She is also the goddess of the East, of fire , love , intoxication, music and dancing , secrets, magic , and sex.
She protects households and individuals from diseases and malevolent spirits and she protected cats.
The Lady of the Ointment Jar is also named the Perfumed Protector.
The patron goddess of firefighters The Egyptians believed that a cat could extinguish flames by running through a building on fire.
Bast was linked to all other goddesses named the Eye of Ra, who are Sekmet, Hathor, Wadjet, and Mut. They could transform into one another under the correct circumstances
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