After chatting to @Susurrus about adding content to the Egyptian Master post, I decided to focus on the Cat Magick task. I used this to explore the cat deities of ancient Egypt and discover why felines were so revered. I’ve moved it to its own topic so its easier to find and link to the master post. It is quite long but hopefully you find it interesting.
CHALLENGE ENTRY - CAT MAGICK
Cats Deities in Ancient Egypt
Reverence of Cats
Cats are often shown in any TV programme or movie that has ties with Ancient Egypt. I think of the movie The Mummy where a humble domestic cat is held up in front of the resurrected creature, only to make him recoil and spin his way out of the room in a whirlwind of sand and fear. The movie’s protagonist played by Brendan Fraser then carries the said cat around with him like a weapon in case the creature returns. This then raises a simple question: Did the Ancient Egyptians fear cats? The short answer is no.
However Egyptians did revere them; they showed cats deep admiration and respect. This raises another question. Why were cats held with such high regard? There are practical as well as divine reasons for this. Why do we keep cats as pets? For me, having two cats brings a sense of happiness and companionship. There is nothing I like more than the cats curling up beside me, their gentle purrs soothing and healing me. The Egyptians were the same, the saw these animals as ideal companions. They also protected the home from more dangerous creatures such as scorpions or snakes as well as pests like mice and rats. Therefore, they could be viewed as a free pest control service. This was particularly important in a civilisation that placed great importance on cleanliness and good personal hygiene.
The Egyptians also admired the characteristics and traits of cats. They were seen as smart, quick and protective creatures as well as being fertile and highly loving, protective and nurturing of their young. They possess a strong instinct to guard their human companions – I can vouch for this as my cat often comes to my “rescue” when I am playing around with my dog. The Egyptians believed that this protective nature came from the Gods and that cats could ward off evil. Their independent nature was also seen by the Egyptians as a sign of strength and self-sufficiency. Cats’ excellent night vision was seen as a connection to the darkness of the underworld and to heightened intuition. Even the grace with which a cat moved was considered a physical embodiment of divine grace. Cats were so revered that they were often dressed in jewels and fed expensive treats. Upon their death, cats were mummified and their owner would shave off their own eyebrows. They would continue to mourn the deceased cat until their eyebrows had grown back. Killing a cat, even accidentally, was punishable by death in Ancient Egypt.
So, were cats Gods? No, the Egyptians did not view cats themselves as Gods or Goddesses nor were they worshipped as such. Instead, they were viewed as “vessels” or “manifestations” of particular deities. Therefore, it is important to establish that it was the deity who chose a cat as their vessel that was worshipped, not the cat in general. Cats were also linked to the Sun God Ra. Each night, he was threatened and attacked by the giant snake Apophis. The fact that cats often killed snakes who endangered the life of people created this symbolic link. Two deities come to mind as taking on the feline form: Sekhmet and Bastet. I will explain each in more detail.
Hail to you, Lady of Plague, Sekhmet the Great, Lady to the limit. (Voices from Ancient Egypt, Parkinson, 1991)
Sekhmet is the most well known of the lioness goddesses of Ancient Egypt. She is portrayed as female human with a lioness head. On her head, she wears the solar disc. She also wears a red dress which may link to blood or fire. Sekhmet is never shown as a full woman but sometimes as a full lion. She is often shown carrying the ankh, a symbol of eternal life.
The name Sekhmet means She who is Powerful. She has many epithets including Beloved of Ptah, Mistress of Flame, The Red Lady, Mistress of Heat, Lady of darkness, Mistress of Dread, She who Brings Death and Eye of Ra Upon the Sun Disk.
Sekhmet was the daughter Ra, the Sun God. Ra had become frustrated and angry at the mockery and disobedience of humans and wished to punish them. He sent Sekhmet to Earth to unleash her wrath on mankind. From this came a thirst and hunger for destruction and murder. She went on a rampage and killed every human she encountered without mercy. Her violence and thirst for blood was so extreme that other Gods fear it would signal the end of mankind. Ra saw the devastation for himself and hatched a plan to stop his daughter. He created vast amounts of beer and dyed it red to resemble blood and poured it over the land. Sekhmet, thinking it was the blood of her victims, consumed the beer and became extremely drunk. Eventually, she fell into a deep sleep and a transformation took place, changing her to a protective and healing Goddess.
This myth explains Sekhmet’s contradictory nature; She is both the bringer of war and disease and a protector and healer. She was associated with war and destruction as well as illness. People worshiped her to avoid harm or disease. Soldiers would invoke her for protection before battles. Sekhmet was also the protector of the king. In fact, many pharaohs claimed that she was their mother. However, many carvings showing the pharaoh in her presence have them looking away, suggesting her power is too great, even for them. After her transformation, Sekhmet was also able to cure illness and disease. She was invoked to heal the sick and protect against illness and plague.
Today, Sekhmet is still worshipped by individuals and groups. She can be called upon for healing from illness, trauma or emotional wounds. Sekhmet may also be able to provide support in overcoming obstacles and finding solutions. Her sheer strength can also help us to tap into our own personal power and to stand up for ourselves and face our fears. She can also provide protection and ward off negative energies. It is important to work with Sekhmet with care and respect. It is also important to ensure balance, not focusing on her destructive and aggressive attributes over those of healing and protection.
Offerings of beer, red wine or other red liquids, meat, red flowers or sunflowers or spices such as ginger or cinnamon are suitable for Sekhmet. On an altar, a statue of the Goddess, images or statues of lions, candles (red, orange, gold), symbols of strength (e.g. shield, knife, ankh), red crystals, medicinal items (herbs, bottles, oils) and representations of the Sun would be representative of Sekhmet.
Bast (Bastet, Ubasti)
Bastet, the Great One…who sits on the throne. Who smites the enemies, who is protected by the Gods. (Goddess on the Water, Lange and Ullmann, 2015)
Today, Bast is widely known as a cat Goddess as opposed to a lioness. At first, she was depicted in a similar fashion to Sekhmet but over time, it became more common to show her as having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. Unlike Sekhmet, the cat version of Bast does not wear the sun disc on her head or carries the ankh in her hand. This was said to be a symbol of how she mingles and allies with ordinary people. She is often shown holding an Ancient Egyptian musical instrument called a Sistrum. Sometimes, she is shown as a full bodied domestic cat.
The name Bast means She of the Ointment Jar. It is also thought that the name of the material called alabaster may have derived from her name. She has many epithets including Lady of the East, Devouring Lady, Daughter of Ra, Lady of Flame, Mistress of Life, The Cat Goddess, The perfumed Protector, The Lioness of the Perfume Jar, The Avenger of Wrongs and The Friendly One.
The depiction of Bast as a domestic cat suggests a more gentle and friendly demeanour than Sekhmet. She still has an aggressive and angry side but no where near the same level as her feline counterpart. Bast was associated with fertility due to the domestic cat being able to reproduce multiple times throughout the year. She was also linked with motherhood and nurture due to cats being one of the most loving and caring parents in the animal kingdom. Therefore, any women worshipped her in hope of becoming pregnant or for support in raising and protecting their own children, family and home. Bastet was also associated with music and dance as well as magic, medicine and healing.
Today, Bast is still worshipped by individuals and groups. She can be called upon for healing from illness, trauma or emotional wound (like Sekhmet). Bast can also be invoked for help with conceiving, a safe pregnancy, trouble free birth or general wellbeing of children and family. Bast can be asked to provide protection to individuals, loved ones and the home. If you are feeling creative, or perhaps your creative flow is blocked, Bast can assist in providing inspiration and guidance to get it flowing once again. Finally, Bast can also assist in matters linked to self-love, self-care and embracing our sensuality.
Offerings of sensual incense such as sandalwood or jasmine, perfumes and oils, fresh roses or lilies milk, honey, wine, bread, small items of jewellery and even music and dance are suitable for Sekhmet. On an altar, a statue of the Goddess, images or statues of cats, candles (red, orange, gold), crystals such as tiger eye and amber, medicinal items (herbs, bottles, oils), a sistrum or other musical instrument and representations of the Sun would be representative of Bast.
Are Sekhmet and Bast Linked?
Sekhmet and Bast were both considered aspects of the Eye of Ra along with Hathor.This was the part of Ra that protected him and sought vengeance on his enemies, for example when Sekhmet took vengeance on humans for their disobedience. Bast was also said to have saved Ra from the serpent Apophis by wounding him with her mighty claws. It was said that those who embodied the eye of Ra were sisters, daughters and wives of Ra. Therefore, Sekhmet and Bast could be considered sisters.
Each Goddess has their own, unique, role but both have an angry and aggressive side as well as a healing and protective side. As time went on, the Goddesses became merged, with Sekhmet being the more aggressive and warrior like manifestation and Bast being the nurturing and healing side of the same feline deity. Both the idea of separate and interlinked deities were common in Egypt and both were widely accepted beliefs. Even today, some see them as part of the same while others worship them separately. The direction you take is up to you, just treat them with the respect that they both deserve.
Jackson, L (2022) Sekhmet and Bastet: Feline Powers of Ancient Egypt
Nephtys, Lady (2016) The Egyptian Gods and Goddesses for Beginners
Images from picture Gallery in Canva