Veterinarian Reviewed on July 9, 2009 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
The most popular worshiped feline was the lion and the lioness. Egyptians even believed that powerful Lions guarded the noble god, Ra, every night when it was said that he journeyed to the underworld. The Egyptian Sphinx has a body of a lion with the head of a Pharaoh.
Sekhmet, Tefnut and Mafdet were three lionesses that the existed in ancient Egyptian mythology. The most powerful of three was Sekhmet. She was deemed to be a goddess of war who instructed by her father, Ra, to come down to Earth to destroy his enemies. Sekhmet is seen as having the body of a woman but with the head of a lioness. Tefnut’s name means moisture in old Egyptian and she symbolized a primal force of nature. Mafdet was lioness goddess of protection.
One of the most commonly known, and revered, feline goddesses in ancient Egyptian was Bast. Drawings and statues of Bast depict her wearing golden earrings, bracelets and a wide necklace. She was the protector of all domestic cats and their human care givers, and she gave of her gifts, pleasure and happiness, quite freely. Bast was, therefore, quite a beloved household deity.
Bast’s main home, or temple, was said to be at Bubastis which, it was believed, was the most beautiful temple in all of ancient Egypt.
It is interesting to note that there is some evidence that shows that the ancient Egyptians actually perceived both Bast and Sekhmet as simply being two personalities of the same divine might: Bast being more gentle and calm whilst Sekhmet was more violent and intimidating.
Bast was also thought of as the divine mother being and in some ancient drawings, had kittens at her feet. As young babies, children were often dedicated to Bast and, therefore, placed under her benevolent protection by their parents. If a young woman desired to have children of her own, she would wear a bracelet or necklace depicting the goddess Bast surrounded by kittens. The amount of children that the woman desired to have was represented by the number of kittens shown with the goddess.
All Egyptians admired cats and considered them to be very auspicious. Almost every Egyptian household had three or more house cats that were loved and well cared for. There were also many feline statues and paintings decorating the house. Egyptians even stylized their make up around their eyes to give themselves a similar feline look as their cat counterparts.
In fact, cats were so well respected and loved by the ancient Egyptians that they imposed a penalty of death to anyone who killed a cat. Likewise, after a family cat had passed away, their human family mourned the loss of their friend by shaving off their eyebrows to show their grief. Upon their death, most cats were mummified. Archeologists even came across a marble coffin in which laid a royal cat. On the outside of the coffin was inscribed ‘Lady Cat’ in Egyptian hieroglyphs.
However, cats have appeared in the myths and legends of other countries and societies around the world.
Poland : Legend here says that a mother cat was once crying alongside a river bank as she helplessly watched her kittens drowning in the water. Taking pity on her and her kittens, the reeds that run alongside the river bent over to let the kittens grab onto them to pull themselves onto dry land. Soon after, furry blossoms grew at the end of their stems as a reminder of the kittens, and they became down as Pussy Willows.
Norway : The goddess Freya is associated with cats in Norse mythology and is often depicted riding in a chariot being pulled by two gray cats.
France : The French believed in the matagot, a cat that could either bring bad luck or good luck into their home. If the matagot was well fed then it was believed to bring great fortune to the family.
Ancient Siam: The Siamese believed that when a king died, his soul would slip into the body of a cat in order for the king to attend the coronation of the new king. Another Siamese legend explains that Siamese cats kinked their own tails so that they could hold the rings of the princesses whilst they were bathing.
Malaysia : Here cats were said to guide souls from Hell to Paradise and if a person killed a cat, he was made to cut, carry and stack the trunks of coconut trees; one for each hair on the cat’s body!
Photo Credit: traceyp3031
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan