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Statue of Bast, as a Sand Cat

Bast, Feline Protector, Goddess of Lower Egypt

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: November 29, 2012

 

bas determinativet

Bast from the tomb of Mentuherkhepeshef

Image © Francis Dzikowski
In early times Bast (Ubasti, Bastet) was a goddess with the head of a lion or a desert sand-cat and was regarded as mother of Maahes, a lion-headed god, and wife to Ptah. She was usually depicted as a cat, or as a woman with the head of a cat or lion. She was also connected to Hathor, Sekhmet, Tefnut and Mut. Bast was considered to be the daughter of Atem or Ra. It was only in the New Kingdom that she gained the head of a house cat and became a much more 'friendly' goddess, though she was still depicted as a lion-headed woman to show her war-like side. As with Hathor, Bast is often seen carrying a sistrum.

Her name has the hieroglyph of a 'bas'-jar (bas determinative) with the feminine ending of 't' (t), reading 'She of the bas-Jar'. (Apparently her name was written as 'Bastet' by scribes in later times to emphasise that the 't' was to be pronounced, but this is unclear.) These jars were heavy perfume jars, often filled with expensive perfumes - they were very valuable in Egypt, considering the Egyptian need (with the hot weather) of makeup, bathing, hygiene and (of course) perfume. Bast, by her name, seems to be related to perfumes in some way - a perfumed protector, as it were. Her son Nefertem, a solar god, was a god of perfumes and alchemy, which supports the theory.

Now there is some confusion over Bast and Sekhmet. She is given the title the 'Eye of Ra' when she's in her protector form... but Bast and Sekhmet are not the same goddess (unlike Hathor who becomes Sekhmet as the 'Eye of Ra').

Statue of Bast as a sand-cat This all gives rise to a lot of confusion about these goddesses. Bast and Sekhmet were another example of Egyptian duality - Sekhmet was a goddess of Upper Egypt, Bast of Lower Egypt (just like the pharaoh was of Upper and/or Lower Egypt!)... and they were linked together by geography, not by myth or legend.

These two feline goddesses were both very distinct goddesses in their own rights, despite the below phrase, used rather late in Egyptian history (c. 150 BC):

"She rages like Sekhmet and she is friendly like Bast" is how the goddess Hathor-Tefnut was described in the Myth of the Eye of the Sun in the temple at Philae.

-- Malek, J. 1993, The Cat in Ancient Egypt, p. 95

She was one of the older goddesses, mentioned in The Book of the Dead. (Note that The Book of the Dead was a selection of spells, rather than an actual book): Bast in Her House Cat Form

Image © April McDevitt

Rubric - If this Chapter be known by the deceased upon earth, he shall become like unto Thoth, and he shall be adored by those who live. He shall not fall headlong at the moment of the intensity of the royal flame of the goddess Bast, and the Great Prince shall make him to advance happily.

...

The breast of this Meri-Ra is the breast of Bast; he cometh forth therefore and ascendeth into heaven.

-- Wallis Budge, E.A. 1979, The Book of the Dead, p. 512, 602

Even from very old times, as protector, Bast was seen as the fierce flame of the sun who burned the deceased should they fail one of the many tests in the underworld.

Some of Bast's festivals included the 'Procession of Bast', 'Bast appears to Ra', the 'Festival of Bast', 'Bast Goes Forth from Per-Bast (Bubastis)' and 'Bast guards the Two Lands'. There was even a 'Festival of Hathor and Bast', showing the connection between the two goddesses.

Herodotus describes the 'Festival of Bast' where thousands of men and women travelled on boats, partying like crazy. They had music, singing, clapping and dancing. When they passed towns, the women would call out dirty jokes to the shore-bound, often flashing the townsfolk by lifting up their skirts over their heads! When they reached Per-Bast, they made their sacrificies of various animals, and drank as much wine as they could stomach. No wonder it was such a popular festival!! Cat-headed Bast with kittens

The following are the proceedings on occasion of the assembly at Per-Bast:- Men and women come sailing all together, vast numbers in each boat, many of the women with castanets, which they strike, while some of the men pipe during the whole time of the voyage; the remainder of the voyagers, male and female, sing the while, and make a clapping with their hands. When they arrive opposite any of the towns upon the banks of the stream, they approach the shore, and, while some of the women continue to play and sing, others call aloud to the females of the place and load them with abuse, while a certain number dance, and some standing up uncover themselves. After proceeding in this way all along the river-course, they reach Per-Bast, where they celebrate the feast with abundant sacrifices. More grape-wine is consumed at this festival than in all the rest of the year besides. The number of those who attend, counting only the men and women and omitting the children, amounts, according to the native reports, to seven hundred thousand.

...

The cats on their decease are taken to the city of Per-Bast, where they are embalmed, after which they are buried in certain sacred repositories.

-- Herodotus, The History of Herodotus: Book II

In Greco-Roman times she was equated with Diana and Artemis, and the sister of Horus (who was considered to be the Egyptian Apollo) and thus a child of Osiris and Isis, and became a goddess of the moon.

Her cult centre was in Per-Bast (the temple is now in ruins, but it was made of red granite with a sacred grove in the centre, with the shrine of the goddess herself... it was also full of cats). An alternative translation of her name could be 'She of Bast', refering to the city of Per-Bast. She was also worshipped all over Lower Egypt.


Further Information about Bast


Video of Bast

A fact-filled video about the cat goddess Bast, by hotfactsgirls:


© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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