As a lifelong cat lover, I always had a thing for Bastet, the ancient Egyptian cat goddess depicted in art and sculpture. The Egyptian love of the cat looms large in popular culture; it’s the ultimate sign of approval that cats are more regal than their doggy counterparts.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered on my Egypt visit that Bastet? Isn’t all that important.
Oh sure, there were a few hieroglyphics of Bastet here and there. But they were nowhere near as prevalent as I thought they would be.
Our Uniworld guide Akram told me that Bastet had most of her followers in Lower Egypt, in the Alexandria area. She had a temple there in Tell Basta (also known as Bubastis or Per-Bast), where more than 300,000 mummified cats were found when the temple was excavated in the late 19th century. She was seen as a protector of Lower Egypt, though later when the region merged with Upper Egypt, she became less ferocious and more associated with fertility. Her importance diminished and she became a lesser deity.
So why then, I asked, does every Egyptian vendor sell statues of cats? “Because tourists like cats!” Akram said. “It’s all about the money!”
The Egyptians still love cats, my guides told me, and they’re often still seen as a sign of fertility. Unfortunately, the ones I saw in the streets seemed way too skinny to be making kittens.
I did notice quite a few “torbie” – tortoiseshell tabby – cats. My Jigs is a torbie. So maybe she’s got some Egyptian blood in her somewhere. She certainly has a goddess-like sense of entitlement!