Nile File: Bastet, the Ancient Egyptian Cat Goddess

by Chris on October 18, 2011

My futile search for Bastet, the ancient Egyptian cat goddess, among the ruins.

Cats at the Edfu Temple, Egypt

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.

Cat hanging out at the temple in Edfu, Egypt

So imagine my surprise when I discovered on my Egypt visit that Bastet? Isn’t all that important.

Engraving of Bastet, ancient Egyptian cat goddess

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.

Cats in Cairo

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.

Bastet, ancient Egyptian cat goddess

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!”

 Black cat in Egypt

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.

Tortie cat in Egypt

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!

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela October 18, 2011 at 10:55 am

Fascinating Egypt, hopefully one of my next destinations in the near future.

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Abby October 18, 2011 at 11:26 am

I really liked this post! I’m also a sucker for both ancient art history and strays — I brought home two dogs from Central America. I’ve wanted to go to Egypt since I was in college.

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JoAnna October 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm

How sad that the cats are so skinny. :(

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Jarmo @ Arctic Nomad October 19, 2011 at 4:09 am

Still, you managed to get some good shots of cats!

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Fida October 19, 2011 at 8:16 am

I learned two things: It’s all about the money ;) (although, that’s not new and probably as ancient as Egypt itself;)) But then, I don’t mind. Power to the cats! And – I didn’t know what a “torbie” was. Now I do.

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Cailin October 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I’ve never heard of a “torbie” before, I love the coloring though and I like the engravings that you were able to see at the bastet. cat lover right here :)

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Jade Johnston November 6, 2011 at 2:53 am

I can’t wait to go to Egypt some day!

Jade Johnston – http://www.ouroyster.com

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