About Bast

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In Egyptian mythology, Bast (also spelled Bastet, Baset, Ubasti, and Pasht) is an ancient solar and war goddess, worshipped at least since the Second Dynasty. The centre of her cult was in Per-Bast (Bubastis in Greek), which was named after her. Originally she was viewed as the protector goddess of Lower Egypt, and consequently depicted as a fierce lioness. Indeed, her name means (female) devourer. As protector, she was seen as defender of the pharaoh, and consequently of the later chief male deity, Ra, who was a solar deity also, gaining her the titles Lady of Flame and Eye of Ra.

Bast was originally a goddess of the sun, but later was changed by the Greeks to a goddess of the moon. In Greek mythology, Bast is also known as Aelurus.

Later scribes sometimes renamed her Bastet, a variation on Bast consisting of an additional feminine suffix to the one already present, thought to have been added to emphasise pronunciation. But since Bastet literally meant (female) of the ointment jar, Bast would gradually became thought of as the goddess of perfumes, earning the title perfumed protector. In connection with this, when Anubis became the god of embalming, Bast, as goddess of ointment, came to be regarded as his wife, the association with Bastet having been the mother of Anubis, was broken years later when Anubis became Nephthys’ son.

This gentler characteristic, of Bast as goddess of perfumes, together with Lower Egypt’s loss in the wars between Upper and Lower Egypt, led to a decrease in her ferocity. Thus, by the Middle Kingdom she came to be regarded as a domestic cat rather than a lioness. Occasionally, however, she was depicted holding a lioness mask, which hinted at suppressed ferocity. Because domestic cats tend to be tender and protective toward their offspring, Bast was also regarded as a good mother, and she was sometimes depicted with numerous kittens. Consequently, a woman who wanted children sometimes wore an amulet showing the goddess with kittens, the number of which indicated her own desired number of children.

Due to the severe disaster to the food supply that could be caused by simple vermin such as mice and rats, and their ability to fight and kill snakes, especially cobras, cats in Egypt were revered highly, sometimes being given golden jewelry to wear and being allowed to eat from the same plates as their owners. Consequently, later as the main cat (rather than lioness) deity, Bast was strongly revered as the patron of cats, and thus it was in the temple at Per-Bast that dead (and mummified) cats were brought for burial. More than 300,000 mummified cats were discovered when Bast’s temple at Per-Bast was excavated. Egyptians believe, when a cat in the family dies, to show respect, they display the body outside of the home.

As a cat or lioness war goddess, and protector of the lands, when, during the New Kingdom, the fierce lion god Maahes of Nubia became part of Egyptian mythology, she was identified, in the Lower Kingdom, as his mother. This paralleled the identification of the fierce lioness war goddess Sekhmet, as his mother in the Upper Kingdom.

As divine mother, and more especially as protector, for Lower Egypt, she became strongly associated with Wadjet, the patron goddess of Lower Egypt, eventually becoming Wadjet-Bast, paralleling the similar pair of patron (Nekhbet) and lioness protector (Sekhmet) for Upper Egypt.

Eventually, her position as patron and protector of Lower Egypt, lead to her being identified as the more substantial goddess Mut, whose cult had risen to power with that of Amun, and eventually being absorbed into her as Mut-Wadjet-Bast. Shortly after, Mut also absorbed the identities of the Sekhmet-Nekhbet pairing as well.

This merging of identities of similar goddesses has led to considerable confusion, leading to some associating things such as the title Mistress of the Sistrum (more properly belonging to Hathor, who had become thought of as an aspect of the later emerging Isis, as had Mut), and the Greek idea of her as a lunar goddess (more properly an attribute of Mut). Indeed, much of this confusion occurred to subsequent generations, as the identities slowly merged, as with the Greeks during their occupation, who sometimes named her Ailuros (Greek for cat), thinking of Bast as a version of Artemis, their own moon goddess. And thus, to fit their own cosmology, to the Greeks, Bast was thought of as the sister of Horus, who they identified as Apollo (Artemis’ brother), and consequently, the daughter of the later emerging deities, Isis and Osiris.

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