Bast


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What do we know about Bast?

The cat first appeared around 3000 B.C. in Nubia, which bordered Egypt (who later conquered Nubia) and by 2500 B.C. the cat was domesticated in Egypt.   The cat's first name in Egypt was “myeo” (“mau”).

Like other agrarian cultures, the ancient Egyptians respected the cat for it’s exterminating abilities and the cats status evolved rapidly into a guardian of the temple and was worshipped as a goddess.

 

 The earliest feline Egyptian goddess recorded was 'Mafdet', who was usually depicted as a large cat, like a panther, cheetah or leopard.  Bast was commonly paired with Sekhmet (the lion-headed goddess), Wadjet, and Hathor. Bastet was known as the "Daughter of Ra", a designation that placed her in the same ranks as such goddesses as Maat and Tefnut, and was also known as one of the "Eyes of Ra", the title of an "avenger" god who is sent out specifically to lay waste to the enemies of Egypt and her gods.

The cult of Bast was centered in Bubastis (located in the delta region, near modern- day Zagazig) from at least the 4th Dynasty. In the Late Period Bubastis was the capital of Egypt for a dynasty, and a few kings took her name into their royal titles.

 

 Bast is most commonly depicted as a woman with the head of a domesticated or wild cat or lion or sometimes as a cat itself; often found holding the sacred rattle known as the sistrum.  She is a goddess of the home and domestic cat, although sometimes took on the war-like aspect of the lioness (Sekhmet).  Bast was also associated with the “Eye of Re” (Eye of Ra), acting as the instrument of the sun god's vengeance.

 No mythological stories have survived about the life of Bast.   Unlike other ancient cultures, the ancient Egyptians may not have placed great importance upon legends or the stories might just be lost. 

 

 She was the wife (or consort) of Ptah (Ptah-seker-ausar) and had children, Nefertum and the lion-headed Mahes (Mihos).  She might have possibly shared Ptah with Sekhmet.

 During the Hellenistic period in Egypt, Bast’s mythology changed a bit.  The Greeks equated her with Artemis and considered her the protectress of children, pregnant women, musicians, and strangely, became a goddess of all sorts of excess – especially sexual excess.

 Because the Greeks equated Bast with Artemis and Horus with Apollo, Bast was adopted into the Osiris-Isis myth as their daughter.  Another oddity was the belief that Bast was the daughter of Aset and Wesir – since Bast “was” Artemis, she needed to have a twin brother.  To the Greeks, Apollo (Artemis’ twin) “was” Heru-sa-Aset, giving birth to the rumour of her different parentage.

 The last change the Greeks made was because of a play on words in her name, resulting her being equated with the “Soul of Isis” (ba-Aset), and later on, that carried into the worship of the Roman Isis of Ten Thousand Names.

Page updated 05/14/2002

 
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