The Ancient Egyptians believed in animal-worship. The Egyptian cats was sacred throughout the whole of Egypt, and woe to the man who injured them! Cats were not only protected by the people but also by the law. If a human killed a feline, either intentionally or unintentionally, the person was sentenced to death. A Roman delegate who accidentally caused the death of a cat was immediately lynched by the enraged populace. In any house where a cat or a dog died, the inmates were expected to mourn for them as for a relation. Both cats and the other sacred animals were carefully embalmed after death, and their bodies were interred in sacred cemeteries.
History of Ancient Egyptian Cats
The domestication of Ancient Egyptian cats is believed to date as far back as 3000BC. The first domesticated Egyptian cats in Egypt were used for warding off snakes and rodents. There are two species of cats which are native to Egypt are as follows:
- Felis chaus - the tan colored swamp or jungle cat
- Felis silvestris libyca - the African wild cat
The Egyptian Cat becomes a God
However, with the popularity of animal worship, the cat became more to the Egyptians than just a normal animal and amulets were worn showing cats as protection against everyday problems. Cats then began to appear as coffin decorations. Cats were said to accompany the Sun God on the descent into the Underworld at every dusk of the day and the feline then became associated with the daughters of the Sun God. The cat then became a god. The earliest feline goddess recorded was called Mafdet and is described in the Pyramid Texts as killing a serpent with her claws but the most famous goddess associated with felines was the goddess Bastet.
The Egyptian Cat God - the Goddess Bastet (aka Bast) and the Goddess Sekmet
The history of the Egyptian cat god achieved cult status due to the rise of the city of Bubastis in the eastern Delta during the 22nd dynasty. The goddess adopted by the city was Bastet who was depicted with the body of a woman and the head of a cat, or lioness. The symbols of the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet were the cat, lioness, sistrum and Udjat (the Eye of Horus). The feline goddess Bastet was worshipped as the life giving god of fire, cats, the home and pregnant women. In Egyptian religion the evil counterpart of Bastet was the goddess Sekhmet who represented the destructive force of the feline and worshipped as the goddess of war and pestilence.
The Cat in Ancient Egyptian History
Cats in Ancient Egyptian History was worshipped as a goddess during the periods associated with animal cults. Every home in Bubastis would have a small shrine to the goddess Bastet as a protector of the home. Temples were built in honor of Bastet and the forms of worship included burying mummified cats in her honor in a massive cat cemetery near the temple. The death of a feline was treated seriously by these Ancient Egyptians. When a cat died the members of the family would shave off their eyebrows as a sign of mourning. Arrangements would then be made for the dead animal to be embalmed and mummified and then buried.
Egyptian Cat Mummies
The process of mummification was extended to cats in Ancient Egypt. The process of mummification included:
- Removal of the Organs, except the heart
- The body was dried out using Natron salt and packed with sand
- The Greek historian, Diodorus recorded that "Cedar oil and such spices as have the quality of imparting a pleasant odour and of preserving the body for a long time, they lay it away in a consecrated tomb."
- The body of the feline was placed in a sitting position with with the forelegs lying down the front and the hind legs drawn up beside the pelvis
- The body of the feline was elaborately wrapped
- Facial details or decorations were painted on the wrappings as it was important that the mummy's head should resemble a living cat
The Cat Cult in Ancient Egyptian History
The cult of the cat and the goddess Bastet changed over the years and cats began to be raised for the specific purpose as offerings to the goddess. Cat mummies were sold to people and these would be left at the temple as an offering to the god. This change led to the killing of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian cats.
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