Cats of Ancient Egypt Are Cats of Today
Ancient Egypt has a rich and endlessly fascinating history involving felines—when cats were worshiped as top dog, so to speak.
Cats are interesting little creatures that often leave us scratching our heads because of their bizarre behavior or clutching our chests in pure joy over how cute they are. It’s no secret that when you walk into a pet store, the majority of the focus is on dogs, and it’s not hard to understand why. Dogs are unconditionally loyal and loving; they are “man’s best friend” for a reason. The emotional reciprocation from dogs is obvious, where with cats … it’s not always so obvious. Some cats couldn’t care less about the human species, while others are wonderfully loyal to one person. Then there are the house cats that migrate between family members because attention is attention no matter whose hand offers it. Cats are incredibly self-reliant and not always blind in giving out affection.
There was a time in history when cats were the top dog, so to speak; when our feline friends were worshiped even. Ancient Egypt has a rich and endlessly fascinating mythology that includes deities that take feline forms. Mafdet was a goddess in the Egyptian pantheon who protected against venomous creatures such as snakes and scorpions; the feline likeness came from the fact that cats are common hunters of such venomous crawlies, and a goddess as such would look like a cat. While Mafdet made her appearance during the first dynasty in Egypt, Bastet was worshipped during the second. Initially, Bastet was a protector of the lower regions of Egypt and of the pharaoh; a lioness warrior goddess of the sun. Over time, however, she morphed into a goddess of sexuality, femininity, childbirth and home life, and into what we’re familiar with today, the cat goddess.
Inscribed in the Valley of the Kings is “You are the great cat, the avenger of the Gods, and the judge of the words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the Holy Circle; you are indeed the Great Cat.”
How did cats achieve such high esteem within the ancient Egyptian culture? Why were cats viewed as demi-Gods? How was it that during certain points in Egyptian history, killing a cat was grounds for death? Living in a time when countless lives easily were affected by dangerous pests lurking in unexpected places and small, scattering creatures raiding the grain supply and contaminating it, cats were a godsend. Cats did what came naturally to them and ended up benefitting the lives of humans greatly; even saving their lives. As cats learned these humans weren’t to be feared, but a source of food, love and safety, they moved indoors with us. Egyptians were the first to truly domesticate cats.
“Miu” was how the Egyptians referred to all cats, domestic or wild, meaning “he or she who mews.” However, it is up for debate that it also could mean “he or she who sees,” because cats were linked to dream mythology within the ancient Egyptian culture. Having a cat visit you or merely seeing a cat in your dream meant good fortune/good harvest was in your future. Cats were so revered that when a cat passed away, the cat’s humans all went into a deep mourning period that included shaving their eyebrows. After being mummified, the cat would be buried with essential afterlife needs, such as mice and milk. Cats were beloved family members, as they are now.
Every cat owner knows what it is like to sit back and watch their pet strut their way through the house like they own the place. The thought occurs: It’s like they know they were worshipped at one time. And that very well might be the case. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they get overexcited by bird videos on YouTube, fall off their cat tree while watching the world go by outside the window and zoom around the house in the dead of the night, enjoying their simple zest for life. Their purpose in our homes might not be to preserve our grains and protect us from scorpions, but they bring us infinite love, smiles and sleepy purrs on our pillows in the early-morning light.
Which to a lot of cat owners is easily a reason to be worshipped still.
Brittany Kimble is an associate at Paw's Natural Pet Emporium in Kennewick, Wash.