Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Egyptian Cat Cults

Egyptian Cat Mummy, Upper Egypt, Roman Period - British Museum

Egyptians were not only the first to domesticate cats, they worshiped cats. They built temples to the Cat Goddess, Bastet, their fierce protector. They adorned their precious tabbys with jewelry, most notably earrings, and mummified poor puss with sacred burial rites when she died. The Egyptian Prince Thutmose had his cat Ta-Miewet buried beside him in her own stone sarcophagus.

 Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose cat Ta-Miewet, Carved stone, 18th Dynasty (1550-1292 BC)

From the Old Kingdom (2613-2160 BC) through the Greek and Roman periods Cat Cults thrived on the Nile Delta. Cats were thought to be house protectors and the burial of a cat mummy was considered a demonstration of piety toward Bastet “she of the ointment jar” the protector Cat Goddess. Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BC) wrote about the festival of Bastet saying, “The festival procession was by boat, the occupants playing musical instruments, singing and clapping. The boats approached the shore when they passed towns and the inhabitants would run or dance alongside the boats, calling to the procession. The festival took place in the temple of Bastet and consisted of a large number of sacrifices and the consumption of copius amounts of wine by the huge crowds that attended.”

It is hard to know just how fanciful this depiction of an Egyptian cat's last rites painted by the 19th C Englishman, John Reinhard Weguelin might be, but note the statue of Bastet in the stairwell on the right. From what we do know, he may not have been too far off.

The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat, John Reinhard Weguelin, 1886

1 comment:

  1. I am doing an Egyptian cat art lesson with 1st graders next week, and I loved your simple terminology used in this post. I think I will use it.. thank you!