Sunday, November 9, 2008

History and Cult of Cats in Egypt

Sleeping cat wrapped up in balnket on a bed
Statue of a sitting cat

Cats were highly appreciated in Ancient Egypt. At first for economic reasons, as they protected the harvest from rats, especially during seasons of drought. Over time, they became sacred animals and gained cult status among the ancient Egyptians. For example, Bast, or alternatively known as Bastet or Basht, was the goddess of beauty, protection and pleasure and was depicted with the body of a woman and the head of a cat. She was also the protector of the “Head of State Commander-in-Chief” Pharaoh.

Cats were said to be endowed with supernatural powers. It might be their graceful movements, the way they sit patiently, immobile at the threshold of the door or on top of a window sill. Or perhaps their magnetic eyes that seem to look into the hidden depths of your soul. Egyptians were afraid of their scrutiny and believed that cats could control and manipulate human behavior with their piercing hypnotic eyes.

When one of their cats happened to die, it was a time of serious mourning. Egyptians would shave their eyebrows as a symbol of their pain and affliction and head to a solemn funeral where the cat would often be embalmed.

As to the laws, they were quite strict when it came to cats. In fact, not even Pharaoh himself could hurt any cats! To kill a cat was the most hideous act an Egyptian could think of. If anybody killed a cat, even by accident, that person was immediately condemned to death. In case of fire, the first one to be saved was the cat and humans only thereafter.

There is, in fact, an interesting anecdote of a Persian king who took advantage of the Egyptian sentiment. This king decided to take an Egyptian city by filling it with cats. Egyptian soldiers felt paralyzed; they could not fight in fear of accidentally hurting a cat, and so the Persian army simply occupied the city without any resistance.

Cats still are magnetic creatures. I can watch them for hours and be fascinated with how they do as they please regardless of what the owners may think of them. In fact, they are their own masters and most of them still expect you to serve them like in the old days of Egypt. 

1 comment:

Ratty said...

Great post. I read something like this years ago. I'm not a great fan of cats, but I like them well enough. But I love the lesson in history. I have loved stories like this since I was a kid. I used to look through the history books in school to find things just like this. Wonderful!