In Egyptian mythology, Bastet (Bast) is the goddess of protection, cats, pregnancy, fertility, music, warfare, and ointments. She was generally revered as the daughter of Ra the creator god and king of the Egyptian Gods. As Bastet was the goddess of cats, she was usually depicted with a cat head and an ankh (the Egyptian symbol of life). Prior to her association with cats, Bastet was primarily associated with a lioness.
Like many Egyptian deities, the worship of Bastet was very widespread in Egypt, especially in places such as Bubastis during the Second Dynasty (2900 BCE). The ancient Greeks had a different name for Bastet; they called her Ailuros, which translates to “cat”.
The prevalent myth about Bastet states that she was born to the creator god Ra (or Re) and the goddess Isis. Bastet took Ptah – the ancient god of architecture and craftsmanship – as her consort. From the union between Bastet and Ptah came Maahes, the lion-headed god of war and weather who protected the innocent and avenged wrong deeds.
Like many Egyptian gods and goddesses, Bastet has a number of origin stories. In the early periods of ancient Egypt, Bastet was depicted as a lioness, similar to the role her twin sister, Sekhmet (Egyptian goddess of healing and warfare) played. Her portrayal as a lioness started around the third millennium BCE.
In time, Bastet’s depiction changed from a fierce goddess to a milder one. She was depicted as a domestic cat or a woman with a cat head. This change occurred around Third Intermediate Period of Egypt (c. 1067 BC – c. 665 BC)
Owing to her association with fertility and pregnancy, Bastet earned the title “the Eye of the Moon”. Thus, aside the cat, the moon was considered a very import symbol of Bastet. Other symbols of Bastet are the solar disk, an ointment jar and a sistrum (an ancient percussion instrument). In many depictions, the goddess is shown as slender woman in a beautiful dress with a cat head. Often times, she is holding a sistrum in her right hand and an aegis (a breastplate) in the other hand.
Similar to the reverence modern India gives to cow, ancient Egyptians awarded a very high reverence to cats. Every family had a domestic cat. There were also shrines in their homes to honour and worship Bastet. Her association with cats stems from the manner in which cats ward of vermin (i.e. mice, snakes and rats) from our homes. And not only was Bastet the protector of the home, she was also seen as fertility goddess. This attribute again stems from the fertile nature of domestic cats.