The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat

The Veneration and Worship of Felines in Ancient Egypt

(Read the article on one page)

The ancient Egyptians revered and worshipped many animals, just as the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Norse did, but none were worshipped as reverently as the cat.  It was not until the Pre-dynastic Period that they were domesticated—interestingly, much later than dogs—yet their prominence in Egyptian culture remains highly identifiable even today.

The first primary feline god was Mafdet, a female deity who traces back as far as the First Dynasty of Egypt between 3,400BC and 3000BC.  As a feline goddess, she was associated with protecting against venomous bites especially those of snakes and scorpions (probably due to the fact that cats are killers of snakes and scorpions).  The more well-known goddess Bastet took Mafdet’s place as a guardian of Lower Egypt, the pharaoh, and the sun god Ra.  A similar female deity with the body of a woman and the head of a cat, Bastet was considered a personification of the sun herself, with her chief shrine at the site of Bubastis in Egypt.

The so called 'Gayer Anderson' cat. A late period bronze cat in the form of the goddess Bastet. Jewelry is ancient but not necessarily original to this piece.

The so called 'Gayer Anderson' cat. A late period bronze cat in the form of the goddess Bastet. Jewelry is ancient but not necessarily original to this piece. British Museum ( Wikimedia Commons )

Bastet and Mafdet both possibly originate from the legend of a divine jungle cat named Mau/Muit who defended one of the sacred Persea trees in Annu from the serpent Apophis.  The cat caught the snake in the act of attempting to strangle the tree, and cut off its head for its crimes.  Bastet and Mafdet are often interchanged as the jungle cat heroine.  Bastet, however, was eventually similarly displaced.

Ra in the form of a feline slaying the snake Apophis, Tomb of Inherkha, 1160 BC, Thebes.

Ra in the form of a feline slaying the snake Apophis, Tomb of Inherkha, 1160 BC, Thebes.

Toward the beginning of the 3 rd millennium, Bastet was associated with all cats and each feline was considered a physical representation of her spirit.  Over time, however, the gods once again shifted and altered, often a result royal personal preference.  By the time Lower and Upper Egypt unified around 3000 BC, Bastet was replaced by another goddess called Sekhmet.  Sekhmet's form was much fiercer than Bastet's; though similar, the former had the head of a lioness, not a mere cat.  With this change in the Egyptian's mythos, Bastet was regulated as the guardian of domesticated cats while Sekhmet became the goddess of the lionesses. 

It should be noted that there were other gods associated with cats, such as Neith and Mut, but Bastet and Sekhmet were the two foremost deities.

Bas-relief representing the goddess Sekhmet on a column of the Temple of Kom Ombo in Kom Ombo - Egypt .

Bas-relief representing the goddess Sekhmet on a column of the Temple of Kom Ombo in Kom Ombo - Egypt . ( Wikimedia Commons )

In the mortal realm, humans and cats lived and worked in harmony.  Cats were a perfect solution to the overwhelming rat and snake problems of ancient Egypt, and in exchange, humans would protect those same cats from other predators who might deign to feast on a feline for dinner (especially now that rats were no longer an option).  It was in this way that cats began to become domesticated—the humans would coax them to their homes to fetter out the vermin by offering the cats food.  From there, it was a short step to invite the creatures to move in for safe keeping and constant pest purging.

Ancient Egyptian relief in Edfu Temple

Ancient Egyptian relief in Edfu Temple ( Wikimedia Commons )

These cats, however, were not as cats appear today—at least not at first.  In ancient Egypt, there were two different primary breeds: one the fierce jungle cats, the other the more peaceful African wildcats.  As time went on and the two species merged, as well as both cats became accustomed to softer, human food, the species grew to become sleeker, less muscled, and much more tolerant.  In a way, the Egyptians' attempts to gain protection of their foods and resources resulted in the taming of their protectors.

The sarcophagus of the cat of the Crown Prince Thutmose, the eldest son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye.

The sarcophagus of the cat of the Crown Prince Thutmose, the eldest son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. ( Wikimedia Commons )

What must be understood in light of the humans' intense affection for cats is that the animals were not considered divine themselves.  There are records that they might have been akin to demi-gods, but they were primarily thought of as bodily representations of the feline gods.  Because of this, cats were protected for reasons beyond just their vermin-killing capabilities.  To harm a cat was to attempt harm to a god, and that was entirely out of the question in ancient Egypt.  Killing a cat was punishable by death a certain period of Egyptian history, whether intentional or not.  Diodorus, one of the most well-read historians from the ancient world, records an incident in which a Roman accidentally slaughtered a cat, and he suffered the same punishment as the people of Egypt would.


What predates the veneration of Cat is the veneration of the woman Lioness, a symbol of the Ancient Bulgarian Godess of Will Sakhmet. Sakhmet is an ancient Bulgarian word meaning exactly this: The Mother Godess of Will. Ancient Bulgarian priestesses were women of magical power who dominated over the lions and the other animals. They were often depicted as riding lions or as women with Lion's head. That is also the origin of the Sphinx of Giza - a depiction of Sakhmet becoming Bastet later on.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

Open Book Photo
A legend is a tale regarded as historical even though it has not been proven, and the term “myth” can refer to common yet false ideas. Many myths and legends describe our history, but they are often treated skeptically. This is because many of them, while explaining a phenomenon, involve divine or supernatural beings.

Human Origins

Noah's Sacrifice - watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot
The imperfect state of archaeological researches in the Near East impedes any definite identification of the original race or races that created the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to Gordon Childe, however, the predominant racial element in the earliest graves in the region from Elam to the Danube is the ‘Mediterranean’.

Ancient Technology

Ancient Places

Google Earth image of manmade stone structures in Saudi Arabia
Deep in the heart of Saudi Arabia, 400 peculiar stone structures have been found, dating back thousands of years ago. These stone features were discovered by archaeologists with the use of satellite imagery, identifying what they call stone "gates" in an extremely unwelcome and harsh area of the Arabian Peninsula.


The ancient and mysterious Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article