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Bastet (or Bast) was the Egyptian cat-headed goddess, probably originally associated with the lioness, who was a local deity having her cult in Bubastis where a necropolis house mummified cats. She appeared in the Second Dynasty, in the Delta, and had an early fetish for cats, the wild domesticated variety that were admired for their virility, strength, and agility.
Although she remained a local deity, Bastet was soon associated with Re, said to be his daughter and wife, and with the Osirian deities. Bastet personally, it is said, defended Re against the serpent Apep. Her son Maahes, whom she had by Re, is depicted as a lion-headed man wearing the atef, the crown of Osiris, or as a lion devouring its captive, or sometimes identified with Horus of Praises, a form of Horus the Younger. At other times Maahes was identified with Nefertum the son of Sekhmet, with whom her priest tried to fuse Bastet. This identification was attempted in the Twenty-second Dynasty when, beginning with Sheshonq I the pharaohs, who were of Libyan origin, made their capital near Bubastis and adopted the goddess as their own. The temples of Bubastis were enriched, and a great new shrine was built at Thebes.
When a state deity in the Late Period, Bastet was looked upon as a kindly goddess representing the beneficent powers of the sun protecting the Two Lands, and sometimes was said to personify the moon; Sehkmet, on the other hand, represented the destructive powers of the sun and popular belief clearly distinguished her from Bastet. Also, Bastet acquired some powers from Hathor, being known as the goddess of joy, music, and dancing. Her cult was celebrated in lighthearted barge processions and in orgiastic ceremonies. She was portrayed as a woman with a cathead, carrying a sistrum, a box or basket and the head of a lioness surrounded by many concentric necklaces. During her festival time it was impious to hunt lions, a favorite sport of the pharaohs.
Cats were revered and treasured in her honor. As a Greek observer noted: When a fire erupted strange things occur. The Egyptians gather in a line, thinking more about the cats than putting out the fire; but the cats dart through or leap over the men and spring into the fire. Then there was much mourning. Talking of dwellers in a house where a cat had died a natural death, the observer noted, the people shave their eyebrows; but where a dog had died, the head and body are shaven. A.G.H.
Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman's Sons, 1980, p. 28
Ions, Veronuca, Egyptian Mythology, Feltham, Middlesex, Hamlyn Publishing Group, Ltd., 1968. p. 103