Why Did Egyptians Worship Cats?

black cat with glasses reading bookGreetings, all. It’s Lucinda the literate cat. I’ve received a question from a reader. After we published “Cat Behavior Solutions #8,” Abigail Calkin asked, “Why did Egyptians worship cats?”

She said, “Surely it wasn’t just because they killed vermin destroying the food supply. There must have been some other reason.” So I researched.

Let me tell you, it is not easy for me to do research. As I have told you before, when I run my paw under the words on a page, I don’t actually read them, but images of their meaning pass through my head. When it is a fiction story, it is easy for me to follow the action of the images. I can relax as I “watch” the words.

But research of a specific topic is much harder. I have to really concentrate. Wikipedia is especially hard. Many images are crowded in the lines, and if I don’t pay attention, I can get lost. Research is very tiring for a cat. Believe me, I’d rather be outside playing, but it is too cold now, so might as well get this research done.

Anyway, I have an answer for this reader.

Part of the answer has to do with the fact that the ancient Egyptians worshiped many animals for thousands of years. They were revered for different reasons. For example, dogs were valued for their ability to protect and hunt. However, cats were believed to be the most important animal.

Egyptians understood the cat better than many modern people. They realized that we could be considered magicalStone statue of cat creatures. We brought good luck to our two-legged families. They honored us, and we have not forgotten.

We were dressed in jewels and fed the most exquisite treats. When we died, we were mummified. To show signs of their mourning, the two-leggeds would shave off their eyebrows and then would mourn until the brows grew back. Even if a cat was killed by accident, the person who killed the cat was put to death.

Though gods and goddesses were believed to be able to transform into different animals, only one goddess, Bastet, or Bast, as she was sometimes called, could become a cat. Egyptians built a beautiful temple to this cat in the city of Per-Bast.

Two mummified cats

Mummified cats

My reader wants to know why they were so revered. If you lived in that ancient time without a cat, you would soon want one. Homes were filled with tiny, dangerous creatures. Can you imagine an asp hiding in a clay pot? Or rats and mice spoiling massive amounts of stored grain? Or what about a scorpion stealthily scuttling into a cradle, ready to give the child a deadly sting?

The Egyptians found only one creature who could keep them safe from these threats. We know the cat became the hero that made the home secure and saved lives by defending the family. Perhaps without Egyptian cats, civilization may not have survived. No wonder they were worshiped!

Before Bastet, there was an earlier deity called Mafdet. She was revered because she offered protection against such poisonous creatures as snakes and scorpions. This goddess could adapt a variety of fierce feline forms. She was most often shown as a woman with the head of a lion or cheetah.

She could also be depicted as a woman with the head of a house-cat, or sometimes as a house-cat with the head of a woman. Such an idea!

Bronze statue of Bastet

Statue of Bastet

When this goddess later became known as Bastet, or Bast, she was thought to be fiercely protective of the home, and especially of children or royalty. Her followers called her the “Eye of Ra,” the sun god.

Because of her excellent ability to kill snakes, scorpions, and other vermin, it was believed that she watched the world and guarded Egypt against invasion.

As cats became domesticated, they became valued family members, and because of the protective service they gave, they enjoyed the same respect and dignity as the two-legged children. Then Bastet’s image softened a bit and she became the goddess of family, fertility, and love.

The pharaohs themselves advanced this cat worship, as she protected the rulers just as she did other members of society. Many statues, paintings, seals, and stone vessels had a cat illustration or carving.

From the First Dynasty (2920 to 2770 BC) all the way to the time when Egypt became a 2 Egyptian cat statuesRoman province in 30 BC, cats had been worshiped. Then, in the 4th and 5th centuries, edicts from the Roman Empire gradually curtailed the practice of pagan rites in Egypt.

Too bad. I don’t think there is anything pagan about cat worship. But, then, I’m a cat. Just remember that we performed a service that in essence saved the civilized world. How soon they forget!

Perhaps they have forgotten partly because of the way the two-leggeds write history. In my research, I find that the folks who recorded past events placed a great deal of emphasis on the male hero, and not so much on the female. Bastet happened to be a female goddess.

Have you realized that many historians are male? Maybe the word “history” actually should be “his story.” I think it’s high time the two-leggeds added a new word to their language: “herstory.” Then perhaps we females could get equal time to show off our virtues.

Imagine that — me, a cat, suggesting a new word for the English language…Wonders do never cease.

So, in answer to your question, dear reader, though cats were considered magical creatures and were part of the pagan worship so prevalent in those ancient times, there really wasn’t a deeper meaning why they became deities. After all, isn’t saving civilization enough?

Thank you so much for your question. If anyone else reading this post has a question that you would like me to answer, you know the process by now — ask it in the comments at the end of this post, and I will try to answer.

The references I used for this story can be found below, if you would like to look them up and read them in full.

petfinder.com/pet-adoption/cat-adoption/why-did-egyptians-worship-cats

kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/cats-rule-in-ancient-egypt/

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cats-in-ancient-Egypt

ceramic cat

Ceramic Egyptian cat


20 Responses to Why Did Egyptians Worship Cats?

  1. Andy Zeus Anderson says:

    Wow, even today the Egyptian people often keep cats as protection and I am sure many still honor their beloved animals in the same way due to their noble heritage and their willingness to sacrifice. These creatures are marvelous indeed, very majestic. I am a proud cat owner but never knew so much about why cats appear in so much art from that era.

    • Fran Kelso says:

      According to Lucinda, we made a big mistake when we no longer worshiped cats…but, then, of course that would be the cat’s viewpoint.  

      I would think that if Egypt still has so many dangerous critters, cats still have a place there, as they are so good at dispatching such vermin.  They are pretty remarkable creatures.

  2. Brandon says:

    Lots of great images!! But I have to say my favorite thing was that you were a cat in that website. You didn’t come off as someone writing about cats. Also never would have known 90% of that about a cat. And the history behind that was amazing. Would have never known that history of cats before reading this. It caught my eye right off the start. 

    • Fran Kelso says:

      No, no, when Lucinda writes, the cat is telling the story.  There are many posts on that website that were obviously written by me, but Lucinda’s posts are unique.  She has a fan club, and likes comments from readers, so I will be sure to tell her about your comment.

      I, too, learn things about cats as I study and write about them.  It’s really nice to add knowledge to a subject you are very fond of.  

      Glad you visited — come again!

  3. Christine says:

    This is interesting, learning “herstory” about your feline ancestors. It’s a shame that cats aren’t worshipped anymore like they used to be. They certainly take care of their two-legged friends. So many people do not see that. I love cats and I live with three lovely cats whom I love very much. 

    The story of the Goddess is fascinating. Too bad that the Romans considered those things pagan and therefore these beliefs and the worship of your ancestors came to an end. You should share your page to get the word out 🙂 

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Well, in a sense my page is being shared, since it is online.  Cats are so fun and interesting to have around.  They do some of the most amazing things.  There’s always a surprise or two, if you have a cat.

  4. Genia Ashley says:

    What a great find, and very interested on reading this! It definitely caught my eye. 

    Now I’m more of a dog person than a cat person but I do have a couple of cats of my own,

    Doesn’t surprise me, the egyptians had worshiped cats. Just like dogs, they too hunt and protect. 

    Sometimes I get dead mice at my door, but they must think we starve ourselves lol

    Great article, keep them coming.. 

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article.  dead mice are presents for you from your cat.  I think they see it as a way to help pay for their upkeep, by adding to our food supply.  

      Cats were pretty much a necessity to the ancients in Egypt.  They were the only creature that could do the job that needed doing.  No wonder they became so important.

  5. Aly says:

    Even though there isn’t a definitive proven reason why the Egyptians worshipped cats, I do think it is a fun link that an ancient advanced society would have such an important role for cats in their world. They are soft, smart, fun, sweet, athletic, and a joy to be around… it’s a rare thing to find all of these qualities in one place!

    • Fran Kelso says:

      You speak truth.  I do love having my cat around.  He can always make me smile.  He would approve of the Egyptian attitude toward cats.

  6. EVA says:

    Hey Lucinda, thank you for this escape to ancient Egypt. Well done to you, because you tried your best to gather those research to inform us. I will come back to your site for another interesting topic. I know you have so many things to tell us. Many thanks Lucinda!

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Thanks — I will pass your comment on to Lucinda.  She loves getting fan mail.

      Lucinda has written many other posts for my website.  She does book reveiws and a regular column called “Cat Behavior Solutions.”  We would both be honored if you came back to visit again.

  7. Travis says:

    I have always wondered why the cat was such a revered creature in ancient Egypt. Funny that they thought cats brought good luck, wonder what happened to create that belief? Although I am a fan of having cats even today, since they keep rodents and other creatures away from our house and our yard. I am in awe of the fact that if a person killed a cat they were put to death, please don’t tell my cats this, they already have enough attitude! 🙂

    • Fran Kelso says:

      It’s true — best not read the article to your cat, or he might get ideas.  After all, cats do still believe they are in charge, so it’s not too big a step to deify him.  It did seem a bit extreme to me to read they killed a person who killed a cat, even accidentally.  No, I’ll keep it a secret from your cats.  No sense having them get more of an attitude than they have naturally.

  8. Irina says:

    I have a cat now in the house, and over time I have had it. Regarding the fact that cats were revered as deities in ancient Egypt, I often asked myself the same question. What was the reason? But the kindness of a cat, the love it offers you, its nobility, is undeniable. I hope to find in your article the answer to why the Egyptians deified the cats.

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Well, I hope the article answered your question.  I don’t consider my cat a deity, but she is certainly more than a mere cat.  Not sure if the house would run smoothly without him.  He’s an old boy, so doesn’t hunt much any more.  However, this summer he got a couple of critters and I am sure they know he is here, so are wary.  

      He’s a great comfort to me because I live alone.

  9. Wendy says:

    I enjoyed reading your post and loved that you write from the point of view of a cat. And I do agree that there should be more herstory where we get to read about more female heroes. I have two cats myself and I love that I never feel alone. Do they protect me? I don’t know, but my world would be sad without them.

    • Fran Kelso says:

      The important thing is they think they protect you.  They mark the house with their scent and warn you of any invaders.  It is really wonderful how you never feel alone.  Helps a lot when you live by yourself.  

      Yes, Lucinda writes a lot of my posts.  She does book reviews for me, and has a regular column called “Letters to Lucinda:  Cat Behavior Solutions.”  She is a very talented cat. Be sure to check out more of her posts.  They are mainly under the “literate cat” category.  The columns are under “Cat College.”

  10. Boniface-AndroidBix says:

    Hi Andy,

    That was an interesting read- looking back into ancient Egyptian civilization and their feline worship. 

    Though cats are not worshipped today as people have now known that all power belongs to the Creator, not the creatures, we still keep cats for pets for mutual benefits. They are a delight to the two-leggeds, and still do marvelous work protecting them from vermins and all manner of tiny little things- including spiders.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Oh, yes, they are wonderful, and do manage to keep many small unwanted critters out of the house.

      My last cat, Carlos, was pretty good at catching spiders.  However, the neighbor’s cat, Tiger, was even better, and he visited us a lot.  He didn’t like me, but he loved Carlos.  One day I went in the bathroom and found two huge spiders in the bathtub.  Called the cat; he really wasn’t interested.  Called Tiger, and showed him the spiders.  He was in that tub in a flash, and got both of the crawly critters.  Though he didn’t much care for me, when I praised his hunting skills, you could almost see his little chest swell with pride.  I earned a few points on that one.

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