What is the first image that comes to mind if we ask you to think about any animal that was often associated in Egyptian culture?
Our guess is that your answer was either option C or D. Both options are right but we would like take this meowment (moment) and focus on the significance of cats in Egypt. In ancient Egypt, there was no other animal that was held in such high esteem as the cat was. They were even considered by some to be demi-gods of their own right. One might ask why cats were so special to the Egyptians back then? We are not kitten (kidding) you when the reason is because Egypt was primarly an agrarian society and was plagued with the infestation of mice, rate and snakes – all of which threatened Egypt’s grain stores. The Egyptians then realized that the wild cats preyed on these scavengers and started leaving food such as fish heads out to tempt the cats to visit them regularly. Great value was being placed on cats since they protected the crops and delayed the spread of disease by killing vermin.
In this win-win situation, the problem of mice, rats and snakes were solved and at the same time, being around humans not only provided the cats with a steady supply of food (vermin and food left by humans) but also protection from larger predators. Initially a form of protection, these wild cats were eventually welcomed into the homes of the Egyptians and even reared their kittens in the safety of their now homes. Known as miu or miut, which is translated from “he or she who mews”, these cats were loved and respected by the Egyptians for being lively and loving companions but at the same time, highly intuitive and skilled predators. Because of this, ancient Egyptians even hunted with their cats, as documented in tomb paintings of cats hunting with their families.
Cats were also important in the interpretation of dreams, because seeing a cat in a dream would indicate a good harvest was on it’s way. Not only did cats symbolize grace and poise, they were also considered a semi-divine being and could only be owned by a pharaoh. Did you know that killing a cat, even accidentally was considered treason and punishable by death? Any attempt to harm a cat was an attempt to harm a god and that was by no means acceptable in Egypt. Worshipped by Egyptians, cats were often doned with jewelry and found underneath women’s chairs of reliefs, evoking fertility and sexuality or sitting under or beside the chair of the mistress of the house, offering her protection and friendship.
One of the most popular goddesses of ancient Egypt was Bast(later known as Bastet” in later times) and was thought of as the protector of cats, women and children. Despite her goddess duty changing over the years, Bast was also known as the goddess of sexuality, home life and childbirth and was also a guardian to the pharaoh. Another god that was depicted as a cat was the sun god Ra. Cats were considered sacred to Bast and sacred cats that were in her temple were considered to be incarnations of the goddess. Upon death, these incarnations of the goddess were mummified and presented Bast as an offering.
Another famous cat in Egyptian history was the great cat Mau Aa, who fought the serpent Apep the sun god. As Apep threatened world and divine order and set out to prevent Ra from bringing the sun into the sky. Mau fought fiercely against Apep to prevent Apep from taking control of the Persea Tree of Life and the World. Apep was eventually defeated and beheaded by Mau.
Are there any similarities you can draw between ancient Egypt with our current society?