World History and the Meaning of Being Human – Myths, Storytelling, and Cats: Pet or Protector? – by Sarah Bowman. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
When discussing animals and pets with others it always seems to end in the debate of whether you prefer cats or dogs. In most of my encounters, people argue dogs are the best pet and support their argument with the commonly heard modern myth “man’s best friend.” However, I have two pet cats and I would like to argue otherwise. I have researched the myth and history behind cats as they can be traced back as pets to ancient Egypt, and the belief in gods and goddesses that accompanied the civilizations within it.
In the article “Bastet (deity)” by Lather Iyer, they discuss the origins of the Egyptian goddess (2018). Bastet was originally depicted as a lion-headed deity and was considered a fierce protector of Egypt’s kings and pharaohs. In the earliest myth, Bastet was given a glass of beer disguised as blood which put her to sleep when needed. When Bastet slept, she changed from a fierce lion to a docile cat. Years later, the myth and image of Bastet evolved and became the image of a woman with the head of a cat. Iyer discusses that this transition to a cat form allowed a more docile and peaceful image to be spread (2018). This led Egyptian civilizations to worship and hold cats in high regard, as they were linked to the goddess Bastet, who had many powers. A cat could signify and foretell good fertility, childbirth, and protect households from things such as disease or evil. She transitioned from not only protecting pharaohs, but also households who possessed or respected cats. In the article “Bastet” by Joshua Mark, his research and opinion continues that Bastet is goddess of the home, domesticity, cats, fertility, childbirth, and women’s secrets (2016). Beyond these roles, Bastet also protected homes from disease and maleficent spirits and was a guide into the afterlife.
Bastet was not only popular as a protective goddess to women because of fertility and childbirth, but became so to everyone during that time in Egyptian history. Mark explained how popularity grew for the protective goddess, as every man had a mother, sister, wife, or daughter (2016). Since Bastet as a female was highly worshiped, women in Egypt were also held in high regard, holding almost equal rights to men in many areas of Egyptian life. Another article, “Ancient Egyptian Gods: Bast” by Jenny Hill, further explains how greatly cats were valued in ancient Egypt (2008). As the agrarian culture heavily relied on crops for its economy. Tignor et al. also discuss in “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart,” how Egypt relied heavily on water from the Nile to support their crops and culture (p. 57, 2018). Tignor et al. continue that the water of the Nile is what gave rise to the agrigarian wealth (p. 57, 2018). Cats were considered immensely helpful for their role in keeping these valuable crops free of rodents. Cats would kill rodents and therefore slow the spread of disease and infestation, providing a natural protection for the crops.
Many people today know little of the history of cats, or the myths behind them. I grew up in a house of three women and two cats. I find it interesting that cats even today are most commonly associated as women’s pets. After researching Egyptian beliefs and having an understanding for the power of myths in our cultures, perhaps one can believe women are subconsciously drawn to cats since Bastet, most commonly depicted as a cat, is the protector of women and the household.
Myths, whether religious or cultural, can have many different and powerful influences and meanings to individuals within a culture. The existence and continuation of such myths provides us with interesting insight into the history of a culture’s beliefs, and their often unrecognized influence on the beliefs and cultures of today. When we seek comfort or guidance, we sometimes turn to culturally acceptable higher powers we have learned to look to and believe in. It is interesting that modern science continues to find physical and mental health benefits to owning pets, whether cat, dog, bird or other. Perhaps there is true science in the ancient myths of cats. Although many do not know the myths behind cats, they are still a pet that continues to offer companionship, affection, and comfort.
Hill, J. (2008). Ancient Egyptian Gods: Bast. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from
Iyer, L. (2018). Bastet (deity). Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
Mark, J. J. (2016, July 24). Bastet. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from
Tignor, R., Adelman, J., Brown, P., Elman, B., Liu, X., Pittman, H., Shaw, B. (2018). Worlds
Together, Worlds Apart (Fifth Edition). New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
From Professor Liang’s Spring 2019 World History I [Online] class, Sarah is an Exercise Physiology student.
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