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

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.

References:

Hill, J. (2008). Ancient Egyptian Gods: Bast. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

Ancient Egyptian Gods: Bast

Iyer, L. (2018). Bastet (deity). Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
https://akin.css.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=89403818&site=eds-live&scope=site

Mark, J. J. (2016, July 24). Bastet. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from
https://www.ancient.eu/Bastet/

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.


Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “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

    • DyAnna Grondahl

      Sarah,

      Vielen dank fur deine Bestimmung. I am intrigued by the history you presented. I am particularly fascinated with the goddess Bastet. As the “goddess of the home, domesticity, cats, fertility, childbirth, and women’s secrets” she clearly was an important figure. I appreciate that, and I think that the cat is an excellent representative of her.

      I am also curious about your assertion that cats are more or less known as women’s pets. I agree with your note, but I am wondering what else might lead to this assumption?

    • Sarah,
      I have to admit I use to be more of a dog person, however when I reached my adult life and adopted a kitten, I quickly switched over to the cat side. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a cute playful pooch just as much as the next person, but I love my cats so much I even got a cat tattoo behind my ear. Cats are smart, they’re fierce, they’re playful, they’re sassy, and most importantly they are loyal. Growing up out in the country my entire life, we typically had at least one cat at home as well as most of my family having cats as well. They were typically indoor/outdoor cats, but they always came home at the end of the night, no matter how far they’d wander. One of my two cats that I have now is a fierce, proud hunter. My cats are both inside cats but the older one walks great on a leash so she gets to go on walks. We also lived directly across from a large open field which means lots of big mice looking for somewhere warm. More times than once, I have either picked up solely a ripped off mouse face or a mouse head in my house, following my proud, confident, cat leading me to her “gift”. It is no surprise to me that the cats were important in aiding the process of agriculture and lessening disease. Your example of cats loyalty and their aid to the Egyptians made a lot of sense to me and I think it was a great connection. With settlements “on the banks of the Nile River” and “natural boundaries of deserts”, I can see how the cats would love to help hunt all the animals such as birds, rabbits, fish, mice, and more and how that would directly and naturally aid in prevention and spread of disease as well as in an agriculture aspect (Tignor, p. 57). Cats are awesome, my chunky floofs are truly my best friends and their companionship is like no other.
      I loved your post, thank you so much for sharing!
      ~Felicity

  1. Sarah,
    I really enjoyed reading this and learning more about the myths behind cats. I personally have always been afraid of cats from a bad experience when I was a child, so I definitely consider myself a dog person. Although, it was very interesting to learn about how cats can be considered the protector of the household. This makes sense in regards to my experience with cats, because the cat probably thought they were protecting their owners. It is interesting to me when thinking of what I have learned so far in my history book by Tignor, the first animals that were domesticated included, dogs, horses, sheep, goats, etc. I wonder when cats became domesticated animals?

  2. Elijah Ortega

    Sarah,
    This was quite an interesting read I always knew that cats were quite symbolic in Egyptian culture but I was unaware of how important they really were. Being both part of cultural beliefs and having practical uses in the egyptian society they truly played a big role. Ive always grown up with both cats and dogs and can never really decide which I prefer so I am happy to see that many others share this love for cats.
    Thanks for the interesting read.

  3. Evan Wohlert

    Sarah,
    It was very interesting to learn the origin story of Bastet and how she eventually was pictured as a woman with a cat head. It was also fascinating to learn the origin of cats and their importance to Egyptian society. I never knew that cats were held in such high regard in Egypt back then or that they were often used to help protect crops from rodents. Women being held in high-regard similar to men is something that I didn’t expect from any civilization around the time ancient Egypt was around. I’m surprised by this mainly because of something mentioned by Tignor in, “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” that stated, “inequalities affected gender relations, and patriarchy began to spread around the globe” (p. 38, 2018). It seems that ancient Egypt respected women to a higher power than most of the rest of the world during this time. Do you think this was mostly due to the goddesses they prayed to, or were there other factors involved?

  4. Kyle Star

    Hey Sarah,

    Great job with this article, I really enjoyed reading it. I have never heard those myths and beliefs with cats so I found it very interesting. Personally, I am a big fan of cats as well, they are amazing pets. I never thought cats were thought as a protector, but when I think about it, I can see why. Also super cool to see how far back cats dated and how cats were such a big part in Egyptian history. I love how cats are a little more independent than than dogs. Are you ever going to consider getting a dog, or just stick to cats?

    Great post

    Kyle

  5. Averie Fredrickson-Seibert

    Sarah,
    I thought this was a very interesting article. I knew that cats were a very important aspect of Egyptian culture, but I had never thought about their impact on agriculture. You mentioned that the cats would kill rodents that would damage the crops. Did the Egyptians also believe that the cats provided spiritual protection to the crops through their tie to Bastet? In Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, Tignor writes “The long era of prosperity associated with the Old Kingdom had ended when drought brought catastrophe to the area. For several decades, the Nile did not overflow its banks, and Egyptian harvests withered” (Tignor, 88). Do you think that the Egyptians still regarded cats highly when they had nothing to offer because the crops were dead?

  6. Dawson Ness

    Sarah,
    Thank you for your great article. I have always found the cat vs. dog debate pointless because at home, I have both species. It is really cool to see the connection between Egyptian myth and the importance of cats in a culture. Do you feel that this may have impacted the way that we refer to the “cat lady” who is a post-middle aged woman that houses many pet cats? Thinking about Hatsheput from chapter 3 of Tignor emerging as the ruler of Egypt, it is clear to see that the women were put on a more even playing ground in Ancient Egypt than many might anticipate. This is a key example of the myth’s influence in action. It would be interesting to track the mythology of cats through history to see how humanity’s view of cats has changed and stayed similar over time.

    Thanks again,
    Dawson

  7. Shelby Olson

    Sarah,
    I found this article to be very interesting. I hadn’t previously known much about cats and the myths attached to them. Something that especially stuck out to me that you had mentioned was that a cat can signify and foretell things such as fertility, childbirth, and women’s secrets. I’m not sure where I heard this, but cats have also been used in nursing homes to signal when someone is close to passing away so that the nurses can alert the family to come visit them. Overall, I think it is incredible how animals can be useful to humans in so many different ways. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Kasey Kalthoff

    Sarah,
    I am glad that you also agree that cats are great. My family has always been one of those… “cat families”. They are such unique creatures and it was interesting to read up on some of the Egyptian myths about cats and why they were such an important figure to them. I am also reading the “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” textbook, I find it intriguing that people have always tried to find philosophical meaning to life. The Egyptians worshiped cats in hopes of good health and wellness. Their focus was survival and prosperity. By the time the Hellenistic Culture had come around, people were creating much more intricate beliefs to help people understand what the meaning of life is (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 207). I just find it interesting how religion and beliefs have evolved and how people interpret nearly everything uniquely.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Kasey

  9. Lexie DeWall

    Sarah,

    Thank you so much for sharing your myth telling story, it was truly fascinating! I would have to say that I normally pick dogs over cats, but really diving into your writing, I totally believe that cats are more common for women than men. It is interesting how you mention cats playing a high held role in Egypt that was almost as equally respected as men rights in the Egyptian life. “The Egyptians adored cats, whom they kept as pets and who image they used to represent certain deities” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 62). Tignor et al. (2018) also explains how this spiritual expression was centered throughout the Egyptian culture and how it shaped so many achievements in Egypt; this is interesting to tie into with your story centered on cats (p. 62).

  10. Grace Macor

    Hi, Sarah!

    I would agree that the debate between cats and dogs is common. Before reading your article, I would have never thought to use creation myths to argue my point of view. I feel that people tend to use scientific facts, moral reasoning, and religion during debates. In “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” Tignor et al states, “For thousands of years, humans have constructed, out of their values and available evidence, narratives of how the world—and humans—came to be” (2018, p. 4). Of course, in this quotation, Tignor et al is referring to creation myths. Prior to this class, I would have not considered creation myths to be a useful tool in a debate. However, I now see it as acceptable because we know creation myths are indeed based off of values and evidence. I thought your article was very clever, even though I am a dog person!

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. Allison Einck

    Hi Sarah!
    Thank you for sharing your article. The debate between cats and dogs is very common, but I have never listened to a debate that ties history into it. I have learned more information about the Egyptians. It is interesting how much the cat meant to this group of people. It seems that many cultures find something that holds great value to them and hold onto this. When reading in Tignor et. al, I learned about the Hellenistic Culture. The Theater at Syracuse was an importance aspect of the culture. Many different plays were performed here that features certain characters and situations that allowed a broad audience to come and watch.

    Alli

  12. Marissa Mikrot

    Thank you so much for sharing, Sarah!

    I also have a fascination with cats. I have a loyal but lazy companion named Ouija at home; however, and maybe this is because of my heritage, I’ve followed the role of the cat through Norse mythology. The cat does not play as great a role as they do in Egyptian myths – in fact it’s rumored that vikings would skin cats to use their fur for clothing and gloves and often used them in sacrifices – but they were still considered a sacred animal. Freyja, the goddess of love and luck, was given two cats (Bygul and Trjegul) by the god Thor. They pulled her chariot and were symbols of how unpredictable life was because of their whimsy personalities. Similar to the Egyptian portrayal, cats also foretell fertility, women’s secrets, and good marriage. When a bride goes to her wedding and the weather is fine, people say that she has fed the cat well and not offended Freyja who is looking over the union.

    I truly think it’s wonderful that ancient cultures held and still hold animals with so much respect and wisdom. I think this is something that we are missing in today’s time.

  13. Samantha Willert

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing your story! I knew a little bit about how the Egyptians believed that cats were extremely symbolic to their culture, but I did not know too much into depth about how big of a role they played. I grew up with a dog in my family, so I would prefer dogs over cats. However, I am not entirely against cats, just the mean ones.

  14. Phillip Truax

    Hello, Sarah

    Thank you so much for sharing this insight on cats and the mythology with them. Although I am a dog person and did know some of the myths, but not know them in-depth and learned a lot from this. I think for the argument sake you have made some really good points and can make someone think about there pet preferences.

  15. Cassandra Mahlberg

    Hi Sarah, thank you for this article and your research! It is so interesting that cats have this historical significance and that most people don’t know anything about it. It makes total sense to me that cats are associated with the Goddess Bastet and thereby seen as powerful and important creatures (not to mention the fact that they seem to think so about themselves anyway). I would never have seen cats as correlated to a Goddess of women and household, but it does seem like cats usually end up in that setting. Do your cats bring you a sense of protection and well-being? My cat kind of just ignores me unless she wants to be scratched or fed, so she could easily be the embodiment of ancient goddess spirit.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  16. Sarah Symanietz

    Hi Sarah,
    I found this post both informative and enjoyable. I too, grew up in a household with cats and are therefore impartial to them as well. I found it intriguing that cats are associated as women’s pets when dogs are considered a “mans best friend. It fits that stereotype well. How fascinating that the domesticated animal we love so much had such a strong impact and role in ancient Egyptian times. This connection to cats reminds me of how valuable other animals were as well. In Parthian, the use and role of horses was very highly looked upon as well: “Reliance on horses made their style of fighting highly mobile and ideal for warfare on arid plains and deserts” (Tignor 226). Although the use of horses and cats were very different, it is still important to recognize the roles and high status various animals received.
    Sarah
    Tignor, R. L. (2018). Worlds Together Worlds Apart: Beginnings Through the Fifteenth Century (5th ed., Vol. 1). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

  17. Erin Diver

    Hello Sarah!
    I personally have always been slightly obsessed with cats, so this article spoke to my soul a little bit. I think it’s common to bring up how cats were protective and worshiped by the Egyptians; I automatically thought about the first Mummy movie when a cat is held up to ward off the evil dude and how I never fully understood why it was cats specifically. It makes total sense now after reading your article! What’s especially interesting is how the image of Bastet evolves over time- In Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, by Tignor, we learn of the Hellenistic lifestyle- culture and arts spread across countries over time, learning of one’s own place in the world. I don’t think it’s entirely different from the shift of Bastet’s personality: her change from a more mythological being of fierce power, to someone who promotes peace, and seems more relatable to the public.

  18. Tara Bighley

    Sarah,
    I really enjoyed reading your article about cats and how they always seem to get the short end of the stick when getting compared to dogs. Most people think dogs are superior to cats and are more intellectual, but there are plenty of people that would agree that cats are just as impressive of creatures as dogs. I like how you were able to write about myths and intertwine it with cats, it made for a very intriguing article. I am also reading the book Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. When you brought up myths being either about religion and culture, it made me think about how differently people feel about deities and their spiritual beliefs. So many people have different thoughts and beliefs, which is what makes everyone so unique. You talked about the Egyptians worshipping the Goddess Bastet, contrary to that, the Palmyrans worshipping many deities and had beliefs in afterlife. “The Palmyrans worshipped many deities, both local and Greek, but seemed most concerned about their own afterlife” (Tignor, 2018, pg. 231). This quote is just one of many that prove people and cultures believe in many things. These beliefs could be as big as deities or as little as dogs being better than cats. People are able to believe what they want and that is what makes life so fascinating. I really like how you were able to tie all of that together, thank you for your post.

  19. Hannah Holien

    Hi Sarah!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the myths surrounding animals. I grew up with dogs so I did not know a lot about the history of cats before reading your article! I remember reading in “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” that different animals meant different things to different cultures. They gave the example of the Egyptians and said, “the Egyptians adored cats, whom they kept as pets and whose image they used to represent certain deities” (Tignor et al., p. 62). As a person who grew up around all types of animals, I still find it fascinating that animals can serve as a religious figure as well. Pets are so common in our society but more for companion rather than viewing them as religious symbols!
    – Hannah Holien

  20. Brett Radford

    Hello very interesting post you have here,
    I had no idea that cats had such a long history dating back to anccient egypt that is very cool to know now. I personally am a dog person myself but i have lived with a cat before and they’re very inteeresting creatures. I can see why they were so highly thought of back in the day now. I had no idea the myths associated with cats either, i would be very interested to look into the history of dogs now to see if they have any sort of history like this. Thanks for sharing
    Brett

  21. Justice Bauer

    Hello Sarah.

    This is a very interesting post and I can honestly say that it gave me a different perspective on cats. I have heard the argument of “cats and dogs” numerous times and have heard both sides of the argument. I have never even thought to trace cats back, and now that you mentioned it, cats were always the companion animal. Egyptian history fascinates me and I thought it was very interesting that you included the story of Bastet and her role as the protector of women and the household. This may be, as you mentioned, why women are attracted to cats, and why men are more attracted to dogs as pets. It also amazes me how myths spread and come about throughout our history. Through migration, trade and other forms of culture spreading, myths were most likely told by passing people. This is a part of what makes us human. Thank you!

    Justice Bauer

  22. Anissa K Jones

    Hi Sarah!
    Great connection between your personal love for cats and the Egyptians admiration for cats. This power that you mention these furry friends encompass reminds me of a reading from Worlds Together, Worlds Apart by Tignor et al. It states, “Like the elites, commoners attributed supernatural powers to animals” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 62). Like you mentioned, the Egyptians loved cats and kept them as pets. They also represent their love for cats in various hieroglyphs. I feel that this early love for animals sparked the love we have for our animals today!

  23. Lydia Liubakka

    Sarah,
    I agree, whenever I have a conversation with a friend or a family member about pets it almost always turns into the cats or dogs debate. I stand somewhere in the middle in the debate. The idea of cats as protectors is interesting, especially the bit about protection from disease. In a way cats can protect us from disease in a way that dogs can’t because cats will often hunt birds, mice, and other rodents. It is interesting how the high regard for cats in Egyptian society duly increased woman’s status. Origin myths are always interesting to learn about, thanks for sharing!
    -Lydia

  24. Ben Burner

    Sarah,

    Thank you so much for this post. It was very interesting and I liked learning about the history and myths behind cats. I grew up on a farm and I liked how you included that cats helped keep rodents out of the fields and how valuable they were to the farmers long ago. It was interesting learning that Bastet was a protecter of women and children. I like dogs a little bit better but cats are nice pets. I have one cat that takes care of the mice around the yard. I liked how at the end of the article you included that cats and all pets are good companions to people. This article was fun and interesting to read. Thank you Sarah!

    Ben

  25. Jan

    I enjoyed reading your article. I have two cats, they are amazing, each of them has such a unique personality, and it is so hard to picture my life without them. I think that the dog and cats debate is just a preference, and what animal you currently have. Both animals have their positives and negatives. I respect Ancient Egypt for the way they treated cats, and I believe that we should have the same attitude towards all animals.

  26. Lili Tapper

    Sarah,
    I had no idea that the “crazy cat lady” stereotype had roots tying back to ancient Egypt! I agree that people (myself included) blindly accept stereotypes without understand the roots of the stereotype. People tend to believe that stereotypes are recently formed, but typically that isn’t the case. I think that this is a perfect example of that. The “crazy cat lady” stereotype can be viewed as slightly derogatory, but the roots of it are powerful. Cats are the protectors of women, and was related to an Egyptian goddess. Thanks for sharing!

    -Lili Tapper

  27. Itzayan Rocha

    Sarah,

    I had never put that much thought into cats, and did not know of this history that came with them. I consider myself a dog person, and I can agree that I am someone who typically thinks that cats are the worst. I don’t know if I began thinking this because I really don’t like them, or because it was influenced upon myself by those other dog lovers. Now that I know all of this I will take on a different view, and not box cats into this idea that they are bad pets. I am aware that people really love them, and knowing that in certain cultures they were looked upon as protectors really changes my view on them.

    Itzy

  28. Elizabeth Mirkin

    Sarah,
    If I’m being completely honest, I think of myself as more of a dog person. Which is okay because I still love cats,I just don’t think I would ever own one! This article was interesting to me because I’ve never really thought about the history or even the symbolism of domestic pets. I have thought about them in terms of Chinese culture (where I was born the year of the rabbit). I love the idea of cats being an ancient symbol of feminine power and strength. Although cats aren’t necessarily a feminine animal, I like the link to femininity because of how agile and intelligent they are. I love that you found a topic that is personal to you, and that you were able to relate to ancient Egyptian history! Thank you for your article.

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