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Collection Highlights

Amulet of Bastet

Amulet of Bastet
© BA Antiquities Museum/H. Mady


showcase 5

Amulet of Bastet

Category:
  • Religious / Cult objects, amulets, amulets in the shape of a god / goddess, Bastet
  • Tomb equipment, amulets, amulets in the shape of a god / goddess, Bastet
Date:
Ancient Egyptian period, New Kingdom (1550-1069 BCE)
Provenance:
Upper Egypt, Giza, Saqqara
Material(s):
Man made material, faience
Height:
3.5 cm
Hall:
In the Afterlife, showcase 5


Description

An amulet of the goddess Bastet depicted as a crouching cat. Bastet rests on her hind legs in pride, with ears straight up. The amulet has a hollow ring at the back of the cat's neck, which enables sewing it to the mummy or wearing it as an amulet necklace. Bastet was the goddess of fertility, music and dancing. Egyptians considered her the protector of women during pregnancy and giving birth, and the protector of babies.

Goddess Bastet

Goddess Bastet was named after the ancient Egyptian city "Bast"—also known as Bubastis (Βούβαστις) in Greek, and currently Tell-Basta near Zagazig, Sharqia Governorate, where numerous statuettes of the goddess were found. Bast city is located east to the Nile Delta, and it is the center of Bastet worship. Bastet accordingly was known as "the goddess of the East". She was also worshipped in other places such as Memphis (currently located near Mit Rahinah, around 20 km south of Cairo), where she was known as Sekhmet. Bastet was associated with other deities such as goddess Hathor during the Old Kingdom (2686–2160 BCE), and goddess Mut during the Middle Kingdom (2055–1650 BCE). During late New Kingdom, Bastet gained great popularity among Egyptians. They named her the goddess of abundance and joy, and considered her the protector of people and houses. The sistrum musical instrument associated with joy and dancing was among the attributes of Bastet.
Ancient Egyptian mythology features Bastet as the daughter of Ra, the Sun god, wife of Ptah; the creation god and the god of Memphis, and mother of Maahes; one of the Egyptian wars gods. 
 

Bastet between Cat and Lioness Representations

 Among its forms, goddess Bastet was depicted as a woman with a lioness head, known as Sekhmet. This form represents violence and fierceness. She was also depicted as a cat, or a woman with a cat head, representing mildness and gentleness. Cats have been associated with the gentle side of Bastet in a late stage of the Ancient Egyptian history, namely during the Third Intermediate Period (1069–664 BCE). Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the cat and the lioness features of Bastet in art works. Some people attribute the transformation in Bastet depiction from the fierce lioness to the well-doing cat to ecological and social developments. For example, lions gradually immigrated from the north to the south of Egypt, and then beyond the Egyptian borders. Also, cat populations and popularity increased in Egypt. However, the proposition that mythology and religion followed ecological developments is one that cannot be confirmed, as Bastet regained her lioness features during the Late Period (664–332 BCE), which refers to the fact that the goddess still had both gentle and fierce sides.  

Amulets of the goddess Bastet

The most ancient amulets depicting Bastet were found in some tombs of the late Old Kingdom. Women particularly wore these amulets seeking the goddess protection, and perhaps seeking fertility as well. Many Egyptologists suggested that the cat form had some sexual connotations; their argument is based on the fact that cats appear with women in most scenes. They also considered cats a symbol of fertility, as they were often painted surrounded with their kittens. 
 

Festival of the goddess Bastet

Herodotus narrates that Egyptians—men and women—used to sail boats on the Nile heading to Bubastis. Some women played sistrums (a musical instrument played during that time) and some men played flutes, while others sang, danced, and played drums throughout the journey. At Bubastis, the Festival started with contributing great offerings to the deity. Wine was heavily consumed during this celebration, more than any other occasions during the year. Herodotus also states that the grand temple of Bastet was located at the city center and could be viewed from all sides.
 

Domestic Cats

Household cats are among the most studied creatures in Egyptian iconography. Some evidence, though not confirmed, refers that Egypt had been the original habitat of these cats. The domestic cat is most probably a descendant of the wild cats family, also known as the Keffir, which still exists at the borders of the Egyptian desert. It is worth mentioning that the time at which cats were domesticated is not yet clearly defined. Among the most ancient paintings of domestic cats are those at Baket III Tomb (Tomb no. 15) at the Cemeteries of Beni Hassan (located 20 km south of Menia). These tombs go back to the Eleventh Dynasty (2055−1985 BCE). Cats were also painted on the walls of chapels at the noblemen tombs in Thebes, dating back to the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties. These paintings feature the cats as domestic pets loved by the families and sometimes bejeweled. Most of the time, the cat is depicted sitting under its mistress' seat.
 

Mummification of Cats

Ancient Egyptians mummified animals, birds, and reptiles which they considered embodiments of deities, and used these mummies as offerings. Pilgrims from all over Egypt offered mummified cats to goddess Bastet. Those were found buried in Bubastis, in addition to several amulets and bronze statues of the goddess. During the late Dynastic Period and the Graeco−Roman period, sincere pilgrims offered thousands of bronze statues and tens of millions of mummified cats to obtain divine satisfaction and help. 
Surprisingly, some of the discovered animal mummies (cats, dogs, and falcons) were found emptied, or containing bones, mud, or resin. This was possibly done because priests did not find enough animals to meet the huge demand on this type of offerings.
Studies have shown that the cat mummification process at Bubastis was simple. There was no evidence that the viscera were extracted. It seems that the bodies were simply dried. Like human mummies, it is difficult to define inner organs of cat mummies, particularly that X-rays only show the skeleton. Cat mummies were mostly seriously damaged by thieves at Ancient Times. In other cases, they were damaged due to water infiltration which reduced them into bunches of bones, as those discovered at the Tomb of Maya in Saqqara. 
Only very few cat mummies were perfectly embalmed, and some of them are showcased in museums. Also, some were found inside stone or wooden chests, which led to the belief that they were mummies of distinguished cats selected to embody Bastet, and accordingly were finely mummified and preserved.
 

 


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • Ikram, Salima. Divine Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt. Cairo; New York: American University in Cairo Press, c2005.
  • Andrews, Carol. Amulets of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press,1994.
  • Ikram, Salima. Beloved Beasts: Animal Mummies from Ancient Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2006.
  • Houlihan, Patrick F. “Felines”. In Redford, Donald B. ed. Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt: Vol. I. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Remler, Pat. Egyptian Mythology A to Z – Third Edition. New York: Info Base Publishing, 2010.
  • ياروسلاف تشرني. ترجمة :أحمد قدري.الديانة المصرية القديمة.دار الشروق , 1996.
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