In the pantheon of ancient Egyptian deities, the goddess Bast (also known as Bastet) held a special place. With her lioness or domestic cat representation, she became a symbol of both fierce protection and gentle domesticity. This article explores the origins of the Goddess Bast in Egyptian mythology, her worship in ancient Egypt, and provides insights into some of the incantations for Bast found in the Book of the Dead.
Bast traces her origins back to the early days of ancient Egypt, with evidence of her worship dating as far back as the Second Dynasty (c. 2890-2686 BCE). Initially, she was perceived as a lioness goddess representing the sun’s destructive power. Over time, her image evolved, and she came to embody more benevolent qualities, becoming associated with the home, fertility, music, dance, and joy.
As a solar deity, Bast was often linked to the eye of the sun god Ra, and her protective nature extended to both the pharaoh and the common people. Bast’s cult grew in popularity throughout the centuries, and her worship spread across various regions of ancient Egypt.
Bast’s association with domestic cats also played a significant role in her worship. Cats were considered sacred animals, embodying Bast’s qualities of protection, fertility, and grace. Killing a cat, even accidentally, was a grave offense punishable by law. Many households kept domestic cats as guardians and symbols of good fortune, believing that they would bring blessings from the goddess.
Bast’s worship was widespread throughout Egypt, with prominent cult centers in cities such as Bubastis (modern-day Tell Basta), which was dedicated to her. The festival of Bast, known as the “Feast of Bubastis,” was one of the grandest and most celebrated religious events in ancient Egypt. It was marked by joyous processions, music, dance, and revelry as devotees honored the goddess.
The Feast of Bubastis, also known as the Festival of Bast or the Bubastis Festival, was one of the most significant and celebrated religious events in ancient Egypt. It honored the goddess Bast (or Bastet), who held a special place in the hearts of the Egyptian people. The festival was held annually and lasted for several days, typically taking place during the Egyptian month of Paopi, which roughly corresponds to October in the modern calendar.
Location and Importance: The main center of the Feast of Bubastis was the city of Bubastis (modern-day Tell Basta), located in the Nile Delta region of Egypt. Bubastis was considered the primary cult center of Bast and a prominent religious and cultural hub.
The festival held immense importance as it attracted devotees from all walks of life, including royalty, commoners, and foreigners. Pilgrims would travel to Bubastis from various parts of Egypt to participate in the festivities, making the event a significant social gathering.
Celebration and Festivities: The Feast of Bubastis was renowned for its joyous and boisterous nature. It was a time of celebration, music, dance, and revelry. The festival was seen as an opportunity to express gratitude to Bast for her protective and nurturing qualities.
During the festivities, large processions were held, with participants dancing, singing, and playing musical instruments in honor of the goddess. The procession usually started in the city of Memphis and traveled along the Nile River to Bubastis. Boats and barges were used to transport the revelers, creating a colorful spectacle on the water.
The pilgrims would bring offerings and gifts to present to the statue of Bast housed in her temple at Bubastis. These offerings included food, wine, flowers, and incense. The temple priests and priestesses performed rituals and ceremonies to honor the goddess and seek her blessings.
The Feast of Bubastis was not just a religious event but also a time for socializing and enjoying life. People from different regions and social classes came together, forging bonds and celebrating their shared devotion to the goddess.
Spiritual Significance: The festival held both spiritual and symbolic meanings. It was a time to seek Bast’s protection, blessings, and favor for the coming year. The joyful atmosphere during the festival was believed to please the goddess and ensure her continued care and guardianship.
The association of Bast with music and dance also played a role in the festival’s significance. Dancing and making music were seen as ways to connect with the divine and express joy and gratitude.
Bast, the ancient Egyptian goddess, holds several spiritual associations that reflect her multifaceted nature. Over time, she became associated with various aspects of life, and her worship encompassed different spiritual domains.
Some of the key spiritual associations with Bast include:
Protection: One of the primary spiritual aspects of Bast is her role as a protective goddess. She was believed to be a fierce and skilled warrior, capable of defending both individuals and the nation. Devotees sought her protection against physical and spiritual threats, making her a guardian and defender of the people.
Fertility and Motherhood: Bast was also associated with fertility and motherhood. As a nurturing figure, she was believed to bring blessings and abundance to families and help women during childbirth. Her cat form further emphasized her nurturing and gentle qualities.
Joy and Celebration: Bast was seen as a bringer of joy and happiness. Her festivals, such as the “Feast of Bubastis,” were occasions of revelry, music, dance, and celebration. She was invoked to bring joy and merriment into people’s lives.
Domesticity and Home: Bast’s domestic cat representation linked her to the home and family life. As a symbol of domestic bliss and comfort, she was often worshipped in households to protect homes, children, and the hearth.
Healing and Well-being: Bast’s nurturing aspects extended to healing and well-being. She was sometimes invoked in healing rituals, believed to bring relief from ailments and illnesses, and promote general wellness.
Dance and Music: Bast was connected to music and dance, and her devotees often performed artistic expressions to honor and invoke her. She was associated with the arts, creativity, and the enjoyment of life’s pleasures.
Solar and Lunar Aspects: As a solar goddess, Bast had ties to the sun and was associated with its life-giving and purifying powers. Additionally, she had lunar associations, representing the changing phases of the moon.
Reconciliation of Opposites: Bast’s dual nature as a fierce lioness and a nurturing cat embodied the idea of reconciling opposites. This symbolism represented the balance between protective strength and gentle care.
The Book of the Dead contains various spells and incantations aimed at invoking the protection and guidance of the gods and goddesses during the journey to the afterlife. While Bast does not feature as prominently as some other deities in the Book of the Dead, there are references to her in a few spells:
Spell 156: “Oh, Bastet, lady of Ankhtawy (Bubastis), come to me, that you may give me prosperity.”
Spell 157: “I am a priest of Bastet, great goddess, lady of Ankhtawy, I will behold your beauty.”
Spell 158: “I have gone aboard the boat of Bastet and I have seen you in your temple of Ankhtawy.”
These incantations express devotion to Bast and seek her blessings and protection during the journey through the afterlife. The mention of her temple in Ankhtawy (Bubastis) highlights her significance as a revered goddess in that region.
Goddess Bast, the lioness and cat goddess of ancient Egypt, remains an iconic figure in mythology, reflecting both fierce protection and gentle nurturing qualities. From her early origins as a solar deity to her venerated role as a household and fertility goddess, Bast’s worship captivated the hearts of ancient Egyptians. The legacy of her devotion endures in the historic accounts, artistic depictions, and the ancient texts, such as the Book of the Dead, which immortalize her sacred presence in the fascinating tapestry of Egyptian mythology.