The Dual Roles of
Bastet in Egyptian Mythology
Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of cats, featured in
the stories, myths and legends in Egyptian
Mythology. She was revered as the kindly
goddess of pets and household cats and also
as the war-like lion-headed goddess. Bastet
(also known as Bast) replaced the ancient
cult of Mafdet, the earliest cat goddess of
ancient Egypt. In her benign aspect Bastet
was worshipped as the kindly life giving god
of fire, cats, the home and pregnant women.
In her malignant aspect Bastet was
worshipped as the hostile war goddess and
protector of Egypt. Bastet was therefore
known as the giver of blessings to the good
and a deliverer of wrath to the evil and
could be depicted as cat, lion, lynx or
Bastet Cat Goddess holding the flint knife
or dagger used in ancient Egypt called the Khop
Cat Goddesses -
Bastet and Sekhmet
Bastet in ancient Egyptian Mythology
Bastet featured in a major legend
relating to ancient Egyptian mythology in
which she was credited with killing the
Evil Serpent god Apep.
In the myth Bastet was the daughter of Ra
the Sun God, and every sunrise she fought
with Ra against the evil serpent god Apep.
After countless battles, Bastet killed Apep
and was released from the nightly conflicts.
She was able to roam free and she has
become the guardian of home and hearth, the
patron of women and of the domestic cat.
Bas relief of Bastet at Thebes
Cat Goddess killing the evil snake
The Cult Centers of Bastet at Bubastis and Leontopolis
The cat goddess Bastet was primarily
worshipped at her cult center in Bubastis
but she was also worshipped at Leontopolis
the cult center of the lion gods of Ra. Bubastis was the Greek name for
Tell Basta in Egypt which was also known as Per-Bast,
Per-Bastet or Per-Basted and is located in the Eastern Delta
of the River now
the modern city of Zagazig. Her cult temple
at Bubastis was said to rival the temples of
Ra and Horus in their magnificence. Her
priests kept sacred cats in her temple in
Bubastis, which were considered to be
incarnations of the goddess. Bastet became a
national deity when Bubastis became the
capital of Egypt circa 950 BCE.
Leontopolis was famous as another cult center of
the lion gods associated with Ra the sun god. Leontopolis was located
in the central area of the Nile delta as
indicated on the following map. The
ancient Egyptian name for Leontopolis was Taremu.
The Greek name 'Leontopolis' means, "City of
Lions" as there were many temples dedicated
to the lion gods and deities which contained live lions
Map of Lower Egypt - Leontopolis and
The Cults of Bastet
The cult of Bastet was known for its
orgiastic ceremonies. Up to 700,000 men and
women made a pilgrimage to Bubastis every
year to honor the goddess Bastet and
join in celebrations and grand processions.
Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian (c.
484 – 425 BC) wrote:
"... they come to Bubastis
(and) they begin the festival with great
offerings and sacrifices, during which more
wine is consumed than during the whole of
the rest of the year".
Aelian (ca. 175 – ca. 235), an
ancient Roman historian in writing about
"In Egypt, they worship lions, and there is
a city called after them. The lions have
temples and numerous spaces
in which to roam; the flesh of oxen is
supplied to them daily and the lions eat to
of song in the Egyptian language"
Bastet and the Domestic Cat
Domestic cats were kept in households of
ancient Egypt and are sometimes pictured in
tombs of wealthy nobles. Cats were seen as
valued members of the family and played a
vital role in attacking any snakes,
including cobras, that ventured into the
house. Cats also kept the vermin population
of Egypt in check, an important role in
maintaining the crops stored in the
granaries. In the royal palaces of Egypt
cats were adorned with jewelled collars and
even allowed to eat from the dishes of the
pharaoh. The death of a cat
called for a period of mourning and members
of the family shaved their
eyebrows in respect. Cats were regarded as
manifestations of the goddess Bastet and as
such they were afforded a ritualised burial
which included mummification. They were
interred as cat mummies in sacred cemeteries
that were situated near the temples of
Bastet. Over 300,000 mummified cats were
discovered when the temple of the cat
goddess Bastet, at Per-Bast,
painting of a domestic cat eating a fish
Symbols of Bastet - The Sistrum
The symbols associated with Bastet were the
cat, the lioness, the Ankh and the sistrum.
The connections between the goddess and the
cat and the lion are obvious, but what of
the ankh and the sistrum? The 'Ankh'
was the cross with the handle which was held
in the hands of the gods as a symbol of
their power to give life or take it away.
The symbol of the ankh meant “life” and
represented both physical and eternal life.
The sistrum is less obvious, it was an
ancient musical percussion instrument, a
sacred rattle used in various ancient
Egyptian rituals and ceremonies. However,
given the reputation of the festivals of
Bastet, known for their orgiastic
ceremonies, this symbol makes sense.
Picture of a sistrum, the sacred rattle used
in ancient Egypt