Avatar Cats – Ancient Egyptian cats were revered as living gods. The first domestication of cats can date back 9500 years ago with the find on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus in 2004. But when we think of cats in ancient times, nothing can beat Egypt. Egyptian hieroglyph on papyrus or on the walls have such mysterious quality and evoke our imagination. It was kind of a
hip thing to tame wild animals in a wealthy class. Avatar cats – How cats were taken and treated back then?
Cats were known as Mau in Ancient Egyptian and they were considered sacred in their society.
How did Mau and Ancient Egyptian begin to interact with the other? The first contact scenario might be like this.
A few of Jungle cats (Felis chaus) and African wildcats began to stay close nearby human’s habitat since they found food like rodents near storage.
On the human side, they found cats were useful for protecting their crop such as corn from rodents.
Cats’ ability to combat vermin such as snakes and cobras were truly appreciated. Then their mutual-beneficial relationship started. Cats were not the only animals that had been revered by ancient Egyptian people.
But somehow, they were special. Cats of royalty were known to be dressed in gold jewelry and were allowed to eat from their owners’ plates.
Process of Deification
Ancient Egypt was never monolithic state. There were a lot of Nome which is sub-national administrative division.
These nomes originally existed as autonomous city-states, but later began to unify. Each nome had each religious faith and sacred object.
Cats were not the only animal that was revered in this sense. Ibis, hawk, and scarab became the object of their faith. Before 3000 B.C, cats didn’t acquire the status of
Around 2000-1500, they appeared as more than storage keepers as they were depicted on amulets. And people began to take male cats as symbol of the sun god Ra. Around BC 1500-1200, Cats acquired the status as an avatar of Hathor. Avatar cats were born.
All religions have a magical aspect and perhaps ancient Egyptians were more so than others. Magic attracted people because it was practical and made sense.
Everything had a reason, often hidden to the ordinary person, but revealed to the knowledgeable.
Magic explained the relationships between causes and effects using ideas people could relate to. It had important pragmatic aspects, which were exploited to achieve the aims of humans, dead or alive, spirits, and gods.
Amulets were worn by the living and given to the dead to empower and ward off evil. Some mummies had dozens of scarabs packed into their bandages.
And tools such as sistrum, a sacred instrument, was used in dances and religious ceremonies and was also shaken to avert the flooding of the Nile and to frighten away Set who is the god of the desert, storms, disorder, violence, and foreigners.
The ancient Egyptians practiced writing called hieroglyphics, which means
sacred carvings. The hieroglyphs of cats who helped the sun god Ra found on the walls of the royal tombs.
People believed that cats guarded and attended the dead in the difficult journey to the afterlife.
There was Magical wand also called as Magic knives, which were believed to protect people from accidents and disease, difficult delivery and bad dream, vipers, and scorpions.
They were placed in the hands of the dead and pictures of cats holding knives in his leg were carved in it.
Bastet – half feline and half female goddess was so much revered in the city of Bubastis which is in northern Egypt, which was the central city in the 22nd dynasty (in third intermediate dynasty).
He is one of the most famous avatar cats, a lot of followers revered Bastet as a symbol of fertility, maternity, and protection.
Every June at the time of annual flooding of River Nile, visitors from all over Egypt got together and celebrated Bastet extravagantly.
The women engaged in music, song, and dance on their way to the place. Roughly 1/4 of the whole population of Egypt (estimated 4 million), attended the festival.
The phenomenal amount of wine was consumed – more than was the case throughout the year. Cats were surely the center of the cult.
Herodotus on the Temple of Bastet
He is widely referred to as
The Father of History for his attempt on history with a method of investigation with critical sense and own compelling narrative style.
The term gift of the Nile is a creation of his by his observation. Egypt would not have been that prosperous without the Nile which carries abundant water for irrigation and the annual flooding which make the farmland fertile.
Herodotus visited Bubastis around 450 BC. Close to the center of Bubastis lay a large temple.
He mentioned the temple as
not as large as those of other cities, and probably not as costly, no temple in all of Egypt gave more pleasure to the eye.
A great number of sacred cats cared for by the temple priests with donations from pilgrims.
Bubastis became a marketplace for merchants of all sorts; artisans came forth with thousands of bronze sculptures and amulets depicting cats to worshippers of Bastet.
People has a great faith in avatar cats.
Mummification and Entombment of Cats
Herodotus on Cats in Egypt (Ancient History Encyclopedia )
Because of the skill involved, mummification itself is considered an art.
The cat’s body was placed in a linen sheet and carried amidst bitter lamentations by the bereaved to a sacred house where it was treated with drugs and spices by an embalmer. Patricia Dale-Green, author of The Cult of the Cat stated.
The mummification of cats was similar to human and was a complex process involving the removal of internal organs, body filler, then the decor and posture in a tomb.
Just as for human bodies, cat bodies were treated with respect and care, often with provisions for the afterlife such as pots of milk and even mummified mice. Over 300,000 cat mummies found in tombs.
Meanwhile, many kittens were raised and killed, mummified and sold for pilgrims. A lot of effort was frequently spent on the wrapping and external appearance, while the remains inside are often incomplete.
Also, not a few mummies are fake according to Lidija McKnight, an Egyptologist on the research team at the University of Manchester.
She told NBC News
It probably didn’t matter what was inside of them. It was more about what they represented.
The cult of Bast was officially banned by imperial decree in 390 AD.
Since then, extraordinary faith in cats may have declined, but which doesn’t mean cats have lost all religious significance with modern Egypt. Cats are revered to a certain point among the largest Islamic population for Muslim tradition.
Although, the cult of Bast was banned long time ago, the cult of cats were still going strong today. Avatar cats may be the story of the ancient, still, the magic of them are alive with us.
Oldest Known Pet Cat? 9,500-Year-Old Burial Found on Cyprus (National Geographic)
Also published on Medium.