Bastet was a local Kemetic deity, whose temple of worship was based in Bubastis, Lower Egypt. Who was Bastet and what is her relationship to Sekhmet and Ptah? And why is Bastet still so popular in modern times?
Although Bastet is the most commonly used form of her name because it was used by later dynasties, in early Egyptian her name was B’sst. The ancient Greeks called her Ailuros, meaning cat. Originally Bastet was depicted as a lioness goddess, similar to Sekhmet. Over time, Bastet and Sekhmet were seen as two aspects of the same goddess. Sekhmet represented the powerful lioness warrior and protector, whereas Bastet became depicted as a cat, representing a gentler aspect. The meaning of Bastet’s name remains a mystery, although Stephen Quirke suggested it means “She of the ointment jar”. Her name was written with the hieroglyph for ointment jar (b’s) and she is associated with protective ointments.
Bastet is the daughter of Ra and the consort of Ptah (in later periods when seen as an aspect of Sekhmet), the Creator god. Her son is the lion-headed god of war, Maahes, who shares aspects of both Sekhmet and Bastet. As a protector of Lower Egypt, Bastet was seen as a protector of the Pharaoh and subsequently the sun god, Ra. She is depicted as fighting Apep, the snake like enemy of Ra. Bastet is connected with the moon and sometimes known as “eye of the moon”, appropriately since the moon is associated with the female aspect and cats are nocturnal creatures. She is a protector of women’s secrets, pregnancy and childbirth. She is also the goddess of protection against contagious disease and evil spirits. Her images are often created from alabaster and it is thought that her Greek name, Ailuros, may be the source of the word “alabaster”.
In modern times, Bastet has been used in storylines by Disney (The Three Lives of Thomasina, 1965), Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and The Sandman. However, because of Bastet’s connection with the domestic cat, she is still loved and respected by many, who truly appreciate this spiritual, majestic creature.
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