Modern humans owe their companionship with cats to the ancient Egyptians. At first, they welcomed cats because they hunted the rodents that got into their grain. Eventually, they came to cherish them as beloved pets and revere them as sacred animals.
The well-known myth that cats have nine lives began in ancient Egypt. The origin of this myth is attributed to cats' nimble nature and their ability to land on their feet unharmed from heights and falls.
The Cat Goddess
The cat goddess was a favorite ancient Egyptian deity. Her name was Bastet, and she was depicted as a woman with the head of a domestic cat. She was celebrated in lively festivals at her temple in the town of Bubastis, south of Cairo. In fact, her festival was one of the most popular in the Egyptian calendar. Cats who died were taken to Bubastis to be embalmed and buried in sacred receptacles. Thousands were interred in catacombs at the site, in part to carry their owners' messages to the gods. Bastet was so revered that even the Pharaohs erected shrines to her.
Catching Mice for Eternity
In ancient Egypt, mummified humans were entombed with things they would need in the next life, such as food. Apparently, cats were no exception. Mummified mice have been found alongside mummified cats, providing both food and entertainment for the afterlife.
Conquering Threats Both Real and Mythical
Cats hunted both the rodents that threatened the ancient Egyptians' grain and their other arch enemy: snakes. As you might expect, the ancient Egyptains were terrified of snakes' deadly potential. This fear was reflected in their mythology. The Ogdoad were four female embodiment of elemental chaos who were represented by snakes. One of them, Apophis, could bring about apocalypse by ambushing the sun, for which she lay in wait every night. Although Apophis could not be killed, the tombs of Pharaohs frequently depicted scenes of the mighty sun god Ra chopping him to pieces in the form of a cat.
- Endicott Studio: Feline Folklore
- The Way to Eternity: Egyptian Myth; Fergus Fleming and Alan Lothian
- National Geographic: Domestic Cats, Domestic Cat Pictures, Domestic Cat Facts
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images