Why Did Ancient Egyptians Worship Cats? What is the Ancient Egyptian Cat Breeds? Ancient Egypt was one of the world’s most advanced civilizations during its time, and with it came a very unique religion by modern standards.
One of the most interesting parts of their religious beliefs was their worship of cats and in this, we’ll be taking a look at that and some other Egyptian religious practices in detail:
Animals of all kinds were very respected in ancient Egypt. There was usually some sort of symbolism attached to various kinds of animals.
For example: Hippos symbolize fertility, Crocodiles symbolized power, and various different gods in the polytheistic ancient Egyptian religion were seen as depicted with an animal head on top of a human body.
Cats are one animal that you’d see pretty much everywhere in ancient Egyptian art. Even one of the most iconic structures in Egyptian history, the Sphinx, has the face of a cat.
Did Egyptians Worship Cats?
But it’s important to note one thing, ancient Egyptians didn’t actually worship cats, or any other animal, on their own. However, they did see these animals as symbols of different divine beings.
This means, according to ancient Egyptians at least, the aforementioned gods weren’t based on these animals, but rather, the animals were a sort of physical symbol of the gods themselves.
This is why some historians go as far as to say that the Egyptians worshipped these animals when they actually just worshipped what these animals represented to them.
Why Did Ancient Egyptians Worship Cats?
Regardless of whether you can call the Egyptian fascination with cats “worship” or not, cats were an essential part of ancient Egyptian culture.
Cats are also believed to be some of the few animals that would be present in the Egyptian “afterlife” as well, as there are many cases of cats being mummified alongside humans and pharaohs.
Mummification was a process that only the Egyptian elite was able to afford for themselves, despite it being a compulsory process to enter the afterlife.
The fact that cats were prioritized for mummification over Egyptian commoners tells you the kind of status they held in ancient Egyptian society.
Ancient Beliefs About Cats
Let’s now take a look at how ancient Egyptians interacted with cats. Which can teach us more about why they were so respected.
It’s a common misconception that cats were initially domesticated in ancient Egypt, but that’s not true.
It’s now theorized that cats actually ended up domesticating themselves thousands of years before they became symbols of Egypt, and that may have played a role in why Egyptians were so intrigued by them.
Their self-reliance combined with the bond they could create with Egyptians was a subject of fascination for both the ruling class and the commoners of ancient Egypt.
Cats were an immediately popular pet, which caused their populations to skyrocket. Having a cat was not just seen as a companionship, although that, too, was important in their status.
Cats in Ancient Egypt Facts
Having one was also seen as beneficial to the owner. In a nation with so many deadly animals like venomous snakes and scorpions, cats were an extremely important form of pest control, and according to some historians, the preferred method of pest control.
Houses with lots of pets were considered clean of all pests, venom, and poisons, which naturally gave cats the association with cleanliness. This is also evident in some early Egyptian mortuary texts, where cats are shown protecting the Sun deity, Ra, from a snake deity known as Apophis, who was seen threatening Ra.
Any animal that was seen as a “protector” by ancient Egyptians was given a status beyond that of even humans in some cases, and there was no better example of an animal that was supposedly “protecting” them than a cat was.
Aside from that, Egyptians also saw cats as animals that had extremely desirable characteristics. They knew how to keep themselves clean.
Cleanliness was heavily sought after in ancient Egypt, and there were no cleaner animals that the ancient Egyptians could think of than a cat.
They were considered so clean that pharaohs and other royal Egyptians would even allow cats to eat from the same plate that they would eat from.
This is huge considering servants weren’t even allowed in the same room as royals who were eating, yet they allowed animals to eat with them. quick-thinking
Cats were also seen as smart and quick thinking, possessing critical thinking skills that were even greater than that of humans.
In fact, even some of us here today might think the same. When it comes to life and death situations, you’d probably want to think like a cat rather than a human. Why Did Ancient Egyptians Worship Cats?
Another thing they admired about cats was their ferocity. Cats know how to defend themselves from all kinds of dangers.
They carefully plotted hunting methods and were seen as symbols of how Egyptians saw their own military. This is why there were also symbols of cats seen in the military uniforms of various ancient Egyptian soldiers as well since they saw their enemies the same way a cat saw their prey.
There is also one other thing that cats represent, and this one is somewhat unexpected fertility. In a lot of ancient Egyptian art, cats are seen as sitting under the chairs of or directly next to various women.
According to Julia Troche of Missouri State University, this showed a connection of cats the women and in a broader sense, fertility.
She believes that the association that cats had with fertility may stem from the fact that cats can have multiple kittens in a single litter, and were known to be extremely caring and defensive about their offspring.
Cats may have just been considered the ideal mothers because they are extremely attached to their children in the beginning, but after a short time, they wane off their young, preparing them for an independent life.
So how did cats end up becoming a symbol for ancient Egyptians in general, and not just the royals who were first introduced to them? Why Did Ancient Egyptians Worship Cats?
Well, think of ancient Egyptian royals as Instagram influencers are today. They held an influential position not just when it came to absolute power, but also when it came to setting various trends for the common people. Any time a food became popular among the royals, Egyptian commoners would try to imitate that food using the resources they had available to them.
The same happened when it came to clothing and fashion in general. In fact, some commoners even found makeshift ways to mummify themselves using mud and other unconventional methods, because that’s how popular they were.
The same thing happened with cats. When common Egyptians saw the way cats were treated by royals, they immediately began looking for cats for themselves as well.
So that’s how cats got their status in ancient Egypt, but there were also certain cats that ancient Egyptians did worship.
Ancient Egyptian Cat Breeds
Well, they weren’t exactly cats, but they were deities that symbolized cats or were seen as cats by some people in ancient Egypt. Why Did Ancient Egyptians Worship Cats?
One of these deities was Mafdet. Mafdet was an ancient Egyptian deity that was almost entirely in the form of a Cheetah. Belief in Mafdet can be dated back to the first Egyptian dynasty, and much like other cats, Mafdet was seen to play an important role in protecting ancient Egyptians.
She is seen as a protector of the Egyptian sun deity, Ra, and is depicted as protecting him throughout his various voyages. She also symbolizes protection against unclean and venomous animals, such as snakes or crows.
In the wider sense, she was seen as protecting “Maat”, which, in ancient Egyptian belief, was both a goddess and a concept, which represented honor, truth, justice, order, law, morality, and everything seen as “just” in ancient Egyptian society. Why Did Ancient Egyptians Worship Cats?
Another cat goddess from ancient Egypt is Bastet, who is depicted as a humanoid woman with the head of a cat. She was initially depicted as a lioness, but over time, her depiction started to resemble a cat, like we see today.
She was seen as another form of the goddess Sekhmet, who was another solar deity. Sekhmet was seen as the “violent and aggressive” form, while Bastet was seen as more gentle, nurturing, and caring.
Bastet is also present in the ancient Greek religion, where she was known as Ailuros. The Egyptian treatment and veneration of cats are thought to have influenced the world at large, especially the Middle East.
In places like Turkey, you can still see the same level of respect for cats like we saw in ancient Egypt, and the connection of cats with cleanliness has managed to transcend national borders and religions, with even modern religions like Islam and Christianity portraying cats as clean and pure animals.
Since the beginning of time, cats have been some of the most popular pets in the world, and with the age of the internet, we can clearly see their popularity isn’t dying out anytime soon.
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