This article is part of a series where we look back in history at strong women – from real life, fiction, or the blending of both into legend – who blazed new trails, had great adventures, and stood up for what was right. They are the originals that our grandmothers and generations of women before admired and who became the stepping stones for us, the Geek Gals of today. We shall call these female forbearers our Classic Geek Gals.
I’d like to introduce to you our next Classic Geek Gal: Bastet, the Eqyptian Goddess.
Who is Bastet?
While there is a large variety of opinions on what Bastet represents, most historians agree that she is the feline goddess of the home, fertility, women, children, and, of course, cats (1). She is typically depicted as a female human body with a cat head or as a house cat with or without kittens surrounding her. Bastet is also considered to be the goddess of pleasure, especially in regards to sexuality, wine, drinking, and singing – and protection (2). Egyptians revere Bastet and keep multiple images of her in their homes to help ward off evil spirits and disease, in addition to wearing golden amulets of cats to protect themselves and, for women in particular, to increase their fertility.
She is a protector.
Bastet is not known for fighting enemies on a battlefield (that distinction is left to her sister, Sekhmet, the lion goddess), but she is seen as fierce and protective, ready to fight and wreak vengeance on behalf of those she loves. In fact, while many ancient mythologies paint the father as the protector of his children, the opposite is true of Bastet and the sun god Ra. As told in legend:
It was believed that every day she would ride through the sky with her father, the sun god Ra. As his boat pulled the sun through the sky she would watch over and protect him. At night, she would turn into a cat to protect Ra from his greatest enemy, the serpent Apep. (3)
Bastet’s slaying of Apep made sense to Egyptians, as they treasured their cats for their ability to kill rodents in their grain stores and snakes who threatened their homes. These legends involving snakes led to other powers being added to her abilities.
(…) the goddess acquired a third major duty of protecting people against evil spirits and contagious diseases. Although it was not a main responsibility, she had unique powers to charm snakes and combat the effects of poisonous venom, which was a trait attributed to cats among ancient Egyptians. (4)
She has style (and knows how to party).
Bastet is many things: a mother with multiple body piercings, a goddess of dancing and singing, a vengeful daughter, and a fierce protector. (4) Even her annual festivals held in ancient times were known as true celebrations of life and pleasure.
Every year, in the months of April and May, the historian Herodotus noted that her yearly festivals drew some 700,000 people in huge ships singing songs and dancing as they head to the city. Prodigious amounts of wine were drunk in these festivals. Upon reaching Bubastis, great sacrifices were made. (5)
Bastet is also the goddess of ointment (her name in hieroglyphics is a jar of ointment) and was the mother of Nefertum, the god of perfume.
She lives on in popular culture.
Not to be left behind in the dust, Bastet continues to live on in many religious sects and appears in popular culture, from video games to comic books:
- She’s a favorite with author Neil Gaiman. She’s appeared both in his book American Gods and in his Sandman comic book series. While she hasn’t yet been cast, Bastet is also slated to appear in the American Gods TV show.
- Robert Bloch brought Bastet into Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.
- She is a playable character in the video game Smite!
- Like many gods and mythical creatures, Bast appears in the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop role playing game. (6)
You may even recognize her in her alternate form of her name “Bast”! She is the biggest inspiration behind the comic book and movie superhero, Black Panther! (7)
Whether you’re a fan of cats or not, you can appreciate Bastet’s reputation as a fiercely protective daughter and mother who watched out for those she loved. Her spirit can be seen in every woman who has hugged her loved ones and vowed to never let anything bad happen to them. Honestly, I think we all could benefit from knowing someone loved us that deeply and protected us.
How about you? Do you have any stories about how Bastet has inspired you? Or cute cat pics? We also take cute cat pics! Please share below and then share with your friends. We’d love to hear from you!
Read more of Courtney’s articles.
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Featured image credit: VectorStock.com