From Thelemapediagodform often depicted with a feline head. Bast was originally a solar goddess, a protector and avenger as an Eye of Ra, as well as having links to mothers, children and fertility. However, she later became a goddess of music, dance and pleasure and became linked with the moon rather than the sun.
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Bast's name generally consists of two hieroglyphs: one for the bas-jar, which were heavy, valuable perfume jars, and a loaf (half circle) to add a feminine 't' ending. In later times, scribes added an extra loaf to stress that the 't' should be pronounced, leading to the commonly mistranslated name Bastet.
As with most ancient Egyptian words, it is debatable as to how Bast is pronounced. The most widely agreed pronunciation is 'Bahs-t' (rhymes somewhat with 'last').
Variations of 'Ubast' also exist, which are derived mainly from a theorized pre-New Kingdom pronunciation. 'Pakhet' is another name associated with Bast, though it is thought that Pakhet may be less-significant, earlier leonine goddess whose cult was absorbed into the cults of Bast and Sekhmet.
Bast was usually depicted as a woman with a domesticated cat's head, although she often had a lion's head. She has been known to hold various items:
- Ankh, a symbol of life which Bast often held;
- Papyrus wand, again often held by Bast, usually symbolizing a primogenial god;
- Sistrum, a musical instrument often held by Bast and Het-Hert (also Het-Heru; GR: Hathor);
- Was-scepter, a symbol of power or dominion sometimes held by Bast in pictures of her in Per-Bast.
Bast was never shown as being fully human.
Her changing role
Bast was a solar goddess, and an Eye of Ra. The idea of Bast and domestic cats is a modern one, and leads to many misconceptions of Bast's nature and role. Feline gods and goddesses were often given the role of protector or avenger, presumably due to the typical contact ancient Egyptians had with lions and feral desert wildcats. Thus, Bast is linked to the Pharaoh as his protector. In some accounts, Bast would supposedly become a flame of the sun and burn a dead soul that failed one of the tests to enter the afterlife. It has also been suggested the Bast is specifically a goddess of the sunrise, or of gentle sunlight. However, very few sources can adequately prove these theories.
Bast is perhaps most well known as a protector of cats, women (particularly mothers) and children. Cats were sacred in ancient Egypt, seen as a symbol of motherhood and creation, and so Bast's role was seen as very important. Often, cats were seen as manifestations of the goddess herself. In her role of mother, Bast was further connected (through the Book of Going Forth by Day and later art and statues) with the Pharaoh by serving as his nurse.
As her popularity grew, Bast became associated with Het-Hert due to their links to fertility and, possibly, Sekhmet. Inevitably, Bast took on some of Het-Hert's roles and became known as a goddess of music, dance and pleasure as more emphasis was placed on her being a goddess of mothers and fertility. The vengeful, vicious protector and avenger was, in essence, tamed. She was regarded as a much softer, gentler goddess in later periods of Egyptian civilization, which is sometimes alluded to the sensuality of a cat.
The Greeks associated Bast with Artemis, causing Bast to switch from being a solar goddess to a lunar goddess.
Her relationships with other Egyptian deities
Bast was considered to be a daughter of Ra. Whether she was an Eye of Ra because she was his daughter, or whether she was considered his daughter because she was an Eye of Ra is debatable. Regardless, the relationship was widely acknowledged. She was also called the daughter of Atum as the two began to merge. It is unclear who Bast's mother, if anyone, was.
Despite common belief, Sekhmet and Bast are not related in any way. Both were feline goddesses, and both were an Eye of Ra, but they were both believed to protect different areas of Egypt; Sekhmet taking Upper Egypt, and Bast taking Lower Egypt. This geographical connection gave rise to the belief that they were twin sisters, but there are no records confirm them being family. It is untrue that Bast was simply Sekhmet's gentler side—Sekhmet, like Bast, did acquire more gentle qualities in later times, and is supposedly Het-Hert in her Eye of Ra form.
Confusion of marital relationships arises due to regional differences. Towns where the worship of Bast was prominent considered Bast to be the wife of Ptah, while other areas claimed Sekhmet or Wadjet was his wife instead. Mahes (also translated as Mihos or Maahes) was, however, widely considered to be the son of Bast and Ptah. He was an ancient, lion-headed god of war, and protector of the innocent; his job in later times was to punish those who violated the universal order of Ma'at. He may have been the Egyptian version of Apedemek, a similar Nubian god, and was later associated with the Greek Furies during the Hellenisation of Egypt. He was generally worshiped alongside Bast, at Per-Bast (GR: Bubastis) or at his cult center in Leontopolis.
Bast is also linked to Nefertem, as another son of Ptah even though his mother is more likely to be Sekhmet or Wadjet. She is also linked with Shemsu, as he was a god of perfumes (see the origins of Bast's name) and sacred oils used for embalming, in later times. Nefertem also seems to have a link with perfume.
Mut was also associated with Bast when depicted as a lioness, being addressed as Sekhmet-Bast-Ra. She was also linked with Bast when an attempt was made to link Mut to the older goddesses.
Bast's main center of worship was in Per-Bast where there are ruins of what appears to be what was the largest temple to the goddess. No temples or shrines have remained intact. She was initially a local goddess of the Delta, but her cult eventually spread throughout Lower Egypt due to her connections with Ra and the Pharaoh, and later because of her popularity as a goddess of pleasure.
Bast's cult absorbed other cults that were similar to her own, including those of ancient divinities such as Mafdet, a protector against wild animals.
Bast, like many other popular deities, had several feast days. They were often celebrated with wild, orgiastic parties which were full of noisy music and dance. One festival of Bast is famously described as such:
- When the people are on their way to Bubastis, they go by river, a great number in every boat, men and women together. Some of the women make a noise with rattles, others play flutes all the way, while the rest of the women, and the men, sing and clap their hands. As they travel by river to Bubastis, whenever they come near any other town they bring their boat near the bank; then some of the women do as I have said, while some shout mockery of the women of the town; others dance, and others stand up and lift their skirts. They do this whenever they come alongside any riverside town. But when they have reached Bubastis, they make a festival with great sacrifices, and more wine is drunk at this feast than in the whole year besides. It is customary for men and women (but not children) to assemble there to the number of seven hundred thousand, as the people of the place say. —Herodotus, Histories Book II, chapter 60
- Cass, per-Bast.org, All About Bast (http://www.per-bast.com/)
- Crystallinks.com: Bast (http://www.crystalinks.com/bast.html)
- Symbols in Ancient Egypt (http://www.egyptianmyths.net/section-symbols.htm)
- Wikipedia: Bastet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bast)