It is common knowledge that Egyptians, treat cats with a higher form of respect. Cats helped with keeping the fields healthy, and Egyptians revered them as magical creatures, which answers why did Egyptians worship cats.
Animals in Egyptian History
One of the earliest civilizations known to men was born in Ancient Egypt. Their way of life was straightforward.
Agriculture was their primary source of living – planting and harvesting vegetables, wheat, and flax.
Animals, on the other hand, were mainly for survival or used as a sacrifice; with the special exception to cats.
Felines preyed on the pests and snakes that would’ve destroyed the fields. The Egyptians saw this as a different and organic form of pest control.
Thus, forming a new relationship between the two species.
Egyptians provided shelter and more food for the felines while these animals take care of the fields; this started the domestication of cats.
Evidence of Cat Domestication
Scientists and researchers have found DNA of over 200 Egyptian mummified cats.
Moreover, the majority of these have been linked to the African cats found in Egypt.
Additionally, there was also an old painting that was traced back to 1950 BC that features a domestic cat.
Hieroglyphs and arts on Egyptian tombs also showed that felines were living closely with humans.
More recently, in 2004 in Cyprus to be exact, a 9500-year-old cat was found buried next to a human.
This signified that cats were also domesticated outside of Egypt, and before its civilization even started.
Based on the evidence gathered, there were two breeds of felines that were found around Egypt during those times.
These are the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) and the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica).
These two breeds look very similar, with the main difference being in their temperament.
The Egyptians have domesticated both breeds. It was found that the African wildcat became a more common housecat because it is calmer than the Jungle Cat.
As such, it was found to be a more compatible companion at that time.
Felines are more than just pets
Evidence from Egypt further showed that cats were not just treated as a pest control. Instead, they also became sacred, treated as a demigod.
They gained much adoration and praise from humans because of their ability to combat and kill snakes, scorpions, and other entities that prey on the fields.
Later on, Egyptians attributed feline-like appearance to some of their goddesses.
Various feline forms were attributed to Mafdet – lion, cheetah, and housecat. Sometimes, she was also presented as a cat with a woman’s head.
She was believed to be a guardian of the home and the kingdom as a whole.
She was usually sought when people of the old needed protection, especially from snakes, scorpions, and other venomous animals.
Bastet / Bast
Mafdet was later on replaced by Bastet as the feline goddess. She was also called the "Eye of Ra."
Still attributing to cats' ability to kill venomous animals and other vermin, Bastet was regarded as the protector of homes.
She was also believed to be a guardian of children and the royalty as well.
More so, it was believed that Bastet watched over the world and protected Egypt from the enemies and invaders.
Effect of Cat Domestication on Egyptian Worship
As the ancient people of Egypt continued to care for felines, they became family members instead of just pets.
Along with this, Bastet’s image as a goddess became softer. More than a guardian, she was later on considered to be the goddess of family, fertility, and love.
Along with this, the felines in Egyptian household were treated with respect and dignity. Such was almost similar to the treatment given to children.
The Sanctity of Felines
Another significant discovery in Egypt that relates to felines is the temple of Bastet.
Upon its excavation, cats were among the first things that the scientists noticed.
There were more than 300,000 mummified cats in the temple - further proved that they were sacred in ancient Egypt.
The sanctity of felines in Egypt’s ancient times traces back to the belief that these animals have divine powers given by Bastet herself.
As such, they were bred and used as temple offerings. It was believed that they gave back parts of Bastet’s spiritual energy.
When Cats Die
Even at the point of death, cats were treated more like humans than as animals. They were mummified and mourned for like every family member.
Jewelry and mice were included as offerings. Rituals that were performed for deaths of humans were also given.
Then, they were buried in the tombs of their owners.
The mummification of felines, in a similar way, was done meticulously. Such an act is already a testament that these animals are sacred in Egypt.
One significant proof of this is the first-known mummified cat that dates back to 1350 BC. It was speculated to be Ta-Miu, owned by Prince Thutmose.
The mummified cat was found in a sarcophagus, encased in limestone and with meticulous carvings.
Law on Egyptian Cats
Since felines were treated with respect and dignity due to humans, rules were also instated in their favor.
From the paintings, it was gathered that around 450 BCE, a law was established punishing those who killed a cat.
The paintings showed for every cat life that's been taken away; the punishment is also death. It was so absolute that even accidental death was not tolerated.
More recently, realizing that there’d be high demand for Egyptian cats in other countries, their exportation was highly discouraged.
To strictly implement this, a specific branch of government was assigned.
Any proof that a feline was exported from Egypt, the specific agency will gather and aim to retrieve the exported cat. To then be returned to Egypt
Cats in Egypt during the Present Times
In the modern era, felines were no longer considered as demigods. Instead, they were returned to being the traditional pet in any house.
Although they are domesticated already, they still instinctively hunt for pests in the fields.
What started as a simple survival and instinctive actions of felines in Egypt paved a long way for them.
They are domesticated, treated with respect and dignity, and even worshipped.
They were valued as humans and treated as sacred. Namely answering why did Egyptians worship cats.