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The Sacred Cat

2016/5/4 10:40:27

Important both as a domestic pet and as a symbol of deities such as Bastet and RA the "Great Cat of Heliopolis". There were two indigenous feline species in ancient Egypt, the jungle cat and the African wild cat, the former being found only in Egypt and southeastern Asia. The earliest Egyptian remains of a cat were found in a tomb at the Predynastic site of Mostagedda, near modern Asyut, suggesting that the Egyptians were already keeping cats as pets in the late fourth millennium BC.

The Egyptian word for cat was the onomatopoeic term miw, which, although not mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, found its way into various personal names from the Old Kingdom onwards, including 22nd Dynasty pharaoh known as Pamiu or Pimay, literally "the tomcat" 773-767 BC. The earliest Egyptian depiction of the cat took the form of three hieroglyphic symbols, each representing seated cats. This formed part of the phrase "Lord of the City of Cats" inscribed on a stone block from El-Lisht, which may date as early as the reign of Pepy II 2278-2184 BC. From the 12th Dynasty onwards, cats were increasingly depicted in the painted decoration of private tombs, either participating in the scenes of hunting and fowling in the marshes or seated beneath the chair of the owner.

It was in the funerary texts of the New Kingdom that the cat achieved full apotheosis, in the Amuduat it is portrait as a demon decapitating bound captives and in the Litany of RA it appears to be a personification of the Sun-god himself, battling with the evil serpent-god Apophis. Because of its connection with the Sun god, the cat was depicted on a number of Rames side steles found in the Theban region. From the Late Period onwards, large numbers of sacred cats were mummified and deposited in underground galleries at such sites as Bubastis and Speos Artemidos, and numerous bronze votive statuettes have survived, including the "Gayer-Anderson cat" in the collection of the British Museum.

The ancient Egyptians practiced a belief system that was par totemism, part polytheism, and part ancestor worship. There were numerous gods, but rather than living on an isolated mountain or in an unreachable heaven, many of them lived invisibly in the mortal world, acting through scared sites, animals or even chosen people. Furthermore, the spirits of the deceased, if remembered and honored, could aid and guide the living from the Afterlife.

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