The Cat Goddess - Bastet
I'm excited to explore the history and mythology behind another of my key characters; the cat goddess, Bastet. I'm currently up to my knobbly knees in papers and research as I shuffle around writing my next book, House of Bastet. I thought it might be fun to share a little of my findings with you.
Bastet (or Bast) is an ancient God of Egypt and was known as the protector of the pharoahs. She originally took the form of a lioness and was a fierce warrior, however over time her imagery changed to that of a domestic cat. She was endowed with many powers the pre-eminent being that of the protector of the Kings and Lower Egypt. She was also a protector against diseases and evil spirits. In later years she was worshipped as a goddess of fertility and childbirth.
Bastet was closely associated with the sun god Ra, and was sometimes depicted as the daughter and consort of Atum-Ra.
Her cult was strongest in Lower Egypt in the city of Bubastis situated in the Nile Delta near the modern city known as Zagazig.
Many thousands of mummified cats and statues of Bastet have been found in Egypt. Of particular note is the Gayer Anderson cat featured heavily in House of Scarabs (see photo below).
In the House of Scarabs series there are three gods who create the 'House' and protect the ancient Egyptian religion; Khepri (the scarab god), Sobek (the crocodile god), and Bastet.
I wanted each of my protagonists to have characteristics of their gods. Gerhard, who is linked to Bastet in the books, is a fiercely protective and wise man. He quietly watches events before deciding what action to take. He's very independent, and yet has a sweet loving side. Bastet in the form of the cat felt the best match to his character. With the strong link to Ra the provider of life Bastet seemed a perfect choice as one of the gods chosen to protect the rites of resurrection. Besides who can resist a cute cat?
The Gayer Anderson Cat
Probably the single most famous representation of Bastet is the statue donated to the British Museum by Major Grenville Gayer Anderson, from which it took its name. The statue adorned with a gold ear hoop, a nose stud and a wadjet amulet was found somewhere on the Saqqara plateau and was offered to the eccentric English Officer and passionate collector. He purchased the bronze cat and undertook a rudimentary preservation of the statue in which he carefully, and some might say ruinously, removed the crystalline verdigris and crisp flakes of red patina with which the statue was covered.
Recent x-rays show the extensive repairs that the amateur preservationist made to the statue.
The statue now resides in the British Museum in London. I was desperate to visit it when I was writing the book but never got an opportunity however I visited its old Egyptian home endless times. The Gayer Anderson museum is housed in the Major's house and has an amazing array of oddities that he collected over the years. It is, quite simply, one of my favourite corners of Cairo.
The photo below was one I took from the roof of the house way back in 2004. There is a lovely roof top terrace that looks over the oldest and largest mosque in Cairo, the Ahmad ibn Tulun Mosque dating back to 868AD.
I truly love this old building and I'm certain that subliminally it played some part in my selection of Bastet and the Gayer Anderson Cat.
You will see much more of both Gerhard and Bastet in House of Bastet the next instalment of the series, House of Scarabs, which I'm currently writing. I can't wait to share it with you.
To read about the scarab god, Khepri, click here.
Until next time... happy reading