Cats were regarded as allies, gods, and hunters by the ancient Egyptians. Today’s domestic cats have illustrious forebears and a colorful past; perhaps this is why they believe they still merit royal treatment.
Ancient Egyptian Cats and Their History
Both majestic cat statues and masses of meticulously preserved cat mummies have been uncovered by archaeologists and Egyptologists from Egyptian tombs. As modern cat enthusiasts, it is obvious that we believe the ancient Egyptians had the right idea. However, how did cats come to be so adored in Egypt?
Cat & Gods
Many of the gods and goddesses in the extensive pantheon of Egyptian mythology are shown in extant paintings and sculptures as having the heads of various animals. Their various feline deities were some of the most powerful and revered among the heavenly dogs, birds, and crocodiles.
Ra, the sun god, was arguably the most important divinity in ancient Egypt. Ra was essentially a very huge issue since it was thought that at his birth, he joined forces with the unbridled forces of creation to create the universe. Ra had many different forms that he used to roam the planet and the underworld, but it was believed that he was born again each morning with the sunrise. Of course, one of those was a noble cat.
Ra also served as the god of order in addition to being the solar god. Apophis, a gigantic serpent that stood for chaos itself, was one of his greatest opponents in maintaining the world’s order. Ra assumed the form of a huge cat when he needed to choose the greatest form to destroy the serpent in their epic battle. Ra persevered and overcame Apophis with the aid of one of his feline daughters because the Egyptians were aware that cats were fierce hunters.
Ra’s firstborn daughter, Bastet, who assisted him in battling the serpent, and Sekhmet, another fearsome warrior, were both noble daughters with the heads of fierce lions. Because they were well aware of how powerful and terrifying lions might be, the ancient Egyptians first depicted the goddess Bastet as a female lion. Bastet was a typical female lion because they are the main hunters and pack leaders. She traveled through the deserts to destroy other gods and stood for ferocious female fury. There’s a good reason why Bastet was left alone.
Over time, Bastet exchanged her lion’s head for a domestic cat’s head (perhaps because Egyptians grew to love their pet cats). She changed from being seen as a hunter to a protector, softening her image. Thanks to Bastet, she gained a reputation as the goddess of domesticity, fertility, and health preservation as well as a guardian of women’s secrets. Sekhmet, her younger sister, assumed the role of the ferocious hunter with a lion’s head, but both remained well-known and adored.
Many other feline characters from Egyptian mythology, including the well-known Sphinx, are deserving of their own complete narratives, and fortunately, the Egyptians saved a lot of those tales for us. Cat statues, paintings, and even hilarious cartoons are just a few of the priceless items archaeologists have discovered in Egypt. Perhaps as a result of their near proximity to the Felidae family, they had a sense of humor about them.
Pets & Cats
Wild cat species that ranged in size from enormous lions, leopards, and cheetahs to more diminutive African wildcats and servals coexisted with the ancient Egyptians. These wild cats were chosen for domestication because of their aptitude as predators and their astute, perceptive brains. Cats were first used by the Egyptians as hunters to keep snakes and rodents out of their dwellings, but they soon developed into much more than that.
A wall mural from the Saqqara burial grounds depicts what appears to be a little, tame African wildcat wearing a collar in the Pharaoh’s apartments. This is the first example of domestic cats in ancient Egypt. That painting was created between 2600 and 1500 BCE, and is more than 4500 years old!
Only after that did domestic cats become increasingly popular. While ordinary people used their limited precious metals to lovingly adorn their cats and make themselves jewelry featuring the cats they loved so much, royals decked their cats up in gold and jewels and allowed them to eat off their plates.
That affection persisted even after death. Ancient Egyptians were determined to take their cats into the afterlife with them because they knew that a cat’s lifetime could feel like an incredibly brief time to spend with the friends we love so deeply. Egyptians were renowned for their elaborate methods of mummification, and they treated their feline companions with the same delicate care.
In fact, Egypt is home to the world’s oldest known pet cemetery, a nearly 2,000-year-old collection of meticulously preserved cats. Metal, shell, and bead jewelry were used to adorn these animals. They all passed away naturally, and several even exhibited indications of aging and disease, indicating that they would have needed devoted love and care to survive for so long. They were clearly very cherished pets who received the same level of attention in life as they did in death.
What about the humans these pets abandoned? Egyptians, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, would shave off their eyebrows after their cat passed away and observe a time of mourning until they grew back. They would then carry on with their daily lives as usual, confident that their meticulously preserved dogs would be there to welcome them into the hereafter and serve as their constant companions and guardians. To us, that sounds fairly nice.
How to Treat Your Cat Like a King
We try our best to show our kitties how much we care, even though we may not be donning them in gold and jewels like they did in the ancient era. Here are some ideas for how to properly worship our kitties, with a little help from the ancient Egyptians:
CONSTRUCT THEIR KINGDOM. Give them a throne to lounge on (read: comfortable bed), specially formulated food (that’s indoor cat kibble), and entertainment befitting a pharaoh, even if that kingdom is only a studio apartment (A.K.A. lots of toys).
Feast on them like royalty. Give your cat a buffet of dinner alternatives because they say that the path to a cat’s heart is through its stomach. As they paw at tonight’s pick of crunchy kibble or delicious wet meal, each swipe becomes a royal edict.
BE ARTFUL WITH YOUR CAT. What animal is prettier than your cat? None, of course. Hang a painting or two of your cat throughout your personal palace, and don’t forget to buy your cat a collar that appropriately displays its regal nature.
PROVE YOU’RE DEDICATED TO THEM. Gifts and tributes are fine, but sometimes a hug and some encouraging words are all it takes to let a friend know how much you care. When you next cuddle with your cat, express your love to them. Even though they already know it, it never hurts to be reminded of it again.
Your local fluffy tabby or sleek black cat will like the attention, and perhaps for a brief period of time, the cool air from the air conditioner will resemble a breeze from the Nile. Maybe give them a moment to reflect on life as an Egyptian god if you find them gazing thoughtfully off into the distance.
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