Dream Quest

H. P. Lovecraft was a writer who remained unappreciated during his life but who has become a very influential literary figure after his death. So it is with artists. Known mostly for his short stories, one of the novellas he wrote, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” carries immense religious implications. Those familiar with Lovecraft’s fictional world know of the god Cthulhu and the “Other Gods” that he places in outer space. In “Dream-Quest” Lovecraft states that these Other Gods, “are good gods to shun.” While mere fiction, the concept of divinity has become pliable in the hands of its human author. Mortals are those who describe gods, those who decide what their deities will be like. The dream of the titular quest involves the earth gods having been removed from their shining city to leave the dark and dangerous other gods in charge.

While some would dismiss Lovecraft as overly inventive, his view of the earth being clouded by the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep strangely matches what we see playing out in the headlines. Those who are supposed to protect the masses, their leaders – elected or otherwise – have shown themselves to be interested in personal gain above all sense of duty. Throughout the world, and increasingly clearly in the United States, the working poor are seen as simple commodities easily manipulated and programmed to support those who would exploit them. Crawling chaos has landed.

Lovecraft’s “Dream-Quest” has a host of unlikely heroes, among them the cats of Ulthar. These cats maintain a true divinity appropriate for the descendents of Bastet. Feline divinity represents hope to Randolph Carter, Lovecraft’s protagonist. They also represent the tendency of the earth gods only to appear when most sorely needed, otherwise simply to set their own agenda. Where are the cats of Ulthar now? The problem with gods is they don’t always show up when you need them. Many dismiss Lovecraft as just another overly imaginative writer of cheap fiction, but to those will to listen carefully he was an author that could hear a very faint pulse. Even if that pulse was coming from under the floorboards to haunt a reality where the earth gods had gone away.

A little writer shall lead them


Evolution of Egyptian Cats

The Egyptians were the first people to “domesticate” cats. Perhaps taking their cue from their pets, they very early venerated cats as divine. Cats were, however, working animals that controlled vermin and poisonous creatures that violated the principle of stability that the Egyptians so valued. From the earliest records of the Old Kingdom we find the goddess Mafdet portrayed as a cat. Her name translates to “swift runner” and she was protector of Pharaoh, and thus of all Egypt. She was also associated with justice, a role reprised by Puss-in-Boots in Shrek 2. The hearts of evildoers were ripped out by Mafdet and brought, like a dead bird or mouse, to the Pharaoh.

Mafdet? (Don't give your kitty knives!)

Mafdet? (Don't give your kitty knives!)

Mafdet’s fame declined with the rise of Bast, or Bastet. Bast (“devourer”) was also an early goddess, associated with the sun, and like Mafdet, she was a fierce protector. Her cult was centered in Bubastis, a city named for her. The guardian of Lower Egypt, she kept the kingdom safe from cobras, scorpions, and presumably hair-balls. Unlike the gentle kitties of today, she was also represented as a lion, a goddess of war.

Bast, all grown up

Bast, all grown up

Bast’s fortunes faded with the rise of Sekhmet, the warrior goddess of Upper Egypt. With a name translating to “powerful,” Sekhmet was yet a third feline protector. She was also a lion-shaped goddess whose breath created the desert. (I have worked for human beings who could justifiably make that same claim.) Like Bast, she wore the sun on her head and became Egypt’s version of the violent goddess. Ancient peoples all feared the raging goddess, no matter what name or shape she took. Perhaps they always expected bad behavior from men, so when female deities got in on the act it was all the more powerful.

Sekmet with the breath that sank a thousand ships

Sekmet with the breath that sank a thousand ships

Where does evolution go from there? Is it merely coincidence that the Ashera Cat is part African Serval (as was perhaps the original Mafdet) and that it is being billed as the royal cat? I think not! Cats have a long pedigree with the divine, and from what I’ve been reading, Ceiling Cat has a very wide following. Evolution of the Egyptian cat, it seems, takes us from the Old Kingdom right up to Lolcats.


Everlasting Cats

“The mystical divinity of unashamed felinity, round the cathedral rang ‘Vivat!’ Life to the Everlasting Cat!” I’m not sure if this is T. S. Eliot, Andrew Lloyd Webber, or a chimeric mix of the two, but it is an interesting bit of mythology. My daughter is the consummate Cats fan and has been asking me to write a post on Cats and religion. When I read (or hear) the above lines of poetry, I must confess, my mind wanders to Xenophanes who stated that if horses could draw they would draw their gods like horses. Ditto for cats.

Everlasting cats, however, have their roots deep in religions of the ancient world. Although the word “cat” never occurs in the Bible (“dog” is there plenty of times, with even a “bitch” or two) cats are certainly within the biblical culture. Eternal Egypt knew of an everlasting cat — Bastet, the “cat goddess.”

Bast to see this as an everlasting cat

Bast to see this as an everlasting cat

Hailing from Bubastis, Bastet (I just can’t call her Bast, since it sounds like slathering meat with some kind of ambiguous liquid, something I can’t stomach as a vegetarian) seems likely to have some connection with the sun. Regarding yesterday’s post, the ancient Egyptians had a plethora, a veritable superabundance even, of solar deities. Bastet was called the Eye of Ra. She was also associated with war, appropriate enough to anyone who’s read Erin Hunter’s Warrior series. As a goddess, Bastet qualifies as an everlasting cat.
Little Bastie doesn't seem so playful any more

Little Bastie doesn't seem so playful any more


So do the numerous cat mummies from ancient Egypt. Preservation of the body was an aspect of realizing life beyond life for the Egyptians. It would also obviously help to keep the mice out of heaven. T. S. Eliot was C. of E. (Church of England, not Copt of Egypt) and had a savvy sense of wit. Ignoring the biblical snubbing of cats, he named the wisest and most respected of Old Possum’s Practical Cats with a biblical name — Old Deuteronomy. Although I am not a cat owner (is anybody really a cat owner?), I do have great respect for felines, mystical or not. And I am not alone as long as the ancient Egyptians kept a mummy or two around and an Eye of Ra to keep that solar barque on its course.