Feline Angels and Demons

Happy National Cat Day! Well, to you readers in the States in any case. October 29 has been declared National Cat Day, and as a blogger who has frequently posted on ancient cats, I feel a sense of duty to include our feline friends in today’s entry.

Elsewhere on this blog I have extolled the divine nature of cats. The Egyptians revered them to the point that killing a cat was a capital crime, but the evolution of domestication was probably very practical. Domestic cats appear in the archaeological record along with the advent of grain silos, also an Egyptian invention. When the grain attracted rats, the rats attracted cats, and the cats stole Egyptian hearts. Even before the Egyptians, however, archaeology points to associations of cats and humans in Neolithic Jericho, perhaps the oldest city in the world. As early as 9000 years ago, cats were stalking the allies of the city of the moon god. They have been among our most loyal companions.

The domestic cat’s spread into Europe only began in earnest, it seems, when Christianity reached the continent and the cat was no longer considered divine. Perhaps cats had to be profaned before being admitted to the church’s roster of approved animals. Nevertheless, under the influence of a predominantly Christian milieu, in the Middle Ages Europe had come to see cats as the demonic companions of witches and vampires. Did some memory linger of the divine cat of Egypt? Did those dark days of suspected sorcery glance back to the magicians of Egypt and their suspect pets? We will never know the answer as to why cats, long encouraged to join human households, became evil in superstitious Europe. Even my stepfather in the twentieth century America counted to ten after spotting a black cat, and followed the count with a solemn cuss each and every time.

I, for one, cast my vote on the side of the felines. I don’t have cats (allergies and irate landlords, and such), but I enjoy them when I visit those who do. Sure, they rip up furniture and bring unwanted gifts of dead things to you as a kind of feline worship, but with their loving nature I simply can’t see a devil in our everlasting cats.

Swiped from Dr. Jim's Thinking Shop

(Swiped from Dr. Jim’s Thinking Shop)


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.