(Bastet; the extra ‘-t’ probably added by scribes to show that the final ‘t’, usually silent in Egyptian, was to be voiced. The name is also sometimes written with an initial w, i.e., Ubast(t) a trace of the vocalization of which can be seen in the Greek spelling of the name Petobastis.) A Goddess both protective and maternal, Bast is depicted originally as a lioness-headed woman but later, increasingly, as a cat-headed woman or as a cat. She is distinctive among Egyptian deities in exhibiting aspects of the feline nature different from those conveyed by the lioness. Bast’s maternal aspect is exhibited in icons in which she appears as a cat with kittens, or even as a pregnant cat-headed woman. In authoritative representations Bast bears three characteristic items: a sistrum or rattle; an aegis or breastplate, often adorned with a lion’s head; and a basket. Bast sometimes wears a long robe decorated with geometrical motifs, a garment perhaps Syrian in origin on account of the location of her cult center at Bubastis near Egypt’s eastern border. Bast is associated with certain unguents utilized in the embalming process, which perhaps explains the occasional identification of her as mother of Anubis; more typically, she is regarded as the mother of Mihos or of Nefertum.
Bast always retains a wrathful, even dangerous aspect, as can be seen from PT utterance 467, where the deceased king affirms that he has not “succoured Bast” (sometimes translated as not having “approached” Bast, i.e., in observance of some taboo, in order to avoid the surprising negative) or from BD spell 135, which promises that its possessor “shall not succumb to the heat of Bast.” Similarly, a spell to protect against various forms of demonic miasma (no. 18 in Borghouts) claims as its effect that “the (fire-)spewing of Bast will fail against the house of a man,” and another, to empower an instrument for purifying foods and spaces against the plague (no. 20), enjoins “Let your murderers retreat, Bast!” A text known as “The ritual of bringing in Sokar” states that “As for a servant who follows his lord, Bast shall not have power over him,” (21, 2; “The Bremner-Rhind Papyrus – II,” p. 14). A wrathful aspect is similarly implied by depictions of Bast accompanied by a cat who is devouring a bird. The wrathful aspects of deities, however, are also those potencies by virtue of which they can offer protection to the individual as well as the cosmic order, and so Egyptian theology finds no contradiction in a deity being at once wrathful and beneficent.
Bast’s beneficence is frequently expressed in maternal terms. In PT utterance 508, for instance, the king states that “My mother Bast has nursed me, she who dwells in Nekheb has brought me up.” In juxtaposing Bast and Nekhbet, the Goddess of Upper Egypt, this text takes Bast, whose cult center Bubastis was in the Delta, as a symbol of Lower (northern) Egypt. Bast is the wetnurse of Horus in a spell (no. 93 in Borghouts) which says of him, “A cat has nursed you in the house of Neith.” Sometimes Bast is conflated with Sekhmet, so that (e.g., in BD spell 17) Nefertum, generally the son of Sekhmet, is regarded as a son of Bast, and CT spell 60, which identifies the deceased with “the fair of face … Ptah-Sokar in the bow of your bark,” affirms that “Bast the daughter of Atum, the first-born daughter of the Lord of All, she is your protection until day dawns,” where a reference to Sekhmet, Ptah’s usual consort, would perhaps rather be expected. BD spell 164 fuses the two Goddesses, invoking “Sekhmet-Bast.” It is conventional, however, to contrast Sekhmet and Bast as wrathful and beneficent Goddesses, as in the Stela of Sehetep-Ib-Re (12th Dyn.), where it is said of the king that “He is Bast who guards the Two Lands, he who worships him is sheltered by his arm; he is Sekhmet to him who defies his command,” (Lichtheim vol. 1, 128). Bast’s combat prowess is equally well attested, however, as when Seti I describes himself as “valiant in the very heart of the fray, a Bast terrible in combat,” (Scott, 6).
Frequent reference is made to Bast projecting her potencies in the form of seven ‘arrows’, each of which is made up of a demon or group of demons. These seven demons or demonic groups may be wielded by other deities, such as Nekhbet or Tutu (and indeed, their connection with the latter is especially close; see Sauneron 1960), but there are indications of a unique connection to Bast. Each ‘arrow’, in addition to its complement of demons, is attributed to a certain deity. No complete list of the tutelary deities of the arrows survives, but the most complete list, from Philae, lacking the fifth and seventh arrows, shows in its attributions a preponderance of associations with Bast, attributing the first arrow to “Bast, mistress of Bubastis,” the second to “Nefertum, son of Bast,” the third to Horus-Hekenu, a form of Horus local to Bubastis, the fourth to “Khonsu-Horus, son of Bast, master of joy,” and the sixth to “Wenut, Eye of Re,” (Rondot, 267). The demons actually making up each ‘arrow’ are depicted at a number of sites, with a certain degree of variation (Sauneron 1960, 281 supplies a table with the principal versions).
Prohibitions associated with Bast are revealed by the affirmation of Ramesses IV that he had not “netted birds nor shot fierce lions on the feast of Bast,” (Scott, 6).
Allen, T. G. 1974. The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [BD]
Borghouts, J. F. 1978. Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Faulkner, R. O. 1936-1938. “The Bremner-Rhind Papyrus.” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 22-24.
Faulkner, R. O. 1969. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [PT]
Faulkner, R. O. 1973-8. The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. 3 vols. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd. [CT]
Lichtheim, Miriam. 1975-80. Ancient Egyptian Literature. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Rondot, Vincent. 1989. “Une Monographie Bubastite.” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 89: 249-270.
Sauneron, Serge. 1960. “Le Nouveau Sphinx Composite du Brooklyn Museum et le Role de Dieu Toutou-Tithoes.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 19, No. 4: 269-287.
Scott, Nora E. 1958. “The Cat of Bastet.” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin Vol. 17, No. 1: 1-7.