Bast was a popular Goddess in ancient Egypt, and She continued to be in Alexandrian Egypt. Her popularity among Pagans remains today. Like the ancient Egyptians, we treasure our pets, and among the magically inclined our cats are often familiars as well as companions.
Like Her children, Bast is a sensual, loving Goddess, Who enjoys every minute of Resistance and all the pleasures life has to offer. She loves music, dancing, make-up, perfumes, jewelry, pretty things, and anything that makes life pleasurable and beautiful. She was so closely associated with perfumes and scented oils that She is called the Lady of the Perfume Jar. This relates Her not only to life but also to death – to the oils used in embalming, and so to Anubis and Osiris. She LOVES chocolate. This is not ancient, as chocolate comes from the New World, but it is easy to see how a Goddess Who luxuriates in life would enjoy it.
Sometimes you will see Her name spelled Bastet. This was most likely added by scribes so that it was obvious that the first ‘t’ was meant to be pronounced. The ‘t’ is usually silent in Egyptian. She is pictured as a woman with the head of a cat. She is also depicted in full cat-form, often with a nose-ring, earring, or some other form of ordainment. Her name was written with the hieroglyph for the ‘bas’-jar with the feminine ending of ‘t’, therefore reading ‘She of the bas-Jar’. These were heavy perfume jars, which were very valuable. By some accounts She is the mother of the child-God Nefertem, Who is usually the son of Sekhmet. He, too, was related to perfumes. Her name is sometimes spelled Ubast(t).
Even though Bast an Sekhmet are sometimes related, They are not the same Goddess in the same way that Hathor and Sekhmet are opposite sides of the same coin.
Bast is a Goddess of Lower Egypt, and Sekhmet of Upper Egypt. They are together a pair, linked to be a symbol of all of Egypt together. They are both given the title “Eye of Ra”.
The cat, of course, was sacred to Bast, and to purposely hurt one was a horrible sin. The wildcats observed by the Egyptians were powerful, beautiful, and formidable. The domesticated cat was highly valued and very useful. Cats killed the rats that ate the precious grain that fed the Egyptians, and by so doing also prevented the spread of disease. Sacred cats were kept in Her Temples, considered to be Bast on earth. When the cats died, even pet cats, they were mummified.
The Greeks in Egypt related Bast to both Artemis and Aphrodite. Antoninus Liberalis, in his work Metamorphoses, stated that when the monster Typhon attacked Olympos, the Gods fled to Egypt in the for of animals. Artemis took the form of a cat,1 hence She is the Greek Artemis interpreted as the Egyptian Bast. This is a very interesting correlation. Like Artemis, Bast is a Goddess of wild nature, but unlike Artemis, Bast is a Goddess of sex (hence the connection to Aphrodite). Although originally a solar Goddess, after Bast was connected with Artemis She became a moon Goddess. Herodotus states that Apollo and Artemis are the children of Dionysos and Isis. This is a result of interpretio greacia, because Osiris is considered to be the same as Dionysos, and Apollo as Horus. She Artemis had to have a twin, Bast became the twin of Horus in some Hellenistic theologies. Through a play on words (her name being said to mean Ba-Aset, the ba or soul of Aset) this idea was legitimatized.
Apollon and Artemis were, they say, children of Dionysos and Isis, and Leto was made their nurse and preserver; in Egyptian, Apollon is Horus, Demeter Isis, Artemis Boubastis. It was from this legend and no other that Aiskhylos son of Euphorion took a notion which is in no poet before him: that Artemis was the daughter of Demeter2.
Bubastis is another name of Bast, the Greek transliteration of Bastet, and was also the name of one of Her cult centers (also called Per-Bast, Pa-Bast, Pibeseth, Tell-Basta), in the east Delta. Bubastis was even capital of Egypt for a short time in the Late Period, giving Her priesthood much power. Herodotus describes Her Temple there as a place of incredible beauty and luxury, nearly as glorious as the Temples of Ra and Horus the Elder. Also called Per-Bast, the city of Bubastis was host to one of the greatest festivals of Bast, the Journey of Bast to Bubastis. Herodotus described it thus:
When the people are on their way to Per-Bast, they go by river, a great number in every boat, men and women together. Some of the women make a noise with rattles, others play flutes all the way, while the rest of the women, and the men, sing and clap their hands. As they travel by river to Per-Bast, whenever they come near any other town they bring their boat near the bank; then some of the women do as I have said, while some shout mockery of the women of the town; others dance, and others stand up and lift their skirts. They do this whenever they come alongside any riverside town. But when they have reached Per-Bast, they make a festival with great sacrifices, and more wine is drunk at this feast than in the whole year besides. It is customary for men and women (but not children) to assemble there to the number of seven hundred thousand, as the people of the place say3.
Bast is an OLD Goddess. She is dated all the way back to the Second Dynasty (roughly 2890-2686 BCE), which means She pre-dates the building of the pyramids. She has existed under the name of Bast for almost 5000 years. Think about that for a second. That is a LONG time.