Ancient Egyptians were well known for respecting the animals around them. Through art and ancient hieroglyphics, many animals are used to illustrate their culture. One animal, in particular, took the cake and the gold above any other, CATS! The Ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods and goddesses, closely tied to several of these gods and goddesses were cats. To the Egyptians, felines were considered demi-gods and were highly revered as such throughout their history. Below are 9 amazing facts about cats in Ancient Egypt!
1.) Food Protectors
Cats were used to protect food storage that was often tampered with by snakes, mice, and rats. Wildcats preyed on these creatures in an attempt to attract the cats, they would leave out fish heads and other strong scented foods to encourage the cats to visit on a regular basis. Eventually, cats began to coexist with humans as they began to trust them for food, shelter, and protection from larger animals. Humans began letting them move in with them, forming bonds, and even helping raise kittens into adulthood.
2.) Intelligent Hunting
The Egyptians began bonding so closely with felines that they were brought out on hunting trips to help gather food. In the wild, they were observed as being selfish and stubborn but by the side of a human companion, they were giving and helpful. Cats became highly respected animals because of their willingness to play and open affection but also their ability to hunt with accuracy and intelligence.
3.) He Who Mews
Domesticated cats were not distinguished from their wild counterparts to the Egyptians. All cats were equally known as “Miu” which translates to “he or she who mews”. Rarely were cats given their own distinctive name, they were just all called Miu, similar to how we now use the word kitty for cats we don’t know. Often times little girls were named “Miut” which means “female cat”.
4.) Native by Nature
There were two distinctive cat breeds that accompanied humans in Egypt; the jungle cat and the African wildcat. The African wildcats became the domestic choice by the Egyptians as they had a calmer and more passive personality. Eventually the two breeds began to mate and became a breed of its own, closely related to the Egyptian Mau.
5.) Genetic Changes
Through further domestication changes in diet, activity level, and temperature; these felines began changing physical traits. Their bodies became smaller due to lack of necessary muscles needed to hunt to survive. The fur became more brightly colored and striking due to the unnecessary need for camouflage in domestication. The brain even became smaller from no longer needing to know all the survival instincts of their wild counterparts.
6.) Eye of Ra
Among a long list of gods and goddesses, Bast & Neith were the most famous being associated directly with cats. Neith even took on the appearance of a cat and was well known for being a famous sacred symbol of Mut’s. Cats were also associated with the Eye of Ra and even linked to Isis for their great instincts as mothers.
7.) Death Penalty
Cats were so highly revered that if a person were to harm a cat, even accidentally, they were greatly punished. The killing of a cat, intentional or not, resulted in the death penalty. Some feline mummies were discovered with trauma to the head or neck region, which is believed to be a form of controlling the feline population. Also, all cats were given to Bast in death to go on to live for eternity in “cat heaven”. Cats were even sold and traded to outside countries which resulted in the armies of Egypt being sent out to rescue them.
8.) Shaving for Grief
In the passing of a cat, its family would go into a state of deep mourning and all members would shave their eyebrows off as a symbol of their grief.
Tying closely into that of Pagan beliefs, some cats were also considered to be demonic. This further led the Egyptians to not only honor cats more but even fear them. The Egyptians also believed cats to see into the spiritual realm and even protect them from demons themselves. To this day, many people still believe cats to be a source of protection from ghosts, witches, warlocks, and yes, demons.