Gods and Goddesses of the ancient world held a connection with certain animals. This is because our ancestors’ beliefs were animistic – they believed everything on earth had consciousness and a soul. Wildlife was sacred to our ancestors. The cat was held in high regard by many ancient civilizations, namely ancient Egypt. We see the cat appearing in dozens of European folk tales, being particularly linked to witches as their familiars. Learn more about cat goddesses and male cat gods from various cultures below.
Have you ever owned a cat as a pet? If you have, then you probably already know, you can’t quite “own” a cat. They are independent, otherworldly creatures. They spend most of their time napping and the rest of the time eating or playing. If they’re wild, then they’re also typically found on the hunt. Cats seem to see things we don’t. Has your cat ever stared up at the ceiling in a corner, with seemingly nothing there visible to the naked eye? Played with something invisible? Cats have an inherent link to the spirit world and to the old gods.
In addition to being independent and otherworldly, cats are sexual and cleanly animals. Two things that many of the gods smiled upon and were known to embody. The Egyptian deities particularly enjoyed a romp in the hay and purification rituals, so the cat seems like a justifiable choice for this pantheon. But it wasn’t just the Egyptians who revered our feline friends…
The Greek goddesses Artemis and Athena both have connections to cats. The Greeks saw the Egyptian cat goddess Bast alive in their Greek goddess of the forest – Artemis. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is mostly depicted with owls and snakes; however, Athena aids Heracles in slaying a monstrous lion. Also, the sphinx makes an appearance on Athena’s headdress in an ancient sculpture of her that once stood in the Parthenon. Circe, the Greek goddess of transformation and sorcery, has a prison of men whom she’s turned into pigs and lions. The Roman goddesses Diana and Juno have close ties to big cats, as well. Cybele, one of the most ancient Greek goddesses, rules over large cats like the lion and tiger.
Bast is probably the most well-known of all ancient cat goddesses. She hails from ancient Egypt and was depicted as a black cat or as a woman with the head of a cat. Her cult center was at the ancient city of Bubastis. While Bast presided over light-hearted revelry and motherhood in Lower Egypt, her counterpart was Sekhmet, a fierce cat goddess from Upper Egypt. Bast was once a warrior goddess, too. In later years, her demeanor softened and Sekhmet came to be the feared lioness among the two cat goddesses. Many scholars agree that Sekhmet was the predecessor to Bastet, but as time went by, the ferocious warrior lioness became more of a home and motherly guardian.
Asherah was an ancient Semitic goddess who is even mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. She was also known as Qadesh, depending on time and region, and is sometimes depicted standing on the back of a lion. Other than this depiction, Asherah’s link to cats isn’t well documented though she has been called the Lion Lady. This reflects the ancient belief in the “Lady of Beasts”, a prehistoric concept of primitive woman as ruling the animal kingdom. In the Queen of the Night Relief, some scholars say the goddess is Erishkegal while others claim it is Lilith. Whomever the ancient goddess is, she has a clear connection to cats as she is flanked by two lions.
The Hindu pantheon began in ancient times and is still a part of Indian culture today. Two of the most sacred Hindu goddess are Durga and Parvati, both of whom share a connection with large cats. Durga, the feminine representation of the positive divine energy in the universe, rides a lion into battle. Sometimes she’s shown riding on the back of a tiger, though some sources say this is incorrect. Shiva’s wife is Parvati, the goddess of beauty and love, whose mount is also a lion.
Freya is the Norse Goddess of lust, love and beauty. On the opposite side, she is also the goddess of death and war. Similar to a cat, she is seductive and playful but takes an alternate, aggressive approach to those who wrong her. She is a cat goddess because she is often illustrated as riding in a chariot drawn by cats. In addition, in Norse lore, the ketta are cat spirits that appear as females – half-woman-half-cat. They may be a derivation of an ancient cat goddess like Freya. Some believe the famous revenant in the Beowulf story, Grendel’s mother, was one of the ketta.
Yaoji is a Chinese mountain goddess, also known as the Jade Lady, who is often featured in artwork with a beautiful tiger. These two cat goddesses were revered in their own way in two very different cultures. And in Japan, we have a famous ancient amulet that depicts a cat called Maneki Neko a.k.a. the Japanese Beckoning Cat. You may have seen this cat as a figurine with one paw raised. Today, the Maneki Neko amulet is used to draw business and money into one’s livelihood or to cleanse the aura (depending on which paw is raised or both).
Household gods were common in ancient times, and Egypt had its own – Bes. Bes was a fierce protector of the people. He particularly loved families and children and was strong enough to fight off lions with his bare hands. In the New Kingdom, Bes’ appearance changed and he often wore leopard skin. Of the ancient male cat gods, he was the smallest in stature – a “dwarf god” in nature. But powerful, nonetheless.
In Asia, there are many male cat gods because of the prevalence of large cats like the tiger and leopard. Manjushri is a Buddhist deity whose name and qualities vary depending on the region. In Indonesia, he is seen wearing a necklace made of tiger’s teeth. The tiger may have once been Manjushri’s ally or mount. In Hindu religion, Shiva sits upon a tiger or tiger’s skin. He is also seen wearing tiger’s skin. As Shiva is the god of destruction, the link between Shiva and the predatory tiger is evident.
The Mesopotamia had its share of male cat gods, surprisingly enough. Dionysus, the Greek God of wine and revelry, rode a leopard or wore leopard skin. He was seen riding in a chariot drawn by panthers or cheetahs. In some places, Dionysus was linked to the lion. Cats are seductive and playful creatures, so its no wonder Dionysus was associated with them. In the old Babylonian Empire, Nergal was a god of the sun who was also a lion. His cult is mentioned in the Bible. As a god of war, Nergal’s lion-form was feared and worshiped.
Tezcatlipoca was the Aztec god of change, the sky, and ancestral inheritance. In his jaguar-form, Tezcatlipoca becomes the deity Tepeyollotl and rules over the dark, animals, caves, and earthquakes. Tepeyolltl is the heart of Tezcatlipoca, and as a part of creation, his jaguar spots represent the stars.
Because cat goddesses and male cat gods are special deities, they should be treated with special care and attention. If you work with Bast, keep a cat statue on your altar and offer bowls of catnip to her. Any cat goddess would appreciate catnip as an offering. Brew it as a tea and drink it in Freya’s honor. If you are working with fierce male cat gods associated with jaguars or panthers, meat of some kind is a sufficient offering. Large cats are predators, after all. If you have the space and desire, adopting a cat from the shelter is the highest form of flattery to the cat goddesses and male cat gods.
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