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Unlike some other animals, the cat was not primarily associated with an important local deity at the beginning of Egyptian time. It never attained a truly elected 'official' status which would have enabled it to become a full member of the divine community encountered on the walls of Egyptian temples. But in spite of all this, the cat's popularity eventually surpassed that of any other animal and reached far beyond Egypt's boundaries.
The earliest feline cat goddess recorded was called Mafdet and is described in the Pyramid Texts as killing a serpent with her claws. But the most famous cat goddesses in the world, first revered by the ancient Egyptians were Bastet (also known as Bast, Pasch, Ubasti) and the lion-headed Sekhmet.
Bastet was often depicted as having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. She was associated with the Eye of Ra, acting within the sun god's power. The Egyptians loved Bastet so much that she became a household goddess and protector of women, children and domestic cats. She was also the goddess of sunrise, music, dance, pleasure, as well as family, fertility and birth.
Her supposed evil counterpart was the goddess Sekhmet who represented the cat goddess' destructive force. She is known as the goddess of war and pestilence. But even she was tamed by Ra (who supposedly got her drunk) and she eventually became the powerful protector of humans. Together, Bastet and Sekhmet represented the balance of the forces of nature.
Cats began to appear on objects of everyday life. There were gold cats on intricate bracelets, small golden cat pendants, cats amulets made of soapstone for necklaces and rings. Women made up their faces holding mirrors with cats on the wooden handles and on their cosmetic pots. The best part was that ordinary people could enjoy the protection of the cat goddess through their amulets on their clothing or around their necks or in their earlobes. Cats even figured in dream interpretation. In one book of ancient dreams, it was said that if a man sees a cat in a dream, it means he will have a good harvest.
In the late periods of Egyptian history, the popularity of the cat increased and a great many bronze cat statuettes were made; most were intended for shrines or funerary purposes. Most had pierced ears and silver or gold earrings. Their eyes were made of inlaid rock crystal or a similar opaque material. The ancient Egyptians considered the female cat as a good mother, and there have been several statues of mother cats and kittens discovered.
Cats were held in such high esteem that at one point, the penalty for killing a cat-even accidentally-was death.