Bast is an early goddess of Egyptian mythology. In the Second Dynasty, she was seen as a war goddess, protector of Lower Egypt. Her name meant “female devourer”, which suited the fierce lioness depicted in Egyptian art. She was not just the defender of the pharaoh, but also of the god Ra. This earned her the monikers Lady of Flame and Eye of Ra.
Originally, Bast was a sun goddess. Later Greeks adopted her legend, making it their own and transforming her into a moon goddess. To the Greeks, she became Aelurus.
Bast is also referred to as Bastet. This variation adds one extra feminine suffix to the name, which may have originally been added to aid in pronunciation. Bastet also meant (female) of the ointment jar, leading to Base becoming the goddess of perfume. Her knowledge of unguents and ointments led to her being the goddess of ointments, married to Anubis, god of embalming.
During the wars between the two Egypts, Upper Egypt would win over Lower Egypt. This, combined with Bast’s title of goddess of perfume, changed the way people saw her. No longer a fierce lion, she was now depicted as a cat. At times, she was pictured with a lioness mask, hinting at her barely-suppressed fearsome nature.
Domestic cats are tender mothers who will fiercely defend their kittens. Bast was occasionally shown with kittens, emphasizing her maternal skills. Women who wanted to have children would pray to Bast. Occasionally, they would wear an amulet of Bast, with the number of kittens on the amulet reflecting the number of children the woman wanted.
Bast was the divine mother of Lower Egypt, and acted as its protector. She became so closely linked with the patron goddess Wadjet that in time she became Wadjet-Bast. In Upper Egypt, in a similar turn of events, the goddesses Nekhbet and Sekhmet were paired into a single goddess.
In time, the Wadjet-Bast pairing added the goddess Mut, becoming Mut-Wadjet-Bast. This legend was paired with that of Nekhbet-Sekhmet, becoming even stronger as a goddess.
Confused? That’s no surprise! With goddesses merging and separating, it was difficult to keep track of them all.