Myths and Modern Egypt: Celebrating International Cat Day

Whether in ancient Egypt or on the internet today, cats enjoy a lot of popularity. Where they once commanded the respect of demigods, they are now regarded as fluffy companions that feature prominently in viral memes.

With their fascinating contributions to history as well as their prominence in households worldwide, it is almost expected to have a day wholly dedicated to cats.

International Cat Day is celebrated every year on 8 August. Established by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, it aims to raise awareness about ways to protect and help cats and kittens.

As such, Egypt in particular has a lot to celebrate on this day due to its long and rich history with cats — while modern Egyptians are avid pet-lovers, their ancient ancestors took their adoration to another level.


Photo Credit: Gary Todd on Wikimedia Commons

Back in 3100 BC, ancient Egyptians followed their polytheistic religion closely. A big part of it was respecting animals as gifts or vessels of their gods — but cats enjoyed a special amount of attention.

While gods like falcon-headed Horus or jackal-headed Anubis enjoy recognition today, ancient Egyptian mythology actually had quite a few feline goddesses.

Most notably, there was Bastet, the goddess of all cats. According to myth, she defended Ra’s solar barque every night when he sailed through the underworld to be reborn as the sun the next morning.

Then, there was Sekhmet. Although she had an alter-ego as a cow by the name of Hathor, she is best known for her depiction with a lioness’s head. She not only served as a terrifying goddess of war and plague, but also of healing.

Besides these two, the ancient Egyptian pantheon featured other feline headed goddesses, such as Mut, Mafdet, and Maahes. Each represented aspects of brutality or nurturing care in their positions.

That being said, the significance of these felines did not end with their mythological representations.


Photo Credit: Larazoni on Wikimedia Commons

Cats were a popular pet to have in Egypt during the time of the New Kingdom. Most of their owners ranked among nobility and royalty, making them status symbols as well as beloved companions.

Cats were so significant back then that the word ‘Mau’ meaning ‘cat’ in Ancient Egyptian, is still used to name a breed today.

Further proof of how beloved these pets were can be found in how the first named cat ever recorded was discovered mummified in a noble’s tomb. The cat’s name was Nedjem, meaning ‘sweet’ or ‘pleasant.’

What truly drives home the importance of these animals in ancient times was the fact that families went into a period of mourning after their cat’s death. This period began when the family shaved their eyebrows, and ended when they had grown back.

However, such dedication to cats in modern times is, perhaps predictably, lacking.


Photo Credit: Alexey Komarov on Wikimedia Commons

According to a 2018 study by PETS International, Egypt is responsible for 50 percent of the spending on pets in the MENA region, so it cannot be said that the country has given up its love of animals.

With the existence of Facebook pages dedicated to the love of cats as well as devoted appreciation to local breeds, many modern Egyptians have embraced their feline-loving roots.

Even strays are recognized for their role in getting rid of pests like rats and other rodents, and keeping them out of their territory. As in the past, these animals help prevent the spread of disease by such means.

However, some cats face a far less kind fate than their ancient ancestors due to poisoning or abandonment. Even so, despite the extent of mistreatment, a strong effort is being made to save them.

Shelters and their activists work tirelessly to rescue animals, sponsor them, and encourage adoption. Chance Animal Rescue, the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA), and the Cairo Animals Rescue Team are just a few of the organizations working to make a difference.

That being said, a person does not need to be an animal activist in order to aid the effort. In fact, people do not even need to own or adopt cats to take action. Even the smallest efforts can positively impact these animals on the street.

For example, leaving a bowl of clean water out for passing animals — especially during summers prone to heat waves — can make a huge difference to them.

Accordingly, on this International cat day there are many small gestures that can be done to help and improve the lives of these once-revered animals.

Source : Egyptian Streets

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