Beyond Pets: The Extraordinary Status and Roles of Cats in Ancient Egypt

Emma Fulton Emma Fulton 2 Min Read
photo by WhiskerWitty

In ancient Egypt, cats were revered to a level far beyond just being adorable pets. They were deeply respected and even worshipped in Egyptian society. What made cats garner this intense admiration? The ancient Egyptians’ profound reverence for cats stemmed from a few key factors – their prowess as pest killers and protectors, their ties to Egyptian deities, their esteemed status in society, and their iconic presence in Egyptian art and stories. Cats were seen as divine heroes, cultured icons, mystical beings and more. Let’s uncover the multilayered reasons behind ancient Egypt’s remarkable cat worship!

Cats Protected Egyptians

One major reason ancient Egyptians revered cats so highly was for their prowess as hunters and protectors. In a land teeming with snakes, scorpions, and disease-spreading rodents, cats served a practical purpose by keeping pests under control. Their swift, lethal strikes made cats incredibly valued exterminators.

Beyond just home pest control, cats also protected temples, palaces, and granaries from vermin infiltration. The Egyptians believed cats safeguarded their very food supply and way of life. Cats even provided security services for pharaohs, nobles, and commoners alike as patrol guards. Their watchful presence warded off thieves and trespassers.

With these protective abilities, it’s no wonder cats were practically worshipped. To the Egyptians, cats weren’t just pets – they were tiny furry heroes valiantly protecting society from myriad dangers.

Cats Were Linked to Deities

In Egyptian mythology, various gods and goddesses were depicted as cat-like or as feline deities. The fierce lioness goddess Sekhmet represented war and retribution. The cat goddess Bastet, often shown as a gentle cat, stood for fertility, motherhood, and protection.

Mafdet, the very first Egyptian feline goddess, had the head of a cheetah and protected against snakes and scorpions. Mut, the mother goddess, was depicted as a cat or lioness. Cat imagery connected these deities to desirable traits like nurturing, protection, and motherly devotion.

Bastet in particular was one of the most popular Egyptian goddesses. She represented family, fertility, love, and the home. Egyptians wishing for a family would offer gifts to honor Bastet. By likening cats to their most beloved gods, Egyptians folded felines into their spiritual practices and saw them as living representations of divine beings.

Cats Were Integral Family Members

In ancient Egypt, cats weren’t just pets – they were treated like beloved family members. Egyptians lavished cats with affection and finery, adorning them with jeweled collars and golden earrings. People mourned cats’ deaths just as they would a family member’s, shaving their eyebrows in grief. The same elaborate mummification rituals used for humans were performed on dead cats to preserve them for the afterlife.

When a cat died, their human family would shave their eyebrows and parade through the streets in mourning. Cat owners commissioned wooden cat coffins and mummy cases to hold the cat’s wrapped body. These rituals honored cats as cherished family members. In some tombs, cats were even mummified and buried alongside their beloved human owners. From extravagant collars to elaborate burial rites, ancient Egyptians made cats full members of their families.

Cats Had High Status in Society

Step into ancient Egypt, and you’d quickly notice something: cats were everywhere! Not just in homes, but in the very fabric of their culture. These fabulous felines had truly clawed their way to the top.

For over 3,000 years, cats graced Egyptian art. From intricate wall paintings to detailed sculptures, their elegant forms and poised stances became a symbol of grace and mystery. They weren’t just decorative elements; they often took center stage in legends and myths, weaving tales of bravery, magic, and allure.

But it wasn’t just the common folk who were smitten. Royalty too had a soft spot for these majestic creatures. Pharaohs and queens would often associate themselves with cats, drawing parallels between their regal nature and the commanding presence of felines.

In the grand tapestry of ancient Egyptian society, cats weren’t mere threads; they were the shining stars.

Cats Were Believed to Have Magical Abilities

In ancient Egypt, cats were thought to possess genuine magical abilities and bring good fortune, especially black cats who could ward off evil spirits and demons. Cat imagery engraved on amulets and talismans was believed to protect and bless the wearer with mystical cat magic.

Folk tales celebrated cats’ supernatural talents, like a popular story of a goddess disguising herself as a cat to trick a boastful mortal. Egyptians also believed cats could predict the weather – if a cat washed its ears, rain was imminent.

Overall, cats were imbued with an aura of sorcery and enchantment. From their mythical nine lives to their purported skills at warding off witchcraft, cats were interwoven with magic in the Egyptian imagination. Viewing cats as having mystical gifts beyond the physical world likely elevated their status even further in the eyes of ancient Egyptians. Their rumored supernatural talents made cats not just adored companions, but magical protectors guarding against malevolent forces.


In the end, ancient Egyptians worshipped cats for their many admirable qualities – their prodigious hunting skills, ties to gods and magic, cultural importance, and elite social status. To Egyptians, cats embodied the roles of protector, divine being, cultural icon, and mystical guardian all in one furry feline friend.

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