Banu (fyrekat) wrote,
Banu
fyrekat

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Bast: A velvet paw upon my Ka

Bast (pronounced "Bahst") was the first of the ntjrw to call me. Before I was Kemetic, before I was Pagan or even thinking of seeking a new spiritual path, there was something about that ancient cat-goddess which pulled me near, twined itself around my body, and whispered softly- so secretly- of life and truth.


In my search for a spiritually fulfilling path, I first settled into Wicca and immediately committed myself to Bast as my Matron goddess. It was a more difficult thing finding a Lord to pair with my Lady, but I spent a happy summer with Pan while I mapped out the basics of my beliefs- which eventually led to more and more introductions with the ntjrw (and fewer and fewer visits from other pantheons). At first I actually connected better with Pan than I did with Bast. I was trying to figure Bast into the role of a Moon goddess to balance out my Sun god, which is the most common pattern for Wiccan Lords and Ladies to take. Bast wasn't having any of it- She shunned my calls, my poetry, and my meditations until I despaired of ever being accepted by Her. I knew only the barest basics about Her- goddess of cats and all that that implied: grace, stealth, playfulness, beauty, mystery... occasional cattiness... relentless in stalking Her prey.

One day She sent me a vision of a papyrus painting. It was a marsh scene, and in the lower right corner a red cat prepared to pounce on a long-legged blue bird who was standing in the middle of the left side of the painting. The image lodged prominently in my mind for over a week before I realized that the only way to clear it was to look for this bird and figure out what it meant. Somehow I knew it was an ibis, though I'd never seen one before, and this became my introduction to Djhwty. Upon learning that Djhwty was a lunar god, I decided that the ancient Egyptians might just be perverse enough to pique my interest. Lo and behold, my newfound studies revealed Bast to be a solar goddess! I found this to be indescribably (and inexplicably) amusing. Djhwty quickly replaced Pan and Bast suddenly showed a lot more interest in what I had to say to Her. I wanted to learn more.

I learned that the name of Bast was written with a "bas" jar and a feminine "t" ending. The bas jars held perfumed unguents which the ancient Egyptians used to protect their skin from the desert sun- they served both a cosmetic and practical function. Bast is closely associated with these perfumes and also with the sun- She personifies the warmth and power of the sun to cause things to grow, but She is also the vengeful Eye of Ra and can use Her warmth to scorch and burn much like another ntjrt, Skhmt, Whom She often parallels.

Bast in the form of a domesticated cat became popular during the Greeks' rule of Egypt- prior to that She had the form of a wild cat or lioness. Her development in later periods may have been affected by the development of these animals as they were brought into domestic life. Still, Bast was never declawed (as jadecat9 would say) and She is a fierce protector of Her father Ra and defender of Ma'at, ripping out the hearts of those who have offended divine justice and truth and laying them before the throne. In Her lion aspect She rages with the other Eyes of Ra toward the end of every Kemetic year, wreaking destruction on all that is condemned in the Book of the Last Day of the Year- a tome which lists the names of those who must die during the year, and when the end of the year approaches all that it lists who have not yet been wiped out must be destroyed before the New Year begins. note: While my sources only specifically mention the names of people as being included in this book, I have a feeling that this extends also to organizations, ideas, and relationships, etc, and that is why there is often so much chaos and difficulty just before the New Year arrives. However, many small faience trinkets- little flasks or felines, usually- have been found which are inscribed with the words "May Bast bring (name) happiness in the New Year," and exchanging these gifts at the opening of the year seems to have been popular for a time.

Bast also watches over children and their mothers, and in ancient times Her image was commonly found in birthing chambers. Bast protects Her people with all the tenacity of a mother cat defending her kittens, though that doesn't mean She won't allow Her children to pounce on a porcupine if that's what it takes for them to learn. I have found that calling on Her in this aspect leads to quick, efficient results- however She cuts straight to the heart of the issue, and you'd better be sure you really want Her tearing through before you call on Her.

Bast is commonly portrayed holding a wadj scepter, an ankh, an udjat eye, a sistrum, a reed basket, an aegis (a small shield-like object bearing the face of a divine protector- in this case a lioness), or some combination of these. Portrayal of Bast wearing the solar disk and protective cobra is rare, but She has been shown with these symbols in several amulets. When shown this way, She can be very difficult to distinguish from Skhmt. Each symbol tells us something about Her character:

The wadj scepter- a stylized stalk of papyrus which looks like a staff with an upside-down bell shape on the tip- is a symbol shared by most ntjrwt. It represents youth, joy, fertility, and the abundance which is the gift of the Nile- most potently seen in the lush papyrus swamps that grow along its shores and the living things that thrive within them.

The ankh is commonly held by all the ntjrw. What exactly the ankh-symbol represents is a controversial subject- most believe it to be a sandal strap, but it has also been suggested that it may be an amuletic bow (like the tyt-knot), a ritual tool used to pry open the mouths of mummies in the "Opening of the Mouth" ceremony, a symbol of sexual union, or even the sun casting His light over the horizon. What the ankh means, however, is much more clear- it is a symbol of life.

The udjat eye is shared by fewer deities- Djhwty, Hrw, and those ntjrwt Who bear the title "Eye of Ra" being the only ones that I can recall at the moment. Generally the udjat eye represents wholesomeness and perfection, but in the hands of one of the Eyes of Ra it marks its bearer as an instrument of the vigilance and perfect justice of Ra.

The sistrum is a musical instrument which often accompanies ritual and festivities. It is composed, at its most basic, of a metal hoop with metal rods and disks strung loosely through the hoop. When shaken, the sistrum produces a sound which is reminiscent of papyrus stalks rustling in the wind. Few ntjrw are commonly shown with the sistrum- Hwt-Hrw and Her son Ihy are the ones most commonly associated with it. The sistrum represents life (its shape resembles that of the ankh) and the joy which its music brings to the ntjrw and the people.

The basket is a symbol unique to Bast, though sadly little is known of its intended significance. It has been suggested that She may use this basket to carry Her kittens, as some small representations of baskets have been found with tiny kitten-figures inside. One website which is, unfortunately, now defunct linked the basket with the abundance of the harvest. I can't credit these as anything more than theories, but they both seem to ring true to the nature of Bast in my opinion.

The small shield-like object is even more ambiguous since the scholars of egyptology can't agree on whether it is really a shield or whether it is actually a necklace which is being held before Her body rather than being worn around Her neck. In addition, they can not agree whether the lion head is meant to portray Bast Herself, or Skhmt. If it is a necklace, then it is most likely an wsx- a broadcollar- and even if it was meant as a shield, this amulet certainly does seem to use the device of a protective deity's head with a very broad (though sometimes flat and featureless) collar expanding down and to either side from the neck. This shield-like symbol as a whole has also been found worked into the decoration of the counterpoise for another popular ritual necklace- the menat, used as a sacred rattle. Regardless of what the symbol portrays, it certainly seems to function in a protective capacity when used as a personal amulet or as ritual protection for the sacred barques of the gods- where it is found even before its use as a personal amulet. As an Eye of Ra and defender of Ma'at, I feel that it would not be out of place for Bast to hold this amulet as a shield. As for the lioness portrayed on this symbol, I have no idea except that all of the Eyes of Ra were portrayed as lionesses at one point or another, so it would seem to me to be appropriate if the protective device of an Eye of Ra had a lioness on it. note- please see kat's wonderful pictures and information linked to in her post below!

The sun disk with protective cobra is emblematic of many solar ntjrw, most notably Skhmt, Ra, and Hrw. Bast sometimes wears this headdress in amuletic forms. This shows Her close connections with the other powerful solar ntjrw, and Her own power as both the life-generating force of the sun's rays and the merciless (yet protective) fire of the vengeful Eye of the Sun.

Bast usually goes bare-headed, wearing only a mane or a bit of a ruff behind the ears, but She has been shown with a rearing cobra upon Her brow. This cobra is the ntjrt Wadjt, Who is also placed upon the brow of the king and several other ntjrw such as Ra and Skhmt. Bast tends to favor ankle-length sheath dresses in Her representations- commonly decorated with vertical stripes of patterns or broad lines. In some rare cases, Bast has been portrayed in human form with paws instead of feet and a tail peeking out from under Her dress.

Bast is a daughter of Ra, a wife of Atm (and occasionally Pth, due to many people's association of Her with Skhmt), and mother to the warrior Mai-Hs and Hr-Hknw. Thank you Kat for the reference!

In my personal relationship with Bast, She has emphasised the importance of getting to know my true self- my personal worth and place within creation- and fulfilling that role which only I can play in this world. She is a warm, comforting presence Whom I usually see as a very large cat (about the size and shape of a puma) with fur like golden tiger's eye and emerald-green eyes. Alternately She is a woman with a cat's head Who has soft golden skin and fur, and a radiant glow about Her. Occasionally Bast has appeared in what I call Her "Wild Cat" aspect. In this form She takes on the shape of the very large cat/puma with pure black fur and a decorative vest similar to the ceremonial armor worn by the nisu (king), but made of black metal disks which can not be seen until Her rippling muscles shift them to catch the light. In this form Her eyes are not green, but a pure glowing white which illuminate the object of Her attentions (giving me a very distinct "deer caught in the headlights" feeling when I am the object of Her attention). She appears as other things to other people. Bast is my Mother, plain and simple, and She has shared with me Her warmth and the scent of Her skin when I dearly needed it to keep going in difficult times. When I am hurt, afraid, or lonely, She will stay near one side of me- Anpw frequently on the other- and Her presence is calming, healing, and reassuring. She also shares my joy of candle-light and soft music, and when I get the chance to revel in a quiet evening I can feel Her purr as it fills the room.

Click here for titles, hymns, and sources on Bast
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  • Talk on Kemetic Reconstructionism at Ancient Ways

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