Bastet is the goddess of pregnancy, the protector of young pharaohs, and the goddess of cats. She is depicted with a cat’s head, and she is usually holding a sistrum.
Bastet was originally depicted as a lioness, but over the years, she became more small feline-like in her appearance. She also went from a vengeful goddess to a much more benign deity. In early years, she was associated with spreading plague as punishment, but this association disappeared over time, along with her appearance as a housecat. The Egyptians revered housecats because they took care of rats, mice, and other vermin. Most importantly, they also scared off snakes which helped protect crops and homes. In fact, Bastet was credited with killing Apep, a great serpent and evil archenemy of Ra. She was thought to be part of the Eye of Ra, a collective of Egyptian goddesses that protected Ra and battled his enemies.
Women looked to Bastet as a symbol of fertility, and she was often depicted with a litter of kittens at her feet. Women who wanted to bear children would wear a necklace with her image and the number of kittens they wished would translate into children in their households.
She was the protector of young pharaohs, and she occasionally would help transport the souls of the dead to Duat. Her priests kept cats in her temple, and when they died they were mummified and offered to Bastet to protect in the afterlife. It was considered a grave sin to mistreat a cat in ancient Egypt, because they were considered to be sacred animals and under Bastet’s direct protection.
The sistrum Bastet carries is traditionally carried by Hathor, showing a clear connection between the two goddesses.
Pregnancy, young pharaohs, and cats