Bastet was the kinder
more gentle version of Sekhmet - the
lioness goddess - although it is thought that Bast may originally
have similarly been a lioness - an inscription dating to Ramesses
IV states that it was illegal to hunt lions on the festival day
Bastet was also the mother
of the lion-god Miysis ('Lord of Slaughter'). In was during the
Middle Kingdom the cat rather than the lion became her sacred
animal - after the New Kingdom she was shown as a woman with
a cat's head. Bastet was to become a more friendlier god - her
earlier more aggressive side was transferred to the goddess Sekhmet.
The cult centre of Bastet
was at Bubastis (Bast) - it was here
that one of the most important festivals were held in honour
of Bastet. It was through the worship of Bastet that cats in
general were also held in great estem (Herodotus states that
whenever of one of the family pets died the owner would shave
their eyebrows and then take the cat where it would be embalmed
and buried in a sacred receptacle).
Bastet began a rise in
importance in the 22nd Dynasty
as the local deity of these kings - this popularity was to continue
until the Graeco-Roman Period.