Cats have always been associated with spirituality and the supernatural. In some places they may be considered to bring bad luck. But mostly, they are revered all around the world. It is a common misconception that only the ancient Egyptians worshiped cats. The truth is that there are many cultures in different places, that give the cat the position of a deity. These are some of them
1. Egyptian Mythology
The goddess having a human body and the head of a cat, Bastet was the protector of the people. Initially, she was depicted as having the head of a lion because she was supposedly fierce. But later on as her role softened, she got the head of a cat. She was the keeper of hearth and home, protector of women’s secrets, guardian against evil spirits and disease, and the goddess of cats. In her temple, cats received great importance. The Greek historian, Herodotus, described her temple as one to please the eyes. Mau, also a god of cats, was her male counterpart.
2. Norse Mythology
The goddess Freyja was the deity of love, fertility, war, wealth, divination and magic. She would ride around in a chariot that was driven by two giant grey cats. Farmers would leave offerings for the cats so that they would be blessed with a good harvest.
3. Chinese Mythology
Li Shou was a goddess who was depicted in the form of a cat. She was worshipped by farmers because they wanted her to protect the crops from being eaten by rats and mice. She warded off evil spirits at night. Other beliefs in China mention that the gods had appointed cats to supervise their creation. Apparently, they were even granted the gift of speech but since they did not make use of it, this gift was then given to the humans. Even today, it is believed in China that one can tell the time by looking into a cat’s eye.
4. Polish Mythology
Ovinnik was a spirit of barns. He took the form of a black cat with fiery eyes and with the bark of a dog. He protected barns from danger if their owners would offer gifts to him. However, if they forgot to appreciate him then he would burn down their barns. He was worshipped by many farming families because he watched over domestic animals and chased away evil-natured ghosts and mischievous fairies.
5. Siamese Mythology
It was believed that when Siamese kings passed away, their spirits would go into Siamese cats so that they could be present at the coronation of the new king. These cats would be a part of the royal family and would be treated royally. Another belief is that the Korat breed of cat is responsible for rain. Thus the farmers would involve these cats in their rituals to pray for rainfall.
6. Japanese Mythology
The Beckoning Cat or Maneki Neko, is worshipped in Japan. The story of this cat is as follows – Long ago, this cat stood in the door of the Gotoku-ji temple and raised her paw in the traditional Japanese beckoning gesture to an Emperor or a Feudal Lord who was passing by. Intrigued by this, the man went inside the temple, towards the cat. Moments later, a bolt of lightning struck the spot where he had been standing previously. Thus the cat saved his life and was accorded great honors. Since then, the maneki neko is considered to be the goddess of mercy. She is the protector of homes and also brings success in business.
7. Persian Mythology
In Islam, cats are revered and are regarded as ritually clean. Ancient Persians believed that cats were created magically. Apparently, the great Persian hero, Rustum, once saved a magician from a band of thieves. As a token of his gratitude, the magician created a cat and gifted it to Rustum. It is also believed that the Prophet Muhammed loved cats. Legend says that the ‘M’ design on the forehead of a cat was formed when the prophet blessed his cat by keeping his hand on its forehead. In another story, the prophet wanted to go to pray but he did not want to disturb his cat, Meuzza, which was sleeping on his arm. Therefore he cut his sleeve from his garment and let the cat sleep. The prophet also condemned the killing of cats.
In parts of Europe, a cat decorated with ribbons was released in the field after harvest-time to appease the gods. The Peruvian fertility god Ai Apaec could assume the form of a tomcat. The Roman goddess Diana sometimes wore the form of a cat. Aradia is the goddess of cats and is often considered as the Italian counterpart of Bast. Ceridwen, the Welsh goddess of wisdom was attended by white cats that carried out her orders on Earth. Greek mythology tells of how the goddess Hecate assumed the form of a cat in order to escape the monster Typhon. Afterwards, she extended special treatment to all cats. Christians, too, are kind towards cats because of the legend that says that a cat protected baby Jesus while he was being chased by rodents and snakes. Thus Mother Mary blessed the cat and kept her hand on its forehead, which is why it has the design of ‘M’.
There are these and many more legends of cats. But this post would not be enough to mention all of them. In most of the cases, cats started to be worshipped because they would rid the people’s houses of rodents. Even now they are of great help to us. Doesn’t this make you think highly of your cat?