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A Cat-o-lick History of your Cat

Pussycats are known for looking splendidly regal and having an air of independence, of authority and nobility. The ancient Egyptians thought so too, to the point they worshipped their adored cats as the cat god Bastet, a custom your cat would highly approve of and suggest that you took up today. Bastet was the daughter of the sun god Ra and was very important in Egyptian religion. She was represented as a lioness or woman with a cat's head and wearing a breastplate. She carried a sistrum, musical percussion instrument and a small bag, her accessories to her tightly fitting and highly decorated dress. Bastet had her cult centres in Bubastis and Memphis. At both places there are cemeteries of mummified cats and votive statuettes of the goddess have been found, given as offerings to Bastet. But those doting Egyptians even provided their dead cats with mouse mummies to make sure their cats had full stomachs in the afterlife. It was believed that the ancient Egyptians first introduced the Felis catus or domestic cat but as history is always being rewritten, it is now thought that Felis Silvestris lybica, the desert wildcat, first became domesticated in the Near East around 8000 B.C. from a handful of perhaps only five, very amorous moggies. Nevertheless, the Egyptians knew how to make a cat feel welcome and their cat cult gave our cats a status that they seem still to believe instinctively is theirs, when they were proclaimed a sacred being. The Egyptians loved their kitty friends so dearly that when their cat died, the whole family would shave off their eyebrows to denote they were in mourning. Cats today would no doubt purr in approval at the temple worship shown them by the discriminating Egyptians. It's thought that perhaps the Egyptians found that cats were useful at keeping their granaries rodent free and so began the worship of the good fortune cats bring and the donning of cat amulets by all sensible Egyptians.

Egyptians cat

No doubt it was the idea of a clever cat or two, into promoting good cat P.R, that pushed the cult of Bastet to spreading further, to Italy and remnants have been found in Ostia, Pompeii, Nemi and Rome. Some believe that the cats still living today in the Kenyan Islands of the Lamu Archipelago, are possibly the last living, purring descendants of those noble moggies of ancient Egypt.

But it wasn't only the Bastet worshippers who thought that cats had a divine nature. Throughout the ancient world, particularly in Asia and Nordic countries in addition to Egypt, people worshipped cats, thinking that their wise, varied and subtle facial expressions portray wisdom beyond ours, and were meant to guide us. The Japanese have their Maneki Neko, a cat symbolising good luck. While the prophet Mohammed is said to have so loved his cat, Muezza, that if that pussycat were asleep on his cloak, he would rather do without it, and possibly be cold, rather than disturb the somnambulant feline. In Norse mythology, Freyja, the goddess of beauty, love and fertility rides a chariot pulled by (probably) very cross cats. We all know that cats are said to have nine lives, that cats are very adept at getting themselves unhurt out of scrapes. This may be because cats always land on their feet, which is attributed to their automatic twisting action that means they land feet first always. But of course, like any of us, cats still may die or get badly hurt from a high fall.

Since medieval times the cat has been much maligned and very cruelly abused, suffering persecution because of spurious superstitious beliefs and associations with witchcraft. The ancient world looked at cats and saw a higher intelligence and spiritual quality while our European ancestors of the middle ages and onwards saw the same exceptional qualities in cats and tormented them barbarically. They believed that cats and especially black cats had occult powers and were the familiars of the witches they burnt at the stake. But then our ancestors were also known to be so credulously stupid they also hung dogs and pigs by the neck until dead for 'blasphemy.'

black cat belonging to a witch

Luckily nowadays we are not so ignorant or so monstrous and the cat has come a little way to regaining its place as the adored household god of many a domestic fireside. Dick Whittington had his famous cat beloved of our childhoods. Richard Whittington was, so the legend has it, a poor orphan boy, who worked as a scullion for a rich London merchant. Dick puts up his only friend and possession, his cat, to be sold. Dick then runs away from cruel treatment by his master a cook. As Dick reaches Highgate Hill, just outside the city, Dick hears a peel of church bells which seem to tell him " Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London.'" Dick returns to discover that his precious feline friend has been sold for an enormous sum to a Moorish prince, whose land is overrun with rodents. Whittington marries his old employer's daughter, and thrice becomes Lord Mayor of London. Puss-in-Boots also strode our imaginations, as the clever cat that takes his human master from penury to riches, through his crafty brilliance. T.S. Eliot gave us 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats' and Rudyard Kipling promoted the wonders of catdom while more recently we have Antonio Banderas’ delightful portrayal of Puss, the swaggering charmer, in the hit film Shrek. As T.S Eliot advised:

With Cats, some say, one rule is true,
Don't speak till you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that -
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
Resents familiarity.

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