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Bast: Sex, Artemis, and Herodotus
Bast's nature was softened by Her associated with Het-hert [GR: Hathor] and Mut, but not to the point that She lost Her connection to Ra as His avenger. And when the Greeks came to Egypt, it was not a domesticated goddess that they chose to associate with Bast, but Artemis  -- the virgin huntress of the Greek pantheon.
Previous to the Graeco-Roman influence on Egypt, Bast was exclusively solar; being the Eye of Ra, She had to be. It is only after She is linked to Artemis that She becomes lunar. This is also where Her association with Heru as a twin sister comes from (the Greeks equated Heru-sa-Aset with Apollo and Bast with Artemis, so by their theology, She had to be His sister).
Artemis is not a "sexual" divinity -- she is solitary, often harsh, celibate, and a hunter. Why is it that the Greeks chose Artemis when we have been told for so long that Bast was viewed by Hellenized Egypt as a sexual divinity?
Herodotus describes a festival of Bast/Artemis as a "licentious affair" in which women pulled up their skirts while shaking sistra . Quite often scholars have interpreted this as meaning that all this risqué behavior indicated a divinity Who, as a cat, promoted sexual activity and playfulness -- but how much of this is an ancient text being filtered through a modern bias? The Egyptians were known for their parties, and Egyptian women had much more freedom than perhaps any other culture in the classical world. Could it be that Herodotus, in describing this festival, was describing how most festivals were in ancient Egypt? Or perhaps all this wild behavior was an attempt to appease Bast/Artemis? Sistra, after all, were shaken to appease gods . And in the Contendings of Horus and Seth, Ra is appeased when Het-hert "reveals" Herself to Him .
The cat, being an exotic new creature to cultures outside of Egypt, gained huge popularity as the embodiment of all that was Egyptian mystique. As the cat was identified with Bast, so Bast gained enormous popularity from 1000 BCE onward. "Bast" as part of a person's name became highly common and was surpassed only by Wesir [GR: Osiris] . Thousands of cats were offered at Bubastis, resulting in a huge cache of mummified remains there, and flasks with Her on them were popular New Years gifts . Cat cemetaries also sprung up around other leonine goddesses, such as Pakhet, in the Late Period.
As the sister of Heru, Hellenized Bast also became the "daughter" of Aset. A play on Bast's name ("Ba-Aset"--"the soul [ba] of Aset") aided in absorbing Her into the Graeco-Roman "Isis of a Thousand Names" (something like "the Goddess Who Comprehends All Goddesses").
While these Hellenized versions of Bast were valid to Her worshippers, they were distinctly changed from Her older form, and do not necessarily equate to one another. No more, it can be argued, than Greek gods who were absorbed and renamed by the Roman Empire remained Greek.
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Essay copyright © 1996-2010, S.D. Cass; Site copyright © 2013, N. Baan
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