In Egyptian mythology, Bast (also spelled Bastet, Baset, Ubasti, and Pasht) is an ancient goddess, worshipped at least since the Second Dynasty. The centre of her cult was in Per-Bast (Bubastis in Greek), which was named after her. Bast was also associated with the 'eye of Re', acting as the instrument of the sun god's vengeance. She was depicted as a cat or in human form with the head of a cat, often holding the sacred rattle known as the sistrum.
Her means (female) devourer. As protectress, she was seen as defender of the pharaoh, and consequently of the chief god, Ra, who was a solar deity, gaining her the titles Lady of Flame and Eye of Ra. In Greek mythology, Bast is also known as Aelurus. Bast was originally a goddess of the sun, but later changed by the Greeks to a goddess of the moon.
Later scribes sometimes named her Bastet, a variation on Bast consisting of an additional feminine suffix to the one already present, thought to have been added to emphasise pronunciation. Since Bastet would literally mean (female) of the ointment jar, Bast gradually became thought of as the goddess of perfumes, earning the title perfumed protector. In connection with this, when Anubis became the god of embalming, Bast, as goddess of ointment, came to be regarded as his mother, although this association was broken in later years, when Anubis became Nephthys' son.
Bast as a lioness
Originally she was viewed as the protector goddess of Lower Egypt, and consequently depicted as a fierce lion. Thus, by the Middle Kingdom she was generally regarded as a domestic cat rather than a lionness. Occasionally, however, she was depicted holding a lionness mask, which hinted at suppressed ferocity. As a cat/lion goddess, and protector of the lands, when, during the New Kingdom, the fierce lion god Maahes became part of Egyptian mythology, she was identified, in the Lower Kingdom, as his mother. This paralleled the identification of the fierce lion goddess Sekhmet, as his mother in the Upper Kingdom. As divine mother, and more especially as protectress, for Lower Egypt, she became strongly associated with Wadjet, the patron goddess of Lower Egypt, eventually becoming Wadjet-Bast, paralleling the similar pair of patron (Nekhbet) and lioness protector (Sekhmet) for Upper Egypt. Eventually, her position as patron and protector of Lower Egypt, lead to her being identified as the more substantial goddess Mut, whose cult had risen to power with that of Amun, and eventually being absorbed into her as Mut-Wadjet-Bast. Shortly after, Mut also absorbed the identities of the Sekhmet-Nekhbet pairing as well.
This merging of identities of similar goddesses has lead to considerable confusion, leading to some associating things such as the title Mistress of the Sistrum (more properly belonging to Hathor, who had become thought of as an aspect of Isis, as had Mut), and the idea of her as a lunar goddess (more properly an attribute of Mut). Indeed, much of this confusion occurred to subsequent generations, as the identities slowly merged, leading to the Greeks, who sometimes named her Ailuros (Greek for cat), thinking of Bast as a version of Artemis, their own moon goddess. And thus, to fit their own cosmology, to the Greeks, Bast was thought of as the sister of Horus, who they identified as Apollo (Artemis' brother), and consequently the daughter of Isis and Osiris.
Bast as a cat
Because domestic cats tend to be tender and protective toward their offspring, Bast was also regarded as a good mother, and she was sometimes depicted with numerous kittens. Consequently, a woman who wanted children sometimes wore an amulet showing the goddess with kittens, the number of which indicated her own desired number of children. Due to the severe disaster to the food supply that could be caused by simple vermin such as mice and rats, and their ability to fight and kill snakes, especially cobras, cats in Egypt were revered heavily, sometimes being given golden jewelry to wear, and being allowed to eat from the same plates as their owners. Consequently, as the main cat (rather than lion) deity, Bast was strongly revered as the patron of cats, and thus it was in the temple at Per-Bast that dead (and mummified) cats were brought for burial. Over 300,000 mummified cats were discovered when Bast's temple at Per-Bast was excavated.
Art / Fiction
Bast has appeared as a minor, but influential, character in two of Neil Gaiman's works, The Sandman and American Gods. In Sandman, Bast appears as a friend and confident of Dream; and in American Gods appears at times as a cat living with other Egyptian gods Thoth and Anubis, who now survive as small-town morticians, throughout the story providing the protagonist Shadow with comfort and protection such as using her powers among other cats to keep an eye on him
She is also the central figure in the comic by Marvel Comics titled Bast. She often appears in a central role, such as in the three-issue limited series called The Sandman Presents: Bast written by Caitlin Kiernan, or in the mythological novel Per-Bast: A Tale of Cats in Ancient Egypt where she is a predominant goddess; she also appears as an antagonist in the Korean manhwa Faeries' Landing, where she speaks in a drawl reminiscent of a Southern belle.
Bast often appears in literature as the goddess of cats, either directly appearing as such or being mentioned in passing. Some such instances include references in Garfield: His 9 Lives, and in the online comic Two Lumps, which is about two cats; the cat character Ebenezer refers to the goddess with exclamations such as "great Bast" and "for Bast's sake".
An incarnation of Bast in the form of Iau, "The Queen", appears in Diane Duane's novel The Book of Night with Moon; a cat-headed deity called Bast appears in Terry Pratchett's novel Pyramids, part of the Discworld series, as a male God of Things Left On the Doorstep or Half-digested Under the Bed; and in The Catswold Portal by Shirley Rousseau Murphy Bast is presented as the mother of a species called Catswold, humans who can turn into cats.
Passing references are also frequent, as in John Gould's collection of short stories Kilter: 55 fictions where, in the last short story "new stoRy", the narrator's cat is named Bastet. In the book The Cat who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amery, Amery considers Bast as a name for his cat but decides against it, as Bast was a female goddess and the cat is male.
Bast also appears in the Nikopol Trilogy from comics and movie director Enrik Bilal.
Another area of popular culture which Bast appears in often is film and television. Often portrayed as the Ancient Egyptian goddess herself in character form, she appeared in the animated series Mummies Alive! as the patron deity of Nefer-Tina, even appearing and transforming the aforementioned woman into a cat-like being in the episode "Paws."; and in the 2004 movie Immortel (Ad Vitam), Bastet, along with Anubis, waits in the floating pyramid for the seven days while Horus tries to produce offspring. She also appeared as a Goa'uld System Lord in the television series Stargate SG-1, and is a major character in the new Sakura Taisen OVA series Sakura Taisen: New York, as an anime catgirl with bat wings.
The myths and legends surrounding Bast are also featured often as plot lines. In "The Stackhouse Filibuster" episode of The West Wing, where Bast, her history, and a curse from breaking an ancient statue of her likeness features in a subplot; in one episode of the television show Early Edition, a statue of Bastet brings vengeance on thieves who steal the statue's emerald eyes, and the mysterious cat who brings a newspaper from the future is linked with the feline deity; and in the pilot episode of the television show Dark Angel, a major plot element revolves around the main character Max (who has feline DNA) stealing a statue of the goddess Bast.
General references to the goddess in various forms abound, including in Disney's movie The Three Lives of Thomasina, where the eponymous cat 'dies' during the movie and imagines herself going to cat heaven, presided over by a great statue of the cat goddess. In the 2004 movie Catwoman, the title character's supernatural powers are linked to the goddess Bast, and in the Troma Entertainment film Teen-Age Catgirls in Heat Bast is a central figure in the plot, often portrayed as a bust; the Aladdin series had a character based on Bastet who was a recurring villain. The third story arc of the manga series JoJo's Bizarre Adventure features a woman named Mariah, who possesses a Stand named Bast that can magnetize people and attract metal from long distances.
Bast also appears, or mythology regarding her features in, different forms of games. In the role-playing game universe World of Darkness, the Bastet are werecats, one of many shapeshifting breeds, and in RPG Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Bastet is the highest level form of the kit-kat monster class. She often appears in other areas of pop culture, such as the representation of Bast on the clothing line The Baby Phat Cat by Kimora Lee Simmons (Baby Phat clothing line maker), the record label named Bastet owned by Arthur Magazine, or the Apollo asteroid 4257 Ubasti named after Bastet.