Independence, quick recovery and freedom of thought, that’s theÂ spirit of theÂ domestic feline, of which there are an estimated 600 million worldwide. The cat’s famed agility – almost always seeming to land its feet after falling from great heights – has earned it a reputation for having nine lives.
According to paleontologists, the cat appeared about 50 million years ago as a small and clever predatory carnivore with retractable claws. It has since filled theÂ human heartÂ with love, hate, devotion and fear, appearing in mythology and folklore as a symbol of good and bad luck. It has been revered as sacred, even as a god, and been despised as an agent of evil.
Nowhere was the cat more revered than inÂ Ancient Egypt, where byÂ 3000 BCÂ it was a powerful animal totem. Representing the feminine principle, the cat was a symbol of fertility and motherhood, and was also associated with the Moon. The cat appeared in the Book of the Dead as defeater of the evil Apep. Many Egyptian deities were depicted as cats, sometimes fully animal, sometimes a human/feline half-breed. The lion-headed goddess, Sekmet, ruler over the fate of humanity, had a twin sister, the domestic cat called Mafdet. Statuettes of the small cat – often bedecked withÂ gold jewelryÂ and earrings – were placed inside tombs with their deceased owners. Cat mummies are reported to have been found in the city of Bubastis, home of a temple inÂ honorÂ of the cat diety, Bast.
So precious was the cat inÂ Ancient Egypt, that exporting the animal was forbidden, and killing one punishable by death. While warring with Egypt, the Persians are said to have captured thousands of cats, agreeing to spare them only upon Egyptian surrender. The Egyptians surrendered. However, around 400 BC, cat worship was banned, and subsequently lost its religious significance.