Humans have a fascination with cats that dates back to antiquity. They were prized as pets and work animals and their legacy of bringing us comfort, and ridding homes and farms of rodents continues through today. These animals were highly regarded by people who observed them as deity. Here are five cultures that worshiped cat gods and goddesses as a part of their religions.
1. The Egyptians
It’s common knowledge that the Egyptians worshiped cat deities. The Egyptians in the ancient city of Heliopolis revered several cat goddesses including Bast, also known as Bastet, Sekmet, Tefnut, Mafdet and Ennead among others. Each goddess was worshiped for providing a need for the Egyptians, for example, Tefnut was the goddess of moisture. In ancient times, this was a product of the environment that was necessary for human survival for drinking water and for sustaining food crops. While some cat goddesses were depicted as warriors to defend the people, others were revered for the everyday basics of living they provided. Of all the cat goddesses in Egypt, Bastet is the only one portrayed as a domestic cat.
2. Greek worship of cats
The ancient Greeks also worshiped cats. They believed that the goddess Hecate transformed into a cat when she was attempting to escape from Typhon, who was set on her demise. Hecate is the goddess of the hunt as well as the goddess of witchcraft and after her escape from Typhon, she maintained a special favor for cats and the Greeks revered them accordingly. Hecate was a shape shifter who could take on any form she desired. There were mutual beliefs in cat gods held by the Greek and the Egyptians who accepted the mythological gods of their cultures somewhat interchangeably.
3. Norse cat worship
The Norse did their fair share of cat worshiping. The goddess Freyja was their goddess of magic, divination, war, wealth and fertility. The chariot in which she rode was pulled by two spectacular gray cats that were gifts to her from Thor. Cats were so revered that Norse farmers maintained the tradition of leaving food offerings for cats because they believed that this would ensure that their harvests were bountiful.
4. Chinese cat worship
The Chinese also held a special reverence for cats in their ancient culture. The Chinese cat god was named Li Shou. He was referred to in the ancient Chinese Book of Rites. Li Shou was the guardian of Chinese families and he was the protector of the crops that kept the people fed and sustained life. Li Shou kept the rats and mice from eating the crops and was worshiped by farmers for this important service. You can see depictions of Li Shou in the thousands of statues of the guardian lions throughout China which stand as representations of the ancient cultural beliefs in the power of Li Shou to protect the interests of the people.
5. Polish cat worship
The ancient polish culture held the belief that Ovinnik was the protector of the people. He was known as the spirit and guardian of the barns. While in Russian and Slavic mythology he was a demon that brought helter skelter and destruction when he visited, to the Polish, he was also able to protect their farms by watching over their domestic animals and protect their barns from danger. Polish farmers were careful to leave offerings and gifts for him because they believed if they didn’t, he would burn their barns to the ground. He was also inclined to burn the crops that were still planted in the ground if he was unhappy with a family. Ovinnik had the potential for good and for bad, but if you were found in his favor, he would chase away all of the mischievous fairies and evil-natured ghosts and other spirits to keep you safe from harm. Ovinnik took on the form of a large black cat with blazing yellow eyes and he was a figure to be feared. This was one cat that you really wanted to keep on your side.