Friday, November 9, 2012

B is for Bast (a case for serious inquiry into the Gods)

Last night I went out with some of my girlfriends, and we were happily plowing through a bookstore. I came across "Gift for the Gods: Images from Egyptian Temples" for 8 bucks! I love getting like-new books for next to nothing.

I'm overjoyed with it. Each item in the text is presented from multiple perspectives, particularly a bronze of Set and a gold statuette of Amun that I have been in love with for years.

"Cougar" by Neheti, 2010 - Cats and Bast, what can I say?
The one figure I didn't see in the book that I'd hoped for was the Goddess Bast.

Bast has been classed as a Goddess of so many things, most of which are erroneous. People ramble that She's the Goddess of Marijuana for goodness sake. *eyeroll* (Hint: She isn't.)

And there we get to a perfect example of one of my least favorite habits that people fall into when it comes to studying the Gods.

I guess the culprit is the structure of most books on mythology. So many of them are structured like so:

Bast (Egyptian): Goddess of Gobbledy-gook.

Well, something like that.

The reality of Gods, of any culture, is that they aren't so easily pigeon-holed.

Bast is one of the Eyes of Ra, a class of Goddesses of ancient Egypt, who serves to protect the world from isfet (uncreation) in the service of Ma'at (order.) She is also associated with perfumes, as evidenced by her hieroglyphics, which includes a perfume jar (bas).

A lot of people make the mistake of writing her name Bastet. The 't' on the end of the name Bast, indicates the fact that She's a Goddess, and with Kemetic words that end in 'et,'  that 'et' serves the same purpose. In a way, using the word Bastet is saying The Goddess of the Bas Jar who is a Woman. It's redundant.

Most modern people associate Bast with the domesticated cat, but a lot of her earlier images show her as a Lioness (which causes a lot of confusion with other Goddesses who have lion forms, like Sekhmet and Mafdet.) But Bast evolved a lot over the span of time of the early Dynasties and the Hellenistic era.

A Goddess with distinct solar attributes (after all She's the Eye of Ra - who is the Sun), by time of the Ptolemies, She was being conflated with Artemis and Selene, and had taken on lunar attributes. She was originally an independent and protective Goddess, but towards the decline of Ancient Egypt, she had come to be known as a Goddess of frivolity and joy. Herodotus shares an unlikely story that the women stand on the banks of the Nile and flash the passersby in Her name.

The complexity of a God doesn't fit easily in any one story or anecdote, and it certainly doesn't fit into a soundbite like what one finds in a dictionary of mythology. Yet that's how people tend to talk about the Gods. Artemis becomes boiled down to the Goddess of the Hunt (which She is, but She's MORE than that.) Bast gets limited down to Her cat features.

Think of learning about a God like learning about a person. It takes time and effort. In the case of a God, it means, for most of us, a lot of studying about the culture that gave birth to them.

If you or I don't fit into a one-line dictionary style definition, how in the world is a deity with thousands of years of history and His or Her own characteristics and personality every supposed to fit into a simple formulaic statement. If hoping for a good relationship with a deity, the least one can do is learn all we can about them.

For more information on Bast, check out the following links: