The World's First Cat Breeders

The ancient Egyptians may well have been the world's first cat breeders. Also, they may have bred by far the greatest number of cats at any time in the history of cat breeding.  They were world record holders when it comes to the domestic cat but in a very uncomfortable way.

This was not a nation that worshiped the cat in the way you do when you respect the cat as a sentient being; no, it was worshiping the cat as a deity and breeding millions of cats for ritualistic sacrifice. As I said this was a nation of cat abusers not cat lovers.

Bastet - Ancient Egyptian sculpture - Louvre museum

I think the word "worship" has been misused in relation to the cat in ancient Egypt. The worship of the god Bastet (a statue in the shape of a cat  - the god of beauty) was not due to a respect for the real cat, the domestic cat as a useful companion animal. It was about using and abusing the domestic cat to try and please a god with the intention of improving the life of the worshiper. It was buying good luck. It just so happens the god was a cat in this instance and they devised a way to please the god: kill cats. By enlightened modern standards, it is all a completely fabricated load of nonsense at the expense of the vulnerable cat. Note: there are still millions of people who believe this sort of stuff in 2012. For instance, drinking tiger bone wine to improve health etc. is very similar in the underlying superstitions.

If there was a  reverence for the domestic cat it was born out of a desire to please the god Bastet. Perhaps they believed they had to have reverence for the cat. That reverence did not translate into respect. These are two completely different concepts, obviously.

At the root of all good cat caretaking there is respect for the cat as a cat. To see the cat as an animal that can be breed in the millions for sacrifice to a god is not a demonstration of respect for the cat. It is the opposite.

Clearly the mentality of the people in Egypt some 2,200 years ago and more will be different to modern people. We have to adjust for that. However, I say that we have to view animal abuse in an absolute sense regardless of the era and by the highest and most enlightened standards. This is because being cruel to animals and killing animals for the convenience of people is an absolute act. It is black and white. The cat is alive; the cat is dead. All creatures have a right to life. I don't believe that we can criticise the ancient Egyptians for killing cats for sacrifice but I do believe that we can say it was cat abuse, full stop.

Ancient Egyptians worshiped Bastet for various reasons; the reasons changed over time indicating the fickle nature of the whole process. Latterly Bastet was a protector of motherhood and fertility. Bastet was a protector of pregnant women and children. Ironic then that the necks of kittens were ritually broken to seek favours from this god (votive offerings). Votive offerings are still made today (2012) and are offerings to supernatural forces or beings for favors in return. Personally, I see votive offerings of deliberately killed kittens as an expression of self-indulgent, misplaced beliefs resulting in cat cruelty. I know that is a tough judgement but where animal suffering is concerned I feel I have the right to make tough judgements. It is horribly depressing to realise that similar things happen today. Think about eating a tiger penis to improve your sex life! True. Or killing the domestic cat in a certain brutal way and eating it to improve your health.

This abuse of the cat in ancient Egypt would not have happened if the cat had not been domesticated. It is probable that the god Bastet would not have been invented but for the domestication of the cat. It is argued that domestication of the cat gives power to the human that can lead to abuse of the subservient partner. The relationship between cat and human became potentially distorted.

A study extracting DNA from cat mummies in researching the origins of the domestic cat by Jennifer Kurushima and her colleagues indicate that the domestic cats of ancient Egypt are the forerunners of today's domestic cats. It confirms what we knew already.

Cats were bred in catteries and sold in their millions for sacrifice,  Jennifer says. The thousands of mummified cats in tombs and catacombs usually had "ritually broken necks".

"Millions of mummies were offered and buried in areas throughout Egypt", she says. My personal opinion is that we need to adjust our view of the ancient Egyptian's relationship with the cat. Perhaps we think that because the Egyptians were the first to domesticate cats, they liked and respected the cat.

I think it was more to do with using the cat to their advantage both as a utility animal in reducing rodent populations etc. and, as mentioned, to improve fertility or beauty or whatever else they desired through votive offerings. A harsh assessment but probably more truthful that a lot of the regurgitated platitudes on the internet.

The Egyptian Mau is interesting too, being the first domesticated cat - domesticated it is said from the African wildcat. In 2012, the feral Egyptian Mau - you could argue the true and purest Egyptian Mau - is abused and persecuted on the streets of Cairo etc.. There is a charity (EMRO) that has been set up to help and protect them.

By the way, as an afterthought, the cats that were bred in their millions for sacrifice would have been Egyptian Maus; not the sort of refined purebred cat we see today but a cat that was in fact nearer the truer Egyptian Mau simply by the fact that it was nearer the wildcat. They were not breeding for appearance (selective breeding) but for numbers. They were kitten mills or factories.

Associated: My lovely Egyptian Mau in Egypt. Egyptian Mau Belly Flap.

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