How I came to know Bast

I thought I would take a little bit of time today to talk about one of the goddesses that has impacted my life greatly over the years.

Bast, or sometimes called Bastet, is the cat-headed goddess worshiped by ancient Egyptians and many modern pagans. The Greeks associated with her with the goddess Artemis. She is the goddess associated with protection, healing, joy, music, dance, pleasure, magick, motherhood, and fertility. She is the daughter of the sun god Ra, which gives her an association with the Eye of Ra. Though thought to be a more gentle feline deity than Sekhmet (lion-headed warrior goddess of healing and destruction), she is also a fierce goddess, with titles such as “Slaughterer” or “Devourer”. She and Sekhmet are defenders of the marginalized, and she is sometimes seen as a protectress of Ra, fighting against the demon Apophis as Ra travels through the skies on his sun barge. In later years, she became more commonly worshiped as a domesticated goddess, associated more with healing, motherhood, fertility, and the joys of life. Bast feels like that protective mother that shields her children from danger. This is all the cliff notes version, of course. I am mainly here to talk about my experiences with her.

I first met her while I was in graduate school, and I met her in the middle of death surrounding me – quite literally. I was in the middle of my Master’s program. Right around the halfway point of my program, my grandfather (who had raised me as his own child) passed away due to advancing Alzheimer’s disease. Even though I knew it was coming, this was a devastating blow to me. I had always been incredibly close to him, and he’d had so many influences on my life, including my pagan practice. Exactly three months (to the day) later, I lost one of my best friends who had lost a battle with Cystic Fibrosis and complications with a double lung transplant. Two weeks later, my aunt (more like a big sister to me) passed away from worsening rheumatoid arthritis of the lungs. It was a new low for me. I wait straight down a spiral of grief and depression, despite knowing in my heart that death is never the end.

At some point, and I wish I had kept better records of how, Bast came around to me. Perhaps it was in a dream, or seeing signs. I honestly cannot remember. I just know that She became a huge part of my life and my interests. At a time when I need love and comfort, She gave me that which I sought, and I was comforted having her around. Asking something of a deity requires something to be given in return. It’s not a one way street; gods will not beckon to our call. However, She agreed to work with me. But it came with a bargaining price. Just as a cat would expect its kittens to learn to be independent, so did She. As I dealt with my grief, I slowly came out of my depression, and She was there to support me along the way.  Having that tough motherly love was exactly what I needed to get out of my self-pity.

I began to work with her more and more. I left offerings of catnip (which may sound silly, but it’s a common offering), prayed to Her, and dedicated my time to learning more about Her. She became a large part of my practice for a number of years, and I even dedicated myself to Her for a time – a time of of about 7 or 8 years. I knew from the start that it wouldn’t be a permanent relationship, though, at the time, I didn’t know how long She and I would work together that closely.

A statue of her sat on an altar dedicated to her. She was an integral part of my daily practice. And though that time has since passed, she is a goddess I still greatly admire and incorporate into my practice from time to time. I still have the same statue of her displayed in the house. My friend that I currently lived with is a devotée of Bast, so there are quite a number of representations of Her scattered throughout the house.

Relevance of Winter

I’m sitting here looking out the window and watching the snow continue for what’s now over eight hours. First of all, it’s awe-inspiring to me. I can’t tell you how much I love winter. The snow, the frost on the trees glistening in the sunlight in the morning. The ice can even be pretty, though it doesn’t make for every good traveling conditions.

Snowy days like this are good for indoor days of comfort. Right now, I’ve got a movie playing in the background, Egyptian Goddess blend incense burning, a nice blanket, and a hot cup of coffee. It’s a good time for reflection and contemplation, both of which are perfect themes carried throughout the winter months. There’s a lot of symbolism in winter and the changing seasons.

If you haven’t read my article on Patheos Pagan, Anubis in the Darkness of Winter, I would recommend doing so at some point, perhaps before continuing with this post. I talk about the energies of reflection, contemplation, and transformation that are prevalent during the winter months, but are also energies that Anubis, my primary deity, carry. Speaking of article and Anubis, my first article on PP talks about how came to meet him. Check it out here.

I don’t mean to get too personal here, but things have shifted in my life recently that were, though something I had wanted, unintended to happen specifically at this time. I don’t mean to go into any detail at this time, but it was something large and challenging. It’s just interesting to me that it happened around the time where “death” (transformation) happens in the natural world.

I’ve known for as long as I can remember that death (again, not literal death – metaphorically, in the form of transformation) is a common theme in my life. My life is frequently changing, usually when I don’t expect it and don’t necessarily want it. But the older I get, the more I have come to accept it. I realize the value in change and the transformation that it brings – often for the better once things have shifted and settled.

What was a bit shocking to me, though, was this was the first time in my life where I welcomed it with open arms. Perhaps it was because of the circumstance in which things changed, but I feel like that, for the first time, I am fully wanting to embrace the possibilities and the opportunities that it brings. I am in full control of my life, including how I react to change. Yes, things get hard. Yes, there will be times where I may feel like things are too much, but ultimately, how I learn to cope with that is the ideal, operative mechanism here. My life is in my hands. I hold the keys to my own power and my own authority. Resistance only makes things harder.

One thing I’m in the planning stages of is working on spellwork for transformation. Perhaps, once I am done, I will post the spellwork and update on its success (or lack thereof).

Stay tuned, and stay warm! 🙂

‘Samhain’ in Ancient Egypt?

With Samhain approaching in just about a week (wow, already?), many pagans and witches are already well into their preparations for the holiday. I always find that I am scrambling rather last-minute to get my preparations in order, as I get wrapped up in so many other things going on in the fall season. This year, however, I got an early start by getting my ancestor altar set up.

Even though the name ‘Samhain’ is of Celtic origin, thought to mean “summer’s end”, the theme of death, dying, the dead, etc has similar ties with ancient Egypt. The Calendar of Philocalus, also known as Chronography of 354, was published in 354 A.D., and was written by a wealthy Roman man by the name of Valentinus. To make a long story short, it’s basically one of the earliest references to some of the older celebrated holidays in the greater Mediterranean world at that time (Greece, Rome, Egypt, etc), including one of the earliest references to the celebration of Christmas.

Anyway, one of the listed holidays is called Isia, a reference to Isis (or Aset, as she’s thought to be known in Ancient Egyptian). One of the biggest and most famous stories in Ancient Egypt is the story of Osiris’ death and rebirth, and the role that Anubis, Isis, Seth, Thoth, and Nephthys played in that.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

To make yet another long story short (keep in mind, this is the VERY short version without all of the details leading up to this), Seth, known for being an angry and vengeful god, killed his brother Osiris, cut up his body into several  pieces, and scattered them across the lands of Egypt. Eventually, Isis would seek the help of her sister, Nephthys, to find the pieces, then Anubis, who would invent the process of embalming to preserve Osiris’ body, and then Thoth to teach her the magic needed to resurrect her husband. However, before this process, it was around this time of the year, referenced being October 28th to November 2nd, that she would seek him out (along with the aid of the other deities), with his resurrection thought to be celebrated on November 3rd, a date which Valentinus would name ‘Hilaria’ in his Chronography. This reminds me of Samhain being known as the ‘pagan new year’ (a sort of resurrection/rebirth).

So what does this all mean? It means that there is a strong connection in Ancient Egypt to the them of death and rebirth around the same time as Samhain. Most of the deities I’ve mentioned are associated with the dying, death, and rebirth process in some way. Isis seeks to reunite the spirit of her husband, Osiris, with his body. Thoth teaches Isis the magic needed for resurrection. Nephthys assists her during her grieving process.

Anubis, being the Master Embalmer, aids in the process. He is also the deity that presides over the weighing of the heart ceremony, which I briefly mentioned in my Finding Anubis post. Other associations link him with being the guardian of the dead, guide of souls, and chieftain of mediums.

Unfortunately, there is little surviving evidence of how ancient Egyptians celebrated their holidays, but we can make little connections here and there that show us that this time of year, close to the end of October and early November, is strongly associated with the spirits of the dead and the theme of death.


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References:
“Chronography of 354.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronography_of_354. 12 Dec 2017.
Hill, J. “Isis.” Ancient Egypt Online. https://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/isis.html. 2008.
“Hilaria | Greco-Roman Festival.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2018.
Illes, Judika. “Anubis.” Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods, & Goddesses. 2010.
Pearse, Roger, & Mommsen, Theodore. “The Chronography of 354.” Tertullian. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/chronography_of_354_06_calendar.htm.
“Samhain.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/samhain. 18 Oct 2018.

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