Egyptian mythology developed over a period of 3,000 years. This is an extraordinary amount of time when compared to the 600-year life span of the modern era, which roughly started with the Renaissance.
It should therefore be no surprise that the ideas, concepts, and practices regarding the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt changed and transformed over 3,000 years. The when is in many ways just as important as the who and the what.
Given this caveat, here is some information about the goddesses Bast, Bastet, Sekhmet, and Wadjet, who are mentioned in Eye of the Moon.
Bast was the goddess of warfare in the area of the Nile Delta some 5,000 years ago. She was viewed as a protector and defender of the pharaoh. Her name meant “Female Devourer”. Originally, she was depicted as a female figure with the head of a lioness.
In Upper Egypt, to the south, there was a similar goddess named Sekhmet. She too was depicted as a female figure with the head of a lioness and had a similar function.
Were Sekhmet and Bast the same? Perhaps they were, long before recorded history, but by 4,000 BCE, each was a separate entity. Bast was revered in the Delta region, while Sekhmet was native to Thebes, which lay 500 miles up the Nile in Upper Egypt.
Prior to 3,000 BCE, Upper and Lower Egypt were two separate kingdoms until they were unified under a single rule, but around 1,700 BCE, the Pharaoh, who resided in Thebes, lost control of the Nile Delta to the Hyksos, a Semitic people from Asia Minor. Whether this loss of control was due to inferior weaponry, famine, or other internal problems is not known.
Around 200 years later, Ahmose I expelled the Hyksos and reunited both kingdoms.
The reunification and the passage of time created changes in religious ideas and beliefs.
In the case, of Bast and Sekhmet, Sekhmet continued as the lioness-headed goddess while Bast became Bastet, by the addition of the feminine ending “et”. Bastet transformed into the protector of the home and the goddess of childbirth, and with that change, she was depicted as having the head of a cat rather than that of a lioness.
Her reduction in status did nothing to diminish her popularity. In fact, it seemed to increase it. In later times, Herodotus describes festivals honoring her that drew over 700,000 people and were the high point of the calendar year. Cats became sacred to Bastet and were thought to be incarnations of the goddess. The worship of cats and their mummification reached extraordinary proportions during the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt around 300 BCE as a result.
Wadjet was one of the oldest of the Egyptian goddesses and was also of the Delta region. Originally depicted as a cobra and associated with the color blue-green, she was eventually given the title the “Eye of Ra”, having a similar protector function as did Bast and Sekhmet. She was also known as the “Eye of the Moon”, from which the novel takes its name.
*Photo Ivan Obolensky, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.