The grand Egyptian city Per-Bast once overlooked a branch of the river Nile, and for thousands of years it served as the center of worship for the feline goddess Bast. Here in the ‘House of Bast’ her children were recognized for the spark of divinity they carried and treated with the respect such holiness deserves. Perhaps nowhere else in the world and at no other time in history have cats enjoyed such high status, such protection and reverence. Yet though Per-Bast the city is but ruins now, its grave goods scattered to museums across the world, the true Per-Bast lives on. Per-Bast is any place where a feline seeking refuge may be offered safety, nourishment, and unconditional compassion. Any dwelling in which a cat finds joy and love is a House of Bast. Any arms which cradle the motherless kitten, any voice which calls for the lost or sings to the frightened, are a House of Bast. Any human heart which loves cats, fights for cats, grieves for cats, and upholds the inherent worth of cats is the true seat of Per-Bast. In this way the city can never fall for we carry it within us all.
“In the hand of the goddess”
Divine and mortal
Fingers entwined, dark through light
Mother and daughter
In my dream I stand at the edge of a tall cliff overlooking a vast desert, the waves of golden dunes fading on the horizon into darkness as if this desert marks the edge of existence. Two falcons take wing into the cloudless blue sky before me, followed by two more, then a dozen, a hundred, the beating of their wings filling the sky. One passes by wearing the double crown of Egypt – Horus, Lord of the Sky. Behind the flock of falcons follows a massive shallow-bottomed vessel shining with gold and jewels. This must be the Mandjet, the “Boat of Millions of Years” Ra uses to travel across the sky during the day. On the solar barque’s long deck I see an array of kemetic gods, including Hathor, Ra himself, and Set, all hundreds of feet tall and limned in sacred light. I search for my mother among them but don’t see her.
“We are living gods,” an accented voice I am beginning to know well explains over my shoulder. “We die fighting.” I turn to see Bast standing behind me, a proud smile tilting up her full lips and dancing in her dark eyes. As she continues to speak I look back to where the grand procession moves from east to west across the cerulean sky, banners waving in the breeze of its passing, a more glorious sight than any I have seen in dreaming or waking. When it reaches the far horizon and Ra proceeds into the underworld for the night, the gods will battle against chaos to ensure the sun rises on another day. Every night they fight so we might see the morning and have done so since the world was first created. My mother is right; these are the actions of living, breathing gods, not myths from an ancient and defunct religion.
One of the ways I honor Bast is by experiencing Her pain, grief, and burdens. Not to erase them, not even to ease them; simply to feel them on my own, knowing my emotions are but a small drop compared to Her oceans. Every foster kitten I must give up so someone else can adopt them is a kitten She has sent out into a wide, unpredictable world. Every foster kitten lost to illness or injury is a child She mourns forever. Every cat struck by a speeding car, abandoned by a heartless family, or euthanized by a crowded shelter because no one claimed it in time is a grief that pierces my pincushion heart with another needle – but to my goddess who sees and knows all, they are blades that drive much deeper. I grieve and rage and weep with Her because no one should do these things alone, even an immortal goddess.
Pursued through a desert landscape, I try to shift the dream around me to lose my attacker but can’t take control. Next I attempt to leap into the air but the dream won’t let me use this tactic either. Desperate, I cry out for help as I run – first to Bast, then Hathor, Inanna, Venus, Isis, any goddess who will answer – yet I receive no response. The next name I call is Ma’at’s and as I do the goddess appears in the air above me, limned in blazing light. “You already have wings,” She urges me in a voice like thunder. “You just needed to use them.”
With Her words huge golden wings unfold from where they have been wrapped around my stomach. They are long and thin like the stylized wings seen on Egyptian goddesses in ancient paintings. I launch myself into the air and suddenly I’m soaring through a vast starry night sky above ancient Egypt. I can see everything below me with brilliant clarity as if the wings have also gifted me with a hawk’s keen sight. Temples, palaces, pyramids, they all glow with the light of thousands of torches amidst a sea of velvet desert darkness. The pinpoints of fire even look like watery reflections of the stars above as they flicker and bob in the night wind. The roads and open spaces between the great structures are filled with people who cheer and bow as a long procession of royalty, court officials, and priests, headed by the Pharaoh and followed by columns of military infantry, wends down the main causeway.
The sight below me is stunning – this is obviously ancient Kemet at its height of power and prestige, the parade a display of military might – but I don’t want the dream to end until I’ve seen one landmark in particular: the Temple of Bubastis. Beating my long wings, I rise higher and glide along the procession’s winding route. There! I spot Bast’s city nestled among its neat canals beside the Nile, firelight sparkling in the smooth waters and dancing atop the temple’s tall white walls. Per-Bast may not be as grand in stature as the pyramids I just flew over but it is by far the loveliest thing I have ever seen, a little pocket of tranquility amid the lights and noise of the other monuments.
When I’ve had my fill of the beauty below I tuck in my wings and free fall into the cool darkness of the Nile’s waiting waters.
In my dream I’m swimming through the bottom floor of a mall that once housed a gym before it sank beneath the ground. The vast rooms are empty save for a few abandoned pieces of exercise equipment and the open chain link cage where rental equipment was once stored. I’m enjoying the weightlessness of gliding through the illuminated water when I notice a man has appeared on the stairway leading up to the next floor. My heart leaps; he’s bad, I know it instinctively. I turn to search for another exit but everywhere I look more strangers appear, grinning menacingly like they know I have nowhere to run.
As the spirits close in around me, I call out “Duco viribus eicio malum!” (I expel the evil forces) but in my panic I pronounce the Latin wrong and it doesn’t work. I try calling on The Darkness, on Loki, on Nekhbet, but still the evil spirits encroach. They’re almost close enough to grab me when I yell Bast’s name and then, at a loss, simply close my eyes and scream.
Suddenly I’m transported somewhere new. I’m standing near a pillar in a huge chamber filled with banks of computers and other state-of-the-art equipment, its walls painted with elaborate Egyptian murals. Hearing footsteps approach, I duck behind the pillar and peek out to watch as a woman sits down at the computer closest to me. She’s just beautiful, tall and fit with dark caramel skin and a hooked nose over full lips. Her ebony hair is bound up in braids wrapped in the same purple fabric as Her long purple robes. She doesn’t look exactly the way I’ve pictured Her, but I still recognize my soul mother.
“I know you’re there,” Bast says, smiling as She watches me out of the corner of Her eye. She has an accent, one that sounds vaguely like African French. “You can come out.” I do so and She stands up, gesturing to one of the murals. A figure from the painting seems to glow and come to life, stepping down to become a young Egyptian woman who walks over to us. She assists Bast as the goddess uses a piercing gun to give me a daith piercing on my right inner ear, then melts back into the mural.
Bast then asks me, “Will you accept the name Grace as a sacred name to be used between us?” I’m deeply honored, though inwardly I think the name is a funny choice since I lack grace, both the physical kind and the spiritual/moral kind. I formally accept the goddess’ offer by repeating the phrase after Her. After that, as Bast leads me to another section of the room, She says something about how there isn’t much time and She has much to teach me. She puts a garment like a lacy hooded cape over my head the color of red clay. It’s designed to look like a face stares out from the back, much like how the white spots on a tiger’s ears are supposed to look like eyes. Bast wears something similar but much finer and more intricate.
Bast leads me out of Her chamber and suddenly we’re outside under a vast blue sky with activity all around us; people and animals and beings I can’t identify walking along wide, well-maintained dirt roads. I can see palm trees and white-painted buildings in the distance, much like paintings of ancient Egyptian cities. “What is this place?” I ask. Bast’s response sounds like “Pek (or pak) Turki.” I take this to mean this is Bast’s land in the spirit world. She says the gods are building many places like this across the realms. I ask if this is also the Land of the Dead and She says yes – and also something She refers to as “the Land of Hesitation.”
“What does that mean?” I ask. Bast points to a place we’re approaching where a huge palace seems to be building itself out of magically levitating tiles and pillars. “That is [name forgotten]’s Palace,” She replies. I can tell by the name that this person will be a great pharaoh. “He hasn’t been born yet,” Bast continues, “but when he dies this is where he will live.” With this explanation I assume that ‘Land of Hesitation’ means a realm that contains or predicts those who will exist in the future, not just those who have already existed and died.
Bast begins to show me some of the architecture of the palace. Her hairstyle has changed; now Her ebony hair hangs free in a long black sheet and straight cut bangs that fall just above Her expressive golden eyes. I want to ask why I’m here, especially now, but I’m too nervous in the presence of my mother goddess to interrupt. Then Her voice starts to fade and I can tell I’m losing control of the dream, starting to wake up, yet no matter how hard I try to cling desperately to my place in Her land I still end up back in my bed.
Bring your queer loneliness to Bast;
She will take you in Her arms
and claim you as Her own.
Bring your queer shame to Hathor;
She will dance with you in nightclubs
and march with you in parades.
Bring your queer rage to Set;
He will guard your back
as the bricks and tear gas start flying.
Bring your queer grief to Wepwawet;
He will teach you how to carry your dead
without breaking beneath their weight.
Bring your queer love to the Netjeru;
They will embrace you, uplift you, protect you
and you will never walk alone again.
A Prayer to Find a Lost Cat
Mother Bast burning bright
guide your child by your light.
Bring them safely home today
there in love and joy to stay.
in your cupped hands, a coal
your breath a spark ignites
my soul born from your sacred flame
A lioness’ jaws
snap bones, crush windpipes
drip with the red gore of her prey.
A lioness’ jaws also
gently carry the straying cub
back to the safety of the den.
In my dream, myself and two girls were led to a room where women in beautiful robes crafted elaborate porcelain masks. One of the women sat us at an empty table amid the group and served us tea in delicate china cups. Just one sip of tea sent us all into some sort of trance state and it suddenly seemed as if my face was submerged in a pool or bowl of bright water, yet I could still breathe easily.
I blinked and then before me in the water I saw the square of a great ancient city. Where the branching streets met in the center of the square stood what looked like a big fountain, though I couldn’t make out its shape. Then it moved and I realized it was a living statue in the shape of a lioness with white marble skin. The statue sat up, golden eyes blazing out of a lean face, and then on its head raised up a white serpent with matching gold eyes. I recognized Her immediately – my mother, the goddess Bast. Identical statues on either side which I had not noticed moved as well to mirror the pose of this one. Then another feline head, far larger, rose in the sky above the middle statue. Its eyes were as big and as bright as the sun; they were the sun. I knew then this was Bast, yes, but specifically the royal Bast, Bast as the Eye of Ra, the blazing sun, Queen of the Gods crowned in the sun disk and uraeus. I think I was crying from happiness, honored to receive a visit from Her in a dream.
The image faded and in the water I saw next the sweet, smiling face of a domestic cat. The little cat said something like, “You see but you don’t understand. Understand.” It was ‘understand’ with the implication of trust, though, like I can see the truth of divinity but I’m not letting myself trust enough to embrace it fully, or to trust that it’s meant for me, and that’s blocking my ability to fully grasp the gods’ messages. Something like that. I just felt so much love from Her, filling and overflowing every corner of my being. Then the trance state lifted and I was back in the room with the mask-makers. The other girls were too. We looked at each other in wordless wonder for what we each had separately experienced, tears streaming down our faces, then hugged each other tightly. The woman who had served us the tea smiled and escorted us out.
When your raging heart demands justice
and you can stomach no more sour lies
cry out to the Goddess.
Hers are the swift claws of judgment.
Hers are the red teeth of retribution.
Hers is the molten heart of the sun
that annihilates all shadow.
Even Ra the Great and Powerful
sends forth His bright-burning daughters
when evil demands holy reckoning.
This January marks six years since Bast called me to begin walking Her path. Like a kitten first opening its eyes to glimpse the warm presence which has nurtured it from birth, comprehending now that Mother is an entity unto itself, so I went from stumbling agnosticism to sudden unwavering faith. With eyes wide open I saw so clearly all which had seemed before too good to be true; spirits, magic, witchcraft, other realms, and of course the gods.
Bast kindled my conscious spiritual journey that year. Under Her patient tutelage I waded into the waters of polytheism and the modern pagan community. Though I had long believed in “something”, even felt as if that something watched over me, only now did I have a name and established frameworks to build from. There was so much to learn! So much to unlearn! I felt every bit the uncoordinated kitten, yet an uncoordinated kitten who could take chances and make mistakes in the safety of mother’s watchful presence.
Other gods came in time – Inanna, Wepwawet, the Morrigan, Hathor – and their paths often required more focus than Bast’s, yet She remained always at my side. Even in my deepest depression, when I questioned not just the existence of the gods but the very concept of the soul and all that animated the universe, still I felt Her beside me in the darkness. I could not doubt Her existence when Her inextinguishable flame burned in my own chest. I am a child of Bast; it was She who shaped my soul into existence and it will bear Her mark for eternity.
So here I am, six years along on a journey I never imagined I’d take. My spirituality threads through every aspect of my life and plays a major role in all that I do. I am many things now – proud kemetic, proud polytheist pagan, proud witch – and no longer the uncoordinated kitten, though neither am I yet the confident adult. I’m still learning and unlearning, making mistakes, discovering new paths and identities. Through it all Bast is here to guide me and I remain so honored, so humbled, to walk Her path and do Her work in this world.
I was drowning. Pandemics, wildfires, depression, abandonment, grief, grief, grief. The sky is red and the air is toxic. I was so deep in the well I was sure this time I truly wouldn’t be able to climb back out. I thought this was something from which there was no return. So I begged. Send me something, anything, please.
Hetheru sent a bright sunflower growing straight out of a concrete barrier in the middle of the interstate. Wepwawet sent a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed coyote dashing in front of my car, apparently running late to an early morning meeting. Bast sent a sweet old cat named Oreo whose eyes held the piercing gaze of my mother goddess as I drove past his home. The Morrigan sent ravens and crows and ospreys and scrub jays. And my father sent the Green Weenie, a bright green Plymouth Road Runner with a black racing stripe, a car he sold over twenty years ago, a car I have not once seen since the day someone else drove it out of our yard when I was, what, ten? eleven?, but there it was, right on the waterfront happy as you please as if it’s been living beside me all these years just waiting to show up when I needed it most. I’d been thinking as I drove home from work, I should have done more in those last few days, those last hours, why didn’t I do more? Why didn’t I beg him to stay? What would he say to me now, about his final moments on earth? Is he mad I didn’t try harder? and there the car was around a bend in the road, just minutes from my house, to tell me he loved me and that after thirteen years I needed to finally forgive that child who could not have known she would lose the person she loved most. That car told me he was proud of me for the work I’m doing, serving my state during these disasters and striving to mitigate the ones to come. That car told me to breathe, to rest, to give myself a goddamn break.
Have faith, my gods, my guides, told me. Be kind to yourself. We’re here.
Pass by, hungry flames
this land is not yours to consume!
Bast your Mistress stands with me
I command you to pass by!
The Eyes of Ra stand with me
I command you to pass by!
The Netjeru stand with me
I command you to pass by!
I command you to pass by!
I command you to pass by!
I command you to pass by!
You left me lost and disoriented
but Wepwawet guided me safely back to the path.
You left me stripped of all your gifts
but Inanna taught me to stand proud in my nakedness.
You left me barren as a desert
but Hetheru grew overflowing gardens in my parched soil.
You left me exiled in my own soul
but the Morrigan thrust a sword in my hand to win back my sovereignty.
You left me dead and cold
but Bast coaxed a roaring flame from the last tiny ember in my chest.
You left me
but kinder gods, better gods
My love for you is a dead weight I have dragged behind me for years now, a rotting corpse I somehow convinced myself I could still revive if I just kept searching this desert for the mythical spring from which flows the water of regeneration. I just needed more time, I told myself, always just a little more time, a few more steps, another chance for redemption and reunion. Yet I have stumbled across this desert for years and still I have nothing to show for my pains but a heart nearly as desiccated as yours and no hope, no hope left at all. I do not even hallucinate your touch or your voice in my weakest moments; I have no strength to pretend you might show me such mercy. Even your corpse contrives to ever avoid my eyes.
If there is an oasis here in this wasteland, it is the wind which gently brushes my cheek and whispers with my Mother’s voice, “You owe Them nothing.” And I am incapable of feeling sorrow anymore, for you or myself, but I might be ready to feel pride. And anger.
I thought you would feel more… lacking. Emptier somehow, almost incorporeal. But no, you were as solid in death as you were in life. As I lifted you from the road I felt the weight of your body in my hands, fat and muscle and bone under soft fur. When I laid my hand on your side you might have been just asleep, save for the stillness of your chest. That’s where I lay my hand on my own cat as he sleeps at my side, feeling with every rise and fall the life pumping within him. Is there someone tonight whose own hand gropes in the dark for the comfort of your presence yet touches only your vacant space? I wonder, when they find you will you feel as heavy to them as you felt to me? Or will their hands register the absence of your soul as an unbearable lightness?
The netjeru are
Fresh blood and hawk wings
Red in the setting sun
When the N——- first revealed herself to me I had a vision-like daydream of my creation. I saw Bast in a vast darkness, the darkness of creation, and between Her cupped hands flickered a small orb of light. I knew it to be the little ember of my soul newly birthed from the infinite flame of my mother’s heart. The N——- was there in the darkness as well, for she is witness to all forms of creation and destruction, and I thought I heard her say, “That one.” My mother nodded. I took this to mean it was the N——- who chose me as scribe, who first laid claim to my fate and thus determined the path of servitude I’d follow through every life. But I was wrong.
“You think it was she who chose you,” my mother tells me now, “but it was he.” And now I understand. There was a third there in that darkness, a third who is also witness to every moment of every life: death. He chose me. He set me on this path. Of course; how could I have thought it to be any other way?
Bast’s love comforts
Hathor’s love energizes
Inanna’s love ignites
The Morrigan’s love challenges
The face Bast shows me is not young. Artists always depict Her with the ripe, vibrant bloom of the maiden, all hourglass curves and taut brown skin, but this isn’t how I see Her. My mother’s face is lined by little creases above Her brows, the corners of Her eyes, the edges of Her lips. Silver hairs glint in Her long black braids. There is a softness to Her breasts and waist like one who has given Her body to the birthing and raising of many children. Her beauty is not that of potent sexuality; it is the beauty of experience, of wisdom, of time and its endless flow of joys and sorrows. It is a beauty shaped and weighted by so much care that only a goddess could bear it – but oh, is She all the more beautiful for bearing it with pride!
In my dream my mother and aunt wrap their bodies around me, skin to skin, and I am like a babe in their arms, my weary head resting on their pillowed breasts, my small hands clutching at their warm skin, and I am safe, so safe, so safe.
Name my heart Per-Bast
The clash of sistra, the beat of drums
Her face blazing on every wall!
For that is where She resides
Reveal yourself!, I command the raging spirit as it snarls at me. Reveal yourself! It bares long fangs; its red eyes roll wildly with a feral madness. Reveal yourself! It lunges but I do not back down and I do not lower my outstretched arms. Reveal yourself!, I cry and the monstrous spirit howls in fury as my words finally dismantle its menacing facade. It shifts, shrinks, and by the time it regains its true form the howl is only a pitiful wail of despair. I kneel and pick the tiny spirit up, cup her in my hands and hold her close to my heart. She’s just a baby, a kitten barely six weeks old. That’s all the life she got this time around – six weeks. Six short weeks of fear and pain, enough time to experience the world’s cruelties but not enough time to understand them, and then death. She’s not even given the dignity of a grave because there is no one to mourn her. No one to remember her. No one to name her, even posthumously, so her spirit might know peace.
Fear, pain, death. No wonder she became so warped.
I realize I’m weeping, curled over this trembling little soul as if I can shield her from the horrors she’s already faced. Mother, I sob. Mother, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. How am I supposed to do this? I’m not strong enough to bear the weight of these truths; I’m not brave enough to open my heart to these sorrows. I fear they’ll drive me mad as well, that I’ll become a monster if I can’t gentle this awful tide of despair rushing through me. But that wouldn’t be fair to this spirit or the millions just like her who deserve recognition and empathy. If I can’t change the world completely, if there will always be innocent lives falling through the cracks, I should at least offer the solace of grief. Someone should carry the memory of all those lost souls so their brief lives weren’t in vain. I am a daughter of Bast; it is my duty and my honor. I don’t think I’m strong enough, it’s true, but I know my mother thinks I am. I must trust that is enough.
Inside every cat
Burns a spark of Egypt’s sun
I am the sun disk
I blaze! I burn! I destroy!
I see all, know all
Bast be my lit torch
Protect me until day dawns
I walk in your light
I am known as a goddess of love
And yes, I am a lover, a mother, a teacher
Yes, I can be gentle and kind
But do not forget my claws and teeth
Or the blood I have shed on the battlefield.
I have always been a goddess of war;
There is a reason my children are born knowing how to eviscerate their prey, after all.
I have always been a goddess of war;
The war between life and death
Between survival and failure
Between order and chaos.
Love makes life worth living,
But war is how you defend it.
they say “fake it ‘til you make it”
so here I am, a child playing dress-up
wearing my mother Bast’s smile and poise
Inanna’s confidence and Hathor’s positivity
and the Morrigan’s steel spine underneath it all
if I walk like them, talk like them
will I be strong like them?
will I be brave like them?
will I be good like them?