Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 63

The Seven Wise Ones

We occasionally find Ptah in company with certain beings called the Seven Wise Ones of the goddess Meh-urt, who was their mother. We are told that they came forth from the water, from the pupil of the eye of Ra, and that they took the form of seven hawks, flew upward, and, together with Thoth, presided over learning and letters. Ptah as master-architect and demiurge, carrying out the designs of Thoth and his assistants, partook of the attributes of all of them, as did his female counterpart Sekhmet.


Bast, the Bubastis of the Greeks, possessed the attributes of the cat or lioness, the latter being a more modern development of her character. The[Pg 148] name implies 'the tearer' or 'render,' and she is also entitled 'the lady of Sept'—that is, of the star Sothis. She was further sometimes identified with Isis and Hathor. In contradistinction to the fierce Sekhmet, she typified the mild fertilizing heat of the sun. The cat loves to bask in the sun's rays, and it is probably for this reason that the animal was taken as symbolizing this goddess. She is amalgamated with Sekhmet and Ra in a deity known as Sekhmet-Bast-Ra, and as such is represented as a woman with a man's head, and wings sprouting from her arms, and the heads of two vultures springing from her neck. She has also the claws of a lion. She was the goddess of the eastern part of the Delta, and was worshipped at Bubastis, in Lower Egypt. Her worship seems to have been of very considerable antiquity in that region, and although she is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, it is only occasionally that she figures in the Book of the Dead. In all probability she was originally a cat totem, and in any case was first worshipped in the shape of a cat pure and simple. It has been stated that she possesses the characteristics of a foreign goddess, but there do not appear to be any very strong grounds for this assumption. Although she is connected with fire and with the sun, it would appear that she also has some association with the lunar disk, for her son Khensu is a moon-god. Cat-gods are often associated with the moon, chiefly because of the fertility of the animal which typified the ideals of fruitfulness and growth connected with the lunar orb.

The Festival of Bast

Herodotus gives a very picturesque description of a festival of this goddess, which took place in the months of April and May. He says that the inhabitants[Pg 149] of the city of Bubastis sailed toward it in ships, playing upon drums and tabors and making a great noise, those who did not play clapping their hands and singing loudly. Having arrived at the city, they danced and held festival with drinking and song.

Of the city of Bubastis he gives a vivid picture, which has been translated by an old English author as follows: "The noble city of Bubastis seemeth to be very haughty and highly planted, in which city is a temple of excellent memory dedicate to the goddesse Bubastis, called in our speech Diana, than the which, albeit there be other churches both bigger and more richly furnished, yet for the sightly grace and seemelynesse of building, there is none comparable unto it. Besides, the very entrance and way that leadeth unto the city, the rest is in forme of an Ilande, inclosed round about with two sundry streames of the river Nilus, which runne to either side of the path way, and leauing as it were a lane or causey betweene them, without meeting, take their course another way. These armes of the floud are each of them an hundred foote broade, beset on both sides the banckes with fayre braunched trees, ouershadowing ye waters with a coole and pleasant shade. The gate or entry of the city is in heighth 10. paces, hauing in the front a beautifull image, 6. cubites in measure. The temple it selfe situate in the middest of ye city, is euermore in sight to those yt passe to and fro. For although ye city by addition of earth was arrered and made higher, yet ye temple standing as it did in ye beginning, and neuer mooued, is in maner of a lofty and stately tower, in open and cleare viewe to euery parte of ye city. Round about the which goeth a wall, ingrauen with figures and portraitures of sundry beasts. The inner temple is enuironed with an high grove of trees, set and planted by the hande and industrie[Pg 150] of men: in the whiche temple is standing an image. The length of the temple is in euery way a furlong. From the entrance of the temple Eastward, there is a fayre large causey leading to the house of Mercury, in length three furlongs and four acres broade, all of faire stone, and hemmed in on each side with a course of goodly tall trees planted by the hands of men, and thus as touching the description of ye temple."


Nefer-tem was the son of Ptah and Sekhmet, or of Ptah and Bast. He is drawn as a man surmounted by plumes and sometimes standing upon a lion. Indeed, occasionally he is painted as having the head of a lion and with a body in mummy-shape. In early times he was symbolized by the lotus-flower. He was the third member of the triad of Memphis, which was made up of himself with Ptah and Sekhmet. His attributes are anything but well defined, but he is probably the young Tem, god of the rising sun. He is perhaps typified by the lotus because the sun would often seem to the Egyptians to rise from beds of this plant in the Delta of the country. In later texts he is identified with numerous gods all of whom appear to be forms of Horus or Thoth.