An Investigation of Egyptian Feline Goddesses and Animal Cults

Monday, April 16, 2012

This lecture will introduce an unusual statuette of a crouching female deity with a lion's head, from the Brooklyn Museum's collection. The animal or combined human-animal forms of numerous divinities in the ancient Egyptian pantheon reveal the significant qualities of each deity. This talk will focus on the statue, exploring the diverse roles of felines within ancient Egyptian religion.

A leonine nature was attributed to a variety of dangerous and protective goddesses, including Sakhmet and Wadjyt, with whom this statuette may be identified. However, it is also necessary to investigate the statuette's striking resemblance to the enigmatic Underworld guardian figures from late New Kingdom royal tombs and funerary papyri. Although figures such as this one fit firmly into the religious ideology and style of late New Kingdom Egypt, museum records suggest that the statuette originally contained a cat mummy which is now lost.

Consequently, the religious developments leading up to the dramatic surge in popularity of animal cults and mummification in later Egypt will also be examined in relation to this figure. This lecture will consider the role of felines in Egyptian religion throughout history, as well as the late phenomenon of animal cults and mummification. In this context we will attempt to determine the date, function and significance of this hitherto unattested and mysterious figure.

Yekaterina Barbash

Assistant Curator, Arts of Ancient Egypt, the Brooklyn Museum