Ancient Egyptians shaved their eyebrows when their cats died.

  • Ancient Egyptian cat
Ancient Egyptian cat
Credit: Corey Ford/ Alamy Stock Photo

Though ancient Egyptians didn’t literally worship cats, they did see them and other animals as symbols of the gods’ divine qualities. They admired felines as much for their hunting prowess as they did for the way they nurtured their young, and both aspects factored into their reverence. Their devotion was so fierce, in fact, that they shaved their eyebrows when their own cats died — the beginning of a mourning period that didn’t end until their eyebrows grew back. Keeping a cat in one’s home was considered a way of both attracting good fortune and warding off evil spirits, and a cat’s passing was considered a significant loss — many Egyptians even mummified them.

This royal treatment began not with commoners but with the actual royalty, who let their cats eat from their plates in addition to adorning them in gold jewelry. Perhaps the most important feline deity was Bastet, a goddess of the home, fertility, childbirth, and, yes, cats themselves. Bastet was first depicted as a lioness before later being portrayed as a small domestic cat. Sekhmet, a lioness goddess of war who defended the sun god Ra from his enemies, represented the other half of cats’ most revered qualities. Statues of these “divine felines” remain to this day in museum collections.

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