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Crawford, N.A. (1934). Cats Holy and Profane. Psychoanal. Rev., 21(2):168-179.

(1934). Psychoanalytic Review, 21(2):168-179

Cats Holy and Profane

Nelson Antrim Crawford

From earliest historic times, and doubtless from much further back, the domestic cat has been an emotional symbol for both nations and individuals; it has been loved and revered as an incarnation of divinity, or hated and feared as an agent of the powers of evil—and sometimes, with curious ambivalence, it has typified both God and Satan.

In Egypt, as is well known, the cat was sacred to Basta, or Bubastis, the Egyptian Diana, and was, indeed, considered by most of the populace to be the goddess's incarnation. The genesis of the consecration, apparently, was this. Egypt was then, as it is now, a grain-growing country afflicted with rodents and reptiles. The small Libyan wild-cat was domesticated in order to keep down these destructive pests. Undoubtedly it had been the totem of prehistoric tribes or families in Egypt, but now, further to insure its protection, it was made universally sacred by the priesthood. In time, the cat cult attained vast popularity. Although officially only a part of the nation's religion, it became so emphasized that even accidental killing of a cat was the Egyptian equivalent of mortal sin. That thriller of English and American childhood, Henty's The Cat of Bubastes, does not depart materially from fact in presenting the feline cultus. Cats that died were mummified, some of them elaborately and at enormous expense, and wealthy families that adhered to the cult often had their mummified cats carried across the country with ceremony and mourning, to rest near the temple of Basta. Today cats are not objects of worship in Egypt, but it is regarded as bad luck to kill, injure, or neglect them.

In Siam the cat does not have the sacredness of the white elephant, but the Royal Cat of Siam (commonly though erroneously called in the United States simply “the Siamese Cat”) does possess a certain ecclesiastical quality.

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