Cats Throughout Culture

American Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

By Ariela Morales-Benavidez and Briza Abundez Duran

Mummy of a catBritish Museum

Cats have a lot of cultural influence in many parts of the world, from Egypt to China to Japan and in Islam. Cats were sacred in Egypt, and killing a cat was forbidden. Egyptians worshipped cats so much that they would mummify them once they died.

Goddess Bastet as a Cat on a Lotus Column (664 - 30 BCE)American Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)


One of the most important cat figures in Egypt was the goddess Bastet. She was an ancient Egyptian goddess with the head of a cat but the body of a woman. Bastet was a goddess of protection.

View of Amenhotep III and Tiyi painting, close-up of cat under chair. by Edwin C. Brock; Francis DzikowskiAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Cats as Good Luck in Egypt

Egyptians believed that cats were magical, depicting them as protecting homes. They thought of them as a form of good luck, especially black cats, believing them to be divine, like the goddess Bastet.

Bronze figure of a seated catBritish Museum

Honoring Cats

Cats were represented in art wearing lavish jewelry because they were considered manifestations of the goddess Bastet. Cat owners often showed respect for their lost cats by shaving off their eyebrows and grieving until they grew back out.

Cat Killing a Serpent (A.D. 1920–1921; original ca. 1295–1213 B.C.) by Charles K. WilkinsonThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cat Art

Egyptians loved cats. They made a lot of artwork of them including sculptures and paintings.

In China, people also worshipped cats. In ancient China, farmers worshipped the cat goddess Li Shou, a fertility goddess. Cats were especially popular during the Song dynasty and found their way into Chinese idioms, poetry, and paintings of this time.

Maneki-neko (2005-02)American Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Cats in Japan

Maneki-Neko is a popular cat deity that many believe is from China but is actually from Japan. Many assume the cat is depicted waving, but, in fact, it is beckoning, which in Japan is done with the paw forward and pointed down. 

Gotokuji Hondo (2010-04-10)American Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

The Legend of Maneki-Neko

Maneki-Neko came from Gōtoku-ji temple in Setagaya Ward Tokyo. During the Edo period, Ii Naotaka, the regional ruler, visited the temple. Lightning struck when this temple cat beckoned him into the temple, which saved his life.

Ii Naotaka made a shrine for Maneki Neko as a sign of gratitude for saving his life.

Cat Outside Mosque (2010-04-29) by Mike Prince via Wikimedia.orgAmerican Research Center In Egypt (ARCE)

Cats in Islam

Cats in Islam are admired for often being clean creatures, so they were allowed into mosques. In Egypt, people also believe that cats can protect homes from evil spirits. Prophet Muhammed was known for his love of cats, and people respected them because of this.

Credits: Story

This story was created as part of ARCE's Archive Digitization & Publication Project, funded by the US Department of Education. Text and story by Ariela Morales-Benavidez and Briza Abundez Duran, students at  Northern Virginia Community College (Alexandria Campus), in the course Art 101 - History and Appreciation of Art 1, taught by Sarah Liberatore.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Preserving Our Past
Learn how people around the world are working to preserve our shared history
View theme
Google apps