Ancient cat worship by the Vikings, the Celts, the Romans and the Japanese

Love them or hate them, cats have been in our lives for at least 10 000 years. As with all domestication stories, our relationship was mutually beneficial. They killed vermin, and we provided food and shelter. But there is more to cats than meets the eye. These animals have been gifted, or cursed, with an enduring charisma, an aura of mystery, and have been both revered as a god and hated as a devil. They appear in folklore, mythology, and bedtime stories. Their lives have been intertwined with ours, and they are here to stay.

Ancient Egypt

The earliest domestication of cats has been recorded in ancient Egypt. Known as the Mau, they played a significant role in Egyptian society. The ancient Egyptians mummified their cats, the same way that they mummified humans. This shows a deep level of love and respect for these animals. Cats were highly revered, partly due to their ability to kill rodents such as mice, rats, and snakes. The Egyptian Goddess Bast is depicted as a feline, originally a fierce lioness warrior goddess of the sun, and later her image became that of a domestic cat. Bast is the protector of the kings and has been depicted as fighting the evil snake Apep, who was an enemy of Ra, the Sun God. Killing a cat in ancient Egypt was absolutely forbidden and when a cat died, the families mourned the loss.


The Vikings used cats as rodent exterminators and as companions. In Norse mythology, the Goddess of love and luck Freya rides a chariot pulled by cats. Farmers who sought her protection would leave buckets of milk in their field for her felines. Cats were also considered to be the mystical guides of the Viking seers. Cats frequently accompanied the Vikings as they sailed across the seas. They brought them along when they raided foreign grounds. Cats were sometimes sacrificed in rituals and their fur was used to make warm clothing. On an interesting note, Evolutionary geneticist Eva-Maria Geigl has noted that both cats from ancient Egypt and Viking northern Germany share the same maternal DNA.


The Cat Sith is a fairy creature from Celtic mythology. His appearance is black with a white spot on his chest.

The Celts believed that the Sith cat was a witch that could transform into a person and back nine times.

The people of the Scottish highlands mistrusted the fairy cat. They believed that he would steal a person’s soul, therefore, preventing it from being claimed by the gods.

During the Samhain celebration, which is known as Halloween for us today, people were said to leave a bowl of milk outside their door for the cat to be able to drink. Those who would neglect to do so would be cursed.

Another ceremony called Taghaim consisted of the Celts burning the bodies of cats for several days. They believed that in doing so, the cat Sith would appear and grant a wish.

Rome and Greece

According to historians, it is said that cats were brought to Europe by being secretly smuggled out of Egypt. Exporting cats from Egypt was an illegal activity at the time, and so owning a cat was a more rare occurrence. The people of Greece and Rome generally preferred using ferrets for rodent control. Eventually, cats replaced ferrets as they made better house pets. Cats were highly regarded as they embodied independence and freedom.
The Greek lunar Goddess Artemis and the Roman Goddess Diana were versions of the Egyptian Goddess Bast.

Ancient Japan

Cats have played an important role in Japanese culture and society. They are revered for bringing good luck and have also been used by locals to keep harmful rodents away. The Maneki-Neko of japan is a popular figurine of a sitting cat with a raised and bent paw used as a good luck charm. It is used in many stores and businesses to draw money. According to Japanese folklore, the Maneki-Neko cat appeared to a Japanese landlord waving his paw. The landlord was intrigued by the gesture and walked towards the cat when suddenly a bolt of lightning struck the exact spot where he was previously standing. If the cat wouldn’t have appeared, the landlord would have been struck by lighting.


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