In my dream, two large cats are walking towards me on a sidewalk. They are large cats, not house cats, rather, lions or tigers and they are walking on two legs, standing up, like humans. Wait, their bodies are human, only their heads are feline. As they come closer, they appear to have top hats on their heads. They look like twins. I step aside and they stroll past me.
Clearly Sekhmet and Bast have come to me in my dream. These goddesses are not part of my faith tradition. Yet depth psychology is my tool for understanding and dreams are the realm of life: animating the forces bubbling beneath the surface. I must turn my face to these feline goddesses, bow and listen, to hear what they may want to share.
Sekhmet and Bast derive from Net or Neith, the oldest Egyptian female deity. Both were considered daughters and consorts of Ra (or Re), the sun god. Bast was designated the mild eye of Ra, while Sekhmet was the sun’s scorching eye. As such, the two goddesses are both opposites and complements of each other.
Sekhmet is most commonly depicted with a solar disc on her head. Her name derives from the Egyptian word sekhem, meaning powerful. As a lioness, the fiercest of all animal hunters, she is a warrior goddess, associated with “the devouring, negative aspect of the sun-desert-fire, the solar eye that burns and judges” (Neumann, 220). Ra sent Sekhmet to punish the humans who had forgotten him and she nearly destroyed the entire human race. The more she killed, the more she enjoyed herself. Only Thoth, the god of wisdom, could stop her. He ordered red barley be crushed into beer and added pomegranate juice and magical ingredients. Mistaking the mixture for blood, Sekhmet lapped it up until it was gone and her ravaging heart was soothed. She lay down and purred, having been transformed into the gentle, loving cat goddess, Bast. Eventually, Sekhmet came to be seen as a protective goddess of healing who could cure disease.
Bast, also known as Bastet, is the cat-bodied or cat-headed goddess of the east and of the moon. She is associated with pregnant women and making women fertile. Consequently, she most often appears in green, the color of fecundity. Bast, like Sekhmet, was originally a wild lioness that softened into a benevolent cat over time.
Are they separate goddesses then, or the same goddess in different forms? Each contains balancing opposites within themselves. Together, they are two aspects of the same divine feminine: the light and the dark, night and day, the yin and the yang. This balance of opposites exists not only in the goddesses of Ancient Egypt, but within each of us. We each are the balanced whole of our conscious and unconscious elements, our shadow and our Self. Sekhmet and Bast represent the divine archetype that punishes and rewards and the feminine archetype that nurtures and protects. Individually they embody the light and the dark within themselves while outwardly appearing as only one dominant trait, contrary to the other. Yet, they are the same, not really opposites at all.
The divine feminine in Egyptian stories is a psychopomp who initiates the dead into the other world and who provides new life. In her exists the power of transformation. Sekhmet destroys and heals, Bast protects and creates. Both kill and both offer life.
What then is the message that Sekhmet and Bast have for me? Why did they appear in my dream? The answer, I think, lies in Maat. Notice the feather in the hand of Bast, similar to the feather typically depicted on the head of Maat. Maat is justice, truth, authenticity, the correct order of things. The realization of maat is the ultimate goal. Passively adapting to the order is not enough; instead,
“Individuals must do what is correct and reasonable, must speak with appropriate words. This order… must be actively realized time and again. Only through proper behavior and active engagement is world order achieved”. This is similar to Carl Jung’s idea of individuation or Joseph Campbell’s encouragement to “follow your bliss.” The development of the Self, of a proper balance of forces within the Psyche, achieved through personal truth, authenticity, and integrity and actively engaged in life instead of simply following the establishment, is the ultimate goal. Maat, like individuation or lived bliss, is the means by which order and balance is achieved in each of us. While the Egyptians did not expect to realize maat in their lifetime, they appreciated it as “the hope for another chance.” Today we know we can achieve individuation in our lifetime; we can achieve balance of the forces within our psyche.
And perhaps this is all I needed to remember, all that the feline goddesses wanted to share.
Sekhmet and Bast come to me in my dream. They stroll past me with top hats perched high. They are the ancient divine feminine archetype in twentieth century form, for their hats emphasize the mind: the containment of my over-active analyzing. As I step aside to allow them their stride, I see them wink at me. The message I hear is this: You are balanced, you are whole. Allow the destruction of what needs to die so that something new may be born. After your roar comes your purr. Contain your thoughts and embody me: I am what you seek and you are in me.
Ah, the feminine divine is on a roll and taking a stroll.
 See Normandi Ellis’s essay “Sekhmet, Bast, and Hathor: Power, Passion, and Transformation through the Egyptian Goddess Trinity” in Goddesses in World Culture, Ed. Patricia Monaghan (Praeger, 2010).
 See “The Concept of Maat” in Erik Hornung’s Idea Into Image: Essays on Ancient Egyptian Thought, trans. Elizabeth Bredeck (Timken, 1992).
Jan Peppler, Ph.D., is a writer, lecturer, and adjunct professor of humanities. Founder of the Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Roundtable of Ketchum, ID, she received her doctorate in Mythological Studies and Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. In addition to her research on the archetypal psychology of home, her writing focuses primarily on the hero and the goddess as disguised in popular culture and in religion. In private practice since 1994, her work helps others understand life stories that shape physical and emotional patterns, heal old wounds, embrace their potential, and become the hero of their own mythic journey.