The Blue Cat: Life, Afterlife, and Transformation
Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD
Two scribes and the elegant Blue Bastet Cat with earring
The life of the dead is set in the minds of the living. ~~ Marcus Tillius Cicero
Cats were revered in ancient Egypt. The domesticated cat became a symbol of poise and grace, protection and motherhood – the visible soul of the Egyptian home. Cats were considered sacred, a subject of religious worship, and adorned with fine jewelry like golden earrings.  Wearing gold jewelry was a sign of the cat’s importance.
Egyptian cat with gold earrings & gold nose ring; bronze, c. 600 BC
The history of the Egyptian cat involves the land itself. Egypt’s economy was primarily agricultural, and an empire was built on Ancient Egypt’s enormous agricultural wealth. Cats were highly valued for their skill in controlling the rodent and snake populations that plagued homes, farms, fields and granaries. Cats helped to protect precious crops. Originally for this reason, they were gradually domesticated, maintained in grand style, and deified as purveyors of fertility and sun. They were seen as a divine force that harnessed nature to the benefit of the empire.
Carved black limestone statue of a reclining mother cat nursing her 3 kittens; c. 300 BC; Sadigh Gallery, NY. Representation of fertility and motherhood, a visual prayer.
Amulet: cat with a kitten in front of her, Egyptian faience, c. 400 BC; Charm with magical powers, protection against evil. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Felines: goddess Wadjet depicted as a lion-headed woman. Bronze, c. 600 BC; Brooklyn Museum
Hieroglyphic: Cat-headed figure of a demigod, Balancing Life, Death, and Afterlife; International Council of Museums Committee for Egyptology; Museo Egizio, Turin, IT
Archaeologists believe that cats were also important in dream interpretation. If a cat appeared in a dream, it meant that the dreamer would have a bountiful harvest.
Cats received great respect after death. "The cat's body was placed in a linen sheet and carried amidst bitter lamentations by the bereaved to a sacred house where it was treated with drugs and spices by an embalmer.”  Cats often received a full embalming ceremony, like humans, and were buried in some of the great cemeteries along the Nile. Many were buried with provisions for the afterlife, such as mice and pots of milk. Grief was boundless, endless, infecting.
Mausoleum & dwellings along the Nile River of Egypt
In some ancient artifacts, Nile boatmen are pictured paddling into the afterlife, accompanying an Egyptian on death’s long voyage.  We can safely assume that the same moral obligation would apply to the sacred, noble cat.
Boatmen accompanying an Egyptian on death’s long voyage into the afterlife. Artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian grave.
The scholarly scribes carefully documented, by hand and with reed brushes and pens on papyrus paper, the lives, deaths, and burials of cats owned by royalty. Hieroglyphs on papyrus.  The cats were mourned at length and in ways similar to the mourning of humans.
Hieroglyphics on papyrus paper, c. 600 BC. One figure bears the head of a cat.
Mummification was supposed to keep a cat’s body intact for transporting to the spiritual afterlife. Because of the Egyptians’ deep affection for cats, and the elaborate after-death and burial procedures created for them, the mummies of ancient cats survived and can still be seen in plenitude today. All these extensive and painstaking preparations give fresh significance to the phrase, "Undying love."
Cat mummy -- Canadian Museum of Art
Death is not the end of the story. Far from it.
Their spirit is reaffirmed now by our admiration and awe. We are their afterlife! That is an honor and a responsibility we owe to the cats and their grieving human preservers. We must behave accordingly, with reverence.
The Egyptian cats offer us the privilege, even if only for a momentary glimpse, of living in their times, many ages ago.
Cat mummies -- British Museum, Our impressive company from antiquity. Grief from a different perspective.
How old is old? How long is forever? Are 3,000 years a long time? Who is measuring? The mind is not a passive learner, and individual perception and observation matter.
When each of us learns something from the lookback, the cats have made our lives a little better than before.
Death yields its benefits. We are required to find them. Until then, we are not whole and free.
“If not for death, would we appreciate life?” 
When we deny death, we cannot serve life well. All of us have the power to write our own story, the courage to make our own choices, the resilience to fathom death as well as life.
Egyptian hieroglyphics, c. 600 BC, Carved into the wall of a tomb. Writing it down… ...so important to the health and soundness of the individual & the community.
Tombs of Ramses V and Ramses VI, in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. Hieroglyphics carved into walls and ceilings. The tombs were looted about 3,000 years ago, in times of Egyptian crisis, But the radiant writing still lives, bearing witness for the dead. It was their duty to write it down - for Self, for the gods, and for generations yet unborn.
Tomb of Ramses VI, a lasting legacy, deep and complex; fathoming Life and Death and the Afterlife.
That becomes the root and the richness of life’s meaning. “Life is primarily a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life….The quest for meaning is the key to mental health and human flourishing.”  Hope and sense of purpose.
What counts is not so much what happens to us, but rather, how we perceive what happens to us -- how we frame life’s events. We have the aptitude to imagine, to reframe, to revise our perceptions, and thereby to rise.
That is strength and growth.
The deaths and burial rituals of ancient cats teach us tales about the beauty of life and the importance of the past. The past is the foundation of the present and a herald of the future. It must not be denied or ignored as some people suggest. Forgetting the past in order to soothe today’s grief pain is not a restorative option. "Forget about the dead and move on" is shallow advice. Impossible. Choose the past and the present. They are actually factually indivisible. They form a whole. It is not a question of either / or.
We cannot live as though history had not happened.
“Turkish” Angora kittens – Angoras are a “landrace” breed, one of several descendant breeds from the ancients ! Past is present and informs the future.
This choice opens our pathways to the fullness of life, containing all that is possible and complete in every particular, and a lasting legacy of dignity, integrity, sincerity, and grace.
Envision. Remember. Become.
Those immortal dead live again In minds made better by their presence. ~~ George Eliot
An Appreciation: Thank you, MTC and HMC, for your friendship and for the Blue Cat. – 6/4/16 -- Viva la Blue Cat. “Each of us has a unique constellation of gifts, an unreplicated radius of influence, and within that radius, be it as small as a family or as large as a state, we can be a transformative presence.” [J. H. Sacks]
And always a Debt of Gratitude to MWM, without whose steady encouragement this pen would still be silent. “We each have…capacities that can lie dormant throughout life, until someone awakens them. We can all achieve [that] of which we never thought ourselves capable. All it takes is for us to meet someone who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. Such people change lives.” [J. H. Sacks]
Map of Nile River region, burial ground for many ancient cats. The Nile is the longest river in the world.
Older map of the Nile region -- British
Hieroglyphic word for NILE
Hieroglyphic words for male cat & female cat. The name for "cat" was MAU, an onomatopoeia.
I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul. ~~ Jean Cocteau
Divine Felines, 305 BC; Wood, gilded gesso, bronze, rock crystal, glass; Scarab placed between the ears symbolized the morning sun. Brooklyn Museum SCARAB: used in ancient Egypt generally as "a symbol for the soul."
The Back Page: Even the smallest feline is a masterpiece. Cats have a rare grace, elegance, and absolute emotional honesty, Glad for company and yet possessing secret lives. They are like spirits come briefly to earth. Time spent with a cat is never wasted.* Life, Afterlife, and Transformation.
(*Leonardo da Vinci, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Pam Brown, Jules Verne, Colette)
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted, but mostly they're darked. But mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?” ― Theodor S. Geisel