From around the third millennium BCE Bast (also referred to as Baast, Ubasti and Baset) originated as a protector Goddess of Lower Egypt (the delta of the Nile River), where she was seen as the defender of the ruling pharaoh, and consequently Ra, the Solar deity. This gained her the titles of "Lady of the Flame" and "Eye of Ra", thus symbolising the fertilising force of the Sun's rays. By 930 BCE, the power of Bast was acknowledged by all Egyptians.
Bast's role diminished over time however as, after the unification of upper and lower Egypt, Sekhmet, a similar Lioness war deity, became more dominant. In the first millennium BCE, as domesticated cats were becoming more and more popular as pets, Bast began to be represented as a woman with the head of a cat. In some images, she was depicted as a cat carrying the Sun. By the Middle Kingdom, the domesticated cat had appeared as her sacred animal, and later during the New Kingdom, Bast was depicted as a woman with the head of a cat or a lioness, carrying a sacred rattle and a box or basket.
The city of Bubastis (meaning "House of Bast"), located in the Nile delta, was the centre place of worship to Bast devotees. Great celebrations were said to have been held there, where boatloads of worshipers arrived. Greek historian, Herodotus, who travelled in Egypt during the 5th century BCE describes the temple of Bast in great detail:
" ... save for the entrance, it stands on an island; two separate channels approach it from the Nile, and after coming up to the entry of the temple, they run round it on opposite sides; each of them is an hundred feet wide, and overshadowed by trees. The temple is in the midst of the city, the whole circuit of which commands a view down into it; for the city's level has been raised, but that of the temple has been left as it was from the first, so that it can be seen into from without. A stone wall, carven with figures, runs round it; within is a grove of very tall trees growing round a great shrine, wherein is the image of the goddess; the temple is a square, each side measuring a furlong. A road, paved with stone, of about three furlongs' length leads to the entrance, running eastward through the market place, towards the temple of Hermes; this road is about four hundred wide, and bordered by trees reaching to heaven."
Bast's followers believed that in return for this reverent celebration the Goddess would bestow both mental and physical health upon them.
Herodotus also relates that of the many solemn festivals held in Egypt, the most important and most popular one was that celebrated in Bubastis in honour of the Goddess, whom he calls Bubastis and equates with the Greek Goddess Artemis. Each year on the day of her festival, the town is said to have attracted some 700,000 visitors ("as the people of the place say"), both men and women (but not children), who arrived in numerous crowded ships. The women engaged in music, song and dance on their way to the place, great sacrifices were made and prodigious amounts of wine were drunk, more than was the case throughout the year. This accords well with Egyptian sources which prescribe that leonine Goddesses are to be appeased with the "feasts of drunkenness".
Bast was usually depicted as a woman with a domesticated cat's head, although she often had a lion's head. She is never depicted as human and is known to hold various items:
- Ankh, a symbol of life who Bast often held;
- Papyrus wand, again often held by Bast, usually symbolizing a primogenial God;
- Sistrum, a musical instrument often held by Bast and Het-Hert (Hathor);
- Was-scepter, a symbol of power or dominion sometimes held by Bast in pictures of her in Per-Bast.