In ancient Egypt, cats were often worshipped as deities -- and anyone who lives with a cat knows they haven't forgotten that, either! In particular, Bast was one of the most highly honored feline gods. Also called Bastet, she was a goddess of sex and fertility. According to the Encyclopedia of World Myth, Bast was originally portrayed as a lioness, but by the time of the Middle Kingdom, around 900 b.c.e., she had morphed into more of a domestic cat. Sometimes, she was portrayed with kittens beside her, as an homage to her role as a goddess of fertility.
The cult of Bast originally sprouted up around the town of Bubastis, which takes its name from her. In her role as protector -- not only of households, but of all of Lower Egypt -- she guarded rural folk and nobility alike. She was often associated with the sun god, Ra, and in later times became a bit of a solar deity herself. When Greek culture moved into Egypt, Bast was portrayed as a moon goddess instead.
When Bast's temple at Per-Bast was excavated, the mummified remains of over a quarter of a million cats were discovered, acccording to the Encylopedia Mythica. During the heyday of ancient Egypt, cats were bedecked in gold jewelry and permitted to eat from their owners' plates. When a cat died, it was honored with an elaborate ceremony, mummification, and interment at Per-Bast.
Bast was also seen as a goddess who protected mothers and their newborn children. In Egyptian magical texts, a woman suffering from infertility might make an offering to Bast in hopes that this would help her conceive. In later years, Bast became strongly connected with Mut, a mother goddess figure, and with the Greek Artemis.