Category Archives: pets

Cat Born to the Purple’s first review!

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Coming Nov 1st!

 

Here’s an excerpt from Midwest Book Review’s Senior Reviewer Diane Donovan:

“Cat Born to the Purple is one of the most powerful accounts of Biblical times in Christian literature! It’s rare to find the fourth book of a series just as gripping a read as its predecessors, and equally extraordinary to find such an addition both a stand-alone achievement and an impressive expansion of themes presented in prior books. A truly unique ‘voice’!

Midwest

 

 

 

Read the complete review here.

 

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New: The Cats of Rekem

 

 

Temple of Winged Lions, photo TWLCRM
Temple of Winged Lions, photo TWLCRM

The Yeshua’s Cats website has a new page today: the prologue and first chapter of The Cats of Rekem, third book in the Yeshua’s Cats series! If all goes well, The Cats of Rekem will be released in the fall of 2015.

Take a look!

Below is a rough sketch of one of the carvings in the Temple of the Winged Lions at Petra:

sketch by CL Francisco
sketch by CL Francisco

 

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A Christmas Greeting from Yeshua’s Cats

Last year after publishing The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, I wrote an additional piece of the story that I sent out in my Christmas newsletter. Here it is again, for the first time in a public posting.

For those of you who have the paperback edition of TGATYC, this new piece would be inserted at the top of page 124, just after “. . . filled with laughter.”  For those of you with the Kindle edition, it’s in Chapter 15, Magdala, just after Mari muses about the nature of the festival of lights, and before Yeshua starts speaking on the last night of the feast.

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“Night Sky Christmas,” C. L. Francisco

One night after everyone had gone to bed I finally asked him. “Are your people celebrating the return of the sun’s warmth when they celebrate their festival of lights, son of Earth?”

            “Yes and no, little mother,” he replied, turning his head and smiling as he opened his eyes. “We measure the years by the seasons of the moon, not by the sun’s path, so none of our holy days takes note of the sun’s movement, not even this one. No, this week we rejoice in events almost 200 years past, when a great man named Judas Maccabeus cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem from the pollution of a pagan altar put there by foreign conquerors. Our many lamps call us to remember that the One’s light can dispel even the deepest darkness.”

            He rose to his feet and reached out his arm in invitation, so I leapt to his shoulder, wrapping my tail around his neck. Together we walked out under the winter sky and stood on the hill, watching the stars touch the great sea with their cold fire.

            “Yet, little leopard,” he continued as if he had never paused, “you are right when you wonder if we are also welcoming the sun’s return. Just as stars grow brighter in the long nights, each light that burns in winter’s darkness whispers of that hope. Together with all Earth’s children, our hearts grow full when we see the sun begin its long journey back to the heights of heaven. This too reminds us of the One’s faithfulness.”

            I curled around his neck more closely to dispel the night’s chill, but I said nothing. I only purred with pleasure at his closeness. I sensed that words still lay unspoken in his heart.

            “Sweet Mari, my mother told me that I was born on a night like this, when the stars danced in a black sky, and the breath of humans and beasts alike clouded vision with their brief mist. Joy filled the night and sang in the heavens at the wonder of my coming into the world. All things were made new under that sky, she said.”

            I rubbed my whiskers against his cheek, and he continued.

            “I can almost hear the heavens singing on such nights. The One’s face shimmers behind the host of stars like a distant oasis in the heat of a desert’s summer day. And yet the chill of a winter night and the searing heat of the desert’s noon both lie quiet in the hollow of his hand.

“As do you and I.”

 

"Shepherds' Star," C. L. Francisco
“Shepherds’ Star,” C. L. Francisco

 

May you all have a blessed Christmas!

 

Cat Mummies of Ancient Egypt

In a A Cat Out of Egypt, Miw, the Egyptian temple cat who narrates the story, is in danger of becoming a cat mummy–and not as a result of a natural death. Several readers have asked whether such a thing could have been based in reality. This week’s blog is my answer.

How were cat mummies created in ancient Egypt? What significance did they have? What kind of process led to the creation of the vast cat cemeteries that archaeologists have discovered among Egyptian ruins? As with most historical questions, the answers are complex.

Cat Mummies as Votive Offerings

Cat mummies discovered in early excavations at Bubastis were probably the first to be seen by Western explorers/archaeologists, but the cat cemetery unearthed at Beni Hasan (a site roughly 100 miles south of Cairo and known for its beautiful tombs), was carefully described by a Western observer. In 1888, near the rock-cut temple dedicated to the lion goddess Pakhet, a huge cat cemetery was discovered. A lengthy description of the discovery follows, as recorded by British professor W. M Conway:

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A common cat mummy

An Egyptian fellah from a neighboring village . . . dug a hole, somewhere in the level floor of the desert, and struck–cats! Not one or two, here and there, but dozens, hundreds, hundreds of thousands, a layer of them, a stratum thicker than most coal seams, ten to twenty cats deep, mummy squeezed against mummy tight as herrings in a barrel . . . A systematic exploration of the seam was undertaken. The surface sand was stripped off and the cats laid bare. All sorts and conditions of them appeared–the commoner sort caked together in black lumps, out of which here a grinning face, there a furry paw, there a backbone or row of ribs of some ancient puss, stood prominently forth. The better cats and kittens appeared in astonishing numbers, with all their wrappings as fresh as if they had been put into the ground a week, and not 30 centuries, before. Now and again an elaborately plaited mummy turned up; still more rarely one with a gilded face . . . only three cat statues have as yet been found. Two are small bronze figures. The third is a life-size bronze, a hollow casting, inside which the actual cat was buried . . . The plundering of the site was a sight to see, but one had to stand well to windward. All of the village children came and provided themselves with the most attractive mummies they could find. These they took down to the river to sell for the smallest coin . . .  The path became strewn with mummy cloth and bits of cats’ skulls and bones and fur in horrid profusion, and the wind blew the fragments about and carried the stink afar . . . .

But most of the Egyptian cat mummies discovered in this and other such cemeteries in the late 19th century–nineteen tons of them–were bought in bulk and shipped to Europe to be sold at auction as fertilizer.

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Who were these cats, and where did they come from? How did such huge numbers come to be packed into common graves–and sometimes even burned? Contemporary scholars agree that these cemeteries, always found in the immediate area of a temple dedicated to one of Egypt’s feline goddesses (such as Pahket at Beni Hasan, Bast at Bubastis, and numerous other sites as well), were filled with the mummies of cats purchased by pilgrims and given as votive gifts to the goddess. They had to be put somewhere.

Temple at Beni Hasan
Temple at Beni Hasan

The cats discovered inside these mummy wrappings were the ancestors of today’s Egyptian Mau cats. Some are clearly identifiable as one of the two wildcat sub-species thought to have interbred to eventually produce Egypt’s domestic cats: the jungle cat, Felis chaus, and the African wild cat, Felis silvestris libyca.

What is a votive gift? We don’t see them much in Western Christianity today. The candles bought and lit alongside the altars in some churches are as close as most of us ever come to this ancient practice. The word “votive” here refers to something given or dedicated as an expression of a wish or desire. In Roman Egypt (which is when ACOOE takes place) the people believed that if they bought a mummified cat and presented it to the temple of a goddess like Bast/Bastet, or Pakhet, the cat’s spirit would join the goddess in the afterlife, where it would continually urge her to bless the giver and answer their prayer, whatever it might be. Of course millions of other animal mummies were given in the same way to their respective gods–snakes, fish, mice, gazelles, ibis, crocodiles, sheep, cattle, falcons, dogs, and even beetles.

Snakes in an ibis mummy
Snakes in an ibis mummy

Recent research has shown that the popularity of votive mummies increased dramatically after 1000 BCE, when temples’ strict formality relaxed, and common people began to express  their own personal piety. As the demand for votive mummies increased, priestly corruption and greed set in, resulting in “mummies” containing no animal at all, only a few bones, or parts of common animals substituted for the bodies of rare ones. In time, some animals came to be bred solely for the mummy trade.

 

 

X-ray of kitten mummy inside votive cat figure
X-ray of kitten mummy inside votive cat figure

Particularly among the cat mummies from Bubastis, archaeologists have discovered a large proportion of young kittens, strangled or with broken necks, placed in adult-size wrappings. Cat remains from Bubastis that were apparently burned rather than mummified are still a mystery. (One tidbit of feline tradition in A Cat Out of Egypt explains such a fictional burning at Leontopolis).

As the description of Beni Hasan makes clear, the mummies in these cemeteries ranged from the ornate and artistically sophisticated to the very simple and carelessly made. The odor described at Beni Hasan certainly would have come from the less carefully-made mummies. Animals mummified as carefully as wealthy humans would have had little or no such odor. (In A Cat Out of Egypt, reference is made to the slip-shod embalming methods used in the production of some votive mummies)

A number of the mummies found in Egypt’s cat cemeteries were more carefully constructed. Many were beautifully painted and expensively wrapped. Some were enclosed in wooden caskets, often shaped as cats. Others were placed inside hollow-cast bronze cat figures. With these more complex figures we may  be straying into the category of household pets embalmed and presented to the temple as votive offerings by their owners after death, although the presence of kitten mummies in some of these bronze figures (see above) may indicate their origin in the cat mummy trade. So in conclusion, we need to examine the different relationships that existed between cats and humans in early Roman Egypt, and how cat burials reflected those relationships.

Cats and their Egyptian Humans

Two early Greek historians are often quoted in discussions of ancient Egyptian cats: Herodotus (484-425 BCE) and Diodorus Siculus (1st C BCE), although their accounts should probably be approached with some caution. For instance, Herodotus states that it was the established habit of Egyptian cats to run into burning buildings; clearly his reports were not entirely accurate. Similar questions remain in his report of the battle of Pelusium, which, according to Herodotus, the Egyptians conceded to the Persians rather than risk killing the animals the Persians had staked out in their front ranks. How can the contradiction between the respect for ancient cats that both men reported, and the evidence of large-scale cat slaughter in the votive mummy industry be resolved?

Editorial cartoon based on the Battle of Pelusium
Editorial cartoon based on the Battle of Pelusium

Perhaps this discrepancy can be explained by suggesting a kind of class distinction among Egyptian cats, at least as far as humans perceived them. The wild or feral cats who lived on the fringes of society would have been lowest in this order, little different from any other wild or domestic animal routinely hunted or raised for food, and probably bred for use in mummies. Second would have been the domestic cats kept as pets and mousers and generally respected as members of a species ennobled by the gods. Third were the sacred cats, whose status might have been determined either by specific markings–as in the case of the Apis bulls–or by their temple lineage. These cats were not worshiped, but held as sacred because in some way they were embodiments of the goddess. However they were identified, it was probably these cats who were so highly respected in Egypt that, according to Diodorus, a visiting Roman was lynched after accidentally killing a cat. Questions remain as to whether temple priests were permitted to kill cats considered to be sacred. Whatever the truth may be, Weguelin’s “Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat” (below) is likely to be a romantic over-statement.

John Reinhard Weguelin, "The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat," 1886
John Reinhard Weguelin, “The Obsequies of an Egyptian Cat,” 1886
"Little Mewer's" sarcophagus
“Little Mewer’s” sarcophagus

We do know that cats were treasured pets among the ancient Egyptians, and were frequently depicted in their owners’ tombs, as well as being buried with them. They were grieved by their humans as family members when they died. Perhaps the best known of all Egyptian pet cats is Tai Miuwette, “Little Mewer,” the cat beloved of crown prince Thutmose, brother of Akhenaten, whose stone sarcophagus has come down to us. We also know that sometimes these treasured pets were brought to the temples to be embalmed, and sometimes left as votive offerings–but only after natural deaths following long and pampered lives.

 

 

 

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The Temple of Bast at Bubastis

A number of early readers of A Cat Out of Egypt have expressed an interest in learning more about the ancient temple of Bast/Bastet at Bubastis. These are readers after my own heart! If you don’t try to understand the world a character lives in, you have little chance of understanding who that person is. Ancient Egypt is a truly an alien land for English-speaking people of the contemporary Western world, even moreso than ancient Israel–thus ACOOE’s many detailed descriptions of ancient Egyptian customs. I hope you’ll find their culture as fascinating as I did.

EgyptDeltaMapWhen I decided to feature an Egyptian temple cat as Yeshua’s childhood companion, I chose Bubastis for three reasons: first, because it was a temple dedicated to the cat goddess Bast/Bastet; second, because descriptions of the temple in the mid 5th C BCE have come down to us in the writings of the historian Herodotus; and third, because Bubastis lies in the general area of the Nile delta where many Jewish settlements existed in the 1st C CE, which made it a likely location for Yeshua’s family.

Bast relief from Bubastis
Bast relief from Bubastis

I decided to refer to the Egyptian goddess Bast/Bastet as “Bast,” rather than “Bastet,” because I wanted to call to mind her earlier persona as a lion goddess. She was usually called “Bastet” by Yeshua’s time, a diminutive form of her original name “Bast,” emphasizing her less threatening aspect as a domestic cat. But she never lost the connection to her earlier self–a self capable of terrifying rage, who stood between the forces of chaos and the sun’s daily rising, as well representing the more fertile and nurturing aspects of a lioness.

The major construction periods archaeologists have been able to identify at Bubastis begin in the Middle Kingdom (roughly 2000 BCE) and continue through the Hyksos dynasty in the mid-to-late second millennium BCE. The entrance hall, festival hall, and hypostyle hall were all likely to have been built during those years, although they probably replaced earlier structures which can’t be identified. Invading Persian forces in the 6th C BCE inflicted heavy damage on many Egyptian temples, including Bubastis. The repairs and new construction undertaken during the 30th Dynasty (Nectanebo and others, 4th C BCE) were probably made necessary by this period of warfare.

David_Roberts_The_Temple_Of_Kom_Ombo_
“Kom Ombo,” Roberts

Here is a passage describing the temple at Bubastis as Herodotus experienced it around 450 BCE, a hundred years before the addition of the sanctuary hall by Pharaoh Nectanebo:

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“Holy Tree,” David Roberts

Save for the entrance, it stands on an island; two separate channels approach it from the Nile, running in contrary directions as far as the entry of the temple; each of them is a hundred feet wide and overshadowed by trees.

The outer court has a height of 60 feet, and is adorned with notable tall figures. 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, so that it can be seen into from without.

A stone wall runs around it; within it is a grove of very tall trees growing around a great shrine wherein is the image of the goddess; the temple is a square, each side measuring an eighth of a mile. A paved road of almost a half mile’s length leads to the entrance, running eastwards toward the marketplace; this road is about 400 feet wide, and bordered by trees reaching to heaven.

Below you can see a 19th C artist’s rendition of the hypostyle hall at the temple of Hathor at Dendera, which was roughly contemporary with Bubastis.

Temple_Dendera
Like many 19th C efforts, the first major excavation at Bubastis by Edouard Naville was not systematically done–although even then the temple was little more than a field of uneven ground, suggesting the scattered and fallen remains buried beneath the surface. In the photo below you can see clearly the raised ground of the city surrounding the temple area, just as Herodotus described it. The people of the Nile delta made a habit of building up the mounds upon which their towns and cities were built to keep them above the level of the Nile floods, but the monumental nature of their stone temples made such mound-building nearly impossible for them.

Naville's Excavation, 1887-1889
Naville’s Excavation, 1887-1889

Unfortunately, major artifacts from Bubastis were carried away to Western museums with little regard for their original placement, although, as ongoing arguments continue to point out, their removal may have preserved them from exposure and vandalism. Many lesser objects were simply cast aside, leaving them vulnerable to theft and weathering. Recent scholars have struggled to piece together the temple’s appearance, both before and after Nectanebo’s changes (350 BCE). Most agree that his major contribution was a new sanctuary area, probably replacing an old one, at the western end of the temple.

The map below reflects a possible plan of the temple area at the time of the Roman conquest of Egypt (30 BCE):

Temple of Bast at Bubastis, map by C.L. Francisco
Temple of Bast at Bubastis, map by C.L. Francisco

The festival road, probably lined with sphinxes, approached the temple from east, where it entered the towering pylons that formed the temple’s main gate.

Similar pylons at temple of Isis, Philae
Similar pylons at temple of Isis, Philae

In front of the pylons, two matching granite statues of a Hyksos king (1500 BCE, below) guarded the approach to the temple. Two columns with palm-leaf capitals stood within the gate, which opened into the entrance hall. The entrance hall itself apparently had no columns, much of its space being filled with statues of various pharaohs, including two monumental statues of Ramesses II standing against the inner wall of the pylons. Both the entrance hall, and the festival hall, an enclosure honoring Osorkon II (9th C BCE), were probably built by Osorkon I and/or Osorkon II.

Beyond the festival hall was the great hall of columns, or hypostyle hall. The hypostyle hall may have been partially divided into two different segments, but the chaos of the fallen columns makes it difficult to say with any certainty.

Fallen columns at Bubastis
Fallen columns at Bubastis

Scholars also disagree as to whether the hall of columns had a ceiling or only epistyles connecting and securing the columns along their tops. There were certainly two types of granite columns discovered–a smaller set with Hathor-head capitals, and a larger set with palm leaf and lotus bud/papyrus capitals. You can see both types of shattered capitals in Naville’s photo above. Below are two intact capitals now in museums.

At the very western end of the temple stood Nectanebo’s 4th C BCE sanctuary hall, entered through a second pair of pylons. The sanctuary hall contained the large central shrine of the goddess Bastet, as well as 7 – 12 smaller shrines along the side and back walls, dedicated to other deities. Most of the sanctuary hall was built of red granite, with floors of basalt. The walls, doors, and ceilings were ornately carved, as was the shrine of the goddess. Stars covered the ceilings.

Starry sky, Hathor temple ceiling, Dendera
Starry sky, Hathor temple ceiling, Dendera

The goddess’ shrine, or naos, was carved from a single piece of red granite, approximately 12 feet high and 5 feet wide, with gilded wooden doors opening inward. Based on its available interior space, the goddess’ statue within the naos would have been 4 – 4 ½ feet high. The image would certainly have been overlaid with gold, if not cast of solid gold, and decorated with precious stones, turquoise, and lapis lazuli. Priests dressed her daily in rich clothing.

 

Bast ointment jar
Bast ointment jar

Since the temple map above was created to illustrate the temple as it is described in A Cat Out of Egypt, the chamber of the Great Cat is shown on the map. In reality, there was no such chamber, so far as anyone knows, just as there was probably no Great Cat. But there was a House of Life, as well as gardens, pools, and probably small free-standing temple buildings. Every temple also had its practical buildings, including housing, kitchens, laundries, animal areas, and temple workshops. Bubastis was known for the ointments and perfumes created by its staff as an expression of the goddess’ reputation as Lady of the Ointment Jar, and Mistress of the Embalming House, as well as being renowned for its oracle. There was also an apparently thriving trade in cat mummies at the time ACOOE took place.

"Ezekiel's Vision," Raphael
“Ezekiel’s Vision”

Bubastis even appears in the writings of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 30:17), when he warns various nations of the wrath to come : “The young men of On and Pi-beseth (Bubastis) shall fall by the sword, and the cities themselves shall go into captivity.” Scholars have speculated that the revels accompanying the annual temple festival at Bubastis may have been responsible for Bubastis’ licentious reputation. Herodotus describes the festival briefly below:

The manner observed in the festival of Bubastis is this: men and women embark promiscuously in great numbers, and during the voyage, some of the women beat upon a tabor, while part of the men play on the pipe, the rest of both sexes singing and striking their hands together at the same time.  At every city they find in their passage they bring the boat to land, and some of the women continue their music, but some of the others either provoke the women of the place with opprobrious language, or dance, or draw up their garments; and they do this at every town that stands by the shore. When they arrive at Bubastis, they celebrate the festival with numerous sacrifices, and consume more wine than in all the rest of the year. For the inhabitants say this assembly usually consists of about 700,000 men and women, besides children.

 The feline narrator of A Cat Out of Egypt has her own ideas about the festival.

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To get a more detailed–and accurate–view of the discoveries at Bubastis, I recommend the ongoing blog of the Tell Basta excavation team.

Click on the following link for a downloadable pdf of the British Museum’s publication, A Naos of Nekhthorheb from Bubastis.

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The Cat Is Out — Again!

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A Cat out of Egypt is now available on Amazon!

Instead of the estimated 3-5 day lag between submission and appearance, it popped up immediately! So check out the paperback today at:

http://www.amazon.com/Cat-Out-Egypt-Prequel-Yeshuas/dp/1500776416/

and the Kindle edition (available October 15) at:

http://www.amazon.com/Cat-Out-Egypt-Prequel-Yeshuas-ebook/dp/B00O78WU9U/

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And don’t forget to leave a review if you enjoy it!

 

 

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Midwest Book Review Praises “A Cat Out of Egypt”!

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A Cat out of Egypt’s 1st advance review is in!

and the verdict is . . .

“Enchanting, poetic, engrossing, and vivid–simply a delight!”

~ D. Donovan, Reviewer for Midwest Book Review

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Here’s the review in its entirety:

A Cat Out of Egypt is billed as a prequel to Yeshua’s Cat (…not seen by this reviewer), and opens with a prologue that deftly sets the first-person character as cat Miw, called ‘Daughter of Fire’ among her people. Born with the rare ability to communicate with humans, Miw is growing old and thus is motivated to share her story about her encounters with humans she normally eschews and one special human in particular. A Cat Out of Egypt is her story and will attract a range of readers from young adult through adults.

But if you think you’re getting the typical cat’s-eye view of a cat’s life, think again: this story begins with the birth of a baby in a manger, where the magi aren’t the only ones to see a strange star in the sky and wonder. So does the Great Cat Who is Bast, as she gives birth to kittens – and thus begins a journey of transformation and fear: one in which vipers and sacred dancers mingle and portents spark an ancient cat culture to view human events with a new perspective.

As one special cat interacts with young Yeshua and imparts wisdom on what it means to live in a cat’s world, readers are in for a treat that presents Biblical events and times from quite a different (cat-oriented) vantage point wedded to the notion of a Goddess overseeing all, rather than a male God: “The goddess is simply the One who is. And it makes sense. Among cats, mothers feed and care for the young. Fathers go their own ways and care little for their children. If a male cat offers neither love nor sustenance to his kittens, why should a male deity do more?”

Spiritual revolution is in the air and human and cat worlds alike find their focal points in one child who will grow up to change everything: “Who was this child who held the power of life in his hand? Had he spoken truly when he said all gods but the One Creator were lesser gods, unfit to be called by that name? Was her beloved Bast, Flame of the Morning and Mother of Light, no more than a trembling wraith who thinned and vanished before the brilliance of the god Yeshua called the One?”

Sons and mothers, friendships between animal and human, the birthing of kittens and new possibilities, and (most of all) the evolution of a new force in the world saturate a striking blend of spiritual history and feline observation that holds many important spiritual conversations and observations: “I know there was a time when people everywhere knew the face of the Creator. Our scriptures tell us so. But scripture doesn’t explain how they could have forgotten the name of the One who formed them from the dust, and confused him with the small spirits of the Earth. Even the beasts are not so blind. I wonder if the glory of the One was too great? Perhaps the human heart cries out for a god it can see and touch.”

Enchanting, poetic, engrossing, and vivid, A Cat Out of Egypt is simply a delight, and highly recommended for Christian readers who would gain a different, fictional, cat’s-eye perspective on Jesus’ early experiences and his interactions with the world.

~ D. Donovan, Reviewer for Midwest Book Review

 

 

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Author C. L. Francisco’s blog — home of Yeshua’s Cats!

 

 

This site is still under construction in some areas. Please be patient with our glitches!

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Indie Reader gives Yeshua’s Cat 4 1/2 stars!

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The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat just received its 1st

major review!

 

Indie Reader gave Yeshua’s Cat 4 ½ stars and an Indie Reader approved seal!

Here’s a summary:

“As a thoughtful, loving and gentle portrayal of the life of Jesus, though, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO YESHUA’S CAT succeeds. Open-minded readers of all faith perspectives may agree with some of it, disbelieve other parts entirely, and find some debatable, which may in fact be an ideal balance for a theological work.”

To read more, click on the Indie Reader button in the right column.

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Sleeping with Bacchus: cats and stress

 

PF-Moving-house_GettyMoving: nobody likes it. It’s unsettling, disorienting, chaotic. Every stress scale includes it. If you live within a tight budget it’s also appallingly hard work. And the older you get, the greater the possibilities of personal disaster. The specters of back injury and clinical exhaustion pile onto the routine risks of things broken or left behind, toes smashed, muscles strained, and near-death experiences driving top-heavy, tank-like vehicles. And I speak from a continent of experience.

When humans move, we understand why we do it, although it’s never easy, and seldom without pain. But what about the animals who share our lives, who go because we go? No, let’s be more specific: what about our cats?

Morgan
Morgan

We had finally been forced to leave our fire-scarred land for a new home, and the year was turning toward the 2nd anniversary of my cat Morgan’s death, which had resulted from the stress of our original flight from the wildfire.  And that meant I was also approaching the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death (she died a week after Morgan).

Trauma makes tracks in our memories, links among synapses like connections in a railroad switching yard: a mental switch is thrown, direction changes imperceptibly, and we find ourselves traveling a road wearing the smooth semblance of the here and now, but invisibly cracked and pitted with old emotion. The unseen past trips us with its rubbled pain and creates new trauma where none need be: a trick of the mind, and one that caught me off-guard.

I had adopted a pair of kittens from a local shelter not long after Morgan’s death. From his earliest days, the male, Bacchus, had a sweetness I’d rarely encountered in a cat before, and I loved him beyond reason. When we moved to Colorado, he developed a urinary infection in the first weeks. I watched him closely, and began to see symptoms like Morgan’s appearing. When he strained to urinate for over a minute with no success I packed him into his carrying case and took him to the vet. Probably stress-related from the move, the vet said, and my heart quaked.

Bacchus
Bacchus

Stress. We talk about it all the time. Most of us are sure we have too much of it. We assume we understand what it is, but the word can mean at least four different things:

  1. in physics, force per unit area;
  2. in language, emphasis on a word;
  3. in psychology, emotional discomfort produced by external and/or internal circumstances;
  4. in biology, a stimulus that generates a state of heightened physiological response, and the physiological and anatomical consequences of that response.

The familiar buzzword is #3. Most people are aware of #2, some are superficially familiar with #1 from news reports on structural collapses after earthquakes, but I doubt that many people without biological or medical training are aware of #4.

The vets I consulted about Morgan and Bacchus almost certainly spoke in biological terms—but what I heard was pop psychology. I went away believing that the emotional terrors of moving were direct causes of both infections. We were speaking subtly different languages.

Photo by Hannibal Poenaru
Photo by Hannibal Poenaru

FlightThere are two basic scenarios for biological stress: the perceived threat can be real, or it can be imagined. If the threat in the stimulus is real, then running away or fighting will relieve the stress, and the body can return to normal. But when the threat is imagined, the situation is more complex. If, as in Bacchus’ case, a cat perceives a threat in a new environment, but neither fight nor flight is possible, his body is unable to relax from the heightened response, and the stress is prolonged and unresolved. So he remains in a state of inappropriate physiological alert to the stimulus of this new environment for days and weeks. Such stress has an exhausting effect over time.

Apparently, Bacchus’ response to feeling lousy from the extended time on high alert was to stop drinking water. An unfortunate choice, since he then started building up uric acid in his system, which caused bladder inflammation and pain, making him think he needed to urinate when he didn’t—with the result that he felt worse and even less inclined to drink anything, and became dehydrated.

Morgan-Bacchus collage
Morgan-Bacchus collage

By the time I packed Bacchus into his carrying case, my emotional train had already switched tracks without my awareness: I was sure I was rushing to save his life, but in fact I was caught up in a replay of the trauma of the wildfire and Morgan’s illness and death. Judgment and clear-sightedness had fallen away. As for Bacchus, taking him to the vet was probably the worst thing I could have done. Already suffering from the effects of physiological stress because of our move, he found himself suddenly moved again, but this time abandoned in a strange vet’s kennel, with neither his human nor his sister for comfort. Suddenly his life had gotten much worse.

Bacchus stayed overnight at the clinic, but by midmorning the next day he had produced no urine sample, so the vet used a needle to draw urine from his bladder. It hurt, and Bacchus vomited. Concerned that shock was a possibility, the vet hydrated him, analyzed the urine, and sent him back home with some antibiotics. At 2 AM Bacchus began to stagger and vomit. He was going into shock.

Shock is a sudden and drastic drop in blood pressure that is usually fatal if not reversed quickly. It is commonly caused by an extreme reaction to threatening stimuli, great blood loss, or pain—any of which will have greater impact if the animal is already dehydrated. Immediate intravenous fluids are the only effective treatment for a cat in shock, so I rushed Bacchus to an emergency clinic twenty miles away. He barely made it, but they saved his life.

If I had responded to Bacchus’ symptoms with a little thought and research instead of recycled panic, I could have taken special care to be sure he drank enough water and watched him closely for a couple of days. Perhaps he never had an infection—just inflammation. By taking him to the vet, I subjected him to greatly increased stress and dehydration, and when the vet drew urine, Bacchus was frightened by the pain. I might as well have been setting him up to go into shock.

Cat’s Nightmare, C.L. Francisco
Cat’s Nightmare, C.L. Francisco

The odd thing about the whole situation is that neither Bacchus nor I engaged with actual events. Bacchus responded to threat where there was only sudden change, and I was running on fear laid down by a similar trauma in my past. In a sense we were both sleepwalking, moving through self-created dreamspace.

My emotional overreaction to Bacchus’ stress probably added to his difficulties. A cat’s human is rather like a parent, and the cat looks to his human to assess danger and alert him to its presence. My alarm at Bacchus’ health issues and my ongoing anxiety over his well-being undoubtedly communicated their message to him: “Be afraid! Be very afraid!” And his stress increased.

Sad cat in cage, by Giordano
Sad cat in cage, by Giordano

I suspect the vet realized that if the feedback loop of Bacchus’ stress response couldn’t be interrupted, Bacchus would not recover. So after hydrating him for 36 hours he told me to come get him and take him home. When I approached the cage, Bacchus was lying in the back corner, looking much like he looked when he went into shock: almost dead. I knelt down and called his name, and he growled and hissed without even opening his eyes. I unlatched the cage door and called him again, and his eyes flew open as if he really heard me that time. But when I reached in and picked him up, he snarled and spat and tried to scratch me. At last, as I pulled him out and held him close, he relaxed and began to burrow into my neck.

Bacchus
Bacchus

I recognized the pattern and felt sudden shame. By permitting old trauma to derail me from the reality of the present, I had opened a door for Bacchus to do the same. Now we were both sleeping the troubled sleep of past pain reliving itself in the present. Did he hear someone call his name? Terror. Was someone picking him up? Pain soon to come. He was snared by a shock different from what nearly killed him—he was suffering from incipient post-traumatic shock.

Each day after he came home he grew a little stronger. Kitty water bowls bloomed throughout the house, tempting him to drink. He started eating and drinking, and soon he even romped a bit. I worked relentlessly at monitoring and releasing my own anxiety. Now, more than 5 years later, he still flinches at any sudden noise or movement, but otherwise he’s my warm, loveable friend.

Miner’s Canary
Miner’s Canary

Bacchus granted me a rare inside look at the damage we inflict on ourselves and others when the landscape around us is transformed by our own emotions.  The animals who share our space mirror more than our care and grooming. They are individuals with interwoven multilevel awareness like ours. But unlike our human relations, they suffer in silence, never accusing us, allowing us to see how we hurt them without triggering our defensiveness and self-justification.

If we let ourselves see them clearly, they can be our counselors, even our guides. But too often they are only our miners’ canaries, dying in vain to warn us of inner toxins we have ignored until escape is impossible.

Bacchus Today
Bacchus Today

Thanks to the One, it wasn’t too late for Bacchus or for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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