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The Mystique Behind Black Cats

Written by Mary Anne Miller


One of the three prevalent superstitions alive in our culture today concerns the black cat. These superstitions are: the number 13 being unlucky, you don’t walk under an open ladder, and if a black cat crosses your path, it is considered bad luck. Interestingly enough, in most other cultures, the black cat is a prized possession. Owning one is considered to bring the owner good luck.

 

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The origin of the black cat and good luck is believed to have begun in Ancient Egypt with the sacred black cat of Oagans- BAST. BAST, a goddess of Egypt reigned in the Twenty-Second Dynasty and was the official deity of Egypt. Many courted her favors, by procuring black cats into their households; believing that she would become part of that cat in spirit, and grace the home with riches and prosperity.


In the 1600’s Charles I of England, owned a black cat. He fiercely loved and protected his cat. Keeping it under guard 24/7, until one day the cat fell ill and died. Charles I was heard to proclaim- “Alas my luck is gone.” The next day, he was arrested and charged with high treason. Ultimately he was put to his death.


In Sumatra, when the drought is long and rain is needed, a black cat is found and thrown into the river. The village folk line the bank, forcing the cat to swim until almost exhausted. Once the cat is exhausted they allow the cat to get out of the water. The women of the village then chase the black cat while throwing water on the cat and themselves. This is supposed to bring rain. Although this tradition might bring good luck to the village, pity the poor cat that has the bad luck of being chosen for this dubious duty!


In the Yorkshires, a black cat was said to bring the fishermen home safely from the seas. During the most prominent part of the fishing industry in this village, black kittens were often catnapped and sold to the highest bidder (usually the wives of the fishermen) by racketeers trying to cash in on the popular superstition.*


In parts of Europe, if a black cat crosses your path, you are considered to have good fortune. If a black cat walks into your house or home, you are truly blessed.


But in the United States, the term Black Cat was used by the fishermen and sailors of Michigan’s Lake Superior for a boat that was believed to have a spell cast upon it and therefore, never will carry a full crew.


So when did the attitude change about black cats and why?

When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, they brought with them a devout faith in the Bible. They also brought a deepening suspicion of anything deemed of the devil. Comprised of Englanders and Europeans, these pilgrims were a deeply suspicious group. They viewed the black cat as a companion, or a familiar to witches. Anyone caught with a black cat would be severely punished or even killed. They viewed the black cat as part demon and part sorcery.


When the Christians gained a foothold in America they also propelled this myth forward, during a time when witches were coming into fruition in America. Sharing a sisterhood with witches in England, and rumored to use black cats as an integral part of their craft. Black cats were suddenly cast into a bad light many black cats were sought after and killed. If a farmer believed his land had a spell cast upon it, the only way to break that spell was to shoot a black cat with a silver bullet.


On our cat forum recently, I asked the members what they thought of when they heard the words “black cat.” Being true cat lovers, they answered that the following words come to mind: mysterious, alluring, beautiful, playful, elegant and gorgeous. But when non-cat owners are asked the same question on another internet forum they come up with these words: bad luck, witches familiar, evil, demonic, mean, spooky and Halloween... So you can see the superstition lives on even today.


During All Hallow’s Eve, black cats are rumored to be especially vulnerable to people who want to do them mischief. Even some cat shelters in the United States will not adopt out black cats prior to Halloween and few weeks after. For it is during All Hallows Eve, or the most magical night of the year (to some people). Believed to be the time when a opening is created to the Otherworld and oftentimes the black cat is considered the catalyst for that propulsion. A night of gatherings and whispered rituals. On the night when kids are cavorting in brightly colored costumes gathering candy with their peers, it is also a night when coven rituals are performed and witches gather after the trick-er- treaters have long gone home.


Fueling this vision of the black cat being an evil symbol, is the advertising push for Halloween. Posters and cards with witches in flight, and a black cat perched on her broom, a full moon showing, and a black cat in silhouette arched back spitting into the night, or a witch stirring her cauldron with a black cat perched nearby does little to dispel this myth. All are familiar scenes we have grown up with. We bake black cat cookies, deck our kids out in witches hats with black cats on the peak, and on the cloak.


But recently, thanks to the efforts of cat lovers everywhere, the sacrificial animals of All Hallow’s Eve turn out to be cows and goats in a farmer’s field. Not black cats that were unfortunate enough to be taken or caught. Thankfully with the onset of more people wanting to protect cats, black cats are a lot safer these days during this holiday.


But Halloween is a scary time for any cat. Kids in costumes going door to door can easily scare the most laid-back cat. Keeping your cat(s) indoors and shut into a room is the easiest way to prevent accidents or heartache. If you are fortunate enough to own a black cat, you are not (as you well know) unlucky at all. After all there is nothing more sleek and graceful than a black cat crossing the room toward you to head bump your leg and claim you as his/hers, then curl up in your lap and purr itself to sleep. You can’t get any luckier than that.



Mary Anne Miller is a free-lance writer, and member of the Cat Writers' Association. She is a web copy writer, and passionate about feral cats/kittens and bottle babies. You can read more by Mary Anne at her Feral Cat Behavior Blog.



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Comments (7)

i had a black cat for yrs his name was Rex.. he was the most lovable, smart, caring, and playful cat i had met until i got my ginger kitty, but i never believed any of the black cat non sense i had one as a pet theyre awesome! great article 
I just lost my black cat a month ago... I felt lucky to have her from 11-15 years old. She was affable, loved people, had a personality I thought would be good for most humans... she was an amazing creature, I told her all the time. She talked so much, greeted me when I came home, went on road trips with me, I think people are so stupid to create these mass states of mind which cause harm for other creatures on the earth.
I have two black cats and a tabby/white, they were all stray cats.I made many enquirys
when they turned up, as i know how heartbreaking it is if they go missing.
My eldest cat has now been missing for 5 days, his name is midge, black with golden eyes.
He is a very timid cat,and is very choosy about humans, he likes myself and most of my female friends.
He does not like male humans much but recently had got affectionate towards my husband.
We moved house in March 2011 to the other end of town, midge managed to find his way out of the 
temporary cat enclosure, and went back to his original territory.
I went back every day and called him, and fed him,eventually i managed to catch him and bought him
back, kept him in for 5 weeks, and he has stayed here until now.
it is just the not knowing thinking all sorts of scenarios.
I am praying for Midge to come back home . We all miss you Midge
@clarence64 im so sry to hear bout Midge I hope he comes back soon i lost a cat like that a looong loong time ago my first cat, before i got my black cat Rex, now with my cat Cheetos hes a completely an indoor cat, but again i hope he gets back home safe 
@lbailey im sry to hear about your cat, my condolences i remember when i lost my Rex, i was depressed for so ling i loved that cat and i can only imagine how you feel after having him for so long  
Thanks Jasei, yes this cat, Lucy, was amazing... I would not be ready to get another cat yet, need to still process losing this beauty.. the void is just now settling in. I loved this gorgeous black cat, and her personality was outstanding. Clarence, I'm sorry for the loss of Midge, it is awful when they are taken away from you, like no closure... my cat was taken to a shelter at the very end.. I chickened out on the euthanasia appointment I had for kitty, and had her outside in the sun wondering what to do next, and when I went out to retrieve her, she was gone, it took a while to figure out what happened to her, still trying to map out her last minutes. It hurts a lot when we don't get closure, like you mentioned how you have so many scenarios in your mind... so tough, I really hope you keep investigating until you can get some clues or more solid ideas what happened. I Love Black Cats!! ...and others too!
Hi we just adopted 3 18 month old identical black triplets.... they just came home yesterday and already, even though they are hiding right now, we know we made the right choice by not letting them get seperated... I know there are supersticions out there, but thats what they are, just supersticions.... i am one lucky kitty mom!!!!! kindest regards, tinagirl.
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