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.
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.
Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!