Let’s dismiss the superstitions & folklore giving black cats a bad rap. On Black Cat Appreciation Day (Aug. 17) we want to debunk the myths and celebrate how absolutely stunning they are. They make wonderful pets, but superstitions still prevail. Black cats tend to be the last to get adopted at shelters. Black cats also tend to be targeted for abuse around Halloween, so much so that many shelters prohibit the adoption of black cats during this time, to prevent wide-spread abuse, because some believe black cats and witchcraft are intertwined.

Pin of black cat saying how superstitions & folklore have given black cats a bad rap

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Cats, even black ones, were worshiped in Ancient Egypt. They were considered to be godlike. Killing a cat was considered a capital crime, and people were executed for doing this injustice. Chariot racers had to be careful, because if a cat got in their way, execution was a sure thing.  Cats were so revered, they were buried with their royals.

Black cats shrouded in superstition.

Ancient Egyptians especially favored cats, They were associated with the goddesses Isis and Bastet was often depicted in cat form, sometimes taking on the war-like aspect of a lioness. Killing a cat was absolutely forbidden and thit is reported that, whenever a household cat died, the entire family would mourn and shave their eyebrows. Families took their dead cats to the sacred city of Bubastis, where they were embalmed and buried in sacred repositories. Domesticated cats were common in households across the kingdom: Noblemen considered them as symbols of wealth, status, and grace, and regular folk praised their ability to kill venomous snakes and keep vermin away from granaries. Harming a cat was considered a serious offense that was punishable even by death.

In 1888, an Egyptian farmer living near Beni Hassan, about 100 miles from Egyptis capital city, Cairo,  uncovered a large tomb filled with 80,000 cat mummies, dating to 2000-1000 BC. That area around was already known for several tombs of noblemen of ancient Egypt, including the tomb of Amenemhat who was the chief priest during the reign of the pharaoh Senusret I in the 20th century B.C. His discovery soon attracted a number of locals who flooded the site in search of valuables. They found nothing except for a cat-sized bronze sarcophagus and some jewelry, so they started selling the mummified cats to whoever would buy them.

 

Over nine tons of mummified cat remains were transported to Liverpool, England, where they were sold at two auctions organized by  the auction house Gordon and Co.  During the second auction, the auctioneer reportedly used a cat skull as his auction hammer. Since many members of the British upper class of the time respected the immense value of ancient Egyptian cultural heritage, most of the Beni Hasan cat mummies were bought by Egyptologists, collectors of antiquities, and representatives of various museums.

Cats were revered beyond Egypt. In northern Scotland, the kingdom of Cat was a legendary Pictish kingdom, a confederation of Celtic speaking people, during the Early Middle Ages.  The place name Caithness derives from Cait, which is also preserved in the Gaelic name for Sutherland (Cataibh), in several specific names within that county and in the earliest recorded name for Shetland (Inse Catt, meaning ‘islands of the Cat people’).

In Norse mythology, the goddess Freyja was associated with cats. Farmers sought protection for their crops by leaving pans of milk in their fields for Freya’s special feline companions, the two grey cats who fought with her and pulled her chariot.

Let’s dismiss superstitions & folklore giving black cats a bad rap

The elevated status of the cat, especially black cats, came to a crushing halt. People, especially in Europe, came to believe that cats were witch’s familiars or companions, or even witch incarnates. In Western history, black cats have typically been looked upon as a symbol of evil omens, specifically being suspected of being the familiars of witches, or actually shape-shifting witches themselves. Folklore dating back to as early as 1607 tells that a cat will suffocate a newborn infant by putting its nose to the child’s mouth, sucking the breath out of the infant. This myth has now been totally debunked as totally false.

Black cats are generally held to be unlucky in the United States and Europe. It is unlucky if a black cat crosses one’s path; black cats have been associated with death and darkness. It is common lore that cats have nine lives, due to their perceived durability, especially since they have the innate ability to survive falls fatal to other animals.

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Read more about black cats:

Friday, the 13th and black cats, how did these superstitions become entangled?

Black Cats – The Story of the Myth, Guest post by Daniel Richardson, author of the blog Tuxedo Cats 

Check out Daniel at Tuxedo Cats

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Superstitions & folklore make black cats unpopular in US

However, in the United Kingdom, black cats portend good luck, where folklore has it that black cat entering a house or ship is a good omen, and a sailor’s wife should have a black cat for her husband’s safety on the sea. On the other hand, white cats, bearing the colour of ghosts, are believed to be unlucky in the United Kingdom, while tortoiseshell cats are lucky.

 

Black cats fell from favor in the Middle Ages.
Black cats fell from favor in the Middle Ages.

This negativity surrounding black cat was perpetuated in the Middle Ages when the European church began accusing people of witchcraft. That began the association of black cats and witches. These superstitions led people to not just mistrust black cats, but to kill them.

In Hebrew and Babylonian folklore, cats are compared to serpents.

Today’s Halloween decorations will have a black cat riding with the witch on her broom, showing the black cats as her companion. While mostly celebrated as a fun day for dressing up and going to parties, Halloween’s roots are based on paganism, sorcery and witchcraft.

Picture of black cat with back hunched
Black Cat Anarchist’s symbol

We see the black cat with its silhouetted hunched back outline on Halloween decorations. This image is not in itself connected with witchcraft but with anarchism, an anti-authoritarian political philosophy that rejects hierarchies deemed unjust and advocates their replacement with self-managed, self-governed societies based on voluntary, cooperative institutions. Since the 1880s, black has been associated with anarchism, and the black cat, in an alert, fighting stance, with arched back, became a symbol of anarchism, which does not conjure up warm and fussy feeling about black kitties.

Folklore surrounding black cats abounds. In Scotland, a fairy called the Cat Sith who took on the appearance of a giant black cat, could steal a dead person’s soul before the gods could claim it, leaving many guarding a dead person’s body day and night to protect it from Sith before being put to rest.

Black cat on witch's broom.
Let’s dismiss superstitions & folklore giving black cats a bad rap including the connection with witchcraft.

In the 1500s, it was believed witches could morph themselves into Black Cats to roam freely, wreak havoc and practice their craft. This superstition traveled to the New World, and while Paws didn’t find any accounts of black cats being persecuted as part of the Salem Witch Trials in 1622, there probably were. When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, their strong Biblical faith was accompanied with a deepening believed black cats were companions, or familiars to witches, and were connected with demons and sorcery. Anyone caught with a black cat would be severely punished or even killed.

Superstitions about black cats shared in the South

The plight of the black cats wasn’t limited to the Puritans and the Pilgrims of New England. Their connection to witchcraft was shared in the South. Tales ‘Black Cat’s Message’ and ‘Wait Until Emmet Comes’ tell how supernatural black cats are witches or demons in disguise.

Pirates believed that if a black cat walked onto a pirate’s ship and then departed, the ship would fall to its demise on the next voyage and sink.

The Cat Fanciers Association recognizes over 22 breeds of black cats, Persian.
The Cat Fanciers Association recognizes over 22 breeds of black cats, Persian.

While these tales are exactly that – tales and folklore, there is still a bit of skepticism when it comes to black cats. Fewer black cats are adopted at shelters than any others, leaving more of them to be euthanized. The reason – it could be superstition. It could be that black cats don’t stand out like other brightly colored or exotic cats.

We’ve all heard the superstition about a black cat walking in front of you means bad luck. Paws even remembers her grandmother not liking black cats – even though Paws has always thought they were the best.

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Cat Tourism Note:

Look for info about black cats at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum

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We find reference to black cats bringing bad luck to gamblers, and if traveling to a casino, a black cat crosses a gambler’s path, that person should not go to the casino because they will have bad luck.

In Germany, the direction a cat takes when crossing your path determines if it’s good or bad luck. If the black cat goes from right to left it’s bad luck, while if the black cat goes from left to right it means good things lie ahead, signaling  good things lie in your future.

Japan & England dismiss the superstitions as black cats are good luck

In places not affected by witch hunts like Japan and England, black cats retained their reputation as being good luck cats.
Here are some of the good things, folklore shares about black cats.

• In some cultures, fishermen lore says it’s good luck to have a black cat on board ship, and it is twice as lucky, if they have a black cat at home.
• Fishermen’s wives would keep black cats at home hoping they would help protect their husbands at sea.
• Not surprisingly, in cat loving Japan, superstition says a black cat is good luck and if a single woman owns a black cat, she will have many suitors.
• In Midland England, it is believed if you give the wedding couple a black cat, it will bring good luck to the bride.
• In Scotland, many people believe a black in the home will bring prosperity.

Do you think we can us Black Cat Appreciation Day to dismiss these superstions & folklore giving black cats a bad rap?. Do you think black cats should not be adopted out in mid to late October to protect them? Do you like black cats? Paws has had 3, all of which have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. So you have any tales of superstition or folklore to share? Please leave your comments below.

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