Black cats, these fascinating felines have had many roles throughout history and are considered to be incredibly important by different cultures all around the world. They have been associated with both bad omens and good fortune. But why are there so many superstitions centred around these mysterious moggies? Today, we will be exploring some of the lesser-known history of the black cat as well as their role throughout history.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, black cats were often associated with witchcraft and were assumed to carry out the evil deeds of witches. This is because of a folklore tale about a man and his son who came across a black cat, which they began to throw rocks at. The injured cat ran into a woman’s house who was suspected of being a witch and when the woman was seen limping and bruised the next day, people suspected that the cat must be the woman in disguise. This resulted in widespread fear of these cats, which eventually meant they were neglected. This in turn contributed to an overpopulation of rodents, aiding the spread of the Bubonic Plague. The fear and superstition surrounding black cats travelled to America with European migration and was sometimes used to justify their mistreatment and neglect. When the Puritans settled in Salem, black cats were persecuted alongside humans suspected of owning a black cat.
Yet in other cultures, black cats have been revered throughout history, such as by the Egyptians, who linked them closely to the gods. In fact, in Ancient Egypt it was believed that back cats kept evil spirits away. The goddess Bastet was often depicted as a woman with the head of a black cat and was worshipped as a goddess of protection and defender against evil. Cats were considered such sacred animals to the point that, if one was killed, the person responsible had to be punished by law. If there was a fire and the house had to be evacuated, the cat had to be rescued before any other member of the family or any valuable objects. In fact, when a cat died, a period of mourning began those close to the feline had to shave their eyebrows as a sign of respect.
From the Ancient Egyptians, the symbolic charm of the cat was passed on to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, where the cat was considered a companion of Diana, goddess of hunting. The black cats were especially thought to possess magical gifts. In Greek mythology, the cat was a familiar of Hecate, goddess of magic, sorcery and witchcraft. Hecate’s pet had once been a serving maid named Galanthis, who was turned into a cat as punishment by the goddess Hera for being rude.
Similarly, the Japanese view black cats as bringing good luck, prosperity and are even considered to welcome romantic love into your life. You might have seen the “Fortune Cats” or Maneki Neko in Japanese shops and restaurants. These cat figurines with the raised paw are thought to draw good luck, wealth and prosperity to their owners. A black Maneki Neko is even thought to ward off evil energy and demons.
So whilst the black cat has a reputation that precedes it, it is important to view these creatures as the loving animals that they are. In fact, research shows that black cats are the hardest colour to home. The RSCPA said that 70% of the felines it cares for are either black or black and white, and the charity Blue Cross claimed it has seen a 65% rise in the number of black cats being taken into their care. We don't know if superstition is true, but what is certain about black cats is that they will offer you the unconditional love and companionship that only a cat can!
We encourage everyone to celebrate black cats today and beyond.