The Black Cat-By Angelique Duncan
Of all the felines the black cat is most shrouded in superstition and mystery. In nearly every ancient culture where cats were present they have been associated with mysticism and enchantment, whether for good or for evil. In their earliest history in Egypt and in Mesopotamia cats were revered as deities and held as Gods to be worshiped, a history that modern cats have not forgotten and often remind us.
Cats have been believed to be able to see spirits, foretell the future and control the weather. Black cats above all have been associated with a history of fortune. This history of black cats as bringers of kismet is in contradiction depending on geographical region and belief system.
In Celtic mythology and folklore of Great Britain the Black cat is a lucky talisman of good fortune. In The Orient as well as Asia the black cat is held as a most auspicious creature. In these regions history tells a black cat in ones house brings protection and good luck to the family of that home. If a black cat wandered to your home or up to you uninvited it was seen as a very lucky sign. If a Black cat approaches and then turns away, it takes the persons good fortune away. Many folk beliefs placed merit on the mannerism of cats. It is said that if a black cat crosses ones path from right to the left it is a good sign although the opposite is believed in differing regions. Cats behaviors where watched to determine the coming of weather changes and often were kept for their alleged healing abilities.
Sailors and fisherman would keep cats on their vessels not only to control stow away mince, but to guarantee the success of the voyage. Black cats were highly sought after as “ships cats” for all the luck they would bring. The belief of the black cats ability towards divination was so strong that if a black cat boarded a ship and then walked off many sailors would refuse to voyage as this certainly meant disaster. The wives of sailors and huntsmen would keep black cats in their homes, as it was believed that the cats’ supernatural ability would protect their husbands while away. This reverence for black cats was so deep that black cats in the home were so very highly desired that people would steal the coveted black cats in attempts to gain their good fortune.
In Southern Europe and in North America the black cat is seen as a bad omen and a bringer of Evil. It is thought that the Vox in Rama issued by Pope Gregory in the 1200s is what changed attitudes and demonized the cat and created the associations with evil and misfortune. This resulted in the massacre of many black cats in Southern and Western Europe. It was believed that they were the product of Lucifer and considered unholy in Europe and why the negative connotations are attached to them today. Ironically the eradication of cats in Southern Europe to rid the country of evil aided in the spread of the “Black Plague” which was carried by an over grown diseased rat population that resulted from lack of cats.
It was believed that cats, black cats in particular, were the preferred familiar or companion to witches. It was further believed in some European countries and in the colonies of North America that witches transformed into black cats. Often when a woman was tried for witchcraft and sentenced to death, her cat would be murdered with her. Mythology held that the magical inclination of black cats once held as beneficial, after the spread of Christianity, was now the work of the devil and was viewed as an abomination.
Although heavily celebrated with Halloween for their association with witches and magical properties. The black cat has been a cultural symbol in history with positives or negatives depending on ones perception. They have been a symbol of good fortune for pirates and sailors and a symbol of bad chance for gamblers. The black cat was once a symbol of sabotage and the symbol for Anarco-syndicalism. They are the symbol for the Chinese fireworks company “Black Cat “ for their good luck and deemed “The best you can get.” The “Black Cat” magazine published 1895 through 1922 sported a charming and jovial black cat on its cover indulging in eccentric costumes and scenery. Black cat images have become icons of Halloween from their use in antique post card companies and the Beistle companies Halloween cut out decorations. In the modern day black cats are one of the most popular Halloween icons found in Handmade Halloween art and decorations. The black cat “Fiddler”, based upon a vintage postcard image of a black cat, is the ambassador representative of Halloween Artist Bazaar.
In the United States and in the United Kingdom, black cats are the least adopted felines in shelters due to their negative histories and the belief of misfortune attached to them. On average black cats take a week longer to be adopted and are the most euthanized cats due to the inability to place them in homes. Historically in October shelters have put holds or restrictions on the adoptions of black cats in fear of the cats being taken for nefarious intents or used as a novelty decoration for Halloween; just to be released back on to he streets on November 1st. This trend has been changing in the UK and Shelters have begun to capitalize on the black cat to Halloween connection. Using the month as “Black Cat Awareness Month” in efforts to find them good homes. Different feline protection agencies have begun campaigns to raise awareness of the plight of black cats by hosting “black cat events” in the months of July for “Black Cat Adoption Month”, August 17th for “Black Cat Appreciation Day” and the month of October as “Black Cat Awareness Month” with October 27th as “Black Cat Awareness Day”. Perhaps if you’re contemplating bringing a new pet in to your home, consider a black kitty cat. It might just be the luckiest thing you could do and it would certainly bring the cat good fortune… and a good home.
To help purchase black cat themed art and help give a black cat a home visit the HAB Black Cat Art Event.
Angelique Duncan is proprietor of Twilight Faerie Nostalgic and Capricious Objects. Check out her artist page to find links to her shops and vintage inspired traditional holiday art. Visit again next month for more traditions and folklore.