Stories of black cats and familiars have brought about many ancient myths and legends. We’ve all heard stories about the bad luck black cats will bring when they cross your path, or maybe the witch flying across the night sky with her cat on the back. But these are all myths and legends and most likely we won’t ever see a witch flying across the sky. But there are good reasons these myths are alive.
They say that most myths and legends come from some form of truth, so how does this apply to cats? Are cats good luck, or are they bad luck? Of course many folks will argue opinions on this subject, but in many parts of the world the cat is a sacred and beloved animal. There are certain Thai legends that tell of cats guarding temples and in Japan during the year A.D. 999, the palace kittens were treated like princes. It is said that the Prophet Muhammad of Islam once cut off the sleeve of his robe so that he wouldn’t disturb his sleeping cat.
Although the cat was often seen as a sacred creature, in Europe, during medieval times, the cat was once feared as an evil creature.
The Sacred Cat
Mice and rats were once mankind’s greatest enemy because they were carriers of disease and would pilfer our food supply. You can read more about this in my post Rats! These Nasty Creatures Uncovered. But it wasn’t until the early Egyptians noticed that wild cats were chasing and hunting the mice that they realized the cats may serve a useful purpose. So they began to domesticate and tame the cats, all the while encouraging them to hunt their prey.
Not only did the cats become great hunters for keeping the mice out of their domiciles, but they fast became a loving household friend. In temples they were worshiped as sacred creatures and at first were said to belong to the Sun God. As time went on, they began to be associated with goddesses and the moon. This is probably because their eyes would shine under the moon light, and their pupils would shift from round to crescent shaped like the moon.
As time progressed cats would remain in the mythology of Greek, Roman and Norse cultures. But if you were to kill a cat in ancient Egypt it was punishable by death. This is because they believed the Egyptian goddess Bastet would sometimes inhabit their bodies. So essentially by killing a cat, you could be attacking the goddess herself. Cats were actually ceremonially mummified during those times.
The Black and White Cats
There are many superstitions that surround cats. But the most widespread myth is that for a black cat to cross a person’s path is an unlucky sign. But ironically in the U.K., Australia and parts of North America, black cats are considered quite lucky. On the other hand, white cats are considered to be unlucky.
Then in parts of North America and Europe, they see things just the opposite, where black cats are unlucky, and white ones are lucky. One that you probably haven’t heard very often, comes from the Russian Federation. They consider blue cats to be lucky and in France, a black cat with one white hair is especially lucky to find.
Another superstition surrounding black cats says that to have a black cat in your home will ensure sailors and fishermen come home safely. Similarly, to have a cat on board your boat or ship while at sea is very lucky indeed, as long as you don’t mention its name. Mentioning its name while you’re out at sea will bring bad luck.
The Cats of Satan
Pope Gregory during 13th century Europe once declared the black cat to be a creature of Satan. This caused black cat symbolism to be linked to witchcraft and the dark forces. This would definitely explain how familiars came about as a witches pet. It was believed that the black cat, or “witches familiar” would carry messages between the witch and Satan. It was also believed that the cats themselves were able to perform evil spells by using the witches powers.
Another popular belief is that witches were able to change form, thus becoming the cats through shape shifting. This myth made it much easier to believe cats were a sign of bad luck.
Now days cats have become quite the household pet and many people enjoy having them in the family. There are many different animals that have become symbols for bad luck and superstition. Whether you choose to believe them is entirely up to you. For those of you that have cats and would like to learn more interesting information on them, check out my post 20 Little known Facts About Cats.