If you see a black cat cross your path, beware of bad luck heading your way—even death! That’s the old superstition, anyway. But why are black cats thought to be so unlucky and even evil? In Ancient Egypt, cats were admired, and some were even worshiped. So what changed? How did cats become so unlucky?
How Did Cats Become Unlucky?
Cats in the Ancient World
People didn’t always believe that cats were bad, evil, or unlucky. Ancient Egyptians worshiped a goddess named Bast who represented family, music, dance and pleasure. She was often pictured as having the head of a cat, so Egyptians believed that their domestic cats carried around some of Bast’s divine energy. Cats were a popular pet and often appeared on jewelry and other decorative objects. Many were even mummified and buried with their owners so they could join their humans in the afterlife!
The Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages (1100 to 1453), cats (and black cats in particular) got their spooky reputation in Europe. They were thought to be companions of witches—single women who often worshipped nature and made healing potions. Whenever something bad happened, like disease, a freak accident, or bad weather, people panicked and blamed the bad luck on witches. Because people accused of witchcraft often owned lots of animals, including cats, our feline friends got the reputation for being evil, like witches.
This superstition was supported by the Catholic Church. In the 1230s, Pope Gregory IX announced that there was a rise is devil worshipping and that cats were often part of these satanic rituals. This belief may have come about because the way that cats catch mice is similar to how the Devil was thought to catch souls—they both supposedly toyed with their powerless prey.
The superstition that cats were linked to Satan would stick around in the Catholic Church for centuries. More than 200 years later, Pope Innocent VIII wrote that “the cat was the devil’s favorite animal and idol of all witches.” As a result, some people tortured and killed cats to scare off the Devil or prove their love to Christ.
Ironically, this hatred and fear of cats actually made the spread of the Black Plague (1347-1352) much, much worse, because the disease was mostly spread by infected fleas on rats and other rodents. If there were more cats in Europe in the 14th century, then maybe a third of the population wouldn’t have died from such an unpleasant disease.
Witch Trials and the Furry Familiars
The connection between witches and cats didn’t end with the Middle Ages. During the witch hunting crazes in Europe and colonial America, cats were thought to be witches’ familiars (animals who did a witch’s bidding in the middle of the night). People believed that familiars were the source of a witch’s magic. Some people even believed that cats were witches in disguise!
Owning a cat was sometimes proof enough that a person was a witch. Sadly, some poor kitties were also punished by witch-hunters.
Fast Forward to Modern Times
Even today, witches and cats are often paired together. A witch in a pointy hat, riding a broomstick with her cat is a common sign on festive Halloween decorations. You see this dynamic duo all throughout popular culture; for example, in the Harry Potter series, the witch Hermione owns a cranky cat named Crookshanks, while Sabrina the Teenage Witch has the sassy Salem by her side.
Happily, most people don’t believe that cats are evil or devilish anymore. In fact, nearly one third of Americans have a house-cat of their very own!
Some Silly Superstitions
Are you superstitious? Or maybe just a little stitious? Well, you’re not alone. Even though most people don’t belief in witchcraft anymore, there’s still a few superstitions surrounding cats. Here are just a few:
- Even though some people think that black cats are still unlucky, one (or more) white hair on a black cat is thought to be extra lucky.
- The next time your cat sneezes three times in a row, stock up on the orange juice because someone is going to catch a cold. However, one sneeze from a feline friend is good luck!
- In the Netherlands, people think cats are huge gossips. Don’t tell your secrets to your kitty, because they might just go blab it to your neighbor!
- If you want your play to go off without a hitch, make sure the theater has a resident cat. These furry friends supposedly bring good luck to productions.
- Harming a cat is an excellent way to bring bad karma into your life. If you kick a cat, you will get arthritis in your leg. If you drown a cat, you’ll either drown yourself or the Devil will hold a grudge against you. Either way, it’s definitely best to only give cats love and attention, not kicks.
Give Your Cat the Love It Deserves
Clearly, cats got a bad rap for a while. While we as a species can’t make up for past wrongs, we can give the kitties in our lives all the love, cuddles, and toys they deserve. Does the special feline in your life need some TLC? Check out Mau’s luxurious cat beds and trees. Comfy, durable, and stylish, these are sure to make you and your kitty very happy. Remember, your furry friend might just be a witch in disguise, so you definitely want to keep them happy and content!