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Black cats: FROM DEITIES TO DEMONS AND BACK



Crumpet, one of the many black cats in Leeds



Black cats have been an influential superstition throughout the world since time began, both luck and death bringers. In Italy is is believed that if a black cat jumps on the bed of a sick person they will die; in Japan, black cats are believed to help single women find a suitor. In Egypt, black cats resembled Bastet and therefore brought food luck for health, home and fertility; in America it's considered bad luck if a black cat crosses your path or walks away from you.


How does a deified animal go from bringing prosperity from ancient times to still sparking fear in the modern superstitious folk? How have we overcome these? And is it still a black cat we associate with witches now that Wicca and other pagan practices have grown in popularity?


In Greek mythology, Hera turned her servant Golinthias into a black cat out of spite, upon which, he bagn to work for Hekate, the goddess of magick. This created an association of black cats with sorcery. In Europe in the 1300s, Pope Gregory IX, issued a Papal Bull (a type of decree or patent issued by the Catholic Church) stating that cats bore the spirit of Satan, creating a mass determination of felines. This was to address the issues of "satanic" behaviour, which was probably just other pagan religion practices. The mass determination of cats is also theorized to be one of the reasons for the cause of the black plague. Later in the witch trials of the 1700s, the hysteria around eradicating witches created a dead to eradicate cats as well.


In Britain, in a more contemporary time, it's considered fortunate to have black cats on ships, and to give a bride a black cat on her wedding day. In Scotland, it's good luck for a black cat to appear on your wedding day. Quite the change from our witchcraft history, right?


This doesn't mean that the fear of witchcraft doesn't still permeate a modern society, with it's association to Satanism rather than nature. There is even a national black cat day on the 27th October, which helps in creating a positive association to them.


ITV news released an article on black cat day 2022 sharing the reports of cat adoption from the RSPCA, in which black and white cats took two weeks longer to be adopted than their tabby counterparts. Another assumption for this is that people see black cats as less affectionate, and difficult to photograph, with the assumption that they don't have as appealing adoption photos or don't photograph well for their adoptees (a depressing thought of us as a society!). The more popular cats to adopting are tabby, younger and male, as people have shown through surveys that they are perceived to be more fun and loving, which unfortunately leaves a lot of older ladies losing out on their forever homes, and at the highest risk of euthanasia.


The black cat is something highly associate with witches and Halloween, however this could be changing, with the rise of the hairless cat potentially taking the new top spot for sorcerers' sidekick. The hairless cat attracts mixed reviews, being both a popular choice amongst alternative owners due to their unique appearance, and also bringing a disgust reaction amongst others. They are also popular for cat lovers who have allergies due to them being hairless, which can also explain the rise in popularity over the last 20 years. They are less likely to be found in shelters due to their rarity and popularity.


The Sphynx cat as we know it was due to a genetic mutation in the 1960s in the USA and Canada, however the Aztecs were known to have bred them as well. Although this reason is lost to time, it's assumed the Aztecs and Mayans thought of cats highly as they were known to worship the jaguar as a god.


Sphynx cats got their name from their similarity to the ancient Egyptian sculpture we all know, and therefore have been associated with the same beliefs. The Sphynx statue has been associated with representation of the sun god, Horemakhet, or to the likeness of pharoes, which can connotate with power, growth, prosperity. The sphynx as a mythological creature represented a spiritual guardian, not too dissimilar from our European assocation. These can probably give us some guidance on why it has become a rising choice for people of various pagan and spiritual practices in the modern day. The cat is also a popular image in a lot of the modern "alt and witchy" clothing and homeward brands we see today, which makes me think it may be on par with the traditional black cat imagery we associate with our witches today.


There is sympathy to be had for the turbulent past these felines have encountered, and it is reassuring to see the myths and superstitions start to fade into history. Despite their allegedly unappealing first impressions, black cats are just as loving, playful and affectionate as any other. Hopefully we are able to see adoption rates decline altogether, not just with black cats.


The next time you see one on the street will you fear for your future and keep looking out for witches? Or thinking your about to win the lottery maybe? Either way, these felines need some more affection.

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