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Friday, May 1, 2009

Why Cats Get the Bum Rap

Throughout history the cat occupies a central position among animals credited with supernatural powers, and in consequence cats throughout the world are associated with a wealth of superstitions. The ancient Egyptians bestowed divine status on the cat and it was a crime punishable by death if a citizen killed one. In fact, entire household went into official mourning if a cat died. Not only that the corpse would be buried with an elaborate ceremony. It was from ancient Egyptian superstition that the modern belief that a cat has nine lives was derived.

In later centuries the cat became closely identified with witchcraft throughout Europe and even today no depiction of a traditional witch is complete without her black cat, the form into which sorcerers were often said to transform themselves. Such cats were, it was alleged, fed on the blood of their mistresses. Many people once believed that kittens born in May, a month particularly associated with the dead and with the practice of witchcraft, should be drowned immediately after birth. People would also show a reluctance to discuss family matters if a cat was present, just in case it was a witch’s familiar or even a witch in disguise. In eastern Europe cats were often marked with a cross to prevent them turning into witches, while in France cats suspected of being witches were often caged and burned alive.

Most significant of all was a cat that was entirely black in color. A black cat that crossed a person’s path bestowed good fortune and enabled the person concerned to make a wish(though the opposite is maintained in the USA, Spain and Belgium where white and grey cats are preferred and a black cats brings only bad luck.)

In other myths about cats, a sneezing cat promises rain but is generally a good omen, unless it sneezes three times, in which case all the family would suffer colds. A cat that sits with its back to the fire knows that a storm or cold weather is on the way, while one scratching a table leg warns of imminent change in the weather.

If a cat watches its face over the left ear it was believed a female visitor was on her way; if it washed over the right ear, you guessed it—a man should be expected.

It was also believed that cats bestowed good luck on newly-weds if the cat appeared next to the bride, but must be caught and killed if it jumped over a coffin, as this was thought to put the soul of the deceased in peril. Killing a cat was ill advised, however, as this was enough to sacrifice one’s soul to the devil, and even if a person kicked a cat the person would open himself to rheumatism.

Sailors and fishermen use to take a black cat on their voyages thinking it would bring them luck, but disliked hearing a cat mewing on board ship as this was a warning that danger or difficult sailing lay ahead—such as gales or violent storms. The wives of seafarers would often keep a black cat at home to preserve the luck of their husbands while at sea.

If you’re a cat lover—go hug your cat. If you’re not a cat lover—go hug your dog. Either way, be kind to animals.


Sarah Grimm said...

Very interesting. A few things I knew, but must admit that most of that I had never heard before.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment, Sarah.

Mary Ricksen said...

What great information about the history of our feline friends. They can take us or leave us, but when they decide to bestow us with their presence, their intelligence and coyness makes us love them even more.
I myself love the calico cat. The colors amaze me.

Jen Childers said...

Great Blog!
I can see how they might have thought cats were evil. the light shining in their eyes gives and eerie glow and some of the noises they make are downright freaky!
Peachcup had her litter in may and Freya will be a year old on the 14th. Peachcup asks: '
How do you make the suitor go away after you got what you want?
she also finds it amusing to think cats turn to witches. they have things well under control in thier present form thank you.
Thanks Loretta,
enjoyed reading

Margaret Tanner said...

Wow Loretta,
Very interesting. My hubby always maintained that cats were special creatures. Bet he doesn't know all this about them.

Dawna R said...

Just one more bit of insight on our feline friends. In the Viking days, the Viking prophetesses were called "volva". Their patron was Freyja, who is often pictured in a chariot drawn by cats. The volva was often dressed in gloves made out of catskin.

During the Christianization of the Nordic area, these "volva" were relegated to the roles of witches (and therefore persectuted) and their cats got the bad rap right along with them.