The poor black cat, demonised for centuries, is still regarded by many as unlucky. When a black cat crosses your path, do you cross yourself or count your blessings?
Black cats weren’t always considered unlucky. In Ancient Egypt, from about 3100BC to 390AD, all cats, including black cats, were considered sacred and worshipped. The goddess Bastet (or Bast - see image right) was originally depicted as a lioness, fiercely protective and warlike, however her image softened over time and became more strongly associated with domestic cats. She personified the playfulness, grace, affection and cunning of a cat while still being strong powerful like larger felines. Cat worship declined in Egypt following the banning of the cult of Bast in 390 AD. They are still kept as pets and used as pest control. Cats continue to be revered to some extent in Muslim tradition.
Cats have not been so lucky in medieval Europe and America. Because of their nocturnal nature, cat’s in general were linked with witches, the supernatural and evil (long before the invention of electricity, night-time was a time of danger). Black cat’s suffered even more due to their colour. In Christian cultures, white is generally a symbol of goodness and black is a symbol of danger, corruption and evil. As witch hunts gripped both continents, this hysteria led to many superstitions about black cats including:
- witches could turn into black cats at night!
- Cats roamed at night and so were supernatural servants of witches
- Black cats were witches reborn
- Black cats were witches’ familiars – they aided them in performing witchcraft
(image taken from www.realmagick.com)
When those believed to be witches were burned, superstition and fear of witchcraft was so strong that their cats were burned along with them.
But all is not lost for the unlucky black cat. They’ve survived all the superstition we’ve attributed to them and still show us love and affection – lucky for us!
Black cats are just as iconic in the 21st century. We continue to associate them with magical powers, whether good or bad. In some places, they are still believed to be symbols of good luck:
- Scotland; a black cat appearing on your doorstep is a sign of prosperity
- England; in the Midlands, a black cat as a wedding present is thought to bring good luck to the bride
- France: In the south of France, black cats are referred to as ‘matagots’ or ‘magician cats’ and according to local superstition, feeding and treating them well will bring good luck to the owner.
- Northern Europe; it is believed that taking in and caring for a black cat can ensure fair weather and safe passage during voyages on the sea
- Asia; owning a black cat is considered lucky
- Italy; if you hear a black cat sneeze, you are in for a streak of good luck
- Japan; black cats are a symbol of good luck – if they see a black cat crossing their path, they say ‘Konichiwa’ and take control of their own luck
Some characters have even become celebrities! Check out our top 8 Famous black cats