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The Black Cat from Egyptian God to Evil Omen

The Black Cat from Egyptian God to Evil Omen

Pure black cats almost went extinct few times; in fact, some even suggest that genetically they no longer exist and that every black cat has at least a spot of another color. True or not, the poor animals were haunted down for centuries for the color of their fur simply because absurd traditions, distant legends, and made-up superstitions that have marked them as a bad omen.  Yet, it was not always like that. In ancient Egypt cats of all color were worshipped and killing a cat was punished with a death sentence. So, what happened? There are many different reasons that have led to this nefarious reputation. Some of these are connected to one another, others have developed independently causing the unlucky Black Cat to bring different misfortunes to different people.

Cat Sith, the Celtic Fairy
Cat Sith, the Celtic Fairy

The Celtic Black Cat Fairy

One of the oldest known superstitions on black cat dates to Celtic Mythology.  Irish and Scottish folklore tell the story of the Cat Sith (Cat Sidhe or Cait sithe), a large black fairy Cat.  The creature was ‘known’ to walk on its two hind legs, immediately switching to all fours when spotted by humans. The Celts feared the Cat Fairy. In fact, they believed that the fairy creature could steal the soul from an unburied corpse by waking on the dead body. For this reason, between the death and the burial, corpses were watched carefully to ensure safe passage of the soul to the other world.

The Cat Kellas of the Highlands

Cat Kellas of the Highlands
Cat Kellas of the Highlands

The mystical and shifty nature of black cat can also be explained by the rarest mammal on the British Isles. In the highlands a unique breed of cats called Cat Kellas roams around the countryside. This breed has a black coat, is unusual large (4 feet long) and has a black coat. The size and illusiveness of this cat augmented the mystical lore of its smaller feline family members.

The Goddess Freya and Her Black Cats

Freya riding in cart driven by two cats. In Norse mythology, she is the goddess of love. Friday was named for her. Woodcut.
Freya riding in cart driven by two cats. In Norse mythology, she is the goddess of love. Friday was named for her. Woodcut.

In Norse mythology the goddess of love Freya strolled around in her chariot pulled by two black cats. The cats served the goddess for seven years before being rewarded by becoming witches. The tradition continued for centuries and evolved with the belief that any witches could take the form of a black cat and that cats who served a Witch could become Witches themselves.

The Decree of the Devil Black Cat

Pope Gregory IX's Papal Bull 'Vox in Rama"
Pope Gregory IX’s Papal Bull ‘Vox in Rama”

Pope Gregory IX did not make things easier for black cats in 1232 AD. A papal bull called Vox in Rama officially condemned black cats as an incarnation of Satan. As a result, the dark ages were not a great moment for all cats as often during holidays they were burned in bonfires. Consequently, by the 14th century cats in some parts of Europe were almost extinct.

There are exceptions. For example, King Charles I of England owned a black cat he loved dearly. In fact, the day it died he exclaimed “and so my good luck leaves”, which happened to be true. He was arrested the day afterwards and beheaded. This small moment of respite for black cats ended up worsening the situation for the poor felines.

Charles I’s love for his Black Cat

In the new continent things did not improve for black cats. During the Salem Witch trials black cats were killed with witches and the lore of black cats being a symbol of evil continued to this day.

Forgiven Black Cats

Black cats were spared only if they had a white spot on their body. In this case, they were believed to be touched by the heavens and been forgiven for their malevolence.

There are few instances where black cats bring good fortune. In Asia and in the U.K. owning a black cat nowadays is considered good luck. In Japan, black cats help you find real love. In some European countries’ sailors bring a black cat with them for good luck and in France it’s believed that something magical and positive will happen to you if you see a black cat.