Myth, Mysticism and Misconceptions About Black Cats
Black cats are probably the most iconic feline. Their mysticism permeates the beliefs and folklore of many cultures across the globe, and can be found in music, literature, even comic books. Due to their association with witchcraft and the spiritual world, much of the folklore about black cats is ominous. Although these beliefs have roots that are thousands of years old, some have lingered and continue to haunt- not us- but the black cats of today.
In America those that are superstitious tend to associate black cats with witches and bad omens. In Greek mythology, there is a story about Galinthias who, in one story, is turned into a black cat before being sent to the underworld with Hecate, the Goddess of death and witchcraft, thus making black cats an omen of death. A common superstition in India is that if a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck (many people think this superstition stems from the Americas, but it does not!).
It only gets worse in the Middle Ages when cats were closely associated with heretics (heretical groups prayed with, and sometimes to cats), and so leaders of the Catholic Church at the time spoke out against them. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII went as far as to declare that “the cat was the devil’s favorite animal and idol of all witches.” For many, this solidified the feline/devil connection without question.
During the Black Plague, people eagerly accepted this scapegoat and cats were rounded up and killed. Of course, we now know that the Black Plague was spread by fleas that thrived on rats, so killing the cats led to a sort of Bubonic boom as the rat population prospered. The few people that did keep cats (sometimes doing so against the law), often did not fall victim to the Plague. It is possible that people were skeptical of their powers of immunity, thus strengthening the distrust of cats and their familiars. We don’t know the exact number of cats that were murdered during this time, but the bones of 79 cats (whose remains were dated 13th century) were found in a well in England, suggesting mass killings.
Fast forward to the witch hunts in Europe and Salem, Massachusetts where many presumed witches simply took in or cared for stray cats, but the association with the devil was still lingering in the minds of many. During this time, the belief that witches could transform into black cats to escape death also took hold.
YOUR LUCK HAS CHANGED
These are certainly the most negative anecdotes of black-cats superstitions throughout history, but they are not the only ones. In fact, they might be outweighed by the positives ones: tales that see black cats as good luck are present in many, many cultures. For example, in the United Kingdom, seeing a black cat means your luck will change for the better. In Japan, this is especially true for single women, since black cats are thought to attract suitors. In Scotland,a black-cat visiting your porch is a sign that prosperity is in your future. In Italy, a sneezing black cat is considered good luck.
THE MODERN BLACK CAT
For the most part, people have accepted these myths for what they are- nothing more than ancient superstitions. Still, one in ten people still believe black cats are unlucky. If you ask me, its people that are bad luck for black cats, not the other way around. Many adoption groups and shelter volunteers, including here at Pet Adoption Network, truly believe that black cats are more likely to have a long wait before being adopted. National studies have proven that black and dark cats are more likely to be euthanized.
Chances are its not due to the ten percent of people who are superstitious about them, but rather to other factors like the fact that black cats are harder to get good photos of, they may be considered ‘boring’ or ‘plain’ by potential adopters, and simply get overlooked when the cat in the cage to their left is an orange tabby or Siamese mix.
Anyone who has ever been owned by a ‘mini-panther’ knows how wonderful they are, and that the stigma surrounding them is simply nonsense. However, the fact remains: black cats need YOU to help dispel the myths, and find them the homes they deserve. Share this info-graphic and check out our adoptables’ stories.
**At PAN we believe October should be a month for celebrating black cats, not for fear mongering… so unlike some organizations, we do not hold black cats back from adoption during the month of October. Withholding black cats implies that any old witch can fly in on her broomstick and take home a cat from us. On the contrary, we hold our adoption applicants to the same high standards any month of the year, for any cat.**