Currently in the time we are writing this, Summer 2019, the widespread superstition in the Western pop culture about black cats is that they are unlucky and/or the only cat fit for witches.
Once upon a time, things were quite different…
And even that changed for quite different times and quite different places.
The culture most well known for cat mythology were ofcourse the ancient Egyptians.
Most cats were the Egyptian Mau, but the well loved goddess Bastet was most often depicted as a beautiful black cat with golden markings.
The Egyptians appreciated cats a lot for keeping mice and snakes away from their buildings. So it is no wonder that casts were seen as great protectors. Also their aesthetically pleasing looks, their playfulness and affection to their humans and offspring made Bastet a symbol of a protective fun loving mother god.
No wonder her popularity was only rivaled by the even more sunny goddess Isis.
(Not THAT Isis. The goddess was there way before the terrorist group defiled her name.)
All over the world there were, and sometimes still are, many many folklores about black cats…
Some deal with the famous crossing of paths. This differs greatly per region.
In many European regions it makes difference if the black cat comes from the right or the left. From the left is often the lucky version.
If you encounter a black cat crossing your path from right to left, there are several ways you can averse the bad luck:
– You can walk back to where you first saw the black cat and start walking that part over again
– Make a cross in the air. (This probably only works for Christians)
– You can hold a strand of your hair.
A black cat approaching you is often a sign of good luck. The black cat shunning you means bad luck.
In many folklore tales a black animal of any kind could be a sign of good or bad luck. Depending on the circumstances.
Like in Northern Europe a black animal visiting you while you were sick might mean that Death could be near. In Scandinavia this was often a job for ravens.
Which is kinda eerie because of course there would be more black ravens than black cats around.
A black cat entering your home means good luck for your home. A black cat entering a ship ensures a good journey. However if the black cat was being finicky about getting on and off again that meant bad omen for the ship.
Also, finding a white hair on a seemingly all black cat is a very lucky sign.
For a while it was customary in England to give newly weds a black kitten to bless their marriage.
In Italy to hear a black cat sneeze means good luck is coming your way.
In Japan black cats were considered very lucky to have. They would ensure good luck in finding love. Also in Japan it was believed that when a black cat crosses your path, which way doesn’t matter, greeting it kindly would bring good luck.
Remarkable is how often a black cat is supposed to bring or signal good luck. Are Western people perhaps missing something?
The Dark Ages were however a very dark time for cats and especially black cats as many of the negative folklore myths about cats were brought up to fuel the fire of Christian persecutions of whatever they deemed to be evil. And of course every religion or even everything that opposed the current ruling church was conveniently called “pagan” or even “satanic”.
Especially Pope Gregory IX was supposedly responsible for vilifying black cats among some other creatures when he issued the Vox in Rama in the 1230-somethings describing what he declared to be devil worship and how to deal with it.
This lead to a horrific mass killing of black cats by either the stake or other horrible means.
Dark ages indeed..
This is often theorized to be a very unlucky superstition in itself. Because so many cats were killed that it was a golden age for rats who supposedly were the great spreaders of the great bubonic plague that followed in the time after the great feline genocide.
We made our own bad luck.
Did we learn?
Just check our history books that consist mainly of our ages of doing not so great things.
When European immigrants occupied great parts of North and South America they took their superstitions along.
More cats and “witches”were burned and the settlers made up even more superstitions of their own based on the culture they came from.
Satanic panics are still a thing among Americans and the black cat became one of the culture icons of Halloween.
And of course there is the superstition of the black cat crossing your path from either way always bringing bad luck. No ifs, no buts and no reversals.
Living in a time of increased critical thinking we should think those superstitions would disappear.
However in both the America’s and Europe many cat shelters still see the trend of black cats being most unlikely to be adopted.
This is probably because black cats still have the bad stigma that the Dark Ages gave them.
But rumors are that this era of social media gave rise to a whole new reason not to have a black cat:
Black cats are very hard to take a selfie with!
So, actually, having any black animal means you need better camera skills. Or just very very good luck. 😉