At some point in history they were worshipped as gods and deities. Over time, they had to bear the brunt of a common superstition that branded them unlucky. And while some might feel ascribing godly status to them is taking it a bit too far, any cat owner today will confirm that cats haven’t forgotten their godly lineage and prefer to be treated thus.
While the felines live a fairly good life today, black cats, in particular, have become the subject of one of the most common superstitions. Variations of having to drop the task at hand or turning around if a black cat crosses your path (to avoid bad luck) have reverberated across the world. One can’t help but wonder then, how exactly did the black cat go from being a god to the harbinger of doom?
The God complex
Cats in ancient Egypt were held in high esteem. Citizens believed that gods could transform into various animals, but the only goddess that could transform into a cat was Bast. People believed they could gain her favour by keeping cats and it was a crime to harm them. Naturally, these graceful animals were fed royally and mummified post mortem.
The feline’s high life continued across cultures. Bast was known to the Greeks as Ailuros, whereas the Norse goddess of love and fertility–Freyja–rode in a chariot pulled by two huge cats. Farmers who worshipped the goddess would leave offerings for the cats to ensure a good harvest. In Christianity, the M marking on the forehead of Tabby cats is said to have been Mother Mary’s blessing after she saw the cat playing with baby Jesus. On the flip side, the only reference in Hinduism to cats being divine is of goddess Shashti, a folk goddess who is known to be the benefactor and protector of children. Shashti rides a cat. In addition to these, there are many other legends that reiterate the status of cats as gods, in other words, the association of cats with supreme beings.
In the middle ages, the superstition reached a point where people started capturing black cats and killing them.
The origin of the myth
While folklores about cats have existed across cultures, the black cat myth is said to have its origin in ancient Egypt where cats were thought to bring both good luck and bad luck. When the black cat of King Charles I died, he bewailed that his luck had left with the cat. The next day he was arrested for treason, his misfortune translating into the belief that black cats were more unlucky than lucky.
Indeed, the black cats’ luck really started to give up on them after this. They began to be suspected of being familiars of witches throughout Europe. In the middle ages, the superstition reached a point where people started capturing black cats and killing them.
The bright side
The black cats vacillate between lucky and unlucky, depending on the side of the world one comes from. In Scotland, the arrival of a black cat signified prosperity, and in parts of England it was believed that a pet black cat would invite many suitors for the young girl of the family. Sailors of the 18th and 19th centuries believed that if a black cat walked toward you, it was good luck, and if it walked away from you, it was bad luck.
Sadly, the myth has left its scars. Even in the 21st century, a considerable number of people are scared of adopting black cats. They’d rather turn away if they had to cross paths with a black cat.
After centuries of damage to the good name of the cat, damage control is likely to take time. The cat needs to be patient. As for the superstition, every time a black cat crosses your path, remember it is not bad luck. It’s just that the cat has to be somewhere too.