It’s one of my favorite times of year. My book CAT LIFE includes fun Halloween and black cat myths. These are fun spooky stories to shiver over, but loving cats and dispelling kitty myth-teries should happen all year long.
Take a look and keep a tally of just how many of these spooky cat tails—and tales—from around the world sound familiar even today. Of course, you want to keep all your pets safe over Halloween. But it’s sure fun to read about ghosties and goblins, especially of the feline kind. More of these fascinating cat tales can be found in my newest book CAT LIFE: Celebrating the History, Culture & Love of the Cat.
NOTE: Due to the #$%^! pandemic, shipping of physical books come with delays so order NOW for holiday gift-giving. Shoot me an email if you’d like me to send you a paw-tograph to insert into a special gift. *s* In fact, the hardcover version is on sale here.
Cats As Gods (Even Black Cats!)
Egyptians loved and revered all animals, and considered many to be emissaries of gods. The large wild cats including leopards and lions represented virility and power, but the common housecat came to be worshiped as a god of pleasure and happiness. Called alternately Bast, Bastet and Pasht, this human-shaped goddess (with a cat head) rose to prominence in the ancient city of Bubastis, and her temple cats (much like the one sleeping in your lap) were considered emissaries of the goddess.
The name “Bast” can be translated as “the tearer” or “the render” which referred to the goddess’s nightly battle with the sun’s mortal enemy, the Serpent of Darkness. Bast was symbolized by the moon—which waxed and waned like the cat’s eye—and each day when the battle was won, the sun rose again.
Egypt’s cats were protected and cherished by the priests, and each whisker-twitch and tail-dance was carefully interpreted as messages from the goddess. Because they were so sacred, other countries took advantage of the fact. The Persian King Cambyses II had his soldiers use kitties as shields, and because the Egyptians refused to risk hurting a sacred cat, they offered no resistance and the battle was lost.
Cats Revered Around The World
Buddhist, Burmese and Siamese cultures had similar beliefs as the ancient Babylonians that cats served as sacred vessels for human souls to attain paradise. When a holy person died, the cat hosted the spirit for as long as the cat lived, and then carried the human soul into Paradise when the cat died. Wow, maybe that’s why my Siamese wannabe Seren-dipity has such a high-and-mighty c’attitude.
Cats in Japan were greatly honored and in AD 600 served as guards to precious manuscripts housed in pagodas. They believed a cat crossing the path was good luck. Cats were valued so highly in the 10th century that common folks weren’t allowed to keep cats. Only noble families were granted that privilege.
In early Ireland, a cat-headed god was worshipped during the 1st century AD. Black cats crossing your path was considered good luck during the Middle Ages in Britain, and a black cat was also supposed to be able to cure epilepsy. Scandinavia also celebrated animals in religion. Freya, the Viking goddess of love and beauty, rode in a chariot drawn by “the most affectionate of all domestic animals, the cat.”
Cats As Demons
The gods and angels of earlier religions become the demons of later ones. So since cats had been celebrated by early civilizations, they became the scapegoats of ‘modern’ religions.
A Medieval legend recounts that the Devil tried to copy God and create man, but only managed to produce a sorry, skinless animal—the cat. St. Peter felt sorry for the pitiful creature, though, and generously gave it a fur coat—its one and only valuable possession.
Hebrew folklore prompted the legend that cats steal an infant’s breath. The story may have stemmed from tales of Adam’s hated first wife, the vampire Lilith. She assumed the form of a gigantic ebony cat called El Broosha, and newborns were her favorite prey.
Cats became associated with witchcraft and the devil during the Middle Ages in Europe and suffered greatly. Tales of feline familiars were common. In Europe and early America, black cats became linked to the devil and evil and were feared, because black was the color of the night and darkness—hence the devil.
Many religions include cats (and dogs) in their history. Do pets go to heaven? This post considers the question.
Why Cats Get Blamed?
Because of the cat’s unique sensory capabilities, feline behavior foibles have given cats a bad reputation. Cats were thought to influence the weather, especially storms at sea. Today we know that felines can detect changes in barometric pressure, silent earth tremors that announce future earthquakes, or yowling just before a loved one dies.
Superstitious people found it easy to blame the cat as a cause of disasters, rather than celebrate kitty’s unique detection skills at predicting such things. But that doesn’t make the cat’s mysterious abilities any less extraordinary.
Today, some cat haters continue to point fingers particularly at feral cats. It’s up to responsible cat parents to take proper care of their feline family members (including community cats!).
Do you share your life with a black cat? Have your cats ever seemed “other-worldly” or acted in a spooky way? What kinds of ghostly Halloween-like antics have you and your cats (and dogs!) experienced? Will they dress up this Halloween, or prefer to go “au naturelle?” Do tell!
Here’s a fun post about ghost pets, including a visitation from my beloved Bravo-Dawg. Check out the Howl-oween pet safety and costume tips in this TV segment, too.
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!
Our black cat was brilliant…could do tricks, and was much loved.
Black cats are awesome.
I knew some of these myths and enjoyed reading the ones I hadn’t heard. It’s hard to believe that some of these myths persist today.
I had lots of fun looking these up.
I love cat myths! What a great way to celebrate Black Cat Appreciation Day. 🙂 There are a couple of things you mentioned that I will have to look for more into on. Thank you for the great post!
Yep, there are some that still persist. Thanks for stopping by!
Interestingly I’ve recently read reports that say the Egyptians also used to sacrifice cats though I can’t cite those references right now. I also forget what “they” think were the reasons. Evidently they’ve found tombs with piles of mummified cat bodies and hieroglyphics that tell what they were for. If I find that again I’ll let you know.
Hi Andrea. Yes the Egyptians also sacrificed cats to Bast esp kittens in great numbers. Here’s an interesting article. Direct link here: http://www.livescience.com/19631-mummified-kitten-offering.html
Glad to finally hear that black cats ARE sweeter as all of the ones I have known (and our current dear) definitely have been.
Once a lady walking by our house thought Oscar was a Halloween decoration until he moved. He used to arch his back A LOT & that is what she saw. He does it less as he has grown up but still does it. I never can fully capture it on the camera somehow.
Brenda, photographing black pets is a PITA! Unless they also have white whiskers I’ve never had great shots of the black kitties (or doggies).
If your camera has a programmable mode, I can give you a hint. On my camera, when you go into the menu on program mode, it’s called “EV compensation” – lower it and it makes things darker. Raise it and it makes things lighter. Something else that helps is to have a handheld light so your autofocus can figure out where the heck it’s going.
Not quite as fine-tune-able as it is with an SLR, but a lot of the point-and-shoot cameras are getting better with stuff like that. 🙂
Loved my SLR, but now the digital isn’t as flexible. Photoshop helps after the fact, though. *s*
A lot of the DSLRs are catching up again though. Once I can afford one I am going to be doing a bit of research on current models and recommendations. Last time I hunted around I think the Canon 7D was looking like my best bet.
I have definitely seen evidence that black cats are friendlier. Every one I’ve known has been a huge lovebug. Simba’s mother, Maxine, was also the best hunter I’ve ever known. We got her as a barn cat when we had horses way back when. She once saw a mouse while my cousin was holding her, jumped out of his arms and caught the mouse before either of them hit the ground. In her last days, sporting an incurable brain infection thanks to an injury that went right through her skull (the vet said probably coyote, we still think it looked an awful lot like talon marks – either way she fought off whatever it was to come home) she still brought home small animals for her then-grown babies to eat. Couldn’t walk straight but she could still hunt. Used to chase off the local tomcats (after she was spayed at least), kept them out of our yard. She was the mother of most of the cats we’ve had (we had 12 of them at one point, only 2 of which weren’t related to her if I recall). She was one tough kitty, we were all sad to see her go.
As for “other worldly” kitty senses… Simba once sat staring at one of our non-corporeal residents waiting to be petted. Just sat there are stared and gave that look she always had when she saw a hand that was not petting her and should be. Other than that she usually never showed any signs of seeing anything “extra”. But I will say, a few days after she died, I went to bed, and just a few minutes after laying down, nowhere close to sleep yet, I looked over and saw her, plain as day, coming toward me on the bed like she always did before… only for a moment… then she was gone. I’m told the rules of death can be a bit different for the furred ones, and especially for cats. I’ve heard they can walk between the two worlds as they choose. That they of all creatures will never have to pay the ferryman (though we buried her with her fare just the same – it’s a lonely job, after all).
I have to admit I am rather fascinated by many of the creatures associated with death and magic. They always seem to have something special and mysterious about them, supernatural or otherwise. Ravens and crows capture me in the same way, though for them it is partly due to their extreme intelligence that so often goes underrated.
Oh Karyl, that had to be comforting to see Simba that way! In the days after my first shepherd passed, I felt him jump onto the bed. He’d never done that during his life, his hips were so bad, so it seemed like a way for him to tell me he truly was okay.
I’m fascinated by the “other worldly” stories and myths, too. You should see my book shelf! 🙂
Comforting and heart wrenching at the same time, I think. But it was nice to have one last memory of her that was not her lifeless body. I knew she was okay already – living with who I live with, I have a bit of a line in to some of it (he has been through the medicine trials of his tribe, after all, and part of their role is as guide and communicator for the dead and the spirit world). Plus, we’re pretty sure Anubis was playing with her those first few days. I think she stuck around to make sure he was going to be okay…
Wow, Anubis got to say goodbye, too.
Yeah. Glad he did, since he was there watching with the rest of us… can’t imagine that was easy on him.