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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Has a ghost dog or ghost cat visited you? They have blessed me that way more than once, but never when I wish for it and always unexpectedly. Far from scary, the visitation from beyond brought me great comfort. I know my furry wonders live on–somewhere, somehow, and that I’ll see them again.
When Bravo-Dawg died March 2021, our hearts ached. Karma-Kat mourned for a week and slept with his buddy’s collar. And our veterinarian and the staff at the clinic also felt the pain–we hugged and wept together at his passing.
Later at home, we second-guessed every decision made during his cancer journey. This gentle giant who never had a bad day (even in the aftermath of amputation), always made us smile during awful times. Karma and Shadow-Pup searched for their hero, the leader of the three furry stooges. Our three-year-old baby-dog fought and defeated osteosarcoma, so how could another cancer take him from us? Not our Bravo!
The day after his death, when his slurpy-kiss across my face woke me, I reflexively reached out my hand to smooth his sweet face. He leaned against my palm. Warm. Real. Karma-Kat watched on the other side of the pillow as his tail thumped and shook the bed. He had all four legs, and a happy, satisfied grin–and then he disappeared. I like to think he knew I needed his reassurance.
I cherish his effort to once again comfort us. What do you think? Does pet death mean the end, or will they come back to comfort us?
Cats and Ghosts
Cats have long been thought to have a link with the “other world” or even to have feline ESP. In fact, popular urban legends hold that cats see ghosts—and their behavior certainly seems to support that notion. Karma seemed to recognize Bravo’s spiritual visit, although he continued to mourn his lost friend.
We built our house 25 years ago, but maybe the site used to be an ancient burial ground that remains haunted by spirits of the departed. Before her own death just shy of her 22nd birthday, Seren-Kitty often played “track the spook” games, maybe just to mess with my head. You’ll understand more when you read the last paragraph.
It’s not just my own vivid imagination, either. A letter to the “Occult Review” magazine of April 1924 tells of a ghost that appeared in a chair, also apparent to the humans present. A cat in the room seemed to recognize the spirit and immediately leaped into the spirit’s lap—and acted dismayed when the insubstantial lap would not hold Kitty. The popular movie Ghost featured a cat able to see the spirit of the murdered victim, played by actor Patrick Swayze.
Can Cats Sense Death?
There also are many stories of cats wailing at the exact instant of a beloved owner’s death, even when separated by miles. How do the cats know? Do they “see” the spirit, or feel the psychic change at the sudden absence of their special human?
Cats (and dogs) have the physical ability to see certain wavelengths and color spectrums that people cannot. Perhaps this “remnant” of the dearly departed remains behind—or in fact, the spirit portion remains visible for felines as well as ultrasonic sound communication.
Oscar the cat, a resident of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Providence, Rhode Island, had an uncanny ability to predict which patient will soon die. Adopted as a kitten, he remained standoffish as an adult cat—until an individual neared the end of life. Then he’d scratch at the door and demand to be in the room, hop up on the bed beside the patient to sit vigil with them until they die.
Oscar’s prediction rate has been better than the nurses or physicians who care for the residents, who suffer from severe dementia. Experts speculate the dying simply smells different, and that alerts Oscar. Yet he is the only one of several resident cats that seems to care. Relatives have said they feel comforted Oscar spends time with their loved ones when they can’t be there.
Do Cats Haunt Us? Will Pets Visit Us After Death?
When cats die, owners recount experiences of the kitty returning to comfort remaining pet friends and people that they’re okay. Sometimes the delicate paw-print tracks of never seen mourning “ghost cats” appear where the owner can find them. Very often, one can feel the jarring “thump” of the furry ghost leaping onto the bed at night, snuggling across your ankles, or being seen out of the corner of your eyes.
When my first dog died, a day later I felt him jump up on the bed. He suffered from hip dysplasia and couldn’t jump while alive. I knew he’d become whole and returned briefly to let me know.
These invisible visitors may still cheek rub and head butt ankles, so that people can feel the brush of fur against their skin. Wishful thinking? Perhaps the mourning human so desperately wants one last contact that imagination takes over.
What About Ghost Pets Proof?
But what of the other pets who also detect the invisible cat’s or chase a transparent cat as she runs through a room only to disappear into a wall? Sometimes there’s also photographic proof that points to a kitty haunting a residence or person.
One early famous example is a 1925 family portrait taken by Major Allistone in Clarens, Switzerland that documented a woman restraining an infant from climbing out of a baby carriage, with an older boy standing in front holding a stuffed bunny in his left hand. But in the boy’s right hand appears the face of a white kitten—except that white kitten had died several weeks earlier.
More recent examples abound and include pictures and videos posted on the Internet. For example, one family admired and took pictures of a neighbor’s flowers and captured the image of a cat in the window—only the family doesn’t have a cat, so just who was the ghostly feline and (perhaps more importantly) why did the cat allow him/herself to be photographed?
Do Spirit Cats Return?
On October 29, 1993 at 8:30 p.m. my first beloved dog passed away at age 12 years 5 months. We lived in a tiny apartment and had to place his body outside in the entryway, to await burial the next morning. Shortly thereafter, we heard a strangely haunting sound at the door.
I found a cat crouching over my poor dog’s body, muttering and crying. The cat was a stranger, one I’d never seen before or since. I like to think that this eerie cat visitor arrived to pay feline respects at his passing. He’d always loved cats. It certainly couldn’t be my beloved dog’s spirit being hosted within this feline visitor. Or could it?
I never saw the cat again, although I heard the yowls each year on October 29th at about 8:30 p.m. Maybe I imagined it? All I know is the spectral cat cries stopped after my Seren-kitty adopted us.
Have you ever had a “visit” from a dearly departed pet? Have your cats (or dogs) “detected” an otherworldly presence? What did they do? If you had the chance to see a pet ghost, would you want to? Have you ever visited certain locations (or even people) that you’re sure had an animal ghost in residence? Please share!
When cat and dog people get together, you never know what to expect. We had an interesting discussion about when a dog uses cat litter box, among other things. Can you train a dog to use the litterbox? Yes! I originally wrote this post while at the Cat Writers Conference in Dallas. At these events, we have a ball attending expert writing seminars and schmoozing with lots of cat (and dog) lovers. At the opening event there were lots of BOO-tiful costumes displayed during the bag-stuffing party. Yes, had to don my wings!
Dog Uses Cat Litter Box
Such a gathering of pet professionals often results in some terrific discussions. We often talk about the most common cat behavior issue–cat litter box problems. I wonder how many dog trainers hear questions about training dogs to use cat litter boxes? Or how often dogs teach themselves to use the cat litter box! It sure did puzzle the pet owner!