• Dr Caity Venniker

The Colourful Existence of Black Cats

Cats have had a turbulent time on earth. One century worshipped as gods, the next stigmatised as symbols of the devil; they have ridden the peaks and troughs of human favour. But none more so than the black cat. He especially has been both revered and despised through time and space. Even in modern times, superstitions persist and black cats have very different perceptions depending on geographical location.


Things started off well. Both the Egyptian goddess, Bastet, and the Greek goddess, Isis, were associated with black cats, and this certainly exemplified the benefits of having friends in high places. Black cats were admired and respected, even worshipped as symbols of the divine. Things took a nasty turn however in medieval times, when black cats became associated with witchcraft and were seen as omens of misfortune. Across Europe, owning a black cat could raise suspicions of witchcraft, and in an age where tens of thousands of women were tortured and burnt at the stake, it’s no surprise that black cats were not a popular pet. They suffered greatly, caught in the crossfire of different churches vying to show themselves as the most intolerant of evil.



Fortunately, since then, opinions on black cats have become a little less extreme, although they are still varied and rooted in superstition. Black cats remain a token symbol of Halloween - many shelters will not allow their adoption during the month of October for this reason. In contrast, they also represent good luck in many countries. Here are just a few of the superstitions still associated with black cats:

  • In Japan, they are a popular choice for single women as they are believed to attract suitors. #mustlovecats

  • In Latvia, black kittens are an omen for a good harvest.

  • In Italy, a sneezing black cat supposedly signifies imminent wealth and success in marriage. Bless you indeed!

  • In Celtic mythology, the Cat Sith, or Fairy Cat, is said to roam the Scottish Highlands. Based on a black cat with a white spot on his chest, it’s possible that these legends originated from sightings of Scottish wild cats. The Cat Fairy had to be distracted with catnip away from dead bodies prior to burial, or it might intercept the souls before they reached heaven.

  • In Ireland, according to folk lore, the black bog cat brought wealth and happiness.

  • In the south of France, traditionally black cats were known as “magician cats.” If well fed, they would bring wealth to the home, but should not be kept until the end of the owner’s life but rather “set free” to avoid a painful death. Hmm. I wonder how the cats felt about that!

What other animal on earth has been so steeped in the supernatural, and so sorely misunderstood? How is it that the humble chicken is allowed to cross the road simply to get to the other side, but black cats are assumed to have all kinds of sinister motives and magical intentions?


Refreshingly, according to American comedian, Groucho Marx, “A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.” I tend to agree. Cats of any colour are far too busy (and important) to bother with the mundane matters of our love lives and bank balances.


An extract of a poem by Margaret Atwood, titled, “February,” has a dash of dark humour and a far more realistic black cattitude:


“Winter. Time to eat fat

And watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,

A black fur sausage with yellow

Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries

To get onto my head. It’s his

Way of telling whether or not I’m dead.

If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am

He’ll think of something.”


This seems a far more apt depiction, if only because chasing down souls and cursing fortunes seems like rather a lot of work!


Through the ages, black cats have been at the mercy of the darkest corners of human imagination, but at last it seems they are outgrowing their troublesome reputations. In the past, black cats were less likely to be adopted than those of another colour, but recent data from the ASPCA using a Comprehensive Animal Risk Database, showed that this is not currently the case(2). The colour is very common, and the number of adoptions (or lack thereof) simply reflect population numbers.


While black cats are finally emerging from a shroud of mysticism, to bask in relative normality, they do in fact seem to have one real-life superpower. It’s possible that they have a slight evolutionary advantage, with genes that are more resistant to certain diseases(1) than cats of other colours. It seems fair enough, all things considered. Not so unlucky after all!


If you have any questions or stories about your own black cats, please contact us via email on meow@katkin.club. You can also find us on Instagram or our private Facebook page, the KatKin Club House - we’d love to hear from you!


References:

  1. Bhattacharya, S. (2003). Black cats may be the more fortunate felines. NewScientist. Retrieved August 4, 2021, from: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn3459-black-cats-may-be-the-more-fortunate-felines

  2. Blake, Y. (2020). The truth about black cats. Rescue Recover Rehome. Retrieved August 4, 2021 from: https://www/bcarl.net/post/the-truth-about-black-cats

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