What to do if a black cat crosses your path…
Throughout history, black cats have been afflicted with superstitious beliefs and folklore.
During the Medieval Period (500 AD to 1500 AD) negative superstitions took hold with black cats becoming associated with the devil in significant parts of Europe. It is thought that the Norman and Germanic people originated the idea of a black cat crossing your path brought bad luck and believed that a sighting of a black cat was a sign that a death would soon occur. The fears about black cats quickly spread and it wasn’t long before mass culling of black cats took place. This eradication of black cats is thought to be a contributing factor towards the overpopulation of mice and rats at this time, enabling the Bubonic Plague to spread quickly and causing more than 25 million deaths over five years.
The Medieval Period also saw hysteria and fear of the use of sorcery. Many innocent women (and men) were accused of using magic and were persecuted. People believed that witches would use black cats as way to carry out evil deeds and communicate with the devil. Other myths claimed witches would transform into black cats as a way to hide their identity or cast spells in secret.
The black cat superstitions travelled to America when Europeans migrated. The persecution of witches and cats continued throughout the Salem witch trials which saw more than 200 people accused of witchcraft and 19 people hanged.
During this time black cats, amongst other animals, were accused of helping witches conduct spells and were even accused of performing witchcraft themselves. As a result, the black cat superstition had found a permanent place in American history, and many people used this a justified excuse for the mistreatment and abuse of black cats. In some places however, black cats were seen as a sign of fortune and good luck, and in Ancient Egypt black cats especially were worshipped.
Cats in Egypt were linked to the Gods. The cat goddess Bastet was known to be part cat, part woman and a fierce warrior goddess who defended the pharaoh. It is said that Bastet would grant good fortune to those who housed cats. The Egyptians would use cats to protect royal food stocks from rats and mice and it was illegal to kill a cat – the penalty was death. The Egyptians’ love for cats was so strong that owners would often mummify their own cats after
death, and a cats’ death would be mourned. It was a common practice for owners and their cats to be buried together.
Like the Egyptians, the Japanese were also known to adore their feline companions. The Maneki Neko, or Lucky Cat, is often used as a charm to bring good luck and prosperity. It can often be seen inside businesses with one paw up waving in good fortune. It is also common for Japanese women to own a black cat with the belief it will bring suitors.
The modern black cat
Even today, many people still fear the sight of a black cat despite knowing that the ancient superstitions have no basis. Their history with witches sees black cats used today as costumes, decorations and party themes during Halloween. Sadly, it also means that black cats are also at a higher risk of mistreatment – and even cruelty during Halloween.
Black cats, and even black and white cats, have a less chance of being adopted at shelters compared to other coloured cats. Judged by their colour, black cats often stay homeless much longer and need more assistance in finding loving homes.
If anyone has ever owned a black cat, they know that the colour of its fur doesn’t make a difference in the personality or love the cat brings. If they respect it and give it lots of affection, it will bring them many years of good luck and joy.
Need a cat in your life? View all of the amazing cats available to adopt from Animal Welfare League NSW here.