As the mascot of Halloween, black cats tend to have a bad rap, often based on geographical folklore, myth and religious hysteria, even to this day. Cultures worldwide hold superstitious beliefs that influence how people move through life. From broken mirrors to knocking on wood, superstitions can be traced back from ancient history. Black cat myths are not an exception.
Hecate and Her Familiar
The Greek goddess Hecate had a black cat as her familiar in some interpretations. She had a black cat assist her during her practices as the goddess of witchcraft, sorcery, magic and the moon. In other interpretations, it was Galanthis or Galinthias, a servant of Hecate’s, who was associated with cats after being transformed into a black cat by Hera. Regardless, these retellings potentially reinforced the societal correlation between black cat myths and witchcraft.
Christianity and Black Cat Myths
Pope Gregory IX exasperated the harmful black cat myths with his 13th century document “Vox in Rama,” declaring black cats to be the embodiment of satan. Many Puritan colonists deduced witches could transform into their black cat “familiars.” This led to the persecution of witches and black cats. Some historians view the “Vox in Rama” as a call to kill or torture black cats, often to banish evil spirits or break spells.
Early Christians often lumped together the devil, witches and black cats due to their alleged lack of respect for authority. It was not uncommon for men to believe independent women were a threat, but the church viewed the generally independent nature of cats as a threat to society.
As the hysteria toward witches and dark magic grew, the church accused women who fed alley cats of witchcraft for their empathy toward strays. This is one origin story for the superstition that a black cat crossing your path means bad luck.
Cultures of Good Fortune
On the contrary, other cultures view black cats as signs of good fortune.
Egyptians worshipped Bastet, a half-cat, half-woman goddess and a warrior who protected the pharaoh. Associated with the moon and fertility, Bastet’s association with cats made it illegal to kill cats in Egypt. The Egyptians sentenced those found guilty to death. The connection to cats stems deeper into Egyptian society; many owners chose to mummify their cats after they passed for mourning or were buried with their feline companions. The Romans had a similar goddess, Liberta, goddess of freedom, who held cats as her symbol.
Furthermore, in Welsh folklore, black cats will not only bring luck to a household, but they can also predict the weather. In Japan, it isn’t unusual for a single woman to adopt a black cat. Many Japanese people believe black cats draw in potential love interests. Italians view a black cat sneezing to be a predictor of good luck coming.
Black cat myths vary depending on geography. So next time a black cat crosses your path, think of it as a good sign and maybe not a witch on a mission. They probably won’t bring bad luck and doom.