With shiny coats as dark as midnight and mesmerizing golden or emerald eyes that sear through your soul, black cats have a sleek mystique that makes it easy to fall under their spell. And, easy to believe the many myths and superstitions that they inspire. Let’s sort out the magic and mayhem to reveal the good, the bad, and the beginnings of the black cat’s metamorphosis into the cultural icon that it is today. Black Cat Superstitions Myths and Legends
1. Black cats are bad luck
The idea that black cats are bad luck most likely began in Europe in the Middle Ages. According to legend, a disgruntled man and his son encountered a black cat and threw stones at it.
The wounded cat scampered into a nearby house owned by a woman accused of being a witch. When she appeared hobbling and bruised the following day, people began to talk. Overnight, she transformed from a woman suspected of witchcraft to a witch who could shape-shift into a cat. More on the deeply-rooted ties between black cats and witches a little later.
A more likely premise is that people began to associate the color black with evil-doing during this period. So, they assumed that dark animals such as crows, ravens, and black cats existed as sinister creatures with no redeeming qualities. Fear spread across Europe that was so pervasive it led to thousands of helpless black cats’ killings.
Black Cats and the Plague
Around the same time, the bubonic plague (also known simply as “the plague” or the Black Death) swept across Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Some people assumed that “cat germs” caused the deadly pandemic. In fact, the disease spread through fleas carried on black rats that traveled on merchant ships throughout the region.
Herein lies the irony. Since so many cats met death, the rats’ most lethal predator, the plague to spread quickly. Cat karma? Perhaps…
Not So Fun Fact: In 1233, Pope Gregory IX issued a decree proclaiming that Satan existed half-cat and sometimes transformed into a cat for rituals.
2. If a black cat crosses your path, you’ll have bad (or good) luck
Perhaps the most well-known black cat superstition in North America and most of Europe is if a black cat crosses your path, you’ll have bad luck. It’s ok if one walks with you, behind you, or even directly in front of you. But if one walks horizontally in front of you, it just might mean that something wicked is coming your way.
If you happen to fall victim to the curse of an American or European black cat, you may be able to reverse your fortune by traveling to Japan, Russia, or Great Britain. These are countries that view black cats as lucky, particularly if they cross your path. In Germany, the script flipped a bit.
The “rule” is if the cat crosses your path from left to right, you’ll have good luck, but if it crosses from right to left, your luck will have run out…
Not So Fun Fact: Some Irish believe that if a black cat crosses a person’s path in the moonlight, they will succumb to an epidemic—hope you don’t see one THIS year!
3. They are witches’ assistants
In the Middle Ages, not only did single women have to fight for their right to exist without accepting marriage; if they fed a cat, they also had to fight for their lives. People assumed that single women who took care of strays were practicing witchcraft and that the cats were “familiars”— accomplices in the dark arts.
Another widely-held belief spread that witches had the power to morph into black cats. This allowed them to prowl around and cast spells stealthily.
A sidebar to this myth is that witches could shapeshift into a black cat a maximum of nine times…in other words, they only had nine lives.
Not So Fun Fact: From the Middle Ages to the time of the Salem Witch Trials, women caught with black cats burned at the stake along with their cats.
4. They are mythical seafaring creatures
In the days when pirates pillaged the Seven Seas, a must-have on every vessel was a cat whose main duty was to catch rodents. These honorary first mates inspired several tightly-held superstitions amongst seafarers.
Although any color cat received welcome aboard, the highly-sought-after ebony feline was considered a good luck charm. However, it was only if they settled in immediately. According to superstition, if the cat boarded the ship then voluntarily disembarked, the ship would sink the next time it sailed.
Fishermen’s wives also kept black cats as pets in the belief that the animals would use their mystical powers to keep their husbands safe at sea. Another popular myth was that black cats could conjure storms using magic stockpiled within their tails, like living lightning rods.
Not So Fun Fact: Sailors thought that if a ship’s cat fell overboard, it would send a storm to sink the ship. If the ship survived the storm, it became cursed for nine years afterward.
5. They can bring good fortune – Black Cat Superstitions
Although most black cat lore and superstitions involve impending misfortune, few turn the tables on doom and gloom.
The Ancient Egyptians held cats in high regard and even associated them with goddesses, particularly Bastet, the goddess of cats, and Diana, the hunting goddess. Diana’s devotees chose the black cat as their idol and often dressed in black.
According to Japanese folklore, single women who share their home with a black cat are considered more alluring. They are also thought to attract more marriage prospects.
In Central England, black cats are given to brides as wedding gifts to ensure happy, fruitful marriages. Some Scots believe you’ll be successful, healthy, and wealthy if a black cat randomly shows up at your house.
Not so Fun Fact-When King Charles I of England’s black cat died, not only did he mourn the loss, but he also proclaimed that his luck had run out. He was arrested for high treason the next day.
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