Why Do People Fear Black Cats?

Black cats have a bad rap, but is it deserved?

Rescue groups and shelters who work tirelessly to save kittens and cats repeatedly say it’s harder to find new homes for black felines than any other cat. Black cats inspire fear in many people, dislike in others, and unfortunately, black cats are also more often abused (especially around Halloween) than other cats. These feelings aren’t new, however; many originated a long time ago.

Old Egyptian Superstitions

Every culture has its superstitions. Although our logical brain may scoff at superstitions in public they can be ingrained in our culture. We may be more apt to observe them in private even when we know, really know, they are silly.

One of the oldest superstitions regarding cats goes back to 3000 BC in Egypt. When the Egyptians began practicing agriculture, they welcomed the hunting abilities of cats. The cat’s abilities caused people to look upon them as supernatural beings. After all, no one else could catch as many mice and rats as cats could; so people claimed these small predators had supernatural powers.

This worship of cats in Egypt came to the forefront when, centuries ago, a Roman soldier killed a black cat. The Egyptian populace killed him in the streets and his death became renowned.

The belief that cats have superpowers lead to the creation of one of Egypt’s deities, Bast, who had the body of a human and the head of a cat. Bast held cats sacred and it became illegal to hurt or kill a cat and because of this, some historians feel that these prohibitions, as well as Bast’s protection, caused some of the populace to fear cats. After all, if you hurt a cat and faced the death penalty for doing so, fear would be a reasonable reaction.

Black Cats in Greece

A fear of black cats alone, though, probably originated in Greece where black cats specifically (not cats of other colors) were assumed to be companions of witches. In Greek mythology, Hecate, who could turn into a cat, was a goddess of the underworld. As time passed and mythologies evolved, she became associated with witches, witchcraft, magic, and ghosts. Many of the stories show her to have a black cat as her companion or to be able to turn into a black cat.

Although well domesticated by the medieval era, because cats were associated with witches (not just in Greece but by then throughout Europe) they had become a sign of bad luck; especially black cats. This made the life for cats extremely hard. Welcomed for their hunting abilities, they were tolerated by people until something bad happened. Illness, injuries, or other bad luck would occur and the cat, especially a black cat, would be held responsible.

black cat

istockphoto/ParkerDeen

Fables Abound

Throughout history, fables and mythology around black cats continued. While many of these stories seem funny today, long ago they were the cause of many a black cat’s execution.

In Italy centuries ago, if a black cat jumped on the bed of a sick person, it was considered to be a death omen. In Scotland, a black cat observed at a wake or funeral meant someone attending would soon die. In America, seeing a black cat in your dreams also meant death, but this time of a family member.

In many cultures, a black cat walking across your path means bad luck; even today people believe this. In some places, this even applies when driving. If you’re driving and see a black cat ahead of you, you’re supposed to turn around and chose a different route to drive otherwise bad luck will find you.

Black Cats are Harbingers of Good Luck, too

Thankfully, though, mythologies, legends, and beliefs can and do change. In more recent times, in England and Scotland, a black cat appearing porch meant good luck was in your future. A prevalent superstition heard today is that if your black cat has one white hair, don’t pluck that hair; it means your cat will bring you good luck rather than bad.

Today, the owners of black cats will attest to their feline companions’ wonderful, affectionate natures. Perhaps, after centuries of abuse, these cats are now thankful to be loved.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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