We’ve all seen the ubiquitous black cat with an arched spine that adorns Halloween decorations and greeting cards. But why is it the black kitty that gets pegged for evil superstition and not the tabby or calico?
Exactly when the marriage of black cats and bad luck began is unknown, but some speculation leads to the mid-1200s, when Pope Gregory IX claimed they were the devil incarnate. A massive cat genocide (black and otherwise) commenced in Europe, and it lasted for more than a century.
Subsequently, with the population of cats at an all-time low, the bubonic plague, which was carried by rats and killed more than half the population of Europe during the 14th century, persisted because the rats’ predators had been so diminished.
Several hundred years later, during the Salem witch trials, the correlation between black cats and witches caused the fear of black cats to spread throughout Puritan communities. Popular opinion was that a black cat was a witch’s familiar. The witch was believed to leave the broomstick at home and transform into a cat to stalk around doing evil deeds.
Scottish folklore told the story of Cat Sidhe, a fairy creature who took the form of a black cat with a white patch on its throat and was rumored to steal a corpse’s soul before it could be buried. Therefore, mourners would sit and guard the body night and day until burial.
As the stories of bad luck related to black cats were passed through the generations, a few stories of good luck began to surface. English sailors believed that having a black cat onboard was a good omen and fishermen’s wives used to keep a black cat at home because it was believed to ensure their husband’s safe return. If a British bride saw a black cat on her way to the altar it was said she would have good luck.
In ancient Egypt, black cats were thought of as divinities and all hailed praise to the feline goddess, Bast. There, it was a capital crime to harm a cat. Perhaps this is what lead to cats having the aristocratic attitude they often have today: They were once treated as royalty and they haven’t forgotten.
How does this all apply to us today? Other than the Halloween décor and myths about crossing the path of a black cat leading to bad luck, many of the old ideas about black cats have faded from memory. There is, however, the lingering problem with homeless black cats (and dogs, too). Research indicates black pets are less likely to be adopted than their colorful counterparts.
If you are thinking of adopting a cat, consider a black one. But beware: Your black cat may cast that evil spell that causes you to fall in love and crave constant kitty cuddles and purrs.