Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Superstition of cats

Today I'm going to be talking about some of the superstition regarding cats. Being a cat lover, I found the topic in general quiet interesting. Below are the most fascinating I was able to find.

As most people know, Ancient Egyptians worshiped cats, and as one of my favorite cat-related quotes go, "Thousands of years ago, cats were worshiped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this." Anyone who owns a cat knows this is true, but, back to the subject. =) Part of the reason why Egyptians worshiped cats were because of the cat’s "glowing" eyes. As I found from one of my sources, "This was because Egyptians worshipped the sun, and they believed that cats could retain the sun's power within their eyes. They believed this because of a retina adaptation called ‘tapetum,’ which is the phenomenon that causes cats’ eyes to appear to glow in the dark; anyone who has seen a cat has probably noted this phenomenon, wherein a cat’s eyes reflect a somewhat green circle of light." That's surprising to me since I hadn't really heard of that idea before doing my research, but it makes a lot of sense.

Another very interesting tidbit is that during the medieval ages just before the Bubonic Plague really started up, there was a lot of cat killing going on. And...guess what? That is one of the reasons why the Bubonic Plague was so devastating. Cats would have been important in killing the brown rats, which spread the black plague.

Another source has this to say about cats in the Middle Ages, "It was largely in the Middle Ages that the black cat became affiliated with evil. Because cats are nocturnal and roam at night, they were believed to be supernatural servants of witches, or even witches themselves. Partly because of the cat's sleek movements and eyes that 'glow' at night, they became the embodiment of darkness, mystery, and evil, possessing frightening powers. If a black cat walked into the room of an ill person, and the person later died, it was blamed on the cat's supernatural powers. If a black cat crossed a person's path without harming them, this indicated that the person was then protected by the devil. Often times, a cat would find shelter with older women who were living in solitude. The cat became a source of comfort and companionship, and the old woman would curse anyone who mistreated it. If one of these tormentors became ill, the witch and her familiar were blamed." That makes more since on why people thought they needed to kill cats at the period of time, but it's still so horrible!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this topic! I'd love to hear what you think about these beliefs as well as share your own. Have you heard of interesting cat superstitions or tidbits?

Interesting Links:

9 deadly screams:

Carrie said...

Hi Sarah,

After having taken an Egyptian Mythology and an Ancient Egyptian Civilization course and a couple of anthropology courses, I must say this. I have never heard about the "glowing eyes" connection. After reading the link, this is really only someone's interpretation, or someone's guess as to why cats were revered in Ancient Egypt.

What they were really worshiped for is their hunting and killing abilities, especially their ability to deal with vermin and snakes such as cobras. The cats helped keep the food safe and as a result, the cats were treated like any other warrior.

My best guess would be that they figured out the hard way that cats were a necessity and elevated them to goddess level to keep them from being killed off. (Most of archaeology is interpretation of the given data.)

What is most interesting is that the Bast is still worshiped today, implying that it predates most religions. Kind of interesting when you think about it.

You talk about the superstition of the black cat developing in the middle ages, but what I would like to know is where was this occurring or was it happening all over in general? Did this superstition start in London or did it begin elsewhere? Did it ever reach Egypt? All fun things to consider!

Nice blog topic.


Margay said...

Hhmm, well, my sister and I both have two black cats each, all girls (hers are Bella and April and I believe are like aunt and niece, and mine are Lily and Coco and they are sisters), so I have to wonder - do I have anything to worry about, or does having two black cats cancel out the curse? I'm with the Egyptians - I revere cats. Even when they're knocking things off the top of the refrigerator at 5:30 in the morning (I'm talking about you, Lily).

Molly Daniels said...

The best cats I ever owned were all black. Pete lived to be 22; Tag died when he was 14; Gizmo was unhappy when we moved, and even more unhappy the kids found a female kitten to drag home; otherwise, she wouldn't have disappeared shortly after her 6th birthday.

Sarah Mäkelä said...

Thanks for the comments. I have a black cat, too. She's amazing. I love her a lot. Cats never cease to amaze me. They're awesome.

Ashley Ladd said...

I'm a cat lover. Make that I ADORE cats and have 5 of my own (and 2 are pure black). But I didn't know all the info you gave. Very interesting. Thanks.

Ashley Ladd said...

My black cats, the daddy cat in particular, is such an absolute lover there's no way he could be evil. I've also heard that black cats are very loving and affectionate. Mine are for sure.

Sarah Mäkelä said...

Thanks for your comment, Ashley! My black cat is so affectionate and loving, but she can also be quite a pistol. She also is VERY talkative. Far more talkative than any of my other cats. It's so adorable.

I also have a tuxedo cat, and he's such the lover. *grins* He purrs whenever I come near him.

Marko-Bob said...

Although I am a bit irregular commenter today's blog was so close to me that I could not continue my day before commenting.

I am considered as a cultural specialist among my colleges, have multiple years of studies of both occult and mythology behind me and a household blessed with loving cats.

First of all, Sarah your blog was great. :) I've heard the folklore regarding the Egyptians worshiping cats partly because of the glowing eyes. As cats became semi-domestic animals in Egypt, and slowly became viewed as guardians of precious food silos containing grains for the bad years, their status in the mythological viewpoint grew greatly. Cat worship actually predates some other Egyptian gods. What is notable is that cat worship has continued to this day, simply because of their important role as guarding the grains.

However, cats were also related to Ra, partly because of their glowing eyes. Part of the folklore and more older myths relate cats as guardians against the serpent(s) of darkness, holding the light of Ra in their eyes, only to return the light back to the sun at the dawn, before returning to their sleep.

This belief in fact was so deeply rooted that the killing of cats was prohibited, and those who killed cats would suffer greatly, often carrying a death-penalty, even to the priests and the nobility. The status of the cats were so high that the priests wrapped carefully any cats they found in linen and bought it to the temple to be examined with great care to determine if the death was indeed natural. Additionally, to remove or to steal a cat from Egypt and to move it to another land was considered stealing directly from the Pharaoh, which was a capital crime.

The Utchat (or also udjat), symbol of the eye of the cat (one of the most well known symbols of Ra's all seeing eye), is actually the root word for nearly all Indo European names for the cat. (cat, chat, cattus, gatus, gato, katt, katte, katze, kitty, kissa etc...). This is significant connection between Ra (of whose both eyes can be decribed by the Utchat, the eye(s) of the cats) and the cats, and also reveals important connection between Ra and Bast (good old fashioned HieroGamos there).

As with modern myths, for instance the city of Agadir in Morocco was destroyed by an earthquake. The night before that happened every cat in the city fled to the desert. Because of this many citizens left the city and were saved. Today the locals feed and tend for the cats in the city, watching their movements and making sure to alert their friends should the cats disappear. As I've been there, every evening I witnessed how well cats are tended in the city and how much love the locals showed them.

I'd wish people would do their research properly and remember to take their medication before letting their own ideas and comments loose.

Oncea again Sarah, Great blog ! :)

Sarah Mäkelä said...

Thanks for your comment, Marko-Bob! Great information. I've heard of the earthquake and the cats fleeing. It's fascinating the level of awareness that cats have. =)