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Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Bad Rap of the Black Cat

When I was a child, I had several bad dreams that involved having a large black panther under my bed.  During those dreams, I recall that I could only see its hind quarters and a long black tale that twitched. 

I was frozen with fear, thinking that if I moved, it may advance, pounce and tear me, limb from limb.  Waking from my dream, I would slowly look down to the floor beside me to discover that it was only a dream.

Attributes of the cat include their ability to see at night, unpredictability and their silent approach.  Sleekly perched on their haunches, they stealthily hunt with lethal accuracy snatching its food with intense precision.

In defense, they bristle, snarl, bite and claw, if cornered.

Endlessly curious, they are nocturnal creatures that personify mystery and supernatural powers, which feeds the belief that they were servants of evil.  The cat often appears wise and indifferent.  Perhaps the latter is its greatest characteristic.

Superstition surrounding the black cat arrived in America with the Puritans, (referring to themselves as "the godly") were essentially Protestant extremists who were dissatisfied mainly with the Catholic and the Church of England.  They broke off, in an attempt to reform or "purify" the established churches of that time.  Arriving at Plymouth Rock, the Puritans were profoundly suspicious, and believed in Demonology. 

They sought to exorcise those who were possessed.  Such public and moral panic was most apparent during the Salem Witch Trials.  This radical group associated the black cat with evil and dark witchcraft, punishing and condemning those who owned such a creature.  This hysteria had begun in England and was carried across the sea with the Pilgrims, to their new homeland.

So, our friend the black cat, has been since, associated with sorcery and the dark arts.  It was considered a "companion" or "familiar", and because some land owners believed that the cat had changed from from witch to cat.  Guilty by association, some cats met their demise after suspicion was laid on them for casting spells or cursing farm land or properties.

"One popular tale from British feline lore illustrates the thinking of the day. In Lincolnshire in the 1560s, a father and his son were frightened one moonless night when a small creature darted across their path into a crawl space. Hurling stones into the opening, they saw an injured black cat scurry out and limp into the adjacent home of a woman suspected by the town of being a witch. 

The next day, the father and son encountered the woman on the street. Her face was bruised, her arm bandaged. And she now walked with a limp. From that day on in Lincolnshire, all black cats were suspected of being witches in night disguise. The lore persisted. The notion of witches transforming themselves into black cats in order to prowl streets unobserved became a central belief in America during the Salem witch hunts. Thus, an animal once looked on with approbation became a creature dreaded and despised."  -kinrossfolds.com

Nine Lives?

You remember "Morris the Cat", known for his serious sarcasm, finicky taste and was the mascot for Nine Lives cat food?  The cat food was a brilliant marketing plan under the name-brand, Nine Lives. Incidentally, Morris was actually "played" by 3 different cats during the time the commercials aired. 

Illustration from a  page of the book "Nine Lives of a Cat" by Charles Bennett

But, HOW did a cat become associated with having NINE LIVES?

Witches were said to take the form of a cat nine times (a reflection of the traditional nine lives of a cat):

"A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays".

We are all familiar with this tale, as cats seem to have the uncanny ability to escape death.  It seems as though they could face death nine times and survive.  It is believed that the origin of a cat having nine lives stems from their witch owners.  Apparently, a witch could take on the body of a cat nine times, hence the folklore was transferred to the cat, itself.

Another possibility of the origin of cat's having nine lives is thought to be derived from the number 9 itself.  The number 9 is the "trinity of trinities" which could be construed as lucky. 

The Trinity of Trinities defined:  "Nine, five, and three are mystical numbers- the diapason, diapente, and diatrion of the Greeks. Nine consists of a trinity of trinities. According to the Pythagorean numbers, man is a full chord, or eight notes, and deity comes next. Three, being the trinity, represents a perfect unity, twice three is the perfect dual, and thrice three is the perfect plural. This explains the use of nine as a mystical number, and also as an exhaustive plural, and consequently no definite number, but a simple representative of plural perfection." - Source: infoplease

Luck and Superstition

One of the most common myths of the black cat is that it is unlucky to have this animal "cross your path".  

But WHY is often thought of as an omen or very bad luck?

Supposedly, the black cat is a disguised demon who is attempting to block a person's passage into Heaven.

The misconception of black cat's supernatural powers has lead to many a superstition....

"A black cat crossing one’s path by moonlight means death in an epidemic." ~Irish superstition

"If cats desert a house, illness will always reign there."  ~English superstition

If a cat's pupils become enlarged, surely rain will come.  ~Welsh superstition

"To find a strange black cat on your porch brings prosperity."  ~Scottish superstition

 "If you find one white hair on a black cat, Lady Luck will smile upon you."  ~French superstition

"It was believed that if a black cat lived in the house, the young lass would have plenty of suitors."  ~English superstition

Bring a cat to an intersection where 5 roads meet.  Let the cat loose and follow it.  It will bring you to treasure. -French superstition

A cat sneezing is a good omen for everyone who hears it.  ~Italian superstition

If a cat washes behind its ears, rain is coming.  ~English superstition

"A cat sleeping with all four paws tucked under means cold weather is ahead."  ~English superstition

"While it is lucky to own a black cat, it is extremely unlucky to come across one accidentally."  ~English superstition

If you are moving into a new home, always put your cat through the window first, before allowing it through a door, or it may leave.       ~American superstition

It’s bad luck if a black cat crosses your path and good luck if a white cat crosses your path.

Folklore tells us that if a witch becomes human, her black cat will no longer live in that home.

Do you believe that black cats are evil witches in disguise?

If a black cat walked into the room of a person who is sick, and that person dies, it can be blamed on the cat.

You may have bad luck if you meet a cat at the crack of dawn, or past 9 o'clock at night.

 If a black cat walks towards you, it brings good fortune.  It it walks away from you, it will take the good luck with it.

A kitten born in the month of May will be owned by a witch....

And on the other hand, some consider that a kitten born in May is bad luck.

While driving, if a cat crosses in front of you, mark the letter "X" on your windshield so bad luck does not follow you.

It is considered unlucky to have a black cat turn it’s back on you.

It is believed to be lucky to own a black cat, or to be given one as a gift.

It may be bad luck to hear a cat meowing, before you leave on a trip.

Never walk under a ladder after a black cat has passed under it.

Never drive away a black cat, bad luck will follow you.

It may be lucky to have a black cat greet you upon entering a house.

It also may be lucky to see three black cats in succession.

A black cat may have the power to hypnotize you....

If a black cat does cross your path, it may be reversible.  Walk in a circle, return to the spot where it crossed and count to 13.

When visiting someone who owns a cat, be sure to give it a kiss, so that the homeowners will enjoy good luck.


Cats at Sea?

I found this information at superstitionsonline.com and copied the content because it was so much fun to read!

Sailors used cats to predict the voyages they were about to embark upon. Loudly mewing cats meant that it would be a difficult voyage. A playful cat meant that it would be a voyage with good and gusty winds.

Throwing a cat overboard will bring a storm at sea.

If a cat meows aboard a ship it will be a difficult trip.

Sailors believed that if a cat licked its fur against the grain it meant a hailstorm was coming; if it sneezed, rain was on the way; and if it was frisky, the wind would soon blow.

It was a popular belief that cats could start storms through magic stored in their tails – so sailors always made sure that they were well-fed and contented.

WWI - Cat on cannons of the HMS Queen Elizabeth!

Sailors believed that the worst possible cat-related act, guaranteed to raise a storm and bring bad luck of all sorts, was to throw the cat overboard.

If a cat was thrown overboard, a storm would rise and very bad luck would follow.

Fishermen’s wives kept a black cat at home to prevent disaster at sea.

If a cat ran ahead of a sailor to the pier, it was believed that would bring good luck; if the cat crossed his path, it would bring bad luck.

If a sailor was approached by the ship’s cat it meant good luck, but if the cat only came halfway, it meant bad luck would befall the sailor.

Don't believe cat's served at sea?  Check this out! 

bLaCk     BlAcK     BLACK     black
CaTs      cAtS      cats       CATS
....owners...though, us "cat people" know that no one "owns" any cat...

Anthony Bourdain
Audrey Hepburn
Lauren Bacall
Bridget Bardot

Carey Grant
Christina Applegae
Bob Dylan
Eartha Kitt
Edwin Hubble
Ernest Hemingway
Gloria Steinem
Groucho Marx
Joan Baez
Joan Crawford
John and Yoko
Lee Merriwether
Liz Taylor
Marlen Brando
Mel Gibson
Morgan Freeman
Peter Sellers
Vincent Price
Robert Redford
Pepe's "La Kitty"
Sir Paul McCartney

"Scratchy" from the Simpsons

Veronica Lake

Photo credits:  All images that are not directly credited, were found on pinterest, tumblr and Google images.