Among the superstitions, one of the oldest and most enduring is that crossing a black cat will bring bad luck. Dark-colored felines have also been folded into modern Halloween symbols, giving them a (undeserved) reputation for being spooky.
But how and where did the association between black cats and bad luck begin? Here’s what we know about the connection between Halloween and black cats, including the lasting impact of this superstition that continues today.
Origins of black cat superstitions
The links between humans and cats date back to some of the world’s earliest civilizations, most notably ancient Egypt, where cats were considered to be divine symbols. Cats also made an appearance in Greek mythology, particularly Hecate, the goddess of magic, witchcraft, moon and witchcraft, has been described as having both a pet and familiar cat (a supernatural creature who assists a witch, according to European folklore).
Written documents link black cats to the occult as early as the 13th century when an official church document called “Vox in Rama” was issued by Pope Gregory IX on June 13, 1233. “In it, cats black people have been declared an incarnation of Satan, ”says Layla Morgan Wilde, author of Black cats tell: true stories and inspiring images. “The decree marked the beginning of the inquisition and the church-sanctioned heretic and / or witch hunts. Initially, it was designed to crush the growing cult of Luciferians in Germany, but quickly spread across Europe.
Cats and witches seen as threats to the early Christian Church
In addition to their early association with Satan, cats also became inextricably linked with witches in medieval Europe. According to Cerridwen Fallingstar, Wiccan priestess and author of Cauldron Broth: A journey of wisdom through everyday magic, witches were the pre-Christian pagan practitioners of Europe.
Although the early Christian church in Europe coexisted with witches, as the church grew in strength, she says they viewed witches as their direct competitor to win the hearts and minds of the people. It was then that the church began to hunt, persecute, torture and kill witches in large numbers, she explains.
“Witches honored the natural world, having a deep respect for plants and animals,” says Fallingstar. “The affection between man and animal therefore began to be seen as ‘evil’, or evil, and the old lady with her cats became suspicious.”
But it wasn’t just the bond they made between witches, cats, and the devil that early Christians feared – they also saw them both as threats. “Cats, like women accused of witchcraft, tend to disrespect authority,” she notes. “They don’t flatter, like dogs, even the unworthy. In the church, neither independent women nor independent animals were to be tolerated.
At one point, pairing witches with cats came down to black cats, although Fallingstar says it’s not entirely clear why that happened. “The relationship between witches and black cats in particular is probably imaginary, but it is possible that black cats make better mice, as they cannot be seen at night and therefore have a hunting advantage,” he explains. -she. “Witches tend to be practical. “
Eventually, the fear surrounding black cats and their association with witchcraft crossed the Atlantic, thanks to the Puritan settlers, says Daniel Compora, associate professor of English language and literature at the University of Toledo. “The idea that witches could become their pets probably evolved from those accused of witchcraft having cats as pets,” he explains.
Cats accused of spreading the plague
In the Middle Ages, it was not uncommon for cats to be killed, given their association with evil, says Compora. Some people have even gone so far as to accuse cats of spreading bubonic plague, and have used that as another reason to get rid of it. However, their ill-conceived plan backfired.
“In a particularly bizarre irony, the killing of the cats helped fuel the spread of the plague,” says Compora. “With the reduced number of cats to control the rodent population, the disease spread rapidly.”
Origins of Black Cat Crossing Your Path Superstition
Given the belief in medieval Europe that the devil and witches were able to take the form of black cats, it makes sense that the superstition surrounding crossing their paths developed, says folklorist and artist Phoebe Millerwhite. “Therefore, a black cat that crosses your path could very well be on a witch’s mission,” she notes. “Just as easily, it could be the devil in disguise – and no one wants to cross paths with the devil. This explains why a black cat crossing your path is considered a bad omen.
This notion continued into the Renaissance, says Fallingstar, when a black cat crossing your path might have indicated that a witch had sent him to a familiar to harm you. “Many fearful peasants of the time may have rushed to the nearest church and paid a priest to bless them and rid them of any curse that might have been cast by the cat,” she says. “Since this was a source of income for the church, such fears would likely have been encouraged.”
But the idea that black cats bring bad luck isn’t universal, according to Compora. In fact, some cultures believe that black cats bring good luck.
“Their resemblance to the cat goddess Bastet led them to be honored in ancient Egypt,” he explains. “In other countries, like Scotland and Japan, they are known to represent prosperity. Apparently, whether a black cat is considered a benevolent creature or an evil supernatural force is entirely based on the lore one is likely to adopt.