The Black Cat
The Samhain sabbat marks the time of the year when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead, the seen and the unseen, is at it thinnest. This is a magical time when the laws of time and space are suspended and one can communicate with departed loved ones. The Celts believed that friends and relatives who had died would often return, their souls inhabiting an animal. The most common animal to be inhabited was a black cat. Because of the connection to departed souls and Samhain, black cats have remained a symbol of that holiday.
For over 5,000 years, black cats have played a major role in mythology, legend, folklore and superstition. The favorable view of black cats is attributed specifically to the Egyptian goddess Bast (or Bastet), the cat goddess. Egyptian households believed they could gain favor from Bastet by having a black cat in the house. It was not the life of an ordinary house cat; these living effigies of the Goddess were given jewelry to wear, a special bed to sleep on and bejeweled dishes to eat off. When the cat died, the entire household would go into mourning. Wealthy owners would go so far as to have their cat mummified, an extravagant expense usually only reserved for the wealthiest of the population and royalty.
Black cats have also long been associated with witches and witchcraft. In the late 1300’s, a group of witches in France were accused of worshipping the Devil in the form of a cat. Cats, especially black cats, were believed to be supernatural servants of witches, or even witches themselves. Black cats were considered to be a witch’s familiar, or an aid in a witch performing her magic.
In Celtic mythology, a fairy known as the Cat Sith takes the form of a black cat. Cat Sith is a servant and trusted advisor of the Fairy Queen of Winter, Mab. The people of the Scottish Highlands did not trust the Cat Sìth. They believed that it could steal a person’s soul before it was claimed by the Goddesses and Gods by passing over a corpse before burial; therefore watches called the Feill Fadalach (Late Wake) and were performed night and day to keep the Cat Sìth away from a corpse before burial. Methods of “distraction” included games of leaping and wrestling, catnip, riddles, and music. There were no fires where the body lay, as the Cat Sìth was attracted to the warmth. Some people believed that the Cat Sìth was a witch that could transform voluntarily into its cat form and back eight times. If one of these witches chose to go back into their cat form for the ninth time, they would remain a cat for the rest of their lives. It is believed by some that this is how the idea of a cat having nine lives originated. On Samhain it was believed that Cat Sìth would bless any house that left a saucer of milk out for it to drink, but those houses that overlooked him would be cursed into having all of their cows’ milk go dry.
Depending on one’s area of the world (and the century one lived in), black cats portend either good or bad luck.
Pirates of the 18th century believed that a black cat would bring different kinds of luck. If a black cat walks towards someone, that person will have bad luck. If a black cat walks away from someone that person will have good luck. If a black cat walks onto a ship and then walks off it, the ship is doomed to sink on its next voyage.
Sailors considering a ship’s cat or mascot would want a black one because it would bring good luck. Sometimes, fishermen’s wives would keep black cats at home too, in the hope that the cat would use its influence with the supernatural to protect their husbands at sea.
Sometimes the powers attributed to black cats were strongly positive; one example of whom was Charles I of England. Upon the death of his treasured pet black cat, he is said to have lamented that his luck was gone. True to his claim, he was arrested the very next day and charged with high treason.
In Asia and the U.K., a black cat is considered lucky.
In Yorkshire, England, it may be lucky to own a black cat, but it is unlucky have one cross your path.
In Great Britain, black cats are seen as lucky and are often given in token form to brides.
In Germany, a black cat crossing a person’s path from right to left, is a bad omen. But from left to right, the cat is granting favorable times.
To dream of a black cat is lucky.
A funeral procession meeting up with a black cat is believed to forecast the death of another family member.
In 16th century Italy, people believed that if someone was sick he would die if a black cat lay on his bed.
In North America, it’s considered bad luck if a black cat crosses your path and good luck if a white cat crosses your path. In the U.K., switch the colors, I guess unless you live in Yorkshire.
Finding a white hair on a black cat brings good luck. Don’t pluck it though, or your luck may turn bad.
A strange black cat on a porch brings prosperity to the owner. (Scottish Lore)
Kamberlyn:When not writing for Ravenhawks, Kamberlyn works with clients seeking a more spiritually centered life. In her work, she helps people realize the relationship, career and finances that belongs to their soul. She can be found on KEEN at Kamberlyn Divine Love or through her website, LadyKamberlyn.com.