Black Cats: History, Myths, and Stereotypes

My eyes are deep and full of love, and my coat is a deep shimmering black. I want to be someone’s constant companion, but as people walk past my cage, I hear the same words: “It’s a black cat!” So I ask, what’s wrong with that? — yours truly, black cat

Really, What’s Wrong with a Black Cat?

Absolutely nothing! The media and the experiences of rescue and shelter employees will tell you the same thing: that, believe it or not, the old adage of black cats bringing “bad luck” is still alive and well within our culture, even in the 21st Century, and that it causes black cats (and even black dogs) to get the short end of the stick when it comes to adoption rates.

But the statistics tell a different story: that black cats and other pets are adopted just as, if not more often, than their white and multi-colored counterparts. To truly get to the root of the black cat superstition, then, let’s look at the past to see where it may have started, and how the animal-loving community can come together to ensure that every pet has a chance at adoption.

Which Witch Was it?

Myths concerning cats, especially black ones, are numerous and often contradictory, blurred by the passage of time. Norse legend states that Freya, goddess of fertility, drove a chariot pulled by black cats, and Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, was worshiped along with her felines. In Scotland, it is considered a sign of prosperity if a black cat crosses your path; the same in Germany, but only if it crosses from left to right. In others, the luck is only positive when the cat walks directly towards you, or if the encounter occurs in the morning.

Unfortunately, this positive association has shifted back and forth throughout history. Celtic mythology makes mention of Cat Sidhe, a soul-stealing fairy in the form of a black cat. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX issued a papal bill called the Vox in Rama, condemning black cats as stand ins for the devil and launching the first known large-scale cat massacre in history. This wicked black cat association also had popularity particularly in the Middle Ages, when they were often represented as witch familiars in medieval art. As a result, during the influx of Puritans to the United States, the Salem Witch hunts revived the black cat stigma, burning black felines right along with their condemned human companions. Sadly, this black cat myth and associated ritual still exists today, particularly around the Friday the 13th and Halloween seasons.

For the safety and love of black cats everywhere, let’s celebrate our ebony felines in all of their sleek, mysterious beauty!

Black is In

Here’s why:

  1. Black cats are basically miniature Panthers. How cool is that?
  2. You will never have to use a lint roller on your fancy black clothes.
  3. They’re fame-worthy: from Salem on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, to the Puma logo — black cats are everywhere!
  4. Sometimes they look like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon.
  5. Some black cats have recessed tortoiseshell genes, which means that their fur “rusts” or “glows” in the sunlight.
  6. Their eyes stand out magnificently from their black fur!

Black is back and no one needs a fresh start more than these dark-colored felines. Even if you are not in the position to adopt a cat right now, be an advocate for those that cannot speak for themselves. Together we can squash this ridiculous adage of black cats, witchcraft, and bad luck once and for all.

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