Even today, seeing a black cat is considered by some to be a bad omen. This belief, although anecdotal in the twenty-first century, is based on a long history of superstition that dates back to ancient times and especially in the Middle Ages, the time of the “witch hunt”.
Let’s discover together the origin of this tradition and why the black cat does not always leave us indifferent – in good or evil – at the time of Halloween in particular …
A very old story
The mistrust of black cats was already present in ancient Egypt! Although Egyptians worshiped cats, black color was also associated with death and mourning. Thus, the black kittens were badly seen and signs of a bad fortune to come.
In the Roman Empire, after the establishment of Christianity as a state religion, the cat lost its divine power and became an evil creature in the popular imagination. Later, in the Middle Ages, the black cat was considered an incarnation of the devil and was associated with witchcraft and black magic. Indeed, in the ceremonies orchestrated by the heretical sects, the devil was offered a black cat as a sacrifice. While Satanists worshiped this animal, considering it as the incarnation of their master Satan!
Wizards and witches, meanwhile, loved to surround themselves with cats with whom they said they shared their powers: during the nights of Sabbaths, ceremonies where were held rituals and sacrifices, the demon was represented by a black cat. These pagan cults posing a danger to Christianity, it is natural that black cats were persecuted as witches since it was even said that they were able to take the appearance of the animal!
The black cat omen of death
In addition to being associated with witchcraft and satanic rites, the black cat is seen in many cultures as an omen of death. Many legends exist on this subject, such as that of Gaufrid, inquisitor of Carcassonne, who was found dead in bed in the company of two black cats. Or again, the legend of the Cat’s Tooth traditionally told in Savoie. It tells the story of a fisherman who caught in his nets a black kitten. After having brought him home so that the cat rid the house of the mice, the latter strangled all his family!
“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe
All these superstitions have inspired some authors, like Edgar Allan Poe who wrote the fantastic novel “The Black Cat”. In this story, the animal is a symbol of perversity and madness, representing the “demon” that eats the narrator … And the bad reputation of the black cat does not stop in Europe: in Japan, the “Legend of the cat vampire “tells that a girl promised to the son of the Emperor had been slaughtered by a big black cat in his sleep. Finally, legends of sailors reported that throwing a black cat overboard could unleash the anger of the elements.
Other beliefs about the black cat
Despite this dark portrait that we have just painted on the black cat, there are myths of a positive nature towards it. For example, a Breton myth is that every black cat must have a white coat, which would have the power to bring happiness to anyone who manages to snatch it.
In the Middle Ages, although the animal was hated, his testicles were used in the pharmacopeia for the concoction of elixirs to remove the pain, or to run away the demons. The superstitions that surround the black cat all seem more far-fetched and contradictory than the other … But the most paradoxical fact lies in an African belief: among the Bantu, the cat – whatever its color – is the only animal not to be suspected of witchcraft! On the other hand, in Europe, the myths about the evil nature of the black cat were so stubborn that its rehabilitation was long and late: it was not introduced into homes until the nineteenth century. Since then, he has had many followers and some breeders have even specialized in breeds of black cat-like Bombay, prized for its resemblance to a miniature black panther!
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