The Myth Of The Black Cat

The Myth of the Black Cat

 

Ever wondered why black cats get such a bad rap. Their association with witches is one reason. But if you go even further back to Egyptian times, you’ll find cats have a unique place in mythology as omens of bad luck as well as good luck.

 

The Egyptian Goddess Bastet

 

Most mythological deities have a dual nature, switching from good and benevolent to bad and wicked. From 2890 to 2670 BCE, the Egyptian Goddess Bast was depicted as lioness and an avenger of immortals. But in later years around 945 to 715 BC, her appearance changed into a domestic black cat as did her name to Bastet. She became known for her protective powers around women and domesticity, women's secrets, cats, fertility, and childbirth. She was a fiercely loyal companion, warding off evil spirits and disease. 

 

A black cat, I’ve heard it said;
Can charm all ill away;
And keep the house wherein she dwells;
From fever’s deadly sway.

 

Even though cats were worshipped by the early Egyptians, the goddess Bastet was also feared. She was also known as The Lady of Dread and The Lady of Slaughter, and often accompanied departed souls to the land of the dead. Bast’s dark side lay down the foundation for our belief that black cats are bad luck.

 

Greek Goddess of Cats

 

As Greece became the centre of power and mythology, Bastet became known as Ailuros, which is ancient Greek for cat. She was like the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis who once changed into a cat to escape the god Typhon. But the Greeks were not as fond of felines as their Egyptian predecessors and the mythology reflects this sentiment.

 

Greek Goddess Hera and the Black Cat 

 

You can’t help but feel sorry for Hera being married to such a brute like Zeus. When she tries to prevent the birth of his child with Princess Alcmene, she is fooled by the servant Galinthias and Heracles is born. Furious, Hera turns Galinthias into a cat and exiles her to the underworld, where she spends the rest of eternity in service to Hecate, goddess of magic, witchcraft, and sorcery. 

 

The Black Cat, Witchcraft and the Middle Ages

 

As beliefs about black cats spread throughout history, the Middle Ages brought about the prevailing myth about black cats: familiars of witches. Any woman living alone in the Middle Ages as deemed a witch. It was a superstitious time and one of widespread persecution of these innocent women. If the authorities were killing witches, they were slaughtering their cats. How could these nocturnal creatures who inhabit the same dark hours as evil spirits and ghosts be good? 

 

The Black Cat and Halloween

 

Black cats are now happy symbols of Halloween, an opportunity to dress up and go hunting for candy. Certainly a far cry from their early beginnings as The Lady of Dread and a witch’s familiar. Now black cats inhabit the dreams of all expectant trick-or-treaters. Have a Safe and Happy Halloween! 

 

 

by Natalie Secretan

 

Photo by Rodrigo Olivera - Gato sobre el tejado