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If stretching were wealth, the cat would be rich – African Proverb.
Cats appear all over folklore. In superstitions, black cats are seen as unlucky and such. In some folklore they’re seen as soul-stealing monsters. In Ancient Egypt they were the keepers of the dead – guardians to the Underworld (if we’re to believe The Mummy). Sometimes children will mock each other by saying that the other is a scaredy cat if they do not accept a challenge.
Throughout history cats have played their part in legends, folklore, mythology and figures of speech.
The fecund cat is often been associated with fertility. The Scandinavian goddess Freyja rode in a chariot drawn by cats so farmers left out offerings for her cats to ensure a good harvest. In parts of Europe, a cat decorated with ribbons was released in the field after harvest-time to appease the gods. The Peruvian fertility god Ai Apaec could assume the form of a tomcat. A Chinese cat deity Li Shou warded off evil spirits at night and the Roman goddess Diana sometimes wore the form of a cat.
Feline Folklore and mythology from around the world:
During the Middle Ages: cats were affiliated with witches, particularly black cats. They were viewed as supernatural agents as cats are nocturnal and roam at night. They were also considered to be agents of the devil. Mostly single, adult women were viewed with suspicion by the authorities if they owned or lived with these creatures, which were considered to be the ‘witch’s’ familiar.Pope Gregory 1X denounced black cats as Satanic in his 1233 Bull ‘Vox in Rama’ and this launched the extermination of many cats. Subsequently thousands of cats were burned alive. This lead to the culmination of the Great Plagues which befelled England and Europe. The oppression of cats also occurred during the downfall of the Knights Templar. Under torture, the Knights Templar were compelled to confess to heresy, renouncing Christ, and in some instances, the worship of cats. This probably speaks volumes about the view the Church and its view of cats at that time.
Cats in Ancient Egypt: Thou art the Great Cat, the avenger of the gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy Circle; thou art indeed the Great Cat. Inscription on the Royal Tombs at Thebes. The cat was probably domesticated around 2000 BC in Egypt and most modern cats are the descendants of the cats of ancient Egypt. Not only were cats the most popular pet in the ancient Egyptian house but the cat’s status rose from sacred animal to one of the most esteemed of deities. Tomb paintings with cats as part of family life began to emerge during the New Kingdom – about 500 years after the first attempts at domestication.
In Norse mythology, the goddess Freyja was associated with cats. Farmers sought protection for their crops by leaving pans of milk in their fields for Freya’s special feline companions, the two grey cats who fought with her and pulled her chariot.
Black cats are generally held to be unlucky in the United States and Europe, and to portend good luck in the United Kingdom. In the latter country, a black cat entering a house or ship is a good omen, and a sailor’s wife should have a black cat for her husband’s safety on the sea. Elsewhere, it is unlucky if a black cat crosses one’s path; black cats have been associated with death and darkness. White cats, bearing the colour of ghosts, are conversely held to be unlucky in the United Kingdom, while tortoiseshell cats are lucky. It is common lore that cats have nine lives. It is a tribute to their perceived durability, their occasional apparent lack of instinct for self-preservation, and their seeming ability to survive falls that would be fatal to other animals.
Cats were seen as good luck charms by actors, and the cats often helped cure the actors’ stage fright.
Cats in Egypt
“I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.”~ Hippolyte Taine
Cait Sith – Literally translates to fairy cat, the creature was said to haunt the Highland region. The cat was said to be as big as a dog and completely black, apart from one white spot on its breast. Like a real cat it could be ferocious if stumbled upon.
It is possible the belief is related to some of the mystery black cats that have been caught in the region. The Highlands are also still populated with the wild cat in some places, they are extremely aggressive if cornered.
Cait Sidhe (pronounced caught shee) is a fairy creature from Celtic mythology said to resemble a large black cat with a white spot on its breast. It was said to haunt the Scottish Highlands. Some common folklore suggested that the Cait Sidhe was not a fairy, but a transformed witch. The myths surrounding this creature are more common in Scottish Folklore, but a few myths originate in Irish folklore as well. This comes from the root words “Cait”, which meant “Cat” in both Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and Sidhe, which is the word for faery folk or other otherworldly beings.
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 gods by passing over a corpse before burial; therefore watches called the Feill Fadalach (Late Wake) were performed night and day to keep the Cat Sìth away from a corpse before burial. Methods of “distraction” such as games of leaping and wrestling, catnip, riddles, and music would be employed to keep the Cat Sìth away from the room in which the corpse lay. In addition, there were no fires where the body lay, as it was legend that the Cat Sìth was attracted to the warmth.
On Samhain, it was believed that a Cat Sìth would bless any house that left a saucer of milk out for it to drink, but those houses that did not let out a saucer of milk would be cursed into having all of their cows’ milk dry.
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.
Caìt Sìth [From the Page Origin of the Fae on this blog]
Faery Cat in Scottish Mythology that usually presents as a black cat with gem colour eyes.
They have no true allegiance, though rarely they do form a strong bond with another Faery.
They use Mindspeak to communicate and are usually cheeky. They speak as they wish.
Normally they bring misfortune on all humans who see them. They are mischievous in nature. Some do have ill-will towards humans.
They can make themselves invisible at will – even to other Fae.
The only known alliance between the Cù Sìth and the Caìt Sìth is that of the Cù Sìth Saphira and the Caìt Sìth Jade.
Cats, Faery Cats, are terrifying. In the first instalment of the Tales of the Onyx Labyrinth a Caìt Sìth nearly kills the heroine. Read the second tale in the series to see what havoc the nasty Faery Cats wreak next. Running Scared.
“Being a Guardian is an important job. Daphne had always felt honoured that she had been chosen for this life. Especially since it gave her a better shot at survival in the underground world so cut-off from the true Fae way.
Another terrified screech made her turn her march into a run.
A terrified Elf shielded several Court brats behind him. A black cat with ruby eyes hissed at them and kept them pinned beneath its gaze.
Daphne felt confusion and fear over the presence of a Caìt Sìth in the Onyx Labyrinth, but quelled it. It was her duty to protect the lives of other Fae above her own.”
– Running Scared, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading the second tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Any cat-related folklore you’d like to share?