✦ There are a myriad of inaccurate and harmful myths surrounding black cats. Here we look at why, while explaining why it is time to reconsider and realign the broad perception of our dark haired feline friends...
To be unfairly tarnished with a certain, unfounded reputation must be a terrible experience to endure. However, it is something that black cats the world over have had to put up with for centuries. With October 27 being National Black Cat Day in the U.S., we take a deeper dive in an attempt to debunk some of the (inaccurate) myths that have been unjustly associated with felines of a dark haired persuasion.
The most common charge in western culture is that black cats are long associated with bad luck. We are all familiar with the old saying of crossing a black cat’s path will bring just that, right? Similarly, in many quarters, black cats have become synonymous with witches and are thus depicted as evil. The common image of a witch flying on her broomstick frequently sees a black cat accompanying her, with many stories even claiming the cats to be shape-shifting witches themselves! As such, black cats have, in some circles, been long associated with Halloween, creatures to be feared and avoided, a symbol of all things bad and scary. However, let’s take a step back and analyse the evidence in a little more depth as surely these particular felines require a fair trial with a judge and jury too!
As with many things, in order to understand something we have to take a step back and trace historical roots. In doing this, as with many things, it might not come as a great surprise to learn that religion had a significant role in how black cats have been characterised and therefore received over the years. Going back to the 13th century we learn that Pope Gregory IX issued an official church document known as “Vox in Rama” which declared black cats a direct incarnation of Satan. “The decree marked the beginning of the inquisition and church-sanctioned heretic and/or witch hunts. Initially it was designed to squash the growing cult of Luciferians in Germany, but quickly spread across Europe,” author Layla Morgan Wilde explains in her book Black Cats Tell: True Tales And Inspiring Images. As the mythical threat of witches grew in medieval Europe, so did the Christian church’s desperate desire to quash what they regarded as a direct threat. While the church had a real hard time proving that any supposed practitioner was actually a witch, black cats were very much real, tangible symbols that, unfortunately, were unjustly tarnished as scapegoats. However, religion in all its guises has many critics, with many levelling its very notion as superstition personified – the parting of the sea, the feeding of the 5,000, a talking donkey and Jonah being swallowed by a giant fish, anyone?
First things first, quite simply, the notion of black cats being bad luck or evil is purely down to superstition – nothing more, nothing less. Let’s be truly honest, if we are basing our perception of black haired felines on the myth of witches then we are already off to a suspect start and very much on shakey ground! Witches are no more realistic or credible than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, cultural icons that have been shaped over generations into what we associate them with and for today. It just seems sheer bad luck that black cats got lumped in with the fantasy of cunning old woman casting evil spells that were castigated by the power hungry church, maybe due to their colour being associated with such dark arts or being unable to be easily seen in the dark of night?
Second things second, the notion of black cats inducing bad luck is, again, mere superstition. How many times have you personally encountered a black cat and then gone on to experience a spate of unfortunate events unfolding? Just like walking under a ladder, opening an umbrella indoors or breaking a mirror, it is an old fish wives tale that shouldn’t be seriously adhered to in a realistic and sensible everyday world. In fact, on the contrary black cats are considered good luck in many cultures; they were honoured in ancient Egypt and in Japan you will often hear the greeting of “konnichiwa” when a black cat crosses someone’s path as it is regarded as good luck, while they are also believed to help single women find suitors in the Land of the Rising Sun. In Scotland it is regarded as very lucky for a black cat to pass by your doorstep, a sure sign that you are soon to come into money. Now, we acknowledge that these are also superstitions and thus futile going by our argument but we are just trying to level up the scores!
Superstition or not, mud sticks and that appears to be the case with black cats, who are regarded with suspicion in many countries. One of the sad consequences of this is that black cats are the least adopted among all breeds and colours globally. It is actually pretty heart-breaking when you stop and digest the reasons why that prevent many reaching loving homes. My partner and I saw this at close quarters when adopting in Singapore – there was one kitten who remained long after all the others had been taken in by loving adopters and it was purely because he had black hair. Yet he was the most charming, friendly, outgoing and cute kitten either of us had ever seen so the decision was simple and he had a new home in no time.
Soon after Gus, as we named him, was entered into a fun-themed ‘Cat of the Year’ competition run on Twitter by iconic British comedian Bob Mortimer. Gus won the ‘Kitten of the Year’ category, earning hundreds of plaudits and warm comments by numerous smitten people, while Bob himself declared Gus “superb” and sent a signed art print in his honour which now hangs proudly in our home study! Gus has gone from rescue cat that nobody wanted to award-winning black beauty, travelling overseas to his new home in Phuket, Thailand and is one of the coolest, most affectionate and grateful little moggies around - and there are plenty more just like Gus out there!
Black cats often get a bad rap but it’s time to set the record straight. Ultimately, cats don’t care what colour your hair is so why should we care about theirs? They will love you regardless of your skin colour, hair colour, gender, sexual preference or nationality and won’t be swayed by superstition so maybe it’s time that we display the same degree of acceptance and love in return. After all, nobody wants to be a scaredy cat!
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