The Halloween Cat

Every American kid can pick out a Halloween cat: it’s the black cat pictured with its back arched and fur all standing on end. The claws on each paw are extended, ready to pounce whilst seemingly hissing at the same time. The black cat has become a well known symbol of Halloween for many children.

But have you ever stopped to wonder how that came to be?

Demonic Black Cats

During the Middle Ages, the black cat was believed to be a companion to the devil, and along with her owner (who was usually deemed a Witch) were usually boiled in oil or burned at the stake. These cats were often blamed for everything that went wrong during the Middle Ages.

Another reason why people avoided black cats was because of the way in which they walked. Cats naturally walk quietly using the pads on their feet to step in and out of the dark shadows at night. This gave the cat the appearance of moving in and out of the darkness at will, making people believe that the black cat was part of the darkness. The fierce cry of black cat at night didn’t help her reputation either!

The Witch’s Familiar

Most women who were accused of being Witches during the Salem Witch trials were, in fact, single women who most probably had a cat for pure companionship. However, the rest of the villagers began to gossip, which eventually lead to the belief that the lonely women were Witches and their cats were their familiars.

The villagers soon believed that not only were the women Witches, but that they also morphed into cats to do the work of the devil.

In one of the trials, the 7 year old daughter of alleged Witch Martha Carrier, testified in court that “a cat, identifying herself as Martha Carrier, had carried her along to afflict people while her mother was in prison.” Sadly, Martha Carrier was convicted and eventually hanged along with four other women on 19 August, 1692.

During a Witch trial in Scotland, one woman, obviously under the impression that if she confessed she would be spared her life, gave details of how her entire coven was transformed into cats by the devil. Apparently the devil would appear amongst the women whenever they gathered to do their spell work and shake his hands above their heads to turn them into cats.

Black cats were also said to help sorcerers and midwives with their herbal potions.

During the early settling of the American colonies, people believed that they could cure their tuberculosis by drinking a broth that was made from boiled black cat. However, very few people were willing to actually kill a black cat as they were afraid of the bad luck that would plague them for the rest of their lives. Thankfully, such cures were few and far between.

Sailors and Cats

No matter the country, Sailors the world over have forever held a fascination with cats. Sailors even believed that cats could forecast the weather and predict the outcome of any upcoming voyages. If a cat was meowing loudly, the Sailors believed that it foretold of a dangerous trip; whilst a cat playing happily would mean easy sailing. If a cat groomed herself against the grain of her fur, it meant that hailstorms were on their way; however, if a cat sneezed, it signified rain instead.

Sailors also believed that magic was stored at the end of a cat’s tail. If a cat ran in front of a sailor it meant good luck, but if a cat crossed the path of a sailor it meant bad luck.

Cats were so revered by Sailors that they thought that if a cat was drowned, then they would surely follow suit. If a cat was tossed overboard, the Sailors believed terrible storms would eventually sink the ship.

Luck

Even if no ill-fated event happened to someone who witnessed a black cat crossing their path, it was said that it was still proof that the cat was involved with the devil.

Even though there are many negative superstitions surrounding black cats, there are just as many positive ones too. A sty could be healed by rubbing it with a black cat’s tail. People in France believed that black cats could find hidden treasure: A black cat should be set loose at an intersection where 5 roads met; from there her fine nose would be able to sniff out a fortune for the person following her.

Because of all the superstitions and stories involving black cats, they have quickly become equated as a symbol of Halloween, along with Witches in pointy hats riding broomsticks, ghosts, goblins, ghouls, spiders and carved pumpkin Jack-O-Lanterns.

Photo Credit: Dawn

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