Black cats get a bad rap, and it’s all complete nonsense. Tell me if you’ve heard this one: “Don’t let a black cat cross your path! It’s bad luck.” I’m betting you have – goodness knows I heard it enough growing up in the 80’s in America. My community fully subscribed to the black cats are bad luck superstition, and tried to trick me into believing it too – and I’m sad to say it worked for a little while!
As a kid, I used to be so worried about a black cat crossing my path that I’d follow any black cat that ran in front of me. I hoped to find out they had a white streak on a paw or their tummy. (Yeah, I was kind of a wayward child.) Know what I discovered instead? Black cats are gorgeous and can be as sweet as any other cat. I even have one in my life right now – which, by the way, makes for some GREAT photo ops in October. (I often like to point out I have Halloween cats – Tiger Jack is fluffy and orange, BZ is sleek and black. Now if only they liked each other.)
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So where did all this “black cats are unlucky” malarkey come from?
That’s a good question! And the superstition isn’t universal. In fact, there’s an old sailor’s belief that cats are lucky to have on a ship and black cats are the luckiest. As Jonathan Eyers wrote in Don’t Shoot the Albatross!: Nautical Myths and Superstitions, “a black cat is the only black thing that isn’t unlucky to have aboard a boat.” There’s an additional bit of folklore that sometimes sailor’s wives would even keep a black cat at home in the hopes their luck would transfer to their husbands at sea.
On land, however, black cats have been considered unlucky for centuries. Not just unlucky – they’ve been considered evil beasts who consort with the unholy, and some might even be demons or witches in disguise! As Bill & Ted might say, “Bogus!”
BZ just rolled over on his back, purring and waving his paws in the air. SO EVIL, y’all.
Researchers suggest the superstition developed as Christianity spread into a dominant religion. Some cultures and their religions venerated cats, as with Egyptians and their goddess Bast. In still others, cats were aspects of those deities, like with the Greek goddess of magic Hecate who sometimes took cat form. Then there was the Norse goddess Freya who had great cats pulling her chariot. As Christianity became the boss, these old beliefs became associated with evil. It wasn’t far for the black cat – the color black so often associated with darkness, sacrifice, evil – to become the worst cat of all.
What we do know is that black cats were associated with devil worship by the Middle Ages, and came to be known as witches’ familiars or the devil in disguise. There is at least one document widely known, supposedly written by a Pope of the Roman Catholic church, that describes black cats being part of evil cults. These beliefs became so widespread that cats were shunned, even tortured and killed, across Western Europe, the United Kingdom, and more. One of the most famous examples of this harmful belief in America came during the Salem witch trials. One of the accused girls and another person questioned during the trials spoke of witches and devils coming to them in the form of a black cat.
BZ is now asleep, and he’s doing tiny little cat snores. I don’t think the devil snores. Or sleeps, for that matter; too much evil to do!
The damage these ridiculous beliefs have done to society are obvious: many people lost their lives for no reason. We’re lucky to be well-rid of such nonsense as witch hunts. However, these beliefs have continued to have a negative impact on black cats – at least in the public imagination. People continue to believe black cats are bad luck. And animal shelters across the United States have felt compelled to suspend black cat adoptions around Halloween for decades now. Some shelter directors say it’s because Satanist cults look for black cats to sacrifice at that time; others think people might adopt black cats for decorative purposes and dump them after Halloween has passed. There’s just no evidence to support the first belief, as Snopes points out at Cat o’ Nine Tales. (Being careful due to the second reason is just good sense, though.)
I’m happy to say that these superstitions against cats in general and black cats in particular have been fading. Cats are popular and well-loved members of many American families, as we here at Front Page Meews well know! According to the ASPCA, somewhere around 30-37% households have a cat. Also, the idea that black cats are less adopted than other cats is now a myth as well – Dr. Emily Weiss disproved this belief two years ago.
Okay, here’s the honest truth: black cats are not unlucky. There are any number of fellow black cat owners who will back me up here: the worst thing about BZ walking in front of me is when he stops in a dark hallway and I almost trip over him. Black cats are just cats, as wonderful and mischievous and unique as any other cat. If you’ve ever been afraid of black cats because of superstition, I challenge you to go hang out with one today. Pick a shelter and go. I bet you’ll be glad you did.