Black cats today are still recovering from being part of deeply believed superstitions and witchcraft lore. But when we look at these adorable black house panthers, you might wonder what ever started all these rumors, finding the black cat’s history tragic.
While we can admit that Halloween will never be the same without a black cat’s face now, let’s learn more about the history of these coal-colored beauties.
Origins of Domesticated Cats
Domesticated cats have existed for centuries, dating back to 7500 BC in the Middle East. DNA points to cats domesticating themselves by using humans as a consistent food source—because we all know our felines love a good meal and fine dining.
While the main motivation might have been dining in, cats also provided companionship to humans. In fact, the Egyptians saw incredible promise in cats, revering them like royalty—and even as gods.
Cats and Egyptian Culture
The Egyptians completely worshipped cats as a whole. So much so that they saw them as goddesses, and many Egyptians were buried with their feline pets after death.
The goddess Bastet is pictured as a woman’s body with a cat’s head in Egyptian mythology. Originally, Bastet had more of a lioness face, but she was pictured as a traditional domesticated cat by the second millennium.
Bastet doesn’t stand alone as the only feline goddess, but she is the most well-known by far (in most cultures.) She is specifically depicted as a black cat—and black cats in Egypt were particularly special, recognized as goddesses.
Even men in the culture worshipped Bastet to protect their own personal female loved ones, including mothers, wives, and daughters. So, it seems black cats were not only worshipped by the masses. They were thought to represent the epitome of all things feminine and divine.
How exactly did this goddess feline fall from the Heavens and land in the pits of Hell with ties to Satan, evil, and death? Let’s thank early monotheistic religion and political influence among the masses.
Early Christian vs. Pagan: The War on Cats
When monotheism began sweeping the once-pagan cultures, things became very political. Early Christianity was threatened by Pagan influence, and tension started to rise as it conflicted with their belief system and organized agenda. It seemed that Pagans and early Christians found themselves in a war of power.
To prevent the spread of witchcraft, polytheism, and sorcery, black cats fell hard under scrutiny—especially in Rome. Everything changed once the Romans defeated Egypt and made it its own province.
Interference of the Catholic Church
You might not think that the Catholic Church would dabble in feline matters, but they certainly played the biggest role in the banishing of black cats. In the 14th century, Europe was amid the witch crusades, waging wars on the sorcerers for tangoing with Satan and evildoing.
Because of these tangles, the Catholic church officially ruled the banishment of all cats at any turn. Later, Pope Gregory IX took things a step further, ordering the killing of cats. So, all were ordered to dispose of these messengers of Satan if spotted.
As you can imagine, the witch crusades led to some wild superstitions, theories, outrageous claims, and misunderstandings that took these cats from royalty to the gallows in the blink of an eye.
Ties to Witches, Satan, and Magic
It might seem absurd in today’s culture to consider that an entire church deemed cats the incarnation of Satan himself. But back in the day, Pagan beliefs threatened the early Christian and Catholic churches. They were equally influential, making it a competition to see who could overcome the other.
Because of the Catholic church’s raw power, they were able to influence the masses in ways that you might not be able to perceive in the present day. They directly linked cats to witches.
Cats (not just black cats) were heavily tied to witches as those sent to do their bidding. It was even suspected that witches could transform between human and cat form nine times, where the concept of nine lives came from, starting back in ancient Egypt with Ra.
Others rumored that these cats were the personal messengers between witches and Satan. Like a game of telephone, wildfire spread throughout Europe, causing upheavals of belief systems, with cats being to blame for the problem just as much as the people they accompanied.
To clarify, before Christianity, Pagans were never associated with any entity called Satan. However, lines got crossed, power was threatened, and witches were deemed the epitome of evildoers along with their familiars.
Superstitions About Black Cats
You might’ve heard the superstition that if a black cat walks in front of you, it could give you a whirlwind of bad luck. But where did this concept originate? It actually stems from the same concept of witches using cats as familiars to do their dirty work.
A black cat passing by signified that they were on a mission given to them by a witch. And if you so crossed their path or stifled their plans, you might suffer from a crappy case of bad luck–or worse.
Black Cats During the Renaissance Era
From the 13th century to the Renaissance Era, cats freaked people out so much that they swore hand over fist that Satan himself lurked in the shadows. This unwarranted fear bled from politics to the people without stopping.
To our own demise, killing these magnificent creatures led to a much bigger issue—a significant influx of rodents. During the mid-1300s, the bubonic plague ravaged Europe with immense devastation. Even though fewer cats impacted the spread of the Black Plague due to an increase in rodents, they were blamed for it.
Once the Renaissance era began in the 14th century, artists and creative minds used cats to guard food supplies as protection from rodents. But the general idea in the masses was still that cats came from the devil and they should be feared at all times.
Isn’t it amazing what mass hysteria and fear can do to innocent creatures?
Salem Witch Trials
Fast forward to the 1600s in America—shouldn’t this silly fear of cats being witch familiars and Satan in disguise be over? Not hardly. Even worse, women in America were being persecuted, hanged, and tortured for unwarranted associations with witchcraft.
During this time, black cats were primarily thought of as evil dwellers—though all cats were under scrutiny and not exempt.
Associations with Halloween, Horror, and Bad Luck
We often see black cats depicted on Halloween décor—you know the pose. It’s hard even to consider where we would be today without the black cat’s contribution to a spooky night fetching candy on the town.
But were the black cats’ ties to witchcraft really the reason they became such a pinnacle of Halloween? It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s likely a combination of things.
In ancient Greece, there is a myth that a goddess named Hera punished one of her servants named Galinthias because she interfered with her mission to stifle the birth of Hercules. Since this servant threw off Hera’s plans, allowing Alcmene to give birth, she was forever punished by this transformation.
Afterward, Galinthias took the side of Alcmene and lived with her thereafter. It’s thought that this legend had something to do with the relation to black cats and shapeshifting.
Black Cats Associated With Good Luck
Surprisingly, running into a black cat is considered good luck in certain cultures. Sailors, for instance, thought having a black cat on board would protect them from the hellish waters and other travesties on their journeys. It was almost impossible to get them to leave port without their good luck charms.
British and Irish sailors would not depart without their trusty coal-colored feline friend—and we can say this is one myth that makes us smile. Anyone who has loved a black cat knows they are the epitome of good luck and positive energy.
Present-Day Black Cats
We have black cats to thank for some pretty bomb TV shows in the 90s. Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Hocus Pocus were two shows that depicted black cats as friendly witch familiars who gave us lots of laughs and entertainment.
Since science flourished and religion calmed down, people began to understand that—metaphysics and superstitions aside, black cats (all cats) are nothing to fear. But what can we say? Old habits die hard. There is still something we might not even realize that is deeply ingrained in society’s fabric that makes some a little wary of black cats.
Black Coat Colors Are Least Popular
Even though Black Cats are magnificent creatures with quirky personalities, they are the least popular of all cat coat colors. It could be the long-acquired association with dark imagery, but it’s hard to say exactly why this idea still exists.
Sadly, in addition to being the least likely candidates to find forever homes, they are also the most common cat coat color, making homelessness a real problem.
Black Cats in Shelters and Adoptability
Statistics may be great, but they can also be unfortunate. It’s been documented that black cats are still the least likely color to get adopted. Studies show that cats with black coats are typically in shelters longer than any other color—and there are more than 30% of cats taking up space there.
This is very likely caused by the superstition and folklore surrounding the color, but no definitive studies have concluded this.
All Black Cats Breeds—Are There Any?
Even though black cats might not be very popular, certain breeds are devoted strictly to the color.
The Lykoi Cat is a new breed taking the world by storm. Initially, this breed came into being from an anomaly in stray cats. It gave their coat a partial hairless quality, giving them that scraggly tousled look. They are naturally smoky black in color and get the unexpected appearance of a werewolf.
Since the recovery of the black cat’s reputation, it’s an excellent way to still have the spooky effect with no real fear—these guys are very laid back and easygoing.
The Bombay cat is a decently old breed that is pure black in color. They typically have penetrating eyes and exciting personalities. They were developed by crossing the Burmese and Black American Shorthair.
Even though these cats are medium-sized, they are notably heavier than they appear. They have sleek, shiny black coats, penetrating eyes, and super social dispositions. What’s not to love?
Advocating for Black Cats
Advocating for these amazing creatures doesn’t have to be a difficult task. If you want to change the stigma surrounding black cats, you can certainly do your part. Share adoption posts via social media, tell your friends, and have children volunteer to socialize with these cats at shelters.
There’s plenty you can do as just one person to change the future of black cats. We think these mini panthers deserve all the love and appreciation any creature could ask for. After all, as spooky as they might look during Halloween, these kitties are lovebugs who want chin rubs and snuggles.
If you see an all-black cat, you might want to give them some love. They had quite a rough time combating silly rumors and negative connotations over the years. Even though black cats have a bad rap sheet, it’s nothing they earned, honestly and it has everything to do with the ignorance of the masses, which has since been debunked.
It’s safe to assume that black cats might be an iconic part of history, but they are healing from the days of superstition, bad luck, and witchy folklore.
- You may also like to read: Is Fear of Cats Real? Ailurophobia Explained
Featured Image Credit: Viktor Sergeevich, Shutterstock