Animal Friends Blog
When looking up the words ‘cat lady’, Google provides you with a description of an older woman who lives alone with lots and lots of cats. Some websites suggest cat ladies are widows, undateable women with no sense of fashion living a secluded life. This is not the case, at all.
Women who appreciate and respect these beautiful creatures don’t necessarily meet this stereotype’s criteria and are often quite the opposite. This isn’t the first time women and their cats have been given a bad rep, either.
17th century and cats
Cats were often demonised throughout Western cultures, and their owners suffered for it, too. They were thought to have magical powers and were associated with witchcraft, so there was a lot of suspicion around women who owned a cat in the 17th century. Black cats especially suffered during the witch-burning era and were often killed alongside their owners if they were deemed to be witches. Nowadays black cats are often the least adopted in shelters – do people avoid them because of a lingering folk belief about witchcraft?
Thankfully, the witch hunts stopped and by the late 1800s cat shows were being held as they were back to being loveable household pets. The first official cat show took place in 1871 at the Crystal Palace in London, where cats would compete towards awards in breeds, colours and markings. 160 cats were exhibited, and people were introduced to breeds they’d never seen before, like the Siamese.
Cats and their nine lives
Whether you believe cats have nine lives, or not, there are plenty of proverbs that suggest they really do have eight more chances than us mortals. The hardiness of these felines has probably not helped fuel these beliefs, but some believe magic and witches has something to do with the myth.
In Celtic mythology, it was believed that a large black cat known as Cat Sìth was a witch that could transform into a cat form. The witch was able to transform nine times but if they decided to change into their cat form for the ninth time, then they would remain a cat for the rest of their life.
Cats as familiars
Familiars are defined as an animal that aid witches in performing their craft, an animal with whom they have a magical connection. Familiars have a long history, one where different people believe different things about them, some believed that familiars were demons sent to serve a witch while others believed the witches themselves changed into their familiars as a disguise.
These spiritual helpers aren’t always cats, either, but black cats were the most popular choice.
Agnes Waterhouse, the first woman in England executed for witchcraft, owned a cat called Satan who was her familiar, and she was accused of asking it to kill her husband.
Dame Alice Kyteler, the first person condemned for witchcraft in Ireland, was accused of communicating with a demon that appeared before her as a cat. Alice managed to escape, but we’re not sure what might have happened to the cat.
Let’s be honest, the best people have cats, whether they’re witches or simply cat ladies. By owning a cat you’re joining a pretty A-list club with the likes of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift preferring a purring pet.
British Library and Cats on the Page
Our feline friends are being celebrated at the British Library in a free exhibition, Cats on the Page, all about… well, cats on the page. From poems, to children’s books, it’s an unmissable offering suitable for all ages! We are proud to sponsor it and give visitors the chance to experience this celebration of cats.
Amongst all the different cats to see a section titled The Mystery of Cats boasts a number of witches’ cats. There’s Gobbolino, a cat who doesn’t want to a witch’s cat, but eventually loses his magical powers and is much happier for it. At the exhibition you’ll be able to see the first edition of the book he appears in from 1942 which is in the British Library’s collection.
Then there’s Wilbur, the famous familiar fromyou’ll probably recognise from Winnie and Wilbur.
There’s truly plenty to see at Cats on the Page and we highly recommend a visit, especially if you’re a cat lover!
Korky Paul and Valerie Thomas, Winnie the Witch. Oxford, 1987. YK.1987.b.5558.
Ursula Moray Williams, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat. London, 1942. 012826.de.41.
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