21st October 2015
Cats are one of the only animals that have a starring role in Halloween celebrations. After all, no spooky party would be complete without feline-themed decorations and at least one guest adorning cat ears and whiskers for the night.
The popularity of cats at Halloween has everything to do with their association with witches, but how did this begin? We explore this interesting pairing in more detail.
Black cats and the Middle Ages
We all know that cats were once worshipped like gods, but over the years their reputation was tarnished. In the middle of the 14th Century, black cats became linked with the devil, so many of them were killed during the Black Death pandemic. This proved to be a very bad mistake to make though, as the cats would have helped take out a lot of the rats that spread the plague. If greater numbers had been around, it’s likely that more people would have survived the plague.
The church vs the witches
The term witchcraft may have negative connotations now, but it actually means ‘craft of the wise’, as the word ‘Wicca’ was derived from ‘wicce’, or ‘wise’. Whilst witches claimed to be able to perform magic, they also brewed potions and were known for healing the sick. The Christian Church did not like the fact that people were asking witches to solve their problems, and so spread propaganda that their magical powers stemmed from the devil.
Most of 16th Century Europe began to believe witches were evil, and many were trialled, tortured and sentenced to death. Since witches were at one with nature, it was common for them to have a cat as a companion. Plus, the Celts believed that cats were actually humans who had been forced to return to this world after committing bad deeds. Such theories led to people making up stories of witches turning into cats.
‘Witnesses’ to these transformations claimed that witches would sneak into people’s houses at night to harm them. Some witches even confessed to this crime, presumably because the torture they endured forced them to. Thus, the cat became more than just a witches’ pet; it was her familiar.
Sadly, this meant that cats got tied up with the witch trials and often faced the same fate as their owners.
Are black cats still a good luck charm?
It’s not all bad news for the black cat; they are still seen as a good luck charm in many countries, particularly those not affected by the witch trials, such as Japan and Russia. In fact, the Japanese believe it’s important for single women to have a feline friend, as they are thought to attract handsome suitors. A black cat appearing on your doorstep mysteriously is a good omen in Scotland, too.
Modern-day witches, or white witches as they call themselves, still keep cats as pets, and who can blame them? They are rather lucky when it comes to avoiding danger, perhaps thanks to their heightened senses – no wonder everyone says they have nine lives.
Plus, cats make wonderful companions. It’s hard to imagine that anyone ever considered these beautiful animals to be evil – though their bright yellow eyes might look a little scary in complete darkness!