Halloween brings with it scary stories about mythical creatures – ghosts, goblins, and vampires. There is one pet that tends to get lumped in with these imaginary creatures – the black cat. Black cats are a staple in Halloween costumes, decorations, and scary stories. There are many black cat myths, including those familiar ones that have been around for years. Many people believe black cats bring bad luck, that they are pets or messengers for witches, or that they can shapeshift into humans. Certain coincidences, such as something unlucky happening on the same day as an encounter with a black cat, seem to suggest otherwise, but these stories are myths without any truth to them.
While the myth that black cats are bad luck is the most common, there are many traditions from countries all over the world that have different beliefs about black cats. Black cat myths are varied, but they usually involve the influence that they can supposedly have on luck or fortune.
The most common myth about black cats is that they cause bad luck, and often the story is that this happens when the cat crosses your path. Rather than just spotting a black cat while out and about, you are cursed with misfortune if the cat walks horizontally in front of you. Some Germans believe that the cat must cross your path from right to left to cause bad luck, but a cat crossing from left to right will bring you good luck. Of course, cats are just cats. They are more interested in a belly rub than causing ill will.
Black cats have been associated with witches for centuries. This is likely due to their association with ancient goddesses, namely Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of cats, and Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt. Groups devoted to Diana adopted the symbol of the black cat and dressed in black. Diana later became known as the Queen of the Witches. A few black cat myths originate with this association, such as witches being able to shapeshift into black cats, as well as that they kept black cats as pets to act as spies or messengers. Witches were associated with evil and villainy, so these qualities also became connected with black cats as a result.
Sailors in the United Kingdom between the 17th and 18th century also had superstitions about black cats. They believed that keeping a black cat aboard their ships was lucky, and many vessels had ship’s cats. However, sailors believed that if a black cat boarded the ship and then walked or jumped off, the ship would sink on its next journey. Sailor’s wives would also keep black cats in their homes as way to will good luck to their husbands at sea. While the long tradition of keeping a ship’s cat is well-documented, cases of ships sinking because a black cat disembarked the ship are not. A true “FirstMate” to sailors it seems.
Ancient Egyptians kept black cats in their homes and as pets, as they believed that the goddess Bastet, also known as Bast, had a deep connection to black cats and that the cats would bring good fortune from the goddess. All cats were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, who gave funeral rites to cats and buried them as they would humans. Bastet is also commonly represented as a woman with the head of a black cat. But just as with bad luck, black cats won’t bring favor from an ancient goddess to our knowledge!
There are many black cat myths that insist black cats bring good luck. In Scotland, some believe that a black cat arriving at your house will bring success, wealth, and well-being. In the English midlands, black cats are a lucky wedding gift for brides, as they will supposedly give the bride good luck and happiness in her marriage. In Japan, single women who live in a house with a black cat are said to attract more potential spouses and suitors. Black cats are indeed lovable, which may be why some speculate that they could attract more suitors.
While these myths are just that, they can have real life consequences for black cats. Superstitions persist, no matter how untrue they are. Black cats have lower rates of adoption than other breeds, and often remain in shelters longer. Dispelling these untrue myths is important to improving the lives of black cats everywhere.
If you’re considering adopting a black cat – or any pet – from a shelter, there is a lot to think about. Check out our tips for adopting here!