Why Are Black Cats Considered Bad Luck? The History Behind the Myths
When we think of Halloween, we tend to think of things that are scary. Witches, ghosts, ghouls, and black cats. But why exactly do we associate these dark felines with this spooky season? Is it because they blend into the shadows? Are they sneakier than their colored counterparts? And why do so many people view them as bad omens? Keep reading to learn the history behind black cats being considered bad luck and what the impact has been on black cats in the 21st century.
Is Fear In Our DNA? Myths and Superstitions
Before cats were domesticated, huge meat-eating creatures like saber-toothed cats and the American lion roamed the earth. In order to avoid being eaten, our fight-or-flight responses were activated. We experienced faster heartbeats, increased blood flow to our muscles, and hyperventilation. It’s understandable why our ancestors were so scared; they didn’t want to be some cat’s lunch! While our fear previously kept us away from cats, 4,000 years ago we formed a mutually beneficial relationship where they became vermin catchers for humans. Now they’ve become common house pets, and many people consider them honorary family members. So, why then are so many people fearful and suspicious of black cats specifically?
Black cat superstition in Western culture can be traced back to Ancient Greek mythology. In one story Zues’s wife Hera transformed her servant Galinthias into a black cat as punishment for hindering Hercules’ birth. Later on, Galinthias became an assistant to Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft.
In Europe during the Middle Ages, superstitions about black cats continued to be perpetuated with folktales. One such story was of a man and his son who encountered a black cat. After the two tossed rocks at it, the injured cat ran into a woman’s house. The very next day the woman was suspected of being a witch. The woman appeared from her house bruised and limping, which many took to believe meant the cat was in fact the woman in disguise. This was just one of the many circulating stories in which black cats were viewed as deceiving and linked to witchcraft.
People may have also seen black cats as a sign of death and bad luck because of their fur, the dark shade resembling that of crows or ravens, who were also poorly perceived. Unfortunately, throughout Europe black cats were killed in mass as people tried to remove any signs of evil.
These practices carried on through the Salem Witch Trials. If owners were accused of witchcraft, their black cats were immediately associated with the Devil. People thought black cats helped witches with evil, and witches themselves could turn into black cats to hide in the shadows while casting spells on others. Sadly, during the trials both witches and their black cats were killed together.
Black Cats In Other Cultures
However, black cats aren’t considered evil or unlucky in all parts of the world. In Scotland and Ireland it’s seen as lucky for a strange black cat to arrive at your doorstep. In Japan, black cats are thought to help single women find love interests, and ancient Egyptians viewed black cats as divine beings with gods living within them. Sailors also used to carry cats on board their ships, most commonly to control the rodent population. Many sailors would want a black cat because they were seen as bringers of good luck. Sometimes fishermen's wives would keep black cats at home also, in hopes it would help protect their husbands while they were at sea.
Where Are Black Cats Now?
Because of superstitions throughout America, black cats have very low adoption rates in shelters and their euthanasia rates are some of the highest. One of the reasons why attracting adopters proves challenging is that potential adopters consider black cats as less friendly based on photographs. Some shelters will even prevent people from adopting black cats during Halloween out of fear they won’t be going to loving homes and instead will only be used as Halloween props.
Two national holidays were created to help dispel the rumors and myths surrounding these sweet kitties. August 17th is Black Cat Appreciation Day, created by Wayne H. Morris in memory of his late sister and her black cat, Sinbad. National Black Cat Day is October 27, where the beauty of black cats is celebrated and awareness is brought to their low adoption rates.
If you’re in the market for a new kitty, consider adopting a black cat. And remember, going into a shelter to meet face-to-face helps determine if the two of you are a match- it’s impossible to judge a cat’s character solely off of a photo. After seeing that furry face and big eyes, you’ll know there’s nothing to be scared of!
-“Black Cat Myths and Facts Debunked .” Four Paws, www.fourpaws.com/pets-101/home-yard-beyond/black-cat-myths-and-facts.
-Pezzoni, Elizabeth. “Where Did Black Cats Get Their Bad Rep?” Ethos Veterinary Hospital, 14 Aug. 2018, www.ethosvet.com/blog-post/where-did-black-cats-get-their-bad-rep/.
-Ozgur Nevres, M. “Top 5 Largest Prehistoric Cats .” OurPlanet, 19 Feb. 2016, https://ourplnt.com/top-five-largest-prehistoric-cats/#axzz6OGme9LEu
-Dunn, Rob. “What Are You So Scared of? Saber-Toothed Cats, Snakes, and Carnivorous Kangaroos.” Slate, 15 Oct. 2012, https://slate.com/technology/2012/10/evolution-of-anxiety-humans-were-prey-for-predators-such-as-hyenas-snakes-sharks-kangaroos.html
-“NATIONAL BLACK CAT DAY - October 27.” National Day Calendar, 24 Oct. 2019, https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-black-cat-day-october-27/
-“Ship's Cat.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 May 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship%27s_cat
Image 1: Pixabay
Image 2: Wikipedia
Image 3: Pixabay
Image 4: AVOPIX