Are Black Cats Lucky or Unlucky?
No animal on earth is as divisive as the black cat. At times throughout history, they have been revered and adored, while at others, rounded up and exterminated. Some people believe black cats will bring good fortune while others associate them with the devil. Differing cultures have placed black cats in folklore and superstition which has resulted in a confusing reputation.
Way back yonder in the years BC, pussies were put on a pedestal. The ancient Egyptian Goddess, Bastet, was a feline deity, often depicted as a woman with a black cat’s head. She was the highly-regarded ‘defender of the kingdom’ and as such, black cats were seen as providers of protection and good luck. The wealthy would adorn their cats with jewels and feed them expensive fare. Cats became an object of devotion. They were also good at keeping mice away from the crops which was good.
It was for this reason that cats were brought to Europe. Cats don’t eat crops, they prefer meat and mice are made of meat so it was a mutually-beneficial arrangement between farmer and cat (not so good for the mice). Cats proved themselves to be useful members of society. They were a welcome addition into Pagan Europe and lived happily for centuries until the superstitious claptrap of the Catholic Church came into play.
In the 13th Century, a report about a Satanic Cult was presented to Pope Gregory IX. This detailed a demonic ritual which included kissing a black cat on the bumhole (not even kidding!). This saw Pope G declaring the black cat an enemy of the Catholic Church which led God-fearing folk to prove their love for baby Jesus by rounding up black cats and killing them. The word of the Lord proved so successful that cats almost became extinct in Europe by the 14th Century. And when the cats are away, the mice will play… well, the rats. The 14th Century saw the rat population accelerate and their highly-successful ability to spread disease flourished resulting in the deadliest pandemic known to man. One-third of Europeans lost their lives to The Black Death… maybe they shouldn’t have been so quick to despatch The Black Cats, huh?
Many years later as black cats came slowly limping back into society, they were subject to some Middle Ages folklore. The story goes a man and his son encountered a black cat and threw stones at it. The scared and injured cat darted into a woman’s house who was believed to be a witch. She emerged the next day walking with a limp so everyone drew the obvious conclusion that she was in fact able to shape-shift into feline form. The witch was a cat and the cat was a witch! One and the same. Like all good fake news this traveled far and wide and soon black cats became cemented with the dark arts. In fact, by the time of the infamous witch trials in the 18th Century, black cats had become so synonymous with sorcery that owning a black cat was seen as damning evidence of the accused’s devilry.
With so many evil connotations levied at them – how did the black cat become a good luck symbol? Well, fortunately, not everyone is so easily swayed by hysterical witch hunts and nonsensical papal declarations. And let’s not forget that the ‘witches’ were (largely) non-believing women who lived on their own and had cats – they sound great! So although black cats have been associated with evil there were also huge swathes of society who didn’t subscribe to this superstition. They followed more in line with the Ancient Egyptians who regarded black cats much more favourably.
Of course, the historical juxtaposition of positive and negative vibes attributed to black cats results in confusion to this day. Some cultures believe a black cat walking towards you is good luck while others believe it is bringing you bad luck. Similarly, in England, a cat crossing your path is believed to be good fortune while the reverse is true in other countries.
On ships cats were employed to keep rodents from chewing ropes and cargo. A black cat was favoured as it was regarded as a good luck charm. Fisherman’s wives would also keep black cats at home as they were believed to hold sway which kept their husbands safe at sea. And, of course, the cats were happy to go along with this for a tasty fish supper.
Interestingly, the black cat is still regarded as a ‘bewitching’ presence although it has a more positive ‘charm’ and ‘influence’ – as in this little Welsh ditty from 1896:
“A black cat, I’ve heard it said, can charm all ill away and keep the house wherein she dwells from fever’s deadly sway”
Once again, the black cat is seen as the ‘defender of the kingdom’.
In the UK, a black cat is considered good luck and a sign of prosperity. By the turn of the 20th century, good luck black cat postcards kept the printing presses busy as people bought them in stacks to send good wishes to their loved ones. A trend which invaded America and over to Japan faster than a rat can spread a deadly virus. Black cats were bringing good wishes to millions of people the whole world over.
Even today the negative stigma is still attached to black cats. They are less likely to be adopted at shelters with people preferring to take home tortoiseshell tabbies and ginger pussycats. Although, from running The Vintage Card Company, I know there is a huge amount of affection for black cats out there. Our reproductions of black cat images are among our best sellers which is what prompted me to write this article. Also from fostering over 50 cats for the local shelter, I know black cats to be every bit as amiable and affectionate as other cats. And not one of them has cast a spell on me yet, other than to be its most devoted servant!
To see over 70 black cat greeting cards reproduced from vintage black cat postcards Please click the picture below.