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If you’re like all of us on the PrettyLitter team, you probably think black cats are absolutely adorable.
So where did their ultra-spooky, bad-luck reputation come from?
And why are they so closely associated with Halloween?
Well, we’re on a mission to save black cats everywhere from the bad rep, so we dove into the history books to find out how black cats became an instantly recognizable symbol for the most creepy night of the year.
A Quick History on Black Cats
Oddly enough, in many other cultures – like parts of the United Kingdom, Japan, and Egypt – black cats are actually seen as lucky!
So how did we end up with this idea that black cats are unlucky and even frightful in the United States?
The luck-lineage of black cats is difficult to trace, but some historians seem to think the black cat’s bad reputation stems from mythology. Greek, Celtic, and Norse mythology references black cats in one way or another.
In ancient times, the Greeks told stories of Zeus and Hera – the king and queen of the gods. Despite being a beautiful and beloved ruler, Hera was full of spite. In one of her many plots, she tried to prevent the birth of Heracles. Galinthias, a servant, foiled her plan and Hera turned her into a black cat out of anger. Later, the now-cat Galinthias became the assistant to Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft, ghosts, the moon, and death. Spooky.
We can thank the Romans for the idea that “a cat running across your path from right to left—if it was a black cat especially—would be an ominous thing,” according to Dr. James Serpell, an expert in zoology and the history of animals.
In Norse mythology, the goddess Freyja is the ruler of love, beauty, fertility, and war (quite the combo!). This fancy lady rode around for seven years on a chariot pulled by two black cats. As legend has it, Freya freed her black cat servants by turning them into witches once their service was up.
Later, the people of Scotland told stories of a fairy creature named Sìth, a black cat that was infamous for stealing souls from dead bodies before the soul could find its proper way to the afterlife. In many of these stories, the black cat Sìth would use these souls to take on human form as a witch.
In the year 1232, Catholic Pope Gregory IX decreed in his Vox in Rama that the black cat is the “incarnation of Satan.” Where he got this idea is unclear, but his opinion carried a lot of weight and resulted in centuries of fear of black cats in Europe.
Only one ruler, King Charles I of England, who ruled from 1625 to 1649, didn’t buy into the Pope’s decree and owned a black cat that he said brought him luck. Unfortunately, the day after his dear feline friend passed away, King Charles I was arrested for treason and, soon after, beheaded.
One thing is clear: people feel very strongly either in favor of or against black cats. While some believe that black cats are a bad omen and take ritual measures to ward off the bad luck black cats bring, others believe their black cat friends are full of love, light, and luck.
Black Cat Symbolism
Over the years, as the black cat’s reputation has evolved, the black cat has become a symbol of various omens.
When the Puritans had their bout of bad luck during the Salem Witch Trials, they believed that witches could bond with specific animals, which were referred to as “familiars.” These familiars were often seen as extensions of the witch and evil witchy deeds. Eventually, all black cats were assumed to be affiliated with witches.
Black cats may also get their bad reputation simply because of the color of their fur. Black is often associated with evil, anarchy, and mayhem. This association was made stronger by a branch of anarchists known as “anarcho-syndicalists” who fought for labor rights in the early 1900’s. This group took on the black cat as their symbol and later became known as the Industrial Workers of the World.
After so many years of getting the short end of the stick when it comes to luck and associations, the black cat was eventually added to the traditional cast of Halloween decor amongst ghosts, goblins, and ghouls.
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During Halloween, you’ll likely see black cat silhouettes in windows, perfectly perched kitties on the backs of broom sticks, and those lovely yellow eyes glowing at you from around every corner. Black cats are most commonly seen alongside witches or even adorning their own witch hat, making them one of the most popular Halloween symbols and decorations.
However, black cats are also among the least frightening and gory decorations you’ll likely see this Halloween, making them a kid-friendly symbol of Halloween fun. Just be sure to teach your kiddos that black cats are no different than other cats – they just get a special mention during this time of year.
Celebrate Black Cats
Despite a (very) long history of being known for mischief and mayhem, we’re a fan of the black cat. So much so that you may even see some of the PrettyLitter team donning black cat costumes this Halloween. And we’ll do so proudly in celebration of our feline friends and all their gorgeous goodness.
Unfortunately, many people let their superstitions turn them against black cats – especially during this time of year. According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), black cats are far less likely to be adopted than white or tabby cats. One way to celebrate black cats this season is to adopt a new black cat friend in need of a home.
While black cats seem to have loads of fun scaring the socks off us humans on Halloween, they return to being our cuddly, fluffy friends throughout the rest of the year. In fact, every year black cats are celebrated on August 17th, which is known as Black Cat Appreciation Day.
Whether you want to celebrate your black cat with a black cat Halloween costume, a special celebration in August, or an honorary mention this Halloween, we’re all for it. Black cats are all good in our book.
Have you heard of other black cat myths and legends? Share them with us in the comments below. And, of course, since we’re lovers of feline black beauties, we’d love to see your black cat on Instagram @PrettyLitterCats.
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