Most of us are familiar with some sort of magical tales about our kitties. Adored for their mysterious ways, the world has been dreaming up fascinating stories about cats ever since the ancient times. Magical or lucky, angelic or devilish, here are some of the most interesting and surprising myths about these impressive animals from all around the globe. Read up about the mythology of cats!
Mythology of cats
1. Cats in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptians called the cats Mau and domesticated them about 4,000-5,000 years ago. Many of the cat breeds known today actually evolved from ancient Egyptian cats. Ancient Egyptians highly worshipped and respected felines and protected them by law. Killing a cat in Egypt at that time was punishable by death.
In fact, cats were so sacred that when a family cat passed on, the whole clan would go into mourning and the animal would be mummified and buried in a special cemetery.
It is from the Egyptians that the myth of cats having nine lives originated. They gifted the animal with nine lives due to its miraculous ability to always land on its feet.
2. Devil’s little minion
During the Middle Ages, cats were despised by the Church. During this period, devout Christians associated cats with witches, Satan and dark magic, the black cat in particular was feared the most. Black cats were thought to be Devil’s little minions and were often mentioned in the tales about witches, usually described as riding with a witch on her broomstick. It was believed that a cat’s bite was poisonous, as was its flesh, and if you breathed its breath you’d be infected with tuberculosis.
When the bubonic plague swept the European continent in the 14th century, killing up to 60% of the human population in some regions, the Church blamed the Devil. As the Church was determined to stop the Devil in his dark mission, It engaged in hunting down “witches” and liquidating cats. The Church believed that the cats were helping the Devil and were responsible for the “black death”! They began what later turned out to be a thousand year killing spree of cats! Many cats, especially all black cats, were destroyed during the wave of the plague, and their owners at times were persecuted as well.
3. Cats in Norse mythology
Norse mythology is the ancient mythology of the North Germanic and Scandinavian people. One of the preeminent goddesses in the Norse mythology was Freya (“Lady”).
Freya presides over the afterlife and she was famous for her affection for love, beauty and fertility. To Freya, all cats were sacred. To keep Freya on their good side, people took good care of kitties. Farmers used to leave out precious milk for cats so Freya would bless their harvests. If a bride was given the fortune of good weather on her wedding day, people would conclude that she must have fed her cat well. If a cat appeared at the wedding, that was a sign for a happy marriage.
4. The Polish legend of the Pussy Willows
Once upon a time, on a sunny spring day, several tiny kittens fell into a river while chasing butterflies. Devastated by the sight of her beloved babies drowning, their mother painfully cried out for help. To their rescue came the willows growing at the edge of the river. They swept their long graceful branches into the water where the kittens gripped them tightly and were safely brought to shore. Being of Polish origin, the legend has it that every spring willow trees sprouts fur-like buds along their branches wherever the tiny kittens once clung.
5. Cats can steal your baby’s breath
In England it was believed for centuries that cats were capable of climbing into an infant’s crib and sucking its breath until death succumbs it. Most tales say that cats did this because they were jealous of the newborn who stole all the attention from them.
This myth was strongly and widely accepted by the masses. There is even a court case documented in 1791 of a cat actually being found guilty of infanticide. The myth followed emigrants to the New World as well. In 1929, the Nebraska State Journal printed a statement from a doctor who witnessed a cat “lying on the baby’s breast, a paw on either side of the baby’s mouth. The cat’s lips pressing those of the child and the infant’s face as pale as that of a corpse. Its lips with the blueness of death.”
6. Cats in Islam
In Islam, cats were always respected and protected. Prophet Mohammed is said to have loved felines very much. One tale describes a time when a cat fell asleep on the sleeve of Mohammed’s robe, the Prophet cut off his sleeve in order to avoid waking the cat. Mohammed’s favorite cat was a tabby, and it was believed that the characteristic “M” marking on tabby coats actually appeared when the Prophet laid his hand on his favorite cat.
7. Women in disguise
One of the Bible stories has it that Adam’s ex-wife, Lilith, was a demonic figure who liked to eat babies. Lilith had the power of taking the shape of a giant, black, polymorphous cat.
8. The magical story behind the Beckoning Cat
In Japan, all cats were generally loved, but the iconic Japanese talisman (the maneki-neko or the Beckoning Cat) was especially valued as it was believed to bring good financial fortune to its family
The legend says that One day, a long time ago, the Beckoning Cat stood before the doors of the Gotokuji Temple in Japan and raised its paw to a passing lord. The feudal lord followed the cat into the temple. Just a few moments after, a lightning bolt struck the exact spot the feudal lord had been standing in. The Beckoning Cat was credited for saving his life and even to this day it is a symbol for success, harmony and happiness. Tortoiseshell cats are also believed to be lucky in Japan, especially tortoiseshell males.
9. Cats can afflict the unborn babies
Some people believed that if a pregnant woman picked up a cat, the cat could inflict the baby with a wart or a hairy mole. It could also mark it with a cat-shaped birthmark or transfer its face to the baby. These beliefs were particularly popular in Portugal and England.
10. The “Royal Cat of Siam”
The “Royal Cat of Siam”, or Siamese cat is a royal feline coming from Thailand (ex Siam). This kitty has enjoyed a luxurious and royal status for centuries. There are many myths all over the world about the infamous Siamese cats.
It was believed that when a member of the royal family died, the Siamese would then receive the deceased soul. The cat would be moved to a temple with servants, spending the rest of its life in pure luxury.
There are also tales explaining some of the distinct characteristics of the breed. Due to some genetic mutations, crossed eyes and kinked tails were often seen among old Siamese cats. One story has it that the cat had a duty of guarding the royal vase. It would curl its tail around the vase and stare at it so intensely that its eyes would eventually become crossed. Another myth explains that the Siamese cats developed tail kinks, because they would keep the princesses rings on their tails, and the kinks kept the rings from falling off.
Cats are beautiful and mysterious animals who have kept people talking about them since the dawn of recorded history. Today these incredible little animals are our life companions, our friends and our family. They bring us together and instill within us a tremendous amount of love and happiness.