Breaking a mirror
Walking under a ladder
Opening an umbrella indoors
Getting your haircut on Friday the 13th
And, of course . . . crossing paths with a black cat
Muggles are a superstitious lot. The list above is just a sampling of some of the superstitions that continue to strike fear into the hearts of muggles in North America and the western part of the world . . . or at least make them very, very, very uneasy.
While we can jump into all of those very riddikulus myths and pick them apart to get to the roots of them, we’re here today for one of them in particular:
Crossing paths with a black cat.
This has been one of the most enduring superstitions for centuries. It’s still such a common belief that it is distinctly disadvantageous to modern day black cats. In animal shelters, black cats have the lowest rates of adoption among cats, higher euthanasia rates, and have more of a likelihood of facing abuse and neglect (especially on Halloween).
If you’re taken aback by those cold, hard facts, you’re not alone! Here at the Protego Foundation we can’t just sit back and let this disgraceful trend continue.
October, after all, is Black Cat Awareness Month, and October 27th is National Black Cat Day!
We’re proud to have rescued an (imaginary) black cat from a terrible fate who was adopted by a sixth-year at Hogwarts as part of our adoption campaign. You’ll meet Hazel the Halloween cat soon enough…
But first, get ready for a mini lesson in Muggle Studies because today we’re going to unpack the outdated and harmful superstitions against black cats.
When were black cats first considered unlucky?
The Middle Ages in Europe! As far back as the mid-14th century, black cats were seen as evil. (Forget being “unlucky.”) Medieval Europeans associated black cats with the devil.
That fear was so rampant that Europeans went on a mass murder spree and killed not just black cats, but decimated almost the entire cat population. Some say this horrendous act may have even led to the Black Death pandemic wiping out much of the human population, as there were no cats to keep the rat population down!
Pope Gregory IX in 1233 AD was also said to have uttered that black cats were the incarnation of the devil himself.
Was there any dark mythology about black cats?
Yes. In Celtic mythology there was a soul eating creature known as the Cat Sìth. Resembling a large black cat, the Cat Sìth was said to prowl around corpses before burials to steal the soul before the gods could come for it.
In Greek mythology, Hera transfigured her servant Galinthias into a black cat as a punishment. So, black cat Galinthias joined Hecate, the goddess associated with witchcraft, as her servant!
When did black cats become “witchy”?
Some of the earliest records of black cats being connected to the dark arts and witchcraft comes from . . .wait for it . . . Salem, Massachusetts in 1692!
Not only were black cats said to be omens of death and ill fortune in New England, they were also believed to be evil and associated with the devil. With religious fanaticism and paranoia at its peak in Salem at this time, this didn’t bode well for cats or the “witches” they were said to serve.
During the infamous witch trials, many of the “witches” were said to possess the power to transform into black cats to do their evil deeds under the cover of night.
They were also said to have demonic familiars that appeared as cats.
Tituba, the first woman to be accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692, said on the record in her confession to one of the lead accusers and interrogators during the trials, John Hawthorne, that two cats, one of them black, played a role in her “witchcraft.” In an actual court transcript, Tituba says that a black cat demanded Tituba served her and hurt the young girls Betty Parris and Abigail Williams.
It got to the point that simply having a black cat was enough to formally accuse whoever had them of being a witch!
Are there any countries or cultures that see black cats positively?
Yes! Maneki Neko figurines, illustrations, and other material goods in Japanese culture are often depicted in black colors! These “beckoning cats” are said to bring good fortune, wealth, and luck to whoever has them. They’re also said to scare away demonic entities, evil energy, and even stalkers!
In Norse mythology, black cats (and cats in general) were also respected and seen in a positive light. One of the most powerful Norse gods, Freyja, goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and the harvest, was said to ride a chariot pulled by two massive black cats. Farmers would leave out dishes of milk for Freyja’s cats, and they were said to then be blessed with a bountiful harvest.
Are there any “good” black cat superstitions?
Yes! And more than you might think!
In parts of France, especially in pastoral communities, black cats were associated with magic, and it was said if they were treated well they would bring good fortune and riches. They were even supposedly able to sniff out treasure and lead those who were kind to them to caches of it. We also have an account from the early to mid-1600s of King Louis XIII of France declaring no cats were to be burned in any of the St. John’s Day bonfires!
There’s absolutely no reason to buy into any black cat superstitions.
Cats with black fur are just as intelligent, sensitive, and loving as cats of any other color. There’s no indication that black cats have any negative personality traits, health problems, or that they “summon bad luck.”
Beyond superstition, what deters people from bringing black cats into their life?
Could something as simple as aesthetics be to blame?
Research and adoption rates back this up, with numbers that show black cats are half as likely to be adopted as tabby cats. Adopters have shown exceedingly more interest in patterned cats than solid black cats.
One reason why that can be:
Black cats don’t typically photograph as well as tabby and patterned cats! Humans as a whole are very visual. Black cats can seem unfriendly or even cold in some of their pictures, and they certainly stand out much less than colorful cats. Because it’s so challenging to get a good photo of a black cat, they also tend to have less pictures on animal shelter and animal rescue websites and social media accounts.
Here’s our challenge to cat lovers (and all animal lovers):
1. Don’t just scroll by adoptable black cats on websites.
Actually click on their bio and read about them. Get to know their story. It might resonate with you more than you may think.
2. Don’t just rely on a photo.
Really take the time to actually set up an appointment to meet a black cat in person. That’s the best way to truly get a sense of their personality.
3. Educate your friends and family about black cats.
Gently let them know why it’s important to acknowledge black cats, and share some of the statistics about why black cats have such a hard time getting adopted. Share some of the debunked myths and old superstitions about black cats, and you can marvel at how ridiculous they are!
4. Encourage people who are looking to adopt cats to consider black cats.
Let them know that black cats matter just as much as tabby, tuxedo, and calico-patterned cats. Talk about how photo quality puts black cats at a disadvantage.
Let’s leave those harmful and ignorant beliefs about black cats to the medieval era.
Now, let’s get to know Hazel the Halloween Cat!
So, who is Hazel the Halloween cat?
Hazel is a lovable stray who was rescued from cruel muggles who trapped her with the intention of using firecrackers to burn her.
Amateur magizoologist Artemesia Birchwood stumbled across the horrifying scene one Halloween night when she was on her way back to her home after sketching a herd of Mooncalves. Artemisia didn’t hesitate to cast confundus and a particularly nasty bat bogey hex on the cruel muggles. She successfully freed Hazel from the tormentors and contacted us to take her in!
That’s how Vicky Spellbody, a sixth-year at Hogwarts, met Hazel!
Through one of our adoption campaign events, Vicky was instantly smitten by Hazel and was so thrilled to be able to take her back to Hogwarts for her sixth year!
How are things for Hazel today?
Vicky says that while Hazel is still shy when she meets new people, she’s really a very spirited, and even sometimes sassy, cat!
Hazel loves to help Vicky out while she’s writing out her Divination and Transfiguration homework by chasing Vicky’s quill around the parchment as she works. Vicky has had to scourgify quite a few inky black paw prints off her essays, but she wouldn’t have it any other way!
Hazel also likes to take it easy sometimes! She loves to snooze in the sunny windows in the Hufflepuff common room and on Vicky’s beater robes, especially before Vicky has a Quidditch practice (or a match with Hufflepuff’s greatest Quidditch rivals--the Ravenclaw team!)
Hazel may be adopted and happily living at Hogwarts right now, but we still have plenty of other cats, rats, owls, and other magical creatures available for adoption! You can learn more about our companion animal and magical creature adoption program, here.
Written by Victoria Tomis