If you’re a cat owner, you know that your feline friend is a source of companionship, fun, and lap snuggle sessions. But did you know that certain kinds of cats were abused and dreaded because of superstitions? Of course, we all know that a “black cat” is a supposedly spooky Halloween decoration and nobody wants one to cross their path, but where did these ideas come from?
Happy Halloween: The History of Black Cat Superstitions
During the Middle Ages, Norman and Germanic people took on many superstitious and mystic beliefs. One of the most popular was assuming that black cats had sinister and dark powers. This wasn’t only reserved for black cats: black ravens were considered a bad omen portending death. This is where the superstition about a black cat crossing your path being bad luck came from, and the fear around black cats was strong. In fact, unfortunate mass killings of black cats took place.
Many misguided people in the Middle Ages believed innocent women were witches and used black cats as their minions to do evil deeds. They believed witches could turn themselves into black cats to disguise themselves. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of innocent women and cats were killed during the Dark Ages.
Although black cats were, of course, harmless, killing them en mass did have deadly consequences. Cats are the natural predators of mice, and as mice populations grew out of control, they spread deadly diseases, including the Bubonic Plague. In the course of five years, the Plague killed over 25 million people. Ironically, black cats could have saved millions of lives if superstitions and misguided beliefs hadn’t wiped out their populations.
The Roots of American Black Cat Fears
When the Puritans left England, fearing religious persecution, they brought with them their own superstitions and intolerance. They still believed that “witches” and “the devil” ran rampant in opposition to their religious beliefs, and as a result, held the notorious Salem witch trials and other persecution of innocent people. The Puritans carried over the Dark Ages beliefs in witches and black cats, even killing black cats on Shrove Tuesday before Lent.
Today, these sad events are the roots of our light-hearted Halloween decorations and jokes about black cats. However, it’s not all fun and games: black cats still suffer higher rates of abuse, particularly around Halloween. Cat owners know that no matter what your cat’s fur color, they’re loving creatures who certainly don’t have anything more sinister than an afternoon nap on their agenda. This Halloween, be sure to keep your own cat safely indoors, and if you suspect animal abuse, call the Idaho Humane Society immediately.