The Cultural Role Of Superstitions And Beliefs About Cats

Cats, having lived with or close to humans for many years, have amassed a large amount of lore as to what they are and how they influence the world. In each country where they have lived, stretching back over 9,500 years, their cultural role plays an important part. Superstitions and beliefs about cats abound.

Sometimes the stories about them are fun and positive, but sometimes they are downright ugly. It distresses me that the innocent kitty has received punishment and death, just because ignorant people have misconceptions that they regard as truth.

Here, you will learn a few of the beliefs that may be found in countries around the world. Some of them, the positive ones, can make you smile, but some of them make me cringe, and perhaps you will, too. This post does not hold the complete collection, of course.

So, here goes: Consider what various countries and cultures believe about cats.

First, Let’s Look At The Source Of Many Evil Beliefs

The pope started a lot of the problem. In 1233, a papal decree condemned a satanic cult believed to worship the devil in the form of a black cat. The result of this monstrous decree became the cause of death of millions of cats over the next 300 years.

Witch and black cat riding broom

Then, in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII declared the cat to be the “devil’s favorite animal and idol of all witches.” With the church behind this evil belief, how could the cat overcome it? Furthermore, many believed that witches could shape-shift into the form of black cats.

What chance did the poor, innocent cat have, with such a powerful foe? I am glad that such beliefs do not hold much influence these days.

Did Cats Help The Devil Spread The Bubonic Plague?

In the 14th century, the spread of the bubonic plague killed up to 60% of the population. Often, ignorant people assumed the devil held the responsibility, and his handiwork attributed directly to his feline minions.

Due to this belief, many, many cats, especially black ones, and sometimes their owners along with them, lost their lives. The cats’ fate often involved being thrown off tall buildings, or thrown live into a fire.

Funny — black cats have always ranked high as my favorites, and I have owned (or been owned by) several of them. Does that make me a witch, or a minion of the devil? I don’t think so.

Let’s set the record straight here — killing many cats helped the plague spread faster, as the cats killed the rats, the real disease carriers. The distributor of the plague was the Oriental flea, which lives on rats. With fewer cats, the rat population and the disease flourished.


This one I consider rather cute. In the Netherlands, cats apparently tend to gossip, and will happily repeat your deepest, darkest secrets, if they overhear you. Therefore, people there try not to have private or important conversations in front of the cat.

If the cat listens, he may pass your secrets on to others. Interesting! What language does he use to do so?

I don’t think this idea could be correct. I have a friend here who said her husband told all his deepest secrets to the cat, and the cat never told her any of them.



The Japanese consider the cats lucky. Consider the iconic Japanese talismen, the maneki-neko, believed to give good fortune to its owner. This little ceramic statue of a cat with one paw raised to beckon you brings luck, often in the form of cash.

A prominent legend explains that a Japanese cat once waved a paw at a lord to invite him into a small temple. The man entered, and a moment later, the tree under which he’d stood got struck by lightening. The cat thus saved his life.

According to Japanese superstition, if a cat washes its face with its paws, be prepared for company. Such an action signifies that visitors might arrive at any moment. Make sure you have cleaned your house before your guests get there.

Since cats groom a great deal during any one day. you may find your time fully occupied with household cleaning duties.


In Italy, if you hear your cat sneeze, it means good luck, in the form of money coming your way. Also, if the cat sneezes on a bride’s wedding day, it portends a good marriage. However, beware — if the cat sneezes three times, it supposedly indicates you will come down with a cold.


Cats in ancient Egypt had an important role in society. Having become associated with the goddess Bastet and Isis, they received consideration as sacred animals.

These early Egyptian cats became indispensable to Egyptians, as the cats would patrol the grain supplies, destroying rodents and saving the food supply. For this action, they received high value, and eventually domesticated themselves, moving in to a home in exchange for killing vermin.

Statue of Bastet

In those days, killing a cat was forbidden, and could result in the cat killer’s death. When the household cat died, the entire family mourned and shaved their eyebrows. Families took the dead animal to the sacred city of Bubastis. Here, the family had it mummified and buried, and grieved over its death.

The belief that a cat has nine lives exists in many cultures around the world. It might have also originated in ancient Egypt. Bastet, the cat-headed goddess became assciated with the benevolent aspect of Hathor, the Lioness, who purportedly had nine lives.


The English had some strange beliefs about cats. Have you heard the one about the cat climbing into an infant’s crib and “sucking” the child’s breath until it suffocates and dies”? Some versions say the cat is jealous because of the attention given the newborn infant.

Others say it’s the scent of milk on the baby’s lips. In 1791, a jury at a coroner’s inquest in Plymouth, England, found a cat guilty of infanticide in such a way. This persistant myth may still lurk in some areas.

One superstition states that if a black cat walks onto a ship and then back off again, the ship will sink on its next voyage. On the other hand, according to old Irish and British beliefs, black cats actually brought good luck to a ship.

Do you believe in vampires? There used to be a belief in Southern Europe that if a cat jumps across a person’s grave, that person will rise again as a vampire. The belief proved so strong in the late 19th century, William Henderson said that in England a cat jumped over a coffin during a funeral. No one was willing to move until the cat was killed. How sad!

black cat washing with a paw

You will find an assortment of beliefs relating to cats and weather. For example, if a cat claws at the curtains or the carpets, he is predicting that the weather will turn windy. A cat busily washing its ears can also predict rain. Also, if he sleeps with all four paws under his body, rain will come.

Superstitious fishermen in the British Isles may throw a bit of fish back into the sea to appease a four-eyed cat said to haunt the ocean. This cat started out as a woman who went sailing with her fiance, a fisherman. She became unhappy with the crew, and in revenge, she caused a storm that capsized the ship.

It all started because crew members thought it unlucky to have a woman on board, and wanted her drowned. Then, she turned into the four-eyed cat haunting the ocean.


It seems the cat gets blamed a lot for predicting weather. In Indonesia, the cat could bring on rain. If people wanted rain, all they had to do was pour water over the cat. Then, in revenge, the cat would cause it to rain.

Siam and Burma

At one time in Siam (now Thailand) and Burma, that, for very holy persons, when you died, your soul became transferred to a cat for safekeeping. Thus, special souls lived in a sort of feline purgatory. When the cat died, the chaste soul it carred would ascend to paradise.

Tiger cat looking at Buddha statue

This belief explains why sleeping cats often appeared at the feet of Buddha statues. Thailand still observes this ritual at the coronation of a new Thai king. He is presented with a live Siamese cat adorned in gold jewelry. In this way, Thais believe that the spirit of the old king can witness the coronation through the cat’s eyes.


Cats are revered by Muslims. In fact, supposedly Muhammad had a favorite cat named Muezza. The reason for this high regard comes from the cat’s cleanliness, They are, in fact, considered ritually clean, and thus allowed into homes and even mosques.

The Tip Of The Iceberg

These superstitions and legends represent just a smattering of those about cats throughout the world. Perhaps you can remember more of them. If you read the references at the end of this post, you will find some others. Those presented here will give you an interesting start on the subject.

References I used in this post:

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2 thoughts on “The Cultural Role Of Superstitions And Beliefs About Cats”

  1. All those superstitions about cats are sad indeed. And, they are sadly persistent. I think all cats are beautiful and black cats are a little extra beautiful. Everything I post or write is meant to convey that all cats are beautiful, wholesome, fascinating, and all-natural.


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