What Are Some Cultural Superstitions And Beliefs About Cats?

The mysterious cat, with its hypnotic gaze and silent footsteps, has prowled its way into the tapestry of folklore around the world. You will find many answers if you ask, “What are some cultural superstitions and beliefs about cats?”

These beliefs can be unusual and often contradictory, depending on the origin of the story. How and why do such ideas come into a culture? Can you understand the origins of such beliefs?

How These Beliefs Originate

Witches and cat dancing around cauldron

For one thing, cats have long been associated with mystery and magic. Their behavior, often unpredictable, and their nocturnal habits cast them in a bit of a supernatural light. But why do they capture the imagination of people everywhere?

One explanation has to do with the way our minds work. We want to find a reason for anything we experience. Often, the cat becomes the closest thing to an explanation that we can discover.

A couple of examples: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) often gets blamed on the cat. This one has a rather simple explanation: The baby dies and the parents can find no reason, but the cat happens to be sleeping in the crib with the infant. We need to know why the death occurred, so we blame the cat.

The Story Of The Maneki-Neko

Consider the Japanese story of the maneki-neko cat: A man standing under a tree for shelter from a storm sees a cat on the temple step. The cat appears to be beckoning him, so the man goes to the temple and enters.

White cat with one blue and one yellow eye

Then, the tree under which he was standing receives a direct lightening strike. The man would have been killed. Instead, the cat, by beckoning him, saves his ife. Was the cat truly beckoning? Or was he cleaning his whiskers? No matter: The story of the maneki-neko emerges.

This beckoning cat becomes a symbol of good fortune, inviting prosperity and success. How fine that this story now finds wide acceptance not only in Japan but in other countries as well!

What about black cats? Beliefs about these creatures range from awful to awesome. Let’s look at a few of them:

Black Cats And Bad Luck

  • It is bad luck to chase away a black cat (England)
  • A black cat becomes a sign of poverty (China)
  • It means bad luck if a black cat crosses your path (perhaps from early Christianity)
  • Killing a black cat means your soul will go to the devil

Black Cats And Good Luck

Black cat closeup
  • You will have good luck if you hear a black cat sneeze (Italy)
  • A black cat crossing your path brings good luck (Japan)
  • A black cat can ward off demons
  • If you feed your black cat the first bite of your dinner, wealth will come to you (France)

Of course, many of us have seem images of witches and black cats at Halloween. The reason: Many tales abound about black cats as companions to witches, especially in medieval Europe. At that time, many believed black cats were witches in disguise, or that they aided witches in performing dark magic.

The poor black cat! From experience, I can tell you that the many black cats who have shared my home have brought me peace and love, and I’ve found no evil ways attached to them. I’m on the side of black cats bringing good luck.

Good Luck Signs Attributed To Black Cats

In Scotland, for example, the arrival of a strange black cat at your home signifies prosperity. In Japan, young women who own black cats are said to have a better chance of attracing suitors. Aboard ships, they were believed to bring good luck and safe passage.

Yes, of course they are black, and negative beliefs might stem from the human fear of the unknown. Because their dark coats blend with the night, they become associated with mystery and the occult.

Mad cat

On the other hand, their knack for controlling vermin often make them valuable companions. I think people in the middle ages, who believed black cats caused the Black Plague, and thus encouraged the deaths of many people, missed something.

If so many cats had not been killed during that time, more of the vermin who actually carried the disease might have been destroyed by the black cats who hunted them, making the Black Plague much less devastating.

Sacred And Profane: The Dual Nature Of Cats In Folklore

Though medieval Europe cast cats, especially black ones, in a nefarious role, they have received great accolades in other cultures. Consider ancient Egypt: here they became venerated as divine creatures.

Connected with the goddess Bastet, they embodied protection, fertility, and motherhood. What a role reversal from medieval Europe! In ancient Egypt, if one killed a cat, one could receive the death penalty.

Thus, the beliefs about cats illustrates the profound effect they have had on human culture. They become a reflection of the time when they lived, and demonstrate the complex and often contradictory roles they have played in human history.

Consider The Wide Range Of Beliefs Shown With These Superstitions

A dog accepts you as the boss; a cat wants to see your resume

These represent just a few of the worldwide myths about cats. To read more, do a search on the internet…Amazing how may beliefs exist!

  • Here’s one we’ve all heard: Cats have nine lives.
  • Since cats gossip, keep them out of a room when having a private conversation.
  • A cat grooming herself prepares for company, so expect guests.

Superstitions About Death And Cats

  • Unexpectedly seeing a tortoiseshell cat becomes an omen of death by accident in France.
  • If you see two cats fighting by a grave, know that they embody the devil and an angel fighting for the soul of the deceased person.
  • If a cat carries a black mark on its back like a kimono, he carries the soul of a deceased relative and must be treated with respect. (Japan)

Superstions About Weather And Cats

  • A cat clawing at the curtains indicates wind is on the way. (England)
  • Look for bad weather if a cat licks its fur against the grain.
  • A wet cat can make it rain. (Indonesia)
  • A cat can start a storm with magic stored in its tail.

Superstitions About Cats And Good Luck

  • Blue-eyed cats bring good luck. (Russia)
  • Older cats bring more good luck than young cats. (China)
  • Polydactyl cats bring good fortune.
  • If you see three black cats together, expect extreme good fortune. (India)

Beliefs About Cats Reflect The Times From Which They Arose

Cat looking through torn covering

Cat beliefs reflect the times and environments of their origins, and often serve as a mirror to human aspirations and anxieties. They have endured because of our collective fascination about the mysterious nature of cats.

These cat superstitions stretch across the canvas of history, mingling folklore with reality. Many are deeply rooted and continue to influence how we view and treat these animals today.

However, we must step beyond the shadowy corners of superstition and recognize the true nature of cats: independent, curious creatures that play various roles in our lives, from companions to symbols of natural instinct and mystery.

Take Responsibility To Treat These Superstitions With A Grain Of Salt

Sign: Cat Crossing Use Caution

It is important that we do not allow outdated myths to cause harm or to lead to mistreatment of cats. Make a shift from fear and misunderstanding to a celebration of cats in all their quirky glory.

What matters most becomes the fostering of a culture of empathy and respect for cats, free from the biases of superstition. View them through the lens of compassion and knowledge and learn to appreciate their place in the world’s tapestry without letting old tales dictate our actions.

References I used for this post:


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