Cat Fancy magazine had a lot to say about cat superstitions in its first issue. Take a look.

By Cat Fancy Editors

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Cat Drawing from Cat Fancy
A page from CAT FANCY's first issue that discussed feline superstitions.
From the Archives of Cat Fancy: Enjoy this all-access pass to cat history from the pages of the oldest living cat magazine. This content remains in its original form and reflects the language and views of its time. Health and behavior information evolves and only the most current advice should be followed.

Excerpted from CAT FANCY magazine, 1965, Volume 1 Issue 1

Like salt and pepper, cats and superstition are natural companions. Where you find one you will usually find the other. Since the dawn of history the feline has taken a featured position in the annals of folklore, mythology, and even religion. There is proof, for example that ancient Egyptians regarded the cat as a diety. In several instances mummified cats have been removed from tombs of great dynasties. In the Museum of Egypt one can view an ancient statue which depicts a kneeling priest worshiping the huge and graceful form of a cat.

Far removed from this doctrine that cats were sacred is the belief, born and nurtured in medieval Europe, that cats are of a sinister and diabolical nature. Witches, it was said, would transform themselves into cats to be better able to work their spells upon intended victims. This belief became very popular during the early 17th century when “witch-hunts” were in vogue. The scanty records and journals kept of such times made frequent reference to this witch-cat relationship. One story, for example, tells how an influential citizen of a small town in England was attacked by a pack of cats. With a cane he killed two of them and injured a third. The following morning, two women of the village were found dead in their beds; another was found in her bed with an amputated arm for which she could give no explanation. Another tale tells of a witch named Isobel being burned at the stake in 1609. As the fire enveloped her there came a loud and painful screech. Suddenly a sleek, black cat leaped out of the fire and bounded into the night. The astonished spectators looked back at the stake only to find the burning ropes sagging and empty.

Today's popular belief that a cat has nine lives can be traced back to the witch-cat relationship. In 1584 a book was published entitled, “Beware of The Cat” by a gentleman named Baldwin. His book was a study of cats, witches, and their evils. Referring to the transformation he said, “It was permitted to a witch to take on her cat's body nine times.” No one knows where he got this information and it was probably fabricated in his own imagination but, from that short statement a belief developed with gave the cat a supernatural power to overcome death nine times. It is still very widely held today.

Every area of the world harbors beliefs that cats have strange and mystical powers for good or evil. It is often thought that cats can foretell the future and communicate the events to take place by their actions. Some of these beliefs go as far as to say that cats can control the weather and, oftentimes, life and death. In Europe and in many areas of our own South there is the belief that if a cat jumps over a corpse it is a very can omen. In most cases the offending pet is killed instantly. This, it is said, wards off the evil.

Superstitions about cats are so wide and varied that there are but a few universal beliefs. In our country, for example, an all white cat is considered lucky while the black cat is unlucky. Just the opposite is true in England. To meet a black cat in that country you are considered fortunate. If it crosses your path you are then very fortunate indeed for it is surely a sign of good luck. Other cats which have no superstitious significance in this country cause strong feelings in other areas of the world. Tortoise shells are very popular in Britain and are often purchased on the basis that they will bring luck to their owners. The same thing applies to Blues in Russia.

In some areas of the southern United States it is believed a marriage will fail if the wedding party should happen to meet a black cat. In the northern and western portions of the United States and in most of Europe, the opposite of this belief is true. It will be a long and happy union if any member of the wedding party meets a black cat. If the cat sneezes anywhere near the bride it is a very good omen of things to come.

If a cat should sneeze at any other time it means rain. It means rain also if a cat sits and peers out a window or washes behind its ears. If the household pet should sneeze three times it is a sign that all members of the family will soon have colds. If a strange cat should wander into the house it is an omen of approaching poverty. An old European superstition which is alive somewhat in many areas of our own country is the belief that you will always have money if you bury a gold piece with a black cat and place two black beans over the cat's eyes to hold them closed.

A surprising number of people today still believe the old superstition, that, if left alone with a baby, a cat will lie on the baby's face and suck the breath from it. This absurdity stems from an older belief which held that May-cats (cats born in the month of May) were unlucky. They were often drowned for no other reason than their birthday. They were thought to be weakly and unlikely to grow strong. It was also believed they would bring infectious worms into the home. As this superstition began dying out a new and even more disgusting story about May-cats began to take hold. It said these cats would suck the breath from babies in order to survive themselves. It now appears that this story was fabricated to make the May-cat a villain once again. People, being in general superstitiously inclined, circulated this story until it became more popular than the other beliefs about May-cats. The superstition about these animals have almost completely disappeared but the story of breath-stealing seems to have developed into one of today's strongest cat superstitions.

Some of the more popular superstitions of the backwoods variety are those which deal with the curing of sickness and ill health by means of magic. Much of this magic can be performed only with the use of a cat in one way or another. To cure a sty, for example, all you have to do is stroke it with the tail of a black cat. Three drips of fresh cat's blood applied to a wart will cure it. Depending on which part of the country you are in, this application must take place at a certain time of night, or under a certain kind of moon, or at a certain locale. The only ingredient that does not alter is the cat's blood. Rub the tail of a Tortoise shell cat and you can also cure warts but only during the month of May. Holding a dried catskin to the affected area is a sure cure for a toothache.

A Japanese superstition holds that a cat, placed on the patient's stomach, will cure spasms. An old European belief that was brought to the new country contends a disease can be transferred by luring a stray cat into the sickroom and throwing a pail of water, in which the diseased person had been washed, onto the cat then driving it from the house. The disease, it is said, leaves with the cat.

There seems to be no end to the stories and superstitions about cats. This in itself is proof that the remarkable little animals has the unique ability to stir man's imagination far more than any other animal in existence, mythical or real. So next time your cat tries to tell you something, listen carefully. It may be predicting the weather, foretelling good fortune, or warning of an impending disaster.
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