Updated: Nov 1, 2021
How did the Black Cat get mixed up with Halloween?
As we draw closer to Halloween, we often think of witches, goblins, black cats and things that go bump in the night. It's a time when children wearing costumes, walk with vigilant parents, while trick-or-treating throughout neighbourhoods.
And where are the family pets on October 31st? Hopefully, all are quietly tucked nicely inside their home, safe from escaping into the darkness. Loud noises make dogs bark, shake nervously, run to their guardians to feel safe. Cats, "'fraidy cats", hide under beds, may bolt from their safe hold of their human family, out the door or hide in non-obvious places outdoors.
Black cats, the colour of choice, may unknowingly face a demonic demise from satanic groups. Since Halloween is here this weekend, I was curious why black cats were associated with witches, evil and this kind of celebration. In short, this is what I found.
During the Medieval period (476 AD - 1500), the Christian church set about to destroy paganism, cults, animal worship, and all other non-Christian beliefs.(i) So obsessed with routing out of beliefs and teachings that were not of the Church, life became dangerous for both individuals and groups, not to mention cats.
People of the Middle Ages (Medieval period) where highly superstitious and suspicious of things which could not be explained in the basest form such as the natural behavioural differences between cats and dogs. Where dogs were loving and obedient to humans, cats were more independent, stand-offish, active at night and made horrible mating sounds. As a result, people of the time assumed that cats had supernatural powers and engaged in witchcraft. What seemed unnatural, was thought to violate the biblical belief that 'humans should have dominion over animals."(ii) During the Middle Ages, there was no separation of church and state; the church ruled. It was a critical moment in the myth of evil cats when
"Pope Gregory IX (1145-1241) declared that a sect in southern France had been caught worshiping the devil. He claimed that the devil had appeared in the form of a black cat. Cats became the official symbol of heresy (or religious beliefs not advocated by the church. Anyone who showed compassion or feeling for a cat came under the church's suspicion. By the beginning of the 14th Century, Europe's cat population had been severely depleted. Only semi-wild cats survived in many areas."(iii)
Notably, women who were then labelled as witches during that time were burned to death. Black cats were known as "familiars" to these women. When a witch was burned, often her cat who was "guilty by association", would be placed in a basket and burned with her. Both were considered evil.
For another three centuries, cats continued to be slaughtered for religious reasons. Queen Elizabeth I (Protestant) who rule Britain during the 1500's had cats burned alive during her coronation. When the Protestant Reformation took hold in Europe, the practice of Catholicism was declining. Now, the abhorrence of cats became non-denominational.
"England's Witchcraft Act of 1563, associated the keeping of cats with "wickedness", led to the execution of many more cats and their owners."(iv) Black cats, associated with evil, were considered the bringers of bad luck.
So how are black cats and witches connected to our North American Halloween?
When the Puritan Pilgrims from England came to establish American colonies in the early 1600's, they imported with them staunch religious beliefs. Highly distrusting of anything associated with witches such as black cats, they went as far as "burning black cats on Shrove Tuesday to protect their homes from fire." When the persecution of "witches" slowed in the colonies, black cats had now been mythicized along with witches.
Halloween is thought to have evolved from its ancient Celtic origin of Samhain (pronounced Sow-win) when people would celebrate the changing of the season between fall and winter by lighting bonfires and wearing costumes in defense of roaming ghosts.
Some Samhain traditions were incorporated into the November 1st religious event of honouring all saints and martyrs declared by Pope Gregory III in the 8th Century. The night before was known as All Hollows Eve which has become the Halloween known to us today.
But let's get back to our black cat.
What about it? Somehow over time, the association of bad luck and superstition toward black cats has been embedded in the North American psyche. Not to the extreme to which history bears but nonetheless, statistics show that black cats are the most likely to be the last adopted from shelters.
This overhanging stigma sadly leaves many black kitties the last to get their forever home. Somehow black cats are seen as least desirable.
Some shelters report a surge of black cat adoption shortly before Halloween only to have them returned a few days after the tort that "He or She just didn't work out." Perhaps a live decoration in the window was the purpose. Other shelters refrain from black cat adoption close to Halloween to protect these cats from the trauma.
If you have the good thought of adopting a cat soon, won't you consider a black or black and white cat to bring home and help debunk the myth?
Happy and Safe Halloween
Retrieved http:/www.libraryindex.com/pages/2149/History-Human-Animal-Interaction-MEDIEVAL-PERIOD.html October 2021 (i)
Ibid, October 01, 2021 (ii)
Ibid, October 01, 2021 (iii)
Ibid, October 01, 2021 (iv)