There are many superstitions concerning black cats, and throughout history, they have suffered at the hands of the ignorant, the bloody-minded and the church.

The black cat fell into disrepute during the reign of Psammetichus II  (594 – 588 BC), who wanted to stigmatize the Ethiopian usurpers who had preceded him. He destroyed their statues and laid a curse upon ‘the black Ethiopian’, associating him with the evil god, Seth.

This fusion of black with evil continued into the Middle Ages, where monastic texts often likened the devil to an Ethiopian. Two centuries later, the return of the Crusaders and the epidemics of the black plague heralded a dreadful time of cat massacres. 

In 1233 Pope Gregory IX denounced the diabolical black cat that appeared on the German Sabbat. All Europe hunted down the animal.  In 1307, the Bishop of Coventry was accused of adoring a black cat, as were the Knights Templar during their trials in the same period.  All the evils of the earth were laid at the door of the black cat, who along with the goat was the guest of honour at witches’ Sabbats.

As Jean Vartier wrote in Animals on Trial:

‘The black cat’s great misfortune is to appear in people’s eyes as an initiate isolated in a community of non-initiates, who, fearing it, are ready to persecute and destroy it, if allowed to act with impunity. Hence the ritual precautions surrounding the execution: selecting a date according to the apogee of the solar cycle; selecting a means of persecution that reunites all the ideal conditions of purification.’

In this, we find a partial explanation for the Fires of St. John’s Eve, in which so many black cats perished. The only ones to escape the holocaust were those cats that had a tuft of white hair in their black coat, usually situated on the breast. This mark of innocence was called the ‘angel’s mark’ or ‘God’s finger,’ and inspired the torturers to mercy; hence the relative rarity today of absolutely black cats, these massacres having operated a form of selection.

Sourced: ‘The Secret Life of Cats’ by Robert De Larouche and Jean Michel Labat.   

Dogs Come when Called

"Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you."

"Of course, every cat is really the most beautiful woman in the room."

Edward Verrall Luca (essayist)

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