Black Cats weren’t always considered bad luck. In early Egyptian times, dating back as far as 3000 BC, the domesticated cat became a symbol of grace and poise and was praised for its ability to kill cobras and other vermin. The goddess Mafdet, the deification of justice and execution, was a lion-headed goddess. The cat goddess Bast was the deity representing protection, fertility, and motherhood. Some cats were so honored that they received the same mummification after death as their humans. In 1888, an Egyptian farmer living near Beni Hassanuncovered a large tomb filled with eighty thousand cat mummies, dating to 2000-1000 BC. In Egypt, killing a cat was considered a capital crime.
There is an English folktale in which a father and son, traveling home late one night, saw a black cat cross their path. The son threw a stone at the creature, fearing it was a witch’s familiar, and the stone hit the cat in the left leg. The injured animal gave forth an unholy shriek and fled under the stoop of a house belonging to a woman long suspected of being a witch. The next morning, the father and son met the old woman at the local marketplace and saw that she was limping on her left leg. From that day, the people in that town were sure that the woman was an evil witch that prowled their town at night in the shape of a black cat, looking to do mischief against anyone who crossed her.
The belief that witch’s could turn themselves into Black Cats crossed the Atlantic with the first American settlers and was a firmly-held superstition in New England by the time of the Salem witch hunts. Black Cat stories also haunted the Southern United States. Many spooky Southern folktales like the Black Cat’s Message and Wait Until Emmet Comes feature supernatural black cats who are thought to be witches or demons in disguise. Pirates believed that a black cat moving toward them meant bad luck, and if a black cat walked onto a pirate ship and then walked off again, the ship would sink on its next voyage.
Find out even more folklore on AmericanFolklore.net!
And check out this cute photos of Puffin, my inspiration for "Hanks" in all of my books!