The Bad Rap of Black Cats: The Truth Behind Superstitions
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Some consider them cute and cuddly, while others consider them to be frightful omens of bad luck and witchcraft. October 27th was National Black Cat Day, just in time for Halloween. This seems fitting since black cats are said to be harbingers of death and misfortune, at least according to popular superstition. According to Statista, around 11% of Americans buy into this belief - over 36 million people. But do black cats really deserve their bad rap? Why do people fear them so much?
The black cat’s bad reputation can be traced back to Medieval Europe, where they began to be associated with witches and dark magic. One popular piece of folklore from this era goes as follows: One day a boy came across a black cat and began to throw rocks at it. The cat then escaped into an old woman’s house. The next day, the old woman emerged with a limp. This sparked the belief that black cats were closely associated with witchcraft. They were thought to be witches in disguise, witches' pets, or animal-shaped demons sent by witches to spy on humans. Throughout early 13th century Europe until the 17th century Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, black cats were killed along with those who were considered witches. Black cats have evolved into icons of anything related to witchcraft, especially during the Halloween season.
A black cat is also associated with bad luck, and sadly, death. This fear of black cats appears to stem from medieval times when an animal with dark feathers or fur, including crows and ravens, signaled death. In 16th-century Italy, it was believed that death was imminent if a black cat would lay on someone's sickbed. In modern-day North America, negative connotations continue to haunt black cats. Many believe to this day that it is bad luck if a black cat crosses their path, so much so they make a conscious effort to avoid them. Others believe that even seeing a black cat walking away from them is a sign of bad luck, or that seeing one at a funeral means that another death in the family is imminent.
So yes. There’s a lot of bad stigmas the black cat has had to endure over the years. However, some cultures actually believed the opposite! Ancient Egyptians viewed black cats as divine and believed that gods lived within them. In certain parts of 19th century Europe, black cat sightings were actually considered good omens. The Irish believed that a black cat on your porch was good luck, and in Japan, black cats are similarly revered as symbols of prosperity. Of course, in reality, black cats don’t deserve all the flack they’ve gotten. So this Black Cat Day, remember that these creatures aren’t witches or bringers of bad luck; just one of the most misunderstood animals of our time.
Here are some other common superstitions and their origins.