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Halloween approaches, and as usual, the frightening costumes will be available to buy in the shops. A common theme in decoration and costumes is that of the black cat. Usually identified as a witches companion or familiar, the black cat appears at her side as a sleek ally in her dark deeds.
Looking at the history of animals as the companions of evil, why is the black cat so maligned? Halloween or All Saint’s Eve is a celebration originally meant to remember the dead, especially saints. However, in recent years, it has become associated with goblins, ghouls and witches – and their feline friends.
Centuries ago when witch hunts were rife in England and later in America, a woman could be called a witch for little more than not being married, having a mole or wart and, gasp, owning a cat. Hands up if you’d be on the list today!
A cat was said to be in cahoots with the devil, and even a witch reincarnated. So if you had one, or if a black cat was seen around your home, then you could be in for some very nasty gossip. Cats are nocturnal and roam free, so a black cat roaming around in the small hours was a spooky phenomenon.
Colour has a lot to do with it too. Although any cat, rat or even pig could be enough to have the finger of accusation pointed at you. Black is a colour associated with death, funerals and darkness, so a black cat was double trouble. There is an old superstition that if a black cat crosses your path, you’re in for some bad luck. No doubt this comes from the middle ages too!
Recent studies have found that black cats are not that popular today. Many are left behind in shelters and pet shops. Maybe this is an echo of the old superstition surrounding black cats. Or, a more modern, albeit ridiculous, argument is that they don’t look as good in selfies. Yes, really. Earlier this year the RSPCA reported that over 70% of the 1000 cats in their care are black. One of the reasons could be that the dark features don’t show up as well in photographs.
It’s not all bad news for the black moggy, however. In some cultures, they are seen as good luck. In old Scottish folklore, for example, to have a black cat sat on your porch is good luck. Some people believe that seeing a black cat walk away from you is good luck too.
And a happy ending – just a few days ago, a ‘vampire toothed’ black cat Timmy found a loving home after three long months in a shelter. He was a much-loved resident of the Blue Cross, and his new owners have been reassured that he possesses no dark powers or blood lust. Thankfully.