When my sons were little one of their favorite Halloween books was Halloween Cats by Jean Marzollo (illustrated by Hans Wilhelm). They loved seeing the drawings of cats in costumes with the traditional raised back. Twenty-five years later when one of my cats stretches, I still refer to it as the Halloween pose.
Images of cats, particularly black cats, abound at Halloween. Black cats are still the number one costume choice for elementary aged kids and women in their freshman year of college.
A black kitten in a litter of cats is not uncommon; it is the result of a genetic mutation similar to the recessive gene that causes blue or green eyes in humans. Of the 22 breeds of black cats recognized by the Cat Fancier’s Association, the Bombay is the most popular breed. Among big cats, the term “panther” actually refers to a black jaguar or a black leopard. Black leopards do have spots – the black spots on black fur are sometimes visible depending on how light hits the cat.
Black Cat Appreciation Day held on August 17 in the United States and Canada is October 27 in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Around 3000 BC in Egypt, killing a black cat was a capital offense. Basta (or Bestet) was an Egyptian cat goddess, and it was considered good luck to have a cat in your home.
Historically, cats were used on ships to control the rodent population. British sailors believed black cats were good luck and guaranteed a safe return home. Fishermen’s wives also kept black cats to help insure their husbands’ safe returns. In many fishing communities, black cats were so highly valued most people could not afford to own one. Pirates held several superstitious beliefs about black cats. If a pirate saw a black cat walking toward him, it was considered bad luck, but a black cat walking away was good luck. Also, if a black cat came on board ship then jumped off, the ship was going to sink.
In Great Britain’s English Midlands, a black cat is considered the perfect wedding gift to bring good luck and happiness to the bride.
In Germany, if a black cat crosses your path from right to left, it is considered bad luck, but good luck if it crosses your path from left to right. However, in England or Ireland, it’s considered good luck no matter which direction the cat is going.
In Scotland, the arrival of a black cat on your doorstep signifies coming prosperity.
In Russia, black cats are always considered lucky.
In Japan, it’s believed single women who have black cats are more likely to attract suitors. Nekobiyoka in Himeji, Japan is a cat café where the cats are all black. The cats wear different colored bandanas, so people will be able to tell them apart. Visitors pet the cats, but are not allowed to pick them up.
In Las Vegas, superstitious gamblers will not enter a casino if a black cat crosses their path.
How did this beautiful creature come to be associated with Halloween?
In folklore, witches and fairies could take the form of a cat nine times during their lives. The saying, “a cat has nine lives,” was really in reference to this belief and did not mean a cat could actually cheat death nine times. Also according to European folklore, if a black cat crossed your path in the moonlight it signified death by epidemic.
Elderly women who lived alone typically cared for the stray cats in their towns and villages. They were often seen talking to the cats in the evening. The high levels of melanin which give the cat its black coat often cause it to have pale golden eyes.
Since black cats can be extremely difficult to see at night except for their golden eyes, it often seemed these women were talking to “unseen spirits”.
The same mutation that gives black cats their color may also make them healthier giving them greater resistance to illness and disease. This may have contributed to the black cat’s condemnation during the Middle Ages. More black cats seemed to survive during times of plague leading some people to believe they were bewitched.
During The Middle Ages in Europe, black cats became associated with witches and witchcraft; people began to believe witches often assumed the form of a black cat. Paranoia and panic caused mass killings of black cats and sometimes their owners.
At the Plymouth Rock settlement in the new world, pilgrims were punished and sometimes killed for owning a black cat. During the Salem witch trials, possession of a black cat could be presented as evidence of witchcraft.
Labor organizers (considered anarchists) seized upon the dubious reputation of the black cat and began to use its image as their symbol – hence the term wildcat strike.
The underserved association of black cats with black magic or witchcraft still exists in some minds. To protect these animals, many shelters will not allow adoption of black cats in October.
Black cats on average take longer to be adopted than other cats. Some people believe it is because of lingering superstitions while others insist it is because black cats may not photograph as well as other cats. So, when people are viewing photos of available cats, black cats, unless special care is taken to use proper lighting techniques and lighter backgrounds, may not stand out. Properly photographed, black cats are stunning.
According to the RSPCA in Great Britain, black cats accounted for 70% of abandoned cats in their care in 2014. After experiencing similar problems in Canada, a Toronto shelter held an event on Black Friday waving adoption fees for black cats. The event has been so successful it has even spread to the United States.
If you love animals and you are looking for a loving pet, please consider adopting a black cat – they really are always in fashion.
Some information for this article was taken from: https://animalfoundation.com/black_cats_the_good_the_bad_and_the_misunderstood.