Respiratory Disease Outbreak 2023 – Learn More

There are a lot of superstitions surrounding black cat lore, and Longwood Veterinary Center is here to give the history behind them.

Several members of the Longwood Veterinary Center team share our homes and our hearts with a black cat. We find them to be beautiful, affectionate, and intelligent, no different from any other cat we have grown to love. Unfortunately, superstitions surrounding malevolent black cats and their evil witch consorts abound. So, in the spirit of this spooky season, let us explore the history of black cat lore.

Blame Black Cat Lore on Gregory IX

Sadly, the first documented hate directed towards cats came from the June 1233 papal decree of Pope Gregory IX. The decree, named The Vox in Rama, invited people to seek and destroy satanic cults. Rumors had it that satanic cults were spreading like wildfire all over Germany at that time.

These rumored cults were most likely pagan worshippers engaging in rituals that celebrated the earth and its creatures. However, the papal decree describes hedonistic, violent, and offensive meetings that celebrated the devil, not nature, in lurid detail.

The devil, as described in the papal decree, possessed an earthly form: half man, half shadowy cat. Thus, people began associating cats with Satan and the witches and warlocks who worshipped him. People believed cats were “familiars,” aiding in the spread of evil and curses under the direction of a witch or warlock.

These myths caused people to fear a black cat crossing their path. A black cat walking by you on your journey was sure to mean a witch and her incantations were near. Travelers believed these cats to be witches in disguise or carriers of misfortune.

Pope Gregory IX added fuel to the fire as he further decreed, “Thou shalt not suffer a cat to live.” The poor cats we now love dearly had no chance against such accusations. Severe persecution came to many cats after this announcement, marring their reputation for a time.

Scholars aren’t exactly sure why, but Europeans singled out black cats as associates of the devil. This only heightened the spread of black cat lore, and the persecution of cats in Europe persisted for centuries. Sadly, the tales of what these cats endured are not suitable for repeating.

In the Middle Ages, superstitions surrounding cats led many people to believe cats were causing the spread of the Plague. This resulted in even more cat killings, which actually caused the plague to spread worse. With fewer cats, diseased rodents could roam freely, causing plague infection rates to soar.

It Wasn’t Always Like This

Not all cultures treated cats with such disdain. In fact, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs show images of cats engaging in daily activities with their owners. Images of cats eating with their owners, catching birds, and generally engaging as revered family members are common.

Killing cats was strictly taboo, except in cases of mummification. This was a ritual preparing the cat to accompany a royal family member to the afterlife. Royal Egyptians adorned their cats with gold and jewels, and their cats were well-fed and well-loved.

Ancient Egyptians worshipped several deities whose earthly forms are that of a cat. These include Bastet, a goddess who provided protection to families, and Sekhmet, a warrior and protector goddess.  

The Pendulum Has Swung

Fortunately for cats, the pendulum of history has swung back to putting cats on the pedestal to which they belong. Most cultures today care for and love cats as cherished members of the family. Black cat lore still exists to varying degrees, but these felines of the night are finally getting the respect they deserve.

At Longwood Veterinary Center, we are here to help you keep your feline family members happy and healthy, even on Halloween!

For more information on black cat lore:

  • Read this article to learn more about how Ancient Egyptians treated cats.

  • Explore superstitions surrounding black cats throughout history and across cultures in this article.

Written by Corrina Snook Parsons VMD