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, superstitious tales of malevolent black cats and their evil witch consorts abound. So, in the spirit of this spooky season, let us explore these tall tales.
Blame it on Gregory IX
Sadly, the first documented hate directed towards cats came from the June 1233 papal decree of Pope Gregory IX. The Vox in Rama, as the decree was known, was a direct invitation to seek and destroy satanic cults that were rumored to be 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 went on to describe (in lurid detail) hedonistic, violent, and offensive meetings that were celebrating the devil, not nature.
The devil, as described in the papal decree, possessed an earthly form, half man, half shadowy cat. Thus, the cat began to be associated with Satan and the witches and warlocks who supposedly worshiped him. Cats were also purported to be “familiars”, companions of witches who helped spread evil and distribute curses under the direction of a witch or warlock. The fear of a black cat crossing your path was rooted in this myth. Sighting a black cat on your journey was sure to mean a witch and her incantations were near.
Pope Gregory IX added fuel to the fire as he further decreed, “Thou shalt not suffer a cat to live.” And sadly, the poor cat we love so much had no chance against such accusations and came to be severely persecuted. Scholars are not exactly sure why, but black cats in particular were viewed as most likely to be associated with the devil. The persecution of cats in Europe persisted for centuries and sadly, the tales of what these cats endured are not suitable for repeating.
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, eating with their owners, catching birds, and generally engaging as revered family members. Killing cats, with the exception of mummification, which prepared the cat to accompany a royal family member to the afterlife, was strictly taboo. Royal Egyptian cats were dressed in gold and jewels, well-fed and well-loved. Several deities were worshiped in ancient Egypt including Bastet, a goddess who provided protection to the family, and Sekhmet warrior and protector goddess. The earthly form of each is that of a cat.
The Pendulum Has Swung
Fortunately for cats, the pendulum of history has swung back to putting cats on the pedestal they belong. In most cultures today, cats are respected and well-loved members of the family. At Longwood Veterinary Center we are here to help you keep your feline family members happy and healthy, even on Halloween!
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Written by Corrina Snook Parsons VMD