In some cultures black cats are regarded as sleek goddess-like beauties, while others have long feared dark cats as evil underworld beings. In literature, film, television, and fine art black cats have been depicted as mysterious and foreboding creatures, and historically the animals were even persecuted and tormented for fear of being demonic. This time of year with the countless Halloween banners, decorations and books, these shadowing felines are more present on our minds. Find out about the history of black cats, and how they are now perceived in the 21st century.

The Myths

  • Ancient Egyptians adored their cats so much that killing one was a crime punishable by death, and deceased cats were honored and embalmed as mummies. (This fact doesn’t help us disassociate cats with Halloween!)
  • Historically, black cats in Italy still are threatened, and thousands are euthanized annually by people who believe they are from the devil and signify bad luck.
  • Black cats were once widely believed to bring bad luck in the UK as well, and during King Charles I’s reign, his black cat died the same day the king was arrested. Many believed the cat’s death foretold a bad omen.
  • In the 1400’s cats were believed in many countries to be “familiar spirits” or shape shifters. In the witch trials, executions would often include the individual’s pet black cat, since the onlookers suspected the cat was really the witch who had changed forms with her cat. Elderly women, or those who would live alone would often be accused of witchcraft, and their cat of being a supernatural servant or demon. (This belief may have been solidified by the fact that cats do like to roam at night (even up to 20 miles away from their homes in some cases), and the fact that they have bright eyes which gleam in bright lights.)
  • In France black cats may have been thought of as evil spirits in the Dark Ages, but now “Le Chat Noir” (once a famous bohemian cabaret) is so fashionable, the iconic cartoon cat can be found on mugs, posters, kitchen towels, and other houseware. Black cats are deeply ingrained in Parisian high fashion, and can often be found featured in haute couture editorials.
  • Some countries (such as Japan) actually view black cats as lucky creatures. In Latvia, the black cat represents a spirit named Rungis who brings good luck to farmers and their crops. Celtic mythology (which has a history linked to Wicca) believes that black cats brings luck, and a woman who owns a black cat will have many suitors, and in the United Kingdom, a black cat crossing your path or walking toward you is thought to be a promising omen. In maritime culture, a “Ship’s cat” was believed to bring good fortune and protection to the captain. In the United States today, August 17th is considered “Black Cat Appreciation Day.

Halloween Legends

Because of the centuries of superstitions about black cats and their affiliation with the devil, witchcraft, etc. people seem determined to spook themselves wherever they can during the festival of ghouls, ghosts and goblins. Some shelter homes may warn pet owners to keep their black cats indoors, or may refuse to sell black cats around Halloween, worried that they are at risk of being stolen by people practicing witchcraft, or Satanist groups using cats as a living sacrifice. Though this warning does circulate in the cat-lover’s world, evidence does not back up such a claim. While there are absolutely horrific crimes that do occur toward animals, they are very rare, and your black cat is probably just as safe on Halloween as your neighbor’s fluffy silver Persian. I think it is safe to say the only danger black-coated pets face is whether or not they are more likely to be adopted than other pets.