Words by Carmen Macri
Is it an evil omen? Bad luck? Or is it just a fluffy feline on an adventure?
Whether we intentionally follow them or not, superstitions are all around us. Do not walk under a ladder. If you spill salt, throw it over your left shoulder. Do not step on a crack in the sidewalk. <Never> open an umbrella inside. Avoid the infamous number 13. And bad luck follows when a black cat crosses your path.
For centuries black cats have gotten a bad rap. In European folklore, black cats have been attached to witchcraft, Satan, bad omens and bad luck. The superstition dates back to the early 13th century. Catholic churches deemed them to be linked to hell. Pope Gregory IX of Rome issued an official church document, “Vox in Rama” that declared black cats to be incarnations of Satan because of their link to witches and black magic. At the time, if a black cat crossed your path, it was thought that death would soon occur.
Rumor had it that black cats were either witches in disguise or a witch’s “familiar” assisting in the practice of magic (a familiar is said to be a supernatural entity usually found in the shape of a household pet, in this case, a black cat). They serve as witches’ companions, guardians and guides. So, for centuries when people see black cats, they have associated them with witches and witchcraft and often mistreat them because of this. Personally, I would love having a black magic kitten casting spells in my apartment. Shows like <Sabrina The Teenage Witch> and <Chilling Adventures of Sabrina> showcase the actuality of what a familiar is to a witch. Not an evil entity, but a cunning sidekick that can crack some jokes.
In a less common Welsh folklore, if a black cat were to cross your path, it is a sign of good fortune. Sailors would consider having a black cat as their “ship cat” to bring good luck to everyone on board. Their wives even own black cats at home to ensure their husbands’ safety at sea. They were even worshiped in ancient Egypt for their close resemblance to Bastet, the goddess of the home, domesticity, women’s secrets, cats, fertility and childbirth. She just so happened to have the head of a black cat.
Unfortunately, for our furry friends, the good does not outweigh the bad. Black cats are still the least likely to be adopted out of a shelter. Many shelters across the United States claim that some of their longest-staying residents are black cats. Organizations like the Jacksonville Humane Society are aware of the black cat bias and have previously offered adoption specials tailored to those felines with sable fur. October has been deemed Black Cat Awareness Month mainly because people worry about mistreatment during the spooky season. There was a time when shelters would no longer adopt them out during October. Too many people were using them for the holiday glamor to later abandon them (or even worse.)
To be frank, if a black cat crosses your path, the truth is, it’s probably just going somewhere. There are a few things you should do if this occurs: say hello (pet at your own risk), offer them a treat or leave them the hell alone.