Source: ABC News (Extract)
Posted: August 5, 2023

August 17 is Black Cat Appreciation Day.

There’s no question these ebony felines are both mysterious and beautiful. Sadly, they are often the last cat breeds to be adopted – and the most likely to be mistreated. Starting in 2011, the Day of Kindness towards black cats has focused on dispelling myths which is easily remedied by knowing the truth.

Here are several true and fascinating facts surrounding black cats.

The History of Black Cats and Ancient Egyptians

The history of black cats is bewitching, for sure. Beginning with the Ancient Egyptians, slinky onyx felines were revered and even worshiped. Believed to be the descendant of the Goddess Bastet, cats were thought to have supernatural powers and were guardians against evil spirits and disease. Should anyone be caught committing a crime against a cat, it meant the end of their life was sooner rather than later.

The luck of the black cat swapped from good to evil through the centuries, and the poor kitties were left with nothing but a bad reputation.

Black Cats as Familiars

In Medieval Europe around the 12th Century, religious believers decided Satan appeared on Earth as a black cat during satanic rituals. They were also considered spiritual guardians or “familiars” of witches and would bring bad luck as the color black was associated with death. In truth, these “witches” were mostly lonely old spinsters that had cats as companions.

The notion that “a black cat crossing your path will bring bad luck” is a passed-down superstition from nine centuries ago and has never been proven.

Black Cats and Halloween

Black cats have a natural air of being spooky, compliments of their dark coat and how they can seemingly disappear in the night, but they’re very good-natured. They make a loving addition to households, tend to become one of the family, and most are very dedicated to their family members.

Along with witches, cobwebs, and jack-o-lanterns, black cats have also been thrown into modern-day Halloween symbolism. Since the 13th Century, they’ve been linked to the occult, compliments of Pope Gregory IX and his official church document, “Vox in Rama.” It declared black cats an incarnation of Satan and sparked witch hunts across Europe. During this period, millions of cats were killed by Devil-fearing Christians.

But this link with the occult likely has more to do with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. Between the sunsets of October 31 and November 1, the belief was that a fairy creature resembling a large black cat, Sìth, would bless any home in which a saucer of milk was left outside to consume. No saucer of milk? Then it was a curse upon your house.

Black Cats Brought Sailors Good Luck

Cats are amazing mousers. Tiny rodents are easy prey and they can’t fly away. Scholars believe that Phoenician cargo ships were the first to carry domesticated cats to Europe around 900 B.C. Before that, they carted cats on vessels floating down the Nile River to catch birds.

On British and Irish ships, sailors would willingly take a black cat aboard as they were considered lucky for the sailing vessel and the sailors aboard. It turns out they were partly correct: ships often carried grain, and with the haul came both mice and rats, which the cats would happily dispatch, easing the likelihood of disease from the rodents and keeping the grain and other food intact until they reached their destination.

While discussing cats and ship superstitions, it’s worth mentioning that sailors also believed how a cat acted would predict imminent weather conditions. For example, sailors prepared for strong winds if a cat was especially spicy. Additionally, if a kitty licked its fur in the opposite direction it naturally grew, the crew was on the lookout for a hail storm.

A Symbol of Defiance

Modern times have seen yet another shift in the iconic black cat: defiance. Underground artists using the symbol are making a statement about the disruption of order. For example, a “Sabo-Tabby” symbolizes the Industrial Workers of the World and the threat of industrial strikes.

More notable, the Black Panthers’ symbol has featured the large, muscled cat since 1966 because it’s an animal that attacks only if provoked. Created by Ruth Howard and Dorothy Zellner, the symbol originally represented the Lowndes County Freedom Organization but evolved for use at rallies and marches. In the present day, both organizations still fight for prison abolition and labor reform.