As the weather cools and we prepare for the fun Halloween activities, our nights fill with the inkling of ghosts, werewolves, and other fantastical beasts we associate with this thrilling holiday. One animal in particular comes to mind, but this creature is actually part of our everyday life- the black cat. The sleek body and yellow eyes of the black cat is often seen in the Halloween landscape amongst witches and other spooky scenarios. How did the superstition begin? Why the black cat?
The relationship between cats and humans starts off in a good light. The Egyptians revered every cat, no matter their color or pattern, and the goddess Bastet was often portrayed having the head of a black feline. During the 8th century sailors would bring black cats aboard for good luck with the added bonus of rat eradicators. As cats became prevalent in Japan, these pets were and still are generally seen as good omens and owning a black cat in particular meant you would be protected from evil spirits.
However, the historical views of black cats take a sinister turn during the Middle Ages. During this time the Celtic people told stories of the Cat Sith, meaning “Fairy Cat.” This supernatural king of cats was purported to be the size of a large dog, all black except for a patch of white fur on the chest. The Scottish people believed the Cat Sith and other cats could steal the soul of the dead, so they participated in the practice of Feill Fadalach, or late wake, in which some of the household would stay up overnight to keep cats away from the body. In a particularly disturbing divination practice, a Highland clan believed torturing cats could summon a cat spirit who would grant wishes or tell the future.
Most recent in our nation’s history, the Puritans believed witches and black cats were in cahoots. As we well know, Puritans were fanatics against witchcraft, so the townspeople would punish anyone caring for black cats. Along with the connection of witches and cats, there was even a belief that cats were shapeshifters. Magical transformation from human to cat and back again until the ninth conversion, when the human had to stay in cat form. A few popes even sealed the black cats’ fate, expressing in public decrees that these animals were unified with witchcraft, paganism and Satan himself.
Enough with the supernatural- what about the natural side of black cats?
As we all know, black cats are no different in anatomy and ability than their domestic brothers and sisters. The Cat Fancier Association, the largest registry of pedigreed cats, only half of the 44 domestic cat breeds are considered to have “solid black” as a fur color. The reason behind a black cat’s appearance is not fear-inspiring at all, but a simple play of genetics. Various genomes interplay to determine a cat’s fur color, pattern, length, and texture. To get that solid black look, the cat needs two dominant black genes to get both black color and solid pattern (not tabby). Have you ever seen a black cat magically turn a reddish color? That’s not magic at all, but the transformation could be caused by a nutrient deficiency- so get that cat to a vet. And just like any other furry friend who lives to a ripe old age, black cats can get that mist of white fur poking through- a sign of a life well lived.
Black cats are just like any other cat in the world, just a different color and pattern. This solid fur color has mainly been associated with evil and misfortune, but thankfully there are people who are willing to abandon the old superstitions. October 27th is National Black Cat Day this year and is a time set aside to recognize the beauty and glow of these animals despite their harrowing history. Would you like to give a black cat a nice life with a loving forever family? Here at the SPCA Albrecht Center, we have several solid black cats available for adoption: Satou (4 month old female), Coe (5 month old female), Smoke(1 year old male), Velvet (5 year old male), and Jessie (6 month old female).
Visit all of our magical, adoptable black cats, and the other shelter pets at 199 Willow Run Road in Aiken; Monday – Saturday from 11am to 4:30pm.
Miranda Ewing joined the team at the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare in February 2020. She has committed her life to volunteering and fostering homeless animals and believes the strength of a community shines when we can lean on each other. A 2012-2013 AmeriCorps alumni and Rescue Volunteer for Team Stinkykiss (a local CSRA animal rescue), she is an advocate for all animals and all people! Her family includes her husband, who knows all critters may find a temporary home with him (even if he’s allergic to some).