“Doesn’t Bella creep you out?” Andy asked, raking his black-painted nails through spikes of neon purple hair.
The object of his curiosity reclined on my lap, bubble gum-pink tongue lapping at her glistening, black as pitch, tiny paw. I had no idea what the boy was talking about.
“She’s a cat,” he observed, “and completely black!”
Chuckling over Andys’ skill at stating the obvious, my nod urged him to delve a bit deeper.
“Hey, everybody knows that black cats bring bad luck,” he insisted, then paused to watch my complexion darken, eyebrows shooting toward my auburn hairline.” I’ve always believed they have something to do with evil, witchcraft and wizardry.
Resisting the urge to smack my young Goth friend alongside his multiply-pierced head, I decided it was time to give Andy a crash course in Feline Fantasies 101, aka What the Heck Are You Thinking, Oh Child of the the New Millennium?” Lowering the flame beneath a cauldron of thick, blood-red liquid and allowing it to bubble, curious and exotic aromas fragrancing the cottage air, I beckoned the boy toward the sanctuary wherein stood an altar containing the knowledge I hold most sacred. Black, surrounded by books and images evoking magic and mystery, a gateway to hallowed history and the potential future, it awaited a simple gesture from my ancient, gnarled finger to commence conjuring.
“Okay, she’s booted up,” I announced. “Now you Google ‘cat superstitions.’”
For the next few hours, Andy and I examined hundreds of the half-million plus references to be found online regarding felines and the global superstitions associated with them. For me, it was time well-spent as ideas for future Kitten Smitten articles presented themselves. Andy also benefited, his preconceived beliefs replaced by an expansion of time-honored and referenced information. With mugs of warm tomato soup in hand, we compiled some of the notions he thought significant, as well as their sources (along with my random commentary) when possible:
* Ailurophobia comes from the Greek words for cat, ailuros and fear, phobos. People with this condition suffer from persistent, abnormal terror about the risk of being physically harmed by cats or the superstitious idea that cats are evil. Hypnosis may help.
* Other than an occasional, vague mention of “hoarding” as being symptomatic of Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, no absolute psychiatric definition could be found to explain the mindset of “crazy cat” people.
* A strange black cat discovered on one’s porch brings prosperity. – Scotland
* Killing a cat brings seventeen years of bad luck. – Ireland
* A Celtic belief was that kittens born in May were badly behaved and troublesome; mythologically, the month of May was a time of ill-omen – the British Isles.
* It is bad luck to see a white cat at night; dreaming of one means just the opposite. – USA
* Ginger kitties appear to have expressive senses of humor. – Global general-ism
* A cat is very often kept as a lucky mascot in the theatre and disaster strikes any actor who dares to kick it! – Backstage everywhere
* Solid grey cats, as well as “tuxedo” kitties, bring good fortune. – USA
* If it moves, ATTACK! – Universal Cat Operating Manual
* The moment a box has been scrubbed and filled with new litter, cats must immediately poop in it. – Universal Feline Irony
* Leaving a box of kittens on a stranger’s doorstep is rude and inconsiderate. – Janet World
* Cats RULE; dogs drool! – Kitten Credo
Next: More lessons in feline superstitions
* Seeing a white cat on the way to school is certain to bring a student trouble in the United Kingdom and the only way to ward off mischief is to spit, turn in a circle and genuflect. (Pity the pupil not so religiously inclined!) Apparently the folks across the pond also use felines to forecast the weather with a modicum of accuracy – if a cat washes behind its ears, rain is on the horizon; cold weather lies ahead when he sleeps with all four paws tucked beneath himself. Globally, the commonly held belief is that if a cat comes inside soaking wet, it’s probably raining outside.
* The Japanese prefer their own native short-tailed cat – the Japanese Bobtail – because they are less likely to bewitch humans. Japanese sailors have long taken tri-colored or me’kay cats on their ships to bring them good luck. The figure of a cat with its left paw raised is commonly seen in gift shops in that country, where they are sold as souvenirs. It is believed that the beckoning cat brings good fortune to its owner. It is unclear if the recipient of the wealth is the vendor or the tourist.
* Cats provide “good news/bad news” scenarios when associated with romance. In southern France, if a young unmarried girl accidentally steps on a cat’s tail, she will have to wait twelve months before she finds a husband. An American hill country superstition says that a cat can decide whether or not a girl should get married – the debating bride-to-be takes three hairs from the cat’s tail and wraps them in paper, which she then places under her door step at night. Come sunrise, if the cat hairs are arranged in a Y pattern, the answer is “yes”, but should the hairs form the letter N, the answer is “No!” If the household cat sneezes near the bride on her wedding morning, the marriage will be a happy one. If it sneezes on the bride, the cat will not be a happy one!
Much of what we read was funny, silly and, if given the proper spin, easily explained in Garey Gang “reality” … “when a cat washes its face in the parlour, company can be expected”…who will undoubtedly step into a recently hacked up hairball; “it is unlikely to hear a cat crying before setting off on a journey. If this happens, a would-be traveler must immediately return and find out what the animal wants”…“Hey, where are you going? When will you be back? Did you leave us food? Are you buying us more food?”; “no cat which has been purchased will ever be any good at catching mice”… We’ve never brought a store-bought cat into the house; if relatively intact, all cat-captured prey is returned to the wild, although rodent remains are removed and the predator offered a catnip-stuffed placebo; “when cats rush about wildly, clawing at curtains and cushions, running madly as if pursued by a madman, stormy weather lies ahead”…Aw, c’mon; they’re cats and do what cats do. Besides, the “madman” is only a three-year-old!
I ended the lesson with three inescapable realizations: superstitions focusing entirely on black cats deserve an article of their own, so that’s what I’ll be writing next week; researching anything in its entirety online is tantamount to my former pipe dream of reading and memorizing the complete Encyclopedia Britannica and; people who purposely prefer purple hair, black polished nails and self-inflicted facial mutilation might carefully consider their own values and beliefs before challenging a self-proclaimed (and a little bit creeped-out-by-Goth-kids) crazy cat lady and her faithful Google machine.
Born in NYC, NY and raised in Miami, Fla, Janet now lives in Nashville, TN. A professional journalist and environmental educator, Janet is an”AARParrothead” devoted to a variety of community-based projects, which she either developed or supports in service of Planet Earth and all creatures great and small. Janet, her daughter Amanda, and her granddaughter Alexandra rescue and find homes for hundreds of stray or abandoned cats simply for the joy and love they give and get from their feline family.