Have you ever wondered about where some of our bad luck superstitions come from? In this post, we’ll look at black cats, and their association with bad luck. Why are black cats considered bad luck? How did this superstition begin and spread? And why are black cats commonly connected to Halloween?
Black Cats and Bad Luck
Black cats bringing bad luck is one of the most enduring superstitions in modern culture. In a time when the vast majority of superstitions are ridiculed as foolish and old-fashioned, it still doesn’t stop people from paying attention to them. “Knock on wood” ring any bells? Or, given equal opportunities to walk around or under a ladder, which would most choose?
Regardless, we all know that if a black cat crosses your path that means bad luck is coming. I mean, that’s just a fact. Now, as far as how people who actually own black cats manage to make it through each day alive, well, that’s a mystery for another time.
Why Are Black Cats Considered Bad Luck?
So, how did the black cat bad luck superstition begin? Well, we can’t blame the Egyptians. Since as far back as 3,000 B.C., they were known to have worshipped cats as divine. So they’re in the clear.
In reality, this superstition has its origins in Medieval Europe. It was during this time that witchcraft was growing in popularity. Or at least, the fear of witchcraft was certainly gaining steam. Starting as far back as the 12th century, people associated black cats with the devil – in some cases because they were popular pets of satanic cults, in some cases because of no real reason other than hearsay.
For example, some people choose to believe that the devil visited Earth in the guise of a black cat. Scottish lore claims that black cats with a white spot on the chest would intercept the soul of the dead before the gods could claim it, so they performed various rituals to protect the body until it could be buried. This was called a “Late Wake” and involved vigilance, catnip, and “jumping around a lot.”
In any case, cats, and black cats in particular, were often considered evil in many European cultures. As such, cats were routinely killed off, a practice that likely played a role, at least in some part, in the deaths of millions of people. After all, cats were crucial to keeping rodent populations in check. Those same mice and rats were eventually responsible for a variety of plagues during the era. By killing off one of their primary predators, people allowed these infectious rodents to multiply at a much higher rates.
The Black Cat Superstition Comes to America
Among the many traditions and fears European immigrants brought with them to the colonies was a healthy fear of witches. Starting in the 16th century, and reaching its paranoid peak with the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, it became common belief that black cats were not only the evil companions of witches, but that specially talented witches could actually take their form.
Black Cat Superstitions Today
In North America, the black cat superstition is a bit vague. For the most part, the superstition holds that it is bad luck for a black cat to cross in front of you. But other countries have some different ideas.
For example, in Germany, they believe that if a black cat crosses your path from right to left, it is bad luck, but that if it crosses from left to right you’re in for some good news. In much of England, a cat crossing has now come full circle and is simply considered good luck, and in some areas, cats are given to brides as lucky gifts. In Japan, they do something similar, giving black cats to single women to help them attract more suitors. And in Russia, apparently, all cats are considered lucky.
Why Are Black Cats Associated With Halloween?
Halloween originated as a rough version of the Celtic harvest festival known as Samhain. As this celebration historically included pagan rituals, it was easily connected to the shady dealings of witches, making them one of Halloween’s enduring symbols. Black cats, as the unwise and evil friends of said witches, really just came along for the ride. Today there are a wide variety of different Halloween rituals around the world.
So, while black cats have historically been tied to satanic worship and evil in many forms, today beliefs are widely mixed and far from universal. Whatever you choose to believe, make note of August 17th, Black Cat Appreciation Day, so you can either help defend the reputation of these scorned animals, or carefully avoid them, depending on your thoughts on the matter.