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halloween >  halloween symbols > the black cat

 

Halloween Black cat                               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise."

 

excerpt from The Black Cat

  - Edgar Allan Poe

 



 

The black cat is one of the most recognizable symbols of Halloween - and one of the most targeted of superstition. There are many proverbs and superstitions surrounding the black cat, such as the following:

 

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A black cat crossing one's path by moonlight means death in an epidemic.

 

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If  a black cat crosses your path while your driving, turn your hat around backwards and mark an X on your windshield to prevent bad luck.

 

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If a black cat walks towards you, it brings good fortune, but if it walks away, it takes the good luck with it.

 

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A kitten is born in May will be a witch's cat.

 

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A black cat seen from behind foretells a bad omen.

 

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If you find a white hair on a black cat, you will have good luck.

 

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A strange black cat on your porch brings prosperity.

 

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According to the Irish, a charm made of the bone of a black cat could make one invisible. (we do not suggest making this!!)

 

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But how did black cats become associated with Halloween to begin with?  It probably started first with the belief that cats had magical powers.  The Egyptians were in awe of them - sacred cats kept in a sanctuary in ancient Egypt were carefully tended by priests who watched them day and night. The priests interpreted the cat's movements - twitch of a whisker, yawn, or stretch - into a prediction of an event that would happen in the future.

 

The Egyptians even worshipped a cat-headed goddess named Bast or Bastet. Bast was a wild goddess. To those who were in her favor, she gave great blessings, but her wrath was legendary and was sometimes listed as one of Ra's avenging deities to punish the sinful and the enemies of Egypt. This is in keeping with her totem animal, the cat. Cats were sacred to Bast, and to harm one was deemed a great transgression. Bast's importance in the Egyptian pantheon might be due to the great value placed on the domesticated cat by the Egyptians. Cats curtailed the spread of disease by killing vermin, and though the idea of microbes was unknown to the ancient Egyptians, they must have noticed the connection between rats and disease.*

 

However later in history, the Druids feared cats - believing that by using evil powers, humans could turn themselves into cats. So during Samhain on November 1, many cats were thrown into the fires to get of rid the evil.

 

Cats were also considered the familiars of a witch. A familiar is a low-ranking demon assistant to a witch. Since any colored cat could be a witch's familiar, why did black become a witch's cat? Perhaps after it was dark and a cat was spotted with a suspected witch, it looked naturally dark. Thus, the association began. During the great witch-hunts, cats were massacred in great numbers fearing they were all familiars.* 

 

Therefore, linked with the Druid's Samhain and as a witch's familiar, it is no wonder the black cat, with its piercing yellow eyes and arched back became the symbol of the spirit of Halloween.

 

 

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Sources:

http://www.touregypt.net/godsofegypt/bast.htm

Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts - The Story of the Halloween Symbols

by Edna Barth

 

 

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