The Black Cat

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“Alas! Neither by day nor by night knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During the former, the creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter, I started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast weight – an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off – incumbent eternally upon my heart!” – from “The Black Cat” by Edgar Alan Poe

In “The Black Cat,” Edgar Alan Poe describes the animal as a revengeful demon forcing the protagonist of the story to commit atrocity. The cat stalks him, terrifies him and eventually, causes his downfall. Poe’s choice of antagonist was, no doubt, playing upon the belief and superstition of his time period – that black cats were evil. Nowadays, we, as a more educated and genteel folk, no longer carry such an aspersion. How, then, did black cats gain their ignoble reputation?

The negative reputation of the black cat is due to its association with witchcraft and began in Greek Mythology. Hecate, the goddess of magic, witchcraft, ghosts and necromancy, had many animal companions and familiars, one of which was a black cat. As time continued, the association with the black cat and witchcraft became more pronounced – even evolving to support the belief that black cats were the spectral projection of the female witch. If a woman was seen being friendly with a black cat, she was marked as a witch and treated as such. Black cats were quickly shunned by society. The Catholic Church truly hated the black cat, with Pope Innocent VIII declaring in 1484 that “the cat was the devil’s favorite animal and the idol of all witches.” Later, Pope Gregory IX demanded that all cats be exterminated, especially black cats. (Some historians speculate that this may have led to the rise of bubonic plague due to an increase in rat population.)

In most places throughout Europe, the black cat was actually considered a good and lucky omen bringing prosperity to its owners. If a black cat crosses your path, according to the Celts, good luck is headed your way.

Today, black cats continue to be associated with witches and Halloween, but most of the world now realizes that a cat is a cat, each with its own personality and style. Unfortunately, black cats are still the last to be adopted at shelters. Are black cats not fluffy? Do they not play as other cats play? Do they not purr seemingly for no apparent reason? Do they not knock over your expensive bottle of whiskey that you just opened and only got one swig out of it even though you held on to it for years for just the right occasion which had finally arrived? (Stupid cat.) The point is, give a black cat a chance!

To all the black cats and their owners …
Happy Halloween!

 

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