Loki was my first black cat. She was the reason I went through my first round of post-exposure rabies vaccines after I was checking the colony and she nailed me. I am still, decades later, impressed that I was able to catch her for quarantine! We were eventually able to integrate her into the home.
Arnold was 19 when we took him in after his owner developed life-threatening allergies in her late 30s to many things – including her pets. Currently we own Drusilla. I have always loved black cats. I have studied their history for years.in Scottish lore a black cat arriving at your house brings prosperity. Black cats were considered good luck in Japan and would bring suitors to a woman. Sailors believed black cats on ships brought safe travels. Sailors’ wives would keep black cats in the hopes that their husbands would return from the sea. Cats of all colors were honored in ancient Egypt. A black cat in the audience on opening night of a play means a successful run. It is considered good luck to have a black cat walk toward you.
Considering this, why do many malign black cats?
Religion may have played a huge role in the current image of black cats. Those who did not follow the beliefs of the expanding church were targeted as heretics and evil – as were things associated with them. Pope Gregory IX issued the “Decretales” which is considered a big part of medieval canon law. In his papal bull, “Vox in Rama,” he denounced black cats as agents of Satan, and he called for the Inquisition. Other Popes followed this trend, including Pope Innocent VIII. During these times countless cats of all colors were killed. Even being seen with cats could get one accused of witchcraft, and get both human and animal tortured and executed. However, cats were a major part of vermin control. During this time a pesky bacterium, yersinia pestis, was becoming a problem. You many know this as the Black Death.
In 1843 Edgar Allan Poe wrote one of my favorite short stories revolving around a black cat, Pluto, and the narrator’s descent into alcoholism and madness. “The Black Cat” is the foundation for various movies, including “The Black Cat” (1934) with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and “The Black Cat” (1941) with Basil Rathbone.
In 1962 Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone starred in “Tales of Terror.” One of the shorts was what? A piece about a drunkard and his wife’s black cat based on, yes, Edgar Allan Poe’s story. Side note: Poe’s personal cat was a tortoiseshell named Catterina.
Media has influenced our views of black cats. Over the years (centuries even), how many writings, and eventually television shows and movies, have portrayed black cats as bad? Even “Star Trek” had an episode titled “Catspaw” (aired Oct. 27, 1967) which included witches and a not-so-nice woman who transformed into many shapes, including a black cat.
I have only scratched the surface (every pun intended) about why many have learned to loathe and even fear black cats. How can they catch a break with centuries of hatred in their past? Black cats are no different than other cats, except they have non-agouti recessive genes.
Now, for a nice day trip, consider visiting the Poe Museum in Richmond. While there, say “hello” to Edgar and Pluto – the resident black cats.