Superstition, prejudice, bringer of good or bad luck?By Monique Balas | Special to The Oregonian
The black fur gene is recessive, so a cat must carry two copies of it to be black.
Scientists have found genetic mutations among several different kinds of cats that caused them to be black, meaning they are favored in nature.
Scientists also discovered that the mutations affect a gene related to one that’s resistant to HIV in humans, leading some to theorize that black cats may be resistant to disease.
In Europe, poor, lonely women often fed alley cats. When witch hysteria hit, many of these homeless women were accused of witchcraft, and their feline companions (especially black ones) were deemed guilty by association.
The Egyptian goddess Bast was thought to take the form of a black cat, so many ancient Egyptians owned black cats as a way to court her favor.
According to British lore, a black cat’s presence in a house will bring a young woman many suitors.
The British also believe that a black cat will bring its owner good luck, but coming across one accidentally brings bad luck.
Some people believe that plucking a single white hair on an otherwise ebony cat — without getting scratched — will make them lucky in love.
On Britain’s Yorkshire coast, fishermen’s wives believed owning a black cat would keep their husbands safe at sea.
Black cat trivia
1. Which English monarch was so devoted to his black cat that he insisted it be guarded 24 hours a day?
2. A black cat’s tail is thought to cure what ailment?
3. In Scotland, a black cat’s appearance on your porch is thought to bring what?
1. King Charles I; the day after the cat died, he was arrested for treason.
The folklore surrounding black cats varies from culture to culture.
The Scottish believe that a strange black cat’s arrival to the home signifies prosperity.
In Celtic mythology, a fairy known as the Cat Sìth takes the form of a black cat.
Black cats are also considered good luck in Japan. Furthermore, it is believed that a lady who owns a black cat will have many suitors.
However in Western history, black cats have often been looked upon as a symbol of evil omens, specifically being suspected of being the familiars of witches, and so most of Europe considers the black cat a symbol of bad luck, especially if one crosses paths with a person, which is believed to be an omen of misfortune and death.
In Germany, some believe that black cats crossing a person’s path from right to left, is a bad omen. But from left to right, the cat is granting favorable times.
The gambling world is afraid of black cats: it is believed that if, while traveling to a casino, a black cat crosses a gambler’s road or path, that person should not go to the casino; most players believe that black cats bring bad luck.
The black cat in folklore has been able to change into human shape to act as a spy or courier for witches or demons. When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, they brought with them a devout faith in the Bible. They also brought a deepening suspicion of anything deemed of the devil and were a deeply suspicious group. They viewed the black cat as a companion, or a familiar to witches. Anyone caught with a black cat would be severely punished or even killed. They viewed the black cat as part demon and part sorcery.
During the Middle Ages, these superstitions led people to kill black cats. This had the unintended consequence of increasing the rat population and the spread of the Black Death (bubonic plague) and other diseases carried by rodents. There is no evidence from England of regular large-scale massacres of “satanic” cats, or of burning them in midsummer bonfires, as sometimes occurred elsewhere in Europe.
However, the supernatural powers ascribed to black cats were sometimes viewed positively, for example sailors considering a “ship’s cat” would want a black one because it would bring good luck. Sometimes, fishermen’s wives would keep black cats at home too, in the hope that they would be able to use their influence to protect their husbands at sea.
The view of black cats being favorable creatures is attributed specifically to the Egyptian goddess Bast (or Bastet), the cat goddess. Egyptian households believed they could gain favor from Bastet by hosting black cats in their household. This view was held in the early 17th century by the English monarch Charles I. Upon the death of his treasured pet black cat, he is said to have lamented that his luck was gone. True to his claim, he was arrested the very next day and charged with high treason.
Pirates of the 18th century believed that a black cat would bring different kinds of luck. If a black cat walks towards someone, that person will have bad luck. If a black cat walks away from someone then that person will have good luck. If a black cat walks onto a ship and then walks off it, the ship is doomed to sink on its next trip. Black cats have been found to have lower odds of adoption in American shelters compared to other colors except brown, although black animals in general take more time to find homes. Some shelters also suspend or limit adoptions of black cats around Halloween for fear they will be tortured, or used as “living decorations” for the holiday and then abandoned. However, in the history of humane work, no one has ever documented any relationship between adopting black cats, and cats being killed or injured. When such killings are reported, forensic evidence has pointed to natural predators, such as coyotes, eagles, or raptors as the likely cause. August 17 is “Black Cat Appreciation Day.”
In the early days of television in the United States, many stations located on VHF channel 13 used a black cat as a mascot in order to make sport of being located on an “unlucky” channel number.