Witches and black cats are a common staple during Halloween, adorning doors and windows as decoration. But before such imagery was used for decorative purposes, the scary duo was regarded warily throughout history. A black cat wandering about often meant that a witch lurked nearby as well, and so the dark felines were certainly not a welcome sight.
Of course, such superstition has given way to logic and black cats are no longer the objects of fear that they once were, though they do still seem to possess a particular air of mystery about them. This is likely in due in part to deep-seeded superstitious beliefs and folklore stemming from the Middle Ages that have yet to be completely removed from our minds. In fact, in some cultures and communities, the folklore surrounding black cats is still highly regarded as fact.
In many European cultures, it is considered to a bad omen or bad luck if a black cat is seen. This superstition is also widely known throughout much of North America, though it is typically not taken seriously. However, not too long ago, the Irish believed that a black cat that appears underneath the moonlight was foretelling that great illness would soon strike someone close. Similarly, it was believed by many communities in Italy that if a black cat visited a sick individual, that person would perish shortly thereafter.
Not all cultures believe the black cat is evil or a sign or bad things to come. Some regard the black cat as a sign of luck, and in South Africa, those who practice the Hoodoo religion utilize a certain bone of a black cat in a ritual or potion that is said to impart an individual with magical powers, such as invisibility.
In areas across Europe where witch hunting was commonplace and subsequently witch trials and burnings were conducted, the black cat was also persecuted. Witches were said to possess familiars, which were an animal that a witch shared a special bond with, linked through the mind and spirit. While many creatures were considered to be probable witch’s familiars, such as owls, toads, and ravens, the black cat ranked highest on the list.
It was said that witches used their familiars to lurk about unseen and to spy upon unsuspecting villagers or travelers. It was said that a witch could even cast a curse upon an individual through her familiar, without ever actually having to appear. Others suspected that witches familiars, and the black cat, was actually a witch in disguise.
In the early 1200s, Pope Gregory IX declared that black cats were indeed evil creatures and products of Satan, and ordered their destruction. They were exterminated whenever found, or sometimes burned along with a woman suspected of being a witch, along with any other animals that might also have been a witch’s familiar.
We now know that many who were accused of being witches, and subsequently tortured and killed, were in fact falsely accused due simply due to fear, paranoia and ignorance. We are also more aware and accepting of modern witchcraft and those who practice it, as it has grown in popularity throughout the years and is practiced openly throughout many parts of Europe and North America. While witchcraft generally falls under the classification of Wicca, there are actually several different types of witchcraft, though typically they are meant for good, not evil.
And while some people are still wary of black cats, the felines are now able to walk about freely. Many modern witches still keep animals as pets, of course, and some may even claim that they share a special bond with their pet, but the familiar is regarded as a goodly creature, and is said to impart a heightened sense of awareness to its owner.