Why do people think black cats are symbols of bad luck?


Many people think that black cats will bring bad luck. Meanwhile, the dark-colored felines have also been folded into modern Halloween symbols, giving them the reputation of being spooky. But how and where did the association between black cats and bad luck begin? Here's what is known about the connection between Halloween and black cats, including the lasting impact of this superstition that remains today.


Origins of Black Cat Superstitions

The connections between humans and cats can be traced back to some of the world's earliest civilizations, most notably, ancient Egypt, where cats were considered divine symbols. Cats also made an appearance in Greek mythology, specifically Hecate, goddess of magic, sorcery, the moon, and witchcraft, was described as having a cat as both a pet and a familiar (a supernatural creature that assists a witch, according to European folklore).

Written records link black cats to the occult as far back as the 13th century when an official church document called "Vox in Rama" was issued by Pope Gregory IX on June 13, 1233. In it, black cats were declared an incarnation of Satan. The decree marked the beginning of the inquisition and church-sanctioned heretic and/or witch hunts. Initially, it was designed to squash the growing cult of Luciferians in Germany but quickly spread across Europe.


Cats and Witches Seen as Threats to Early Christian Church

In addition to their early association with Satan, cats also became inextricably linked to witches in medieval Europe. Although the early Christian church in Europe coexisted with witches, as the church gained power, they saw witches as their direct competition in gaining the hearts and minds of the people. That's when the church began hunting, persecuting, torturing, and killing witches in vast numbers. Witches honored the natural world, having a deep respect for plants and animals. Affection between human and animal, therefore, began to be seen as "diabolical", or devilish, and the old lady with her cats became seen as suspect.

Eventually, the fear surrounding black cats and their association with witchcraft made its way across the Atlantic, courtesy of Puritan colonists, says Daniel Compora, associate professor of English language and literature at The University of Toledo. "The idea that witches could turn into their familiar likely evolved from those accused of witchcraft having cats as pets," he explains.


Cats Blamed for Spreading the Plague

During the Middle Ages, it wasn't uncommon for cats to be killed, given their association with evil. Some people even went as far as blaming cats for spreading the Bubonic plague and used that as another reason to get rid of them.

Given the belief in medieval Europe that the devil and witches were capable of taking the form of black cats, it makes sense that the superstition surrounding crossing their paths developed, says Phoebe Millerwhite, a folklorist, and artist. This notion continued into the Renaissance when a black cat crossing your path might have indicated that a witch had sent her familiar to do you harm. 

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