Cats throughout the ages have been both feared and worshiped. They have been associated with goddesses, witches, the devil, and today are the most popular household pet worldwide. However they have been perceived; cats have always been associated with magic and power. Their aloof, enigmatic behaviour has intrigued humans for generations, and as a result, they have been the inspiration for many artists, writers, and poets.
History of the Cat
The highest regard for cats was during the Egyptian era, from about 1000 BC. The main threats to Egyptian households were snakes and rodents, which attacked local food supplies. It has been suggested that the admiration for cats began at this time, as stray cats would hunt these creatures. As the relationship between cat and human increased the Egyptians began using them as hunting companions to catch fish and birds, as well as for vermin control. This was the beginning of domestication for the cat. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the domestic moggy in our lives today, is descended from the Egyptian cat. A common sight in many ancient tomb paintings depicts a typical Egyptian family with a cat seated under a woman's chair. This appears to show that the cat had become an integral part of family life.
Ancient Egyptians worshiped several feline goddesses. The most famous of these being Bast or Bastet; she is typically depicted as a woman with a cat's head. Bast was the goddess of fertility, motherhood, and beauty. Her associations included music, joy, and dance. Bast became so popular with the Egyptians that later she also became protector of the household, women, and children. Cats were bred in thousands as they were thought to be manifestations of the goddess Bast. In fact, cats became so highly regarded that the penalty for killing a cat - even accidentally - was death. Other cat goddesses of this era included the first Egyptian cat goddess Mafdet, and the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet. Sekhmet was the "opposite" of Bast. She represented the destructive force of the cat goddess and was associated with war and pestilence.
Due to their aura of mystery, cats have always been associated with things we don't understand. It is no real surprise then that cats were heavily associated with the occult. During the witch-hunts in the 1600s, cats were almost wiped out across Europe due to fear that they were witches in disguise.
Cats are traditionally associated with witches; and even today they are regarded highly in the wiccan community. The popular wiccan goddess Diana once assumed the form of a cat, and cats are said to be under her protection. In addition, the chariot associated with the Celtic goddess Freya, was pulled by cats.
In the past, cat hairs and bones were used in spells and charms, and even today it is believed that a few stray cat hairs added to a spell can increase its power.
Myths and Legends
Myths about the cat are common; do you believe that black cats are lucky or unlucky? Or have you heard the saying 'a cat has nine lives? The latter is considered to refer to a cats almost life saving agility, and ability to survive - this was especially evident during the witchcraft trials. In Greek times people were fascinated with the way cats eyes dilated and shrunk with the surrounding light intensity. They believed cats' eyes enlarged and shrunk in accordance with the phases of the moon. This view has even been a source of inspiration for architects. For example, the Portal of Saint Michael de Lescure church in Rome, depicts 24 cat heads incorporated into a cosmic calendar design of alternating suns and moons. This is supposed to represent the 24 hours in a day, as well as the alternation of night and day.
There are several legends connected to the cat that involve money, and coming into fortune. This can be seen in the European fairytale - Puss in Boots, and the popular beckoning Japanese lucky cat - Maneki Neko. The latter, also known as the lucky or welcoming cat, is believed to attract good luck to its' owner.
Even in modern times the cat still intrigues us. Today cats have gained a reputation for being psychic. How many times have you seen your cat staring intently at nothing? Or how often have you come home upset, after a bad day, and your cat has instantly jumped onto your lap to comfort you? There is a belief among cat owners that there is an unspoken bond between a person and their pet; that cats are able to sense emotions and so comfort you when needed.
For a long period of time, people have believed that cats have natural healing abilities. In recent years this has also been backed up by scientific evidence. Even just stroking a cat has been found to lower blood pressure; they are often used in hospitals and retirement
homes as therapy animals. There are not many things more relaxing than stroking your cat, whilst it's nestling comfortably in your lap and purring.
Today more cats are kept as pets in western households than any other pet. Adored as companions and valued as rodent catchers, the cat is still an integral part of family life.
I am a recent graduate in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and I am currently taking a home writers course provided by the Writers Bureau. I have written several articles across a broad range of topics during my course. From a young age I have loved to write and I enjoy being able to integrate my other passions into my writing, and to have the opportunity to create awareness to the general public of issues I care about.