Witches and black cats

Musings from the Hill

Actually, this has nothing to do with witches except another word rhymes well when describing my (mostly) black cat.

Gloria can be very loving (particularly when I’m dishing up her food) but the bites draw blood and come so fast I have no time to pull my arm away. Why does she bite?

Turns out the Internet can find answers to that question as well. Many cat owners, they say, call this common behavior “Love biting” accompanied by a picture of a darling kitten chewing on one’s finger. HA! More formally, it’s called “petting-induced aggression,” a term that makes more sense to me. Causes? They suggest the cat wants to control or is unhappy. Forget those. “There may be some neurologically significant negative stimulus associated with being petted at length.” I’ll buy that though, with Gloria, her length is pretty darn short. I don’t believe she can control her urge and, since she comes right back for more petting, really doesn’t comprehend the blood (MY blood) dripping onto the floor. I’ll share this with a good friend who has a similar problem and simply watch for the change in Gloria’s behavior (which I have come to recognize) as a message for me to STOP.

So back to cats and Halloween. The apparent association is because one thinks of black cats and witches together.

Many of us think of a black cat as bringing bad luck. I had no choice when I picked mine and, other than that feral behavior, she’s quite a lovely animal. She has no interest in birds, the major drawback I think to being owned by a cat. By now Molly tolerates her and the two can greet each other nicely. But then, Molly barks or chases her. I suspect Molly’s eyesight isn’t all that great and her tail never stops wagging.

Gloria isn’t all black. Whether that makes her better or worse would be anyone’s guess. She has white on the bottom of her chin, on her stomach and in her “bikini” area, none of which show until she rolls over.

But bad luck? Parts of England still consider black cats good luck. Welsh lore claims that a black cat brings good health while, in Scotland, the story goes that a black cat coming to a new house means prosperity. Other parts of England and other Germanic cultures associate them with witches and bad luck. Seems, because of that, many now believe a black cat is an omen of good AND bad luck.

Traditionally, a black cat approaching you is bringing good luck but do beware if it is walking away for it will take the good luck with it. Eighteenth century pirates believed just the reverse so, you pirates out there on the 31st, beware!

If a black cat walks onto the pirate ship, it means it will sink on its next voyage. Other times sailors purposely brought black cats on board believing they would ensure good luck. Many of their wives also kept a black cat hoping it would protect their man at sea. But (I like this!) “a lady who owns a black cat will have many suitors.”

This walking back and forth carries more superstitions. Some Germans believe a black cat walking from the right to the left is bad but from left to right, means it’s granting favorable times. Now where are we going to find all those black cats?

In most Western societies, black cats have been symbolized as evil omens if not the familiars of witches or even shape-shifting witches themselves. The religious Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock shared the belief, which led folks to kill the innocent felines. In some parts of Europe, they were burned to death in midsummer bonfires.

I’m sure none of us is surprised that a black cat at an animal shelter has a more difficult time being adopted. (Heck! I too wanted a pretty tabby.) In fact, many adoptions are suspended or limited around Halloween.

The reasons given included superstitions but also the perception of “black” as boring. Plus they don’t photograph as well. I can aver to that.

I don’t know who Wayne H. Morris was (or is) but he created “Black Cat Appreciation Day” for Aug. 17 in honor of this late sister, June, who had Sinbad. Obviously black. (And, near as I’ve been able to determine, Morris’s only claim to fame.)

Cats Protection in Great Britain and Northern Ireland has designated Oct. 27 as “Black Cat Day” to celebrate the little beasties and encourage their adoption.

I shall continue to love and care for my cat. I could do no less now that she and Molly have made peace.

Well, I can too.

Susan Crossett has lived in Arkwright for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.


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