From “Evil” to Lucky: In Praise of Black Cats

They’ve had a rough history but are now considered good luck in some countries.

Black cats have a reputation for being mellow and friendly. By: alisonpostma

I gave Bandit to my son Zeke after his grandmother died. The kitten was so black we nicknamed him Inkblot.

He fell asleep on a shelf in the cellar once, and I couldn’t pick him out from among the shadows until he yawned, revealing a tiny pink mouth. He was a gentle, loving soul, and we lost him to cancer when he was 11.

Hawkeye arrived 6 years later, following the death of our elderly tortie, Kilah. He was black, but his coat was dusted with silver flecks. He also had silver “specs” around his eyes — appearing, in a friend’s words, as though he’d been looking through a pair of joke binoculars. He became my office cat and still, at age 13, wanders in here to check on things.

Freya is the latest addition to our black cat squad. A foster kitten, she decided she was needed here. She’s affectionate, a little on the jealous side and very talkative.

October is International Black Cat Awareness Month. That, plus Halloween, makes it an excellent time to celebrate the black cats in our lives.

Changes in Fortune

Cats were originally associated with the moon and various goddesses. The Celtic goddess Ceridwen was attended by white cats who carried out her bidding on earth. Freya, or Freyja, the Norse goddess of love, rode in a chariot driven by white cats.

The rise of Christianity, however, signaled a move to stamp out all vestiges of the pagan religions. So the goddesses became witches or sorceresses, and their cats were turned coal-black — just in case the newly converted needed help figuring out that these formerly revered animals were evil. Horrible things were done to cats in the name of religion. Humans weren’t the only casualties of “the burning times.”

Between the 17th and 18th centuries, science took hold, and some enlightened soul figured out that cats kept down the rodent population and the bubonic plague.

But the black cat retained its mystique and even gained a reputation for being lucky in Australia, Finland, Japan, Scotland, Britain and the south of France.

Winston Churchill reportedly attributed his success in WWII to petting every black cat he came across. By: frostdragon

Two extremely famous Englishmen, living centuries apart, shared this belief. King Charles I had a much-loved black cat he believed to be his good-luck token, and he insisted on it having a permanent guard. Then the cat died. “My luck is gone,” he mourned. He was arrested the next day and, after a travesty of a trial, executed.

The other Englishman fared much better: Winston Churchill was a cat lover and “made a point of stroking any black cat he found,” according to writer Dusty Rainbolt. “He allegedly attributed his wartime success to this practice.”

But this luck continued to follow him. In 1953, Churchill, recovering from a stroke, had to give a critical speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Margate. That same day, a black kitten showed up at 10 Downing Street. The speech was an incredible success, and Churchill promptly adopted the stray, naming him Margate. “It has brought me luck,” he said simply.

Color and Personality

Black cats are generally viewed as mellow or laid-back. They also have the reputation for being more “empathic and intuitive,” according to the Animal Foundation in Las Vegas.

Messy Beast blogger Sarah Hartwell posits that the black coloring, caused by a recessive gene, may be “linked to a less assertive temperament, more placid character and better tolerance of crowding than striped tabby or agouti (ticked). If true, this factor would have contributed to a more sociable cat both with humans and with other cats in a colony situation.”

This may factor into breeding as well. A stressed mom-cat doesn’t breed as frequently, whereas one who’s “less stressed will pass its genes on more often. Soon, there will be more of the cats showing a coat color linked to sociability and less of the coat color linked to unsociability.”

This cute black cat just discovered the joys of pumpkin carving:

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Black Cats Today

Although black cats are still tricky to adopt out for a variety of reasons, they have a very loyal following.

For years, artist, writer and photographer Bernadette Kazmarski has been chronicling the adventures of her black cats in her award-winning blog, The Creative Cat. Mimi and her children, the Fantastic Four, figure in much of Kazmarski’s work — including her Halloween cards — and have done their part to raise black cat awareness.

Recently, I came across an old spell for welcoming a black cat who comes into your home of its own accord. It’s lovely but probably not necessary. Black cats are, like Churchill’s Margate, good at showing up — and staying — where they’re needed.