The world is replete with stories about the history of the domestic cat. From its initial domestication — most sources say the cat domesticated itself as people settled down into agricultural societies — to the worship of cats in ancient Egypt and the demonization of cats in Dark Ages Europe, cats are indeed creatures of legend. But purebred cats have plenty of origin myths and folktales of their own. Here are five of my favorites.
Legend has it that the first Birman was the companion of a monk named Mun-Ha. One night when he entered a transcendental state so deep that he felt no pain, Siamese invaders murdered him. His cat, Sinh, placed his paws on Mun-Ha’s robes to comfort him as he lay dying; as a gift for his devotion, the cat’s fur became gold like the golden statue of the goddess before which Mun-Ha meditated, and his eyes became bright blue like those of the statue. Sinh’s legs, tail, ears and face became a velvety rich brown, and his paws, which he’d laid on Mun-Ha’s body, became pure white.
My favorite Manx origin myth is a typically Celtic tale: mother cats used to bite off their kittens’ tails in order to keep them from being stolen by Irish or Viking invaders, who would steal the kittens and use their tails as good luck charms.
First of all, this is biologically impossible. Even if the two species ever developed an amorous inclination towards one another, no kittens would arise from such a mating. The Maine Coon is one of the oldest breeds native to North America, and if you compare a Maine Coon and a Norwegian Forest Cat, you’ll see they look very similar. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two breeds shared at least one common ancestor.
Long ago in days of yore, all the men of Siam left their homes to defend their kingdom. Two Siamese cats, Tien and Chula, stayed behind to guard the Buddha’s golden goblet. Tien got restless (not before getting Chula pregnant, though) and set off to find another monk to guard the temple. Chula, meanwhile, was so diligent in her guard duties that she never looked away from the goblet. She even wrapped her tail around it in case someone stole it while she slept. Her kittens were born with the crossed eyes and kinked tail Chula had developed while waiting for her mate to return. Of course, crossed eyes and a tail kink are not desirable traits in today’s Siamese breed standard.
It supposedly all started in the early 1960s when a white cat named Josephine was in a terrible accident that left her with severe injuries including a broken pelvis. After Josephine recovered, she had a litter of kittens, three of whom were taken in by Ann Baker. Baker was apparently quite a storyteller (and a bit of a publicity hound, and probably a bit loopy, too) because she told people Josephine only produced floppy kittens after the accident. Not only that, Baker said, but Ragdolls were insensitive to pain. Oh, and get your tin foil hats on for this one: Baker also announced that a secret government lab ran experiments on Josephine, apparently cross-breeding her with a skunk (!) to develop the ragdoll’s mellow temperament.
What are the best myths and folk tales you’ve heard about your favorite breed? Please share them in the comments below.